Paul

Every Temple Falls

Photo via Timothy King

Photo via Timothy King

The fate of the Temple of Artemis, the fate of any temple, is one that need not be feared. Death, and collapse, have lost their sting. This process of decay is not an inherently ugly one. There was beauty in those remaining stones and still value in the ones that had already returned to the ground from whence they had been pulled.

Whether human or stone, from dust we have come and to dust we shall return.

Sabbath Dissonance

The cross and the palm frond. Image via Muskoka Stock Photos/shutterstock.com

The cross and the palm frond. Image via Muskoka Stock Photos/shutterstock.com

Some years ago, Carl Jung told the story of a man who asked a rabbi why God was revealed to many people in days of old, but now nobody sees God.

“Why is this?” he asked.

The rabbi answered, “Because nowadays no one bows low enough.”

Perhaps we are looking for God in all the wrong places. In this video, Sister Margaret goes to prison. She is not Jesus. She is not God. But she believes God is there in Riker’s Island, “home” to 1300 prisoners, half of them teenagers. She listens to their stories.

“My father walked out on us ... I messed up ... I had no one to back me up.”

Their stories changed her. 

"I don’t know what it’s like not to be loved. I don’t know what it’s like to be abused, to be abandoned,” she says.

She is really saying, “I didn’t know before what it’s like to be so far down.”

These prisoners are teaching her even as she is counseling and encouraging them. Those men in Riker’s Island would probably be surprised to hear that Paul was a prisoner when he wrote this week’s lectionary selection, a letter to the Philippians.

WATCH: Acts of Compassion

Being a Man, a la Paul

Silhouette of man standing on wall. Photo via Alex Emanuel Koch / Shutterstock.com

Paul teaches a bedrock unity in marriage. Both the Christian wife and husband are members of the Church which is Christ’s body (v30) and have further cemented this with particular devotion to union with each other (v31). Since we have this fundamental unity, a divisive gender identity in marriage or elsewhere is impossible to accept—it sets up barriers where Christ recognizes none.

As such, men inside or outside of marriage must follow Christ’s example in giving of themselves for others, particularly to those who rely and trust on them. This is why domestic violence is such a satanic perversion of masculinity: it replaces a protective, self-sacrificial love with a violent, domineering authority. A relationship which should point to Christ and the Church instead becomes controlled by power and violence.

Paul forces me to think differently about what it means to be a man. I need to reorient my actions in a way that recognizes that Christians, male and female, are all part of one body of Christ. That should push men, especially those in positions of authority, to a love that seeks to build up and to serve rather than domineer. That love, rather than a macho authority, is the true mark of a man.

Sweaty Spirituality: Fighting Obesity with Paul (Romans 12:1-8)

l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock.com

l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock.com

Do you want to know a secret about working out? Here it is: we don’t grow our muscles in the gym. When we lift weights we perform controlled damage to our bodies; we literally tear our muscle fibers, forcing our bodies to adapt. We improve outside of the gym by consuming healthy foods. To “battle the bulge” requires a commitment to strenuous exercise and healthy eating. All who have enjoyed (or endured) a strenuous workout or have disciplined their dietary practices understand that results are impossible without bodily sacrifice — no pain, no gain.

Furthermore, if it is true that we are what we eat, then Christ-followers ought to take a long, hard look at the kinds of things we are putting into our bodies. Paul’s words to the Christ-followers in Rome offer us some food for thought (pardon the pun; couldn’t help myself).

Paul beseeches us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, that is, to submit our lived reality to the standards that God deems acceptable. Such a way of being in the world is deemed reasonable — spiritual even, as the NRSV translators put it. This is our tangible act of service to God.

To the Dying Church: Offer Us the Hope You Once Did

GlebStock/Shutterstock.com

Offer us the hope you once did. GlebStock/Shutterstock.com

My Dear Friend,

It breaks my heart to be the one to tell you this, but I figured you might be more receptive hearing this from me. I think you already know what I'm about to tell you — it's nearly impossible you couldn't know with how loud everyone's whispers have become.

Something is terribly wrong! You are sick.

I know this isn't the news you were hoping for, but it's the truth. With this in mind, I feel now, it is more important than ever that I lay things out for you — no matter how much it pains me.

That Our Creation Care Would Also Fight Racism and Poverty

Irish_design / Shutterstock.com

Romans can touch on the intersection of climate change, poverty, and racism. Irish_design / Shutterstock.com

What more perfect a passage to enliven our Earth Day celebrations than Romans 8:20-25?

Paul's letter to the Romans was certainly not an exhortation to deepen creation care by weighting it with environmental justice. It wasn't an exhortation for the middle-class church to listen to the groaning of people under the bondage of environmental racism. It wasn't intended to paint a picture of the intersection of climate change, poverty, and racism.

But we — two evangelical activists — are just foolish enough to give all that a try in this short space!

Our dear Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans paints a picture of the new age inaugurated by Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus has taken sin – that which infiltrated the world (5:12), enslaved the world (6:6, 17-18), and brought death and destruction (7:8-14) — and had victory over it. By our death in baptism and resurrection with Christ, we participate in his victory over sin (6:4). This is a new age, we put on our new selves, we live with the (re)new(ed) creation ahead of us.

Bringing the Word to Life

ONE YEAR MY small group decided to have each member choose a person named or alluded to in the gospels to “follow” during Lent. We researched our people and the customs of that time and reflected individually and collectively on their encounters with Jesus. Then we hosted a community meal for family and friends on the night before Easter. Each member of our group came in character as the person we’dstudied and tried to recreate the mood of that frightening, confusing, grief-filled night for followers of Jesus after his death and before his resurrection. After the meal, each of us presented a monologue that tried to project what our person might have been thinking and experiencing at that time.

The attempt to immerse mind, soul, and body into scriptures that I had listened to for much of my life (but perhaps hadn’t really heard) was a transformative experience: It burned away long-held assumptions and revealed new facets of chapter and verse.

The book Creating a Scene in Corinth: A Simulation, by Sojourners contributing editor Reta Halteman Finger and George D. McClain, provides a useful and fun toolbox for small groups, Sunday schools, religion classes, and even imaginative individuals who want their own full-immersion experience of scripture and biblical scholarship. It invites readers to a deeper understanding of the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth by using role play to “become” members of the different factions of that community as they hear Paul’s words read for the first time. The authors assert that “as we more clearly experience what Paul meant in the first century, we can better understand what his writings mean in our 21st century context.”

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'What is to prevent me from being baptized?'

LUKE'S SECOND VOLUME, the Acts of the Apostles, tells the story of what happened to Jesus’ followers after they received spiritual power to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Beginning in Jerusalem, the movement proceeds north and west, eventually tracing Paul’s journey to Rome. But the plot takes one big detour along the way, heading south to the mysterious lands beyond Egypt, carried by a person more foreign and unusual than any other in Luke’s vast cast of characters. Only divine intervention orchestrates the encounter between the Jewish Hellenist Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40.

What is the main thrust of this missionary story? Is it geography—a foray into “the ends of the earth” long before Paul reaches Rome? Is it religious ethnicity—the first God-fearing Gentile believer converting, even before the Roman centurion Cornelius? Is it the man’s undeniable African origins—straight from the lands of Nubia and Cush? Is it his wealth and connections to royalty that will enable him to bring Jesus’ gospel to Africa?

Luke likely included this story for all these reasons, but the text itself points over and over to what must be the driving force of Luke’s inclusive theology in this account—the rider in the chariot is not referred to by Luke as a man. Luke calls him a “court official” and a eunuch (8:27), and later calls him a eunuch four more times, but never a “man.” He has been castrated before puberty and trained to take sensitive positions not entrusted to males. He is beardless with a higher voice. Torn from his birth family and enslaved at a young age, he has no family of his own. Loyal only to his queen, he is “in charge of her entire treasury.”

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Saint Valentine Was Single

Women walking, rickyd / Shutterstock.com

Women walking, rickyd / Shutterstock.com

Most of the women I know mourn the loneliness, the lack of physical touch, the empty half of the bed, and the “table for one, please” that come with being single. I know from experience how easy it is to live as a lady in waiting — waiting for a man to come along and rescue you from the boredom and loneliness of life, waiting for a man to validate you as an adult, waiting for a relationship to unlock the door to opportunities like church leadership, full-time ministry, entrepreneurship, foster care, financial stability, or international travel.

I know many women whose prayers mainly consist of praying for God to bring them a spouse, and whose waking thoughts often wander into the injustice and unfairness of singleness. They wonder if God really knows how much they long for a husband and a family. They keep telling God that if He’ll only grant them a mate, then they’ll be content and more able to obey.

But the Bible — and most of church history — affirms the benefits of being single. Paul says it’s preferable because you can travel lightly and give yourself more fully to ministry. Valentine’s Day itself was named after a saint who was single, and was martyred for his faith on Feb. 14, 270 A.D.

On Scripture: Paul’s Call to Unity and Dr. King’s Legacy

16th St. Baptist Church, Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

16th St. Baptist Church, Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

There is no question that our nation is currently deeply divided about a great many issues. In our effort to enshrine him, some may have lost sight that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. too addressed a nation that was divided. With all the media focus on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination this past fall, the 50th anniversary of another great national tragedy received little notice. On September 15, 1963, white racists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., killing four young African-American girls who were attending Sunday school.

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