Click here to view today’s devotion.
Read Daniel 7
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.” (Matthew 13:37, NRSV)
Throughout the nearly twenty centuries in which Christianity has existed, many Christians have been raptured by the notion that the End Times are approaching, looking to the apocalyptic texts in the Bible to interpret the events happening in their world. Since the nineteenth century, there has been a renewed and somewhat reimagined End Times narrative that has since become the dominant perception in popular culture of what the Bible is saying in books such as Daniel, Ezekiel, 1 Thessalonians, and Revelation. This popular understanding has been propagated in Christian literature such as “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsey and the Left Behind series. It has been found in the secular world as well in films such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and other such horror films.
The word “apocalypse” means “unveiling” and in apocalyptic writings, the authors have been given a “revelation” or an “unveiling” of the things that are currently happen and/or are soon to pass in the future. Daniel 7 is such an apocalyptic text, and in modern popular culture, it has been interpreted in light of other apocalyptic texts such as Matthew 24, 1 Thessalonians 4, and Revelation. The problem with this is that these interpretations often do not take the apocalyptic author’s own historical and religious context into account, which leaves us with a heavily skewed understanding of what those texts are stating.
Daniel 7 talks about the winds stirring the sea, four beasts rising up, and ten horns found on the fourth beast (three of which are removed and replaced by another smaller horn covered with eyes and a boasting mouth. The sea is always symbolizes the primordial chaos that surrounds God’s ordered and good creation. Water is both life and death, and the chaotic seas in the ancient world (as well as in ours) are always threatening to destroy us. The winds that are stirring them are the “angels” of heaven, implying that there is a spiritual warfare going on in the cosmos, mirroring the ancient Semitic myth of the storm god (Baal in Canaanite mythology and Marduk in the Babylonian mythology). In the ancient world, beasts always represented Empires and/or Kingdoms. Thus, in Daniel’s apocalyptic dream, the first beast represented Babylon, the second represented the Medes, the third the Persians, and the fourth represented the Greek/Seleucid Empire.
It was under these Empires, one after the next, that the Hebrew people suffered great oppression under. But, in Daniel’s vision, these Empires wouldn’t have the final say. God was doing something significant, something that would overthrow the forces of evil in the world and would begin the establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth. He sees someone like the “Son of Man” coming on the clouds and ushering in that Kingdom. The apocalyptic author of Daniel was providing hope for people caught in what seemed like a hopeless situation. God would take authority away from the beast-like Kingdoms and return it to human-like Israel
It was this hope that, 160 years after the writing of this text, a Jewish prophet and teacher would proclaim he was the fulfillment of. That man, of course, was Jesus of Nazareth and he was claiming that he was that “Son of Man” and he proclaimed the arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth. It was this “Son of Man” that was proclaiming a message that was counter to the powers of the world, one that preached of strength through humility, through meekness, through peace, through compassion, through self-sacrifice and through unconditional love. While Jesus does proclaim a post-ascension time when he would return, Daniel, according to Jesus, was not pointing to an event following the Christ; rather, Daniel was pointing to the Christ event itself. Let us who believe in Jesus as the Christ rejoice, for we have been chosen by him to continue the unveiling of the enduring Kingdom he ushered in! Our call is not to predict the future, but to serve God’s Kingdom today.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Matthew 19:21)
PRAYER Lord, thank you for revealing to me the Son of Man. Help me to do my part in serving your Kingdom on Earth. Amen.
Read Mark 5:1-13
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10)
“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the Wolf’s Bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” At first when Larry Talbot hears those words recited to him by the engaged woman he is attempting to seduce, he laughs it off as superstitious hogwash. One thing that could certainly be said is that Larry was certainly not pure in heart but, then again, who is? Regardless, Larry was a modern, civilized man, and there was no way that he was going to buy into werewolves and in any mythical monster.
Yet, as it turns out, later that night following those words being recited to him, Larry is bitten by what looks like a large wolf and his life becomes a living nightmare. As the full moon draws closer, Larry became more and more convinced that he was, in fact, bitten by a werewolf. He was so paranoid that he tried to convince his father who refused to believe him. Instead, his father put him in the care of a psychiatrist. On the morning following the full moon, Larry found himself lying in bed with tattered and dirty clothes on. His window was open wide and dirty footprints could be seen. At first they were wolf-like, but each footprint became more and more human. Once he saw this Larry knew his worst nightmare had come true: he was the wolf man.
As you have probably figured out, I have just summed up the first half of the movie, “The Wolf Man”, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. It is one of my favorite films because I find that I truly relate with the character. I think many, if they are honest, can relate with him. We are all flawed people. Even when we have the best of intentions, we are not pure in heart. We often try to hide the impurity and the ugliness; however, at some point, that ugliness always shows. No matter how hard we try to suppress the beast within us, whatever that beast is, the full moon eventually rises upon it and the beast is unleashed. This, of course, is a metaphor and our inner “beasts” take the form of anger, depression, hatred, bitterness, addiction, gossip, divisiveness, cynicism, and many other things.
This is a reality. We may not like to admit it, but we all have a beast that lies underneath the surface just waiting to come out of the darkness to take over and destroy our lives and the lives of those around us. The question is, will we like Larry deny that the inner beast exists? Will we deny our impurities? Will we pretend that we are all “good” people who have no weaknesses or hangups? Or will we come to terms with the fact that, while our life can be beautiful at points, it is also true that we find ourselves walking thorny paths? Will we acknowledge the thorny paths we are on. This reminds me of the first verse of a famous hymn, “Be Still, My Soul: the Lord is on your side. Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; leave to your God to order and provide; in every change God faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”
While “Be Still, My Soul” is talking about having strength in times of tribulation, there really is no greater tribulation than trying to fight our inner demons alone. The reality is that we were born in a broken world as broken people. The more we deny our weaknesses the more our souls suffer the consequences of that inner struggle. The Good News here is that you need not fight it at all. Christ has power over our demons if we will only allow him into our lives and into our hearts. That takes humility, it takes repentance, and it takes a willingness on our part to be transformed and to change; however, is the alternative a better option? The same Christ who cast Legion out of the possessed man in the reading for today, is the same Christ who can conquer the inner demons, the inner beast, in your life. All you need do is have faith, to be willing to change, and to allow Christ to still the storm in your soul.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know the Christ who ruled them while he dwelt below.” – Katharina von Schlegel
PRAYER Lord, still the storm within my soul. Should it ever return, remind me that you are Lord in my life and that I need not fight the battle alone. Amen.
Read 1 Corinthian 11:17-34
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26 CEB)
I just recently watched the film, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” This has always been my favorite of the four films because it deals with Indiana Jones’ quest to find the Holy Grail. While I am sure most of you know what the Holy Grail is, for those of you who don’t the Holy Grail is the cup of which Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles drank from during the Last Supper. Indiana’s father (played by Sean Connery) had been searching for the Grail his whole life, but when he gets close to finding it he disappears. Indiana then picks up where is father left off in order to not only find the Grail but to also find his father.
Before embarking on the quest, Indy turns to his friend, Marcus Brody, and asks him if he thinks there is actually any truth to the legend of the Holy Grail. Marcus responded, “The search for the Holy Grail is the search for the divine in all of us.” This statement hit me in a way it never really did before. I think as a younger person, I never fully understood the profound implication of that statement; yet, as a grown adult and a trained theologian, the proclamation is actually a revelation of the nature of who we are in Christ Jesus. This is not just some Hollywood-contrived revelation, but is a revelation we find throughout the Bible.
When we think of the Holy Grail, we think of the Last Supper, we think of the Knights of the Round Table, we think of Indiana Jones, we think of Monty Python, and some may even think of Dan Brown’s controversial work of fiction, “The Da Vinci Code.” Almost always, the Holy Grail is thought of as an object, as the cup that held the wine (aka blood) of Jesus Christ. In the case of the Indiana Jones film, the cup itself was holy and had magical powers of healing and rejuvenation as a result of Christ using it it in such a holy moment in history. In books like the Da Vinci Code, the Holy Grail is a woman (going back to Mary Magdalene) who carried on the bloodline of Jesus Christ. Again, like the cup, the woman is merely important because she’s bearing the bloodline of Jesus.
What I noticed was that, when thinking of the Holy Grail, we tend to lose the bigger picture for the smaller details. We lose the significance of the Holy Grail when we cheapen it to being a “cup” or a “womb” or anything else. Marcus Brody points us to a deep truth when he says, “The search for the Holy Grail is the search for the divine in all of us.” Indeed. Jesus didn’t hold The Last Supper in order to turn a cup into an idol. Also, to get caught up in the “married Jesus” debate is to completely miss the entire point of Jesus ministry and the Last Supper.
In the act of “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood”, the disciples are taking Jesus into themselves and making him a part of their own identity. In other words they, in that sacred moment and from that time forward, become the Holy Grail…bearing the grace and the love of Jesus to all the world. Just as Jesus was the Son of God, we who believe in Christ and partake in Holy Communion as a public profession of our faith, take on the identity of sons and daughters of God. I am sure some of my Protestant brothers and sisters might be questioning if I am taking Communion a little too literally. While I am not, I would say that to question that is to miss the truth of the above.
Whether we believe in Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation, or we believe that the Sacrament of Holy Communion is a symbol of God’s grace and forgiveness for us, the fact remains that Holy Communion is a reminder that we are called to be the Holy Grails of Christ. We are called to be the vessels that bear Christ’s love in the world. We are called to be Sacramental and to be transformational. We are called to be agents of Christ’s grace and witnesses to the presence of God. Remember this the next time you partake in communion and be transformed.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY “The search for the Holy Grail is the search for the divine in all of us.” – Marcus Brody in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”.
PRAYER Lord, I am your vessel fill me with your grace so that I may bear witness to your grace in the lives of others. Amen.
Click here to view today’s devotion.
Read Romans 15:22-33; Acts 21-22
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 CEB).
To sum up this series, I think it is beyond doubt that Paul is the most influential theologian in the history of Christianity. As this series has attempted to show, much of the problems that Christians run into when it comes to interpreting Paul arise directly because Paul is interpreted as a “Christian” theologian. Yet, the truth of the matter is that, while he was an Apostle of the Risen Christ, the Apostle Paul was NOT a Christian but a Jewish theologian. He just happened to subscribe to the Jewish sect known as “the Way” and believed that Jesus had called him to preach the Good News of an open Jewish covenant, through Christ, to all the Gentile world.
Throughout the centuries and especially in Christianity Today, Paul has become a conservative icon of the church and a guardian of the faith. Thus, his words and writings have been used to uphold church doctrine and dogma in support of slavery, against women clergy, and for the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. In fact, the Apostle Paul’s words on marriage are also the foundation of the Roman Catholic doctrine on clerical celibacy. For those supporting such doctrines and positions, Paul’s words have become a rallying cry; however, by and large the Apostle Paul’s writings have divided more people than they have united. While those seeking to keep things as the perceive they’ve always been find Paul to be their champion, others who are frustrated by the Church’s resistance to change find Paul to be irritating at best and downright egregious at worst.
All of this division, all of this animosity, all of this tension coming from a man who literally spent his life trying to unite people in Christ Jesus. While Paul was Jewish and firmly believed that Jesus was the JEWISH MESSIAH, he also firmly believed that this Christ, through his death and resurrection, had opened up the Jewish covenant to all Gentiles, through their faith in Jesus Christ. This set him at odds with both the Jerusalem church, as well as with the majority of Jewish people as a whole. Yet, rather than abandon one side for the other, Paul spent the rest of his shortened life and ministry trying to make peace with all parties and he tried to unite them in the grace, peace and love of the Risen Christ.
Throughout his ministry, Paul collected money from his Gentile church communities in order that he might bring a peace offering and financial support for the church in Jerusalem. In Romans 15 he wrote to the church community in Rome to pray not only that he be rescued from those who don’t believe in Judea, but that the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (e.g. Jesus brother, James, among others) find his monetary gift to be acceptable. We also learn, in Acts 21, that Paul’s worries were founded as the church wanted him to prove he was a committed Jew by going to the Temple and going through a purification ritual with his fellow Gentile travelers. In complying with them to solidify the unity he was seeking, Paul sealed his own fate, was arrested by the Temple guards, was sent to Rome and was, eventually, martyred.
Paul literally died in order to bring unity to an already divided church. He was not the conservative icon of the church in his day, but a progressive (to use today’s language) visionary of an INCLUSIVE church. He believed and died for a church that would INCLUDE all people who share faith in Jesus Christ. He strived for a church that would live in LOVE and live out Christ’s commandment for us to LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Paul died to witness to his belief that we “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 5:28). This, for Paul, was the Gospel message and it should be the message that we, too, embrace as the Gospel Message.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Talent perceives differences; genius, unity.” – William Butler Yeats
Lord, build me into a peacemaker. Even as I hold firm to my convictions, keep me convicted to bear your grace in all things. Amen.