Why Are We Squeamish About Crucifix?

I worry that American Christianity with our suspicion of the crucifix as too ornate, if not even idolatrous, are forgetting the sufferings of Christ and what it means for our daily living. I am not advocating a 10 feet crucifix be hung on all the churches to safeguard the practice of meditation on the sufferings of Christ. Because anything hung on  a wall can become mere decoration, and like decorations in any homes, disappear into the wall and go unnoticed. But there is a similar sentiment, even spirit, behind the dismissal of the crucifix and the current trend in many churches to skimp Good Friday. We Americans don’t like to meditate on suffering.

There are solid historical reasons for Protestant’s weariness of the crucifix. Though the crucifix was meant to help people pray in midst of their suffering remembering the sufferings of Christ, it was often used like good luck charm, a rabbit’s foot. It was rubbed and oiled, carried to business meetings and battle fronts, even carried into fields of killing. People knelt to pray to Christ at first, but out of habit and thoughtlessness, many attributed answered prayer to the crucifix itself and began kneeling only before crucifixes and nowhere else. Like many thing in religion, the symbol became the substance.

Reformation was not just the rethinking of theology but also of practice since you cannot affect people’s mind unless you can also change their behavior. Calvin prohibited not only the crucifix but even the cross itself. For even the cross gets in the way of thinking directly of Christ. So though Luther kept the crucifix, Calvin rid the sanctuary of the cross because Calvin was convinced, rightfully so, that the human heart was an “idol making factory."

We American Christians are perfectly fine with the simple cross as long as there is no body nailed to it, dying or dead. And some of the reason traces to our Reformation zeal against idolatry. But getting rid of the cross does not vaccinate our hearts from idols. For Calvin did not fully appreciate that the human heart is also a “symbol making factory.” We need visuals because everything stands for something. And in a vacuum of the cross, other things occupy the stage.

So we don’t have crucifix but we have the American flag. On Christmas we have our creche and Christmas trees. On Easter we have our egg hunts and Easter bunnies. When you consider all these symbolic characters running around in our sanctuaries, you begin to suspect that there are other reasons why we cringe at the crucifix than simply the fear of idolatry and the natural blinders to our own idols. Isn’t it because the Christmas tree and Easter bunny are symbols of success? They are blessing you with gifts, a new TV under the tree, chocolate in eggs. And who would be so cold-hearted as to oppose the creche, the baby Jesus, a God become helpless baby, chubby hands grabbing your thumb and large eyes that look to you with perfect trust as if you were a god.

Isn’t this why the two main Christian holidays in America is Christmas and Easter, when it should be Good Friday and Easter? Seasonal Christians will only go Christmas and Easter, the birth and rebirth, and just skip the whole death thing. Even weekly attenders will skip Good Friday. Isn’t there enough preaching on the cross on Sundays? Though lot of the preaching of the cross you get on Sunday doesn’t focus much on the suffering. The cross becomes a shorthand for the American story of success out of failure. Cross was failure. Easter was success despite failure. All four gospels, of which only two speak of Christ’s birth, tell the life story of Jesus to show that the cross was not a failure but was the whole point of Christ’s life. And in that story, the suffering of Christ was not optional scene. It was the main scene, the climax in which sin and death was defeated. Through suffering, Christ accomplished his mission. Cross was success -- which turns the idea of success on its head -- for the last words of the suffering and dying Christ was, “It is finished.”

 

 

The two earliest holy days for the Church was Easter and Good Friday. So crucial were these two days that every Friday was Good Friday and every Sunday was Resurrection Sunday. Knowing the sufferings of Good Friday, they had more hope for resurrection regardless of the suffering they were facing. They were able to face martyrdom because they had vivid images of the sufferings of Christ. Today, the slightest suffering sends us reeling and questioning the existence of God. We have become squamish Christians.

 

 

But Peter was a squamish once. He became a Rock. When you know both the sufferings of Christ and the resurrection of Christ, you are fortified against anything and for anything.

 

 

1So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. 2You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God.  - 1st Peter 4:1-2

Putting the Book of Genesis Together

If I was a Jewish elder in the council considering what part of the oral tradition would be finally penned, I would have had serious issues with a whole lot of Genesis. It is one thing to retell a story over a lingering campfire with kids sticking branches with skewered marshmallows or while licking lamb chop juices off one’s finger with the sacrifice fire slowly dying out. It is quite another thing to commit a story into a parchment. You finalize things when you write it down. There is no chance for revisions, no space for differing editions. There is hardly any margins for error because there is a finality to writing, and that sense of finality is often mistaken as fatality. What is written is absolutely true. What is spoken is never certain.

 

 

And what is written has rigid longevity, its rigidity being part of its longevity. Once a thing is written, it is going to be told in the exact same manner thousands of years into the future.

 

Those Jewish elders who translated the oral Genesis into a written Genesis probably had a greater understanding of longevity than we do today. Because they had a more affectionate memory of the past. Today, we have longer human history to look back to but our connections to previous generations are flimsy and have no real emotional pull. The names of even our personal ancestors only go back to the second generation at most. Anyone remember their great-great grandparent? Past history feels like a story of others, and so the future also feels like stories about others.

 

Ancient people had personal connections to the past. Their very names held the personal connections to the past as the names of their great ancestors were woven into their own names. With such connections to the past, the elders knew the future also was theirs too. They felt great responsibility to their descendents because they had great respect for their elders.

 

In one level, this is the point of Genesis, that all of human history is really family history. Genesis doesn’t linger greatly on any individual. Many chapters fast forward thousands of years. Like a time lapse of the universe birth and growth, it is meant to help us recognize the presentness of the past. This crunching of generations did not dismiss the lives of the individuals. Actually, it lifted the life of the individuals. Individual actions resonated down generations. Adam dared to go against God, and now all of humanity has to suffer the discrepancy of labor and the paucity of fruit. Abraham’s willingness to leave his father to head out west was the start of a nation that still occupies pretty much the same land Abraham went west to claim.

 

The Jewish elders knew that, so they selected the stories with great care and much prayer. They were listening for God’s instructions by respectful listening to each other. With that much pressure, then, I would have raised many concerns. Around the rickety table and the waning candle light, I would have recommended heavy editing before being sent out to the press. I imagine:

 

“I think,” I advise, “the part of Abraham lying and basically willing to let another man make a cuckold of him doesn’t have to be mentioned, and for sure not two times, and definitely don’t have Isaac do the same spineless thing. Why make our ancestors such pricks, sorry to say that word, but that is what those stories make them look like. So let’s just scratch that.”

 

“We’ve got to tell it as it is!” The youngest of the elder, which is not the same thing as saying young but practicing that uncompromising youthful idealism, exclaims by banging on the table.

 

At the end, most of the council agrees to keep such unflattering stories.

 

“Will keep it. Let us remember, we are reporters, not editor?” the moderator instructs to all but looks at me.

 

“Yeah, well reporters edit too. And I can let that go, the cuckolding. But not Cain getting away with murder! Can kills Abel, the first murder, and gets God’s protection?!! That is terrible. Because that is just going to encourage murderers. You kill and you don’t shed a single tear of regret but don’t worry God is going to protect your life. A murderer must be executed. Letting murderers go scot free is the ruin of a society. You let one go, before you know it thousand will demand the same protection for their crime! I can already see it. Some loose descendent of ours arguing against execution by producing this story and saying you see God didn’t execute, so we can’t either. That society is headed for anarchy!”

 

“You have a great point.” the moderator butters me us before another rejection of my sound advice, “but if we take that out, then we are just going to pretend that Cain and Abel did  exist at all?”
 

“Why not! Let’s just skip it. No one will know. Adam right into Seth.”

 

“Sam, what does the Spirit of God say to you?”
 

A long pause and I really use that pause to listen. “Okay. Keep it.”

 

“Any more suggestions?”

 

“Okay, what about the whole Rachel and Leah pimping their slaves to Jacob to steal the attention of Jacob, and the names of the twelve fathers of our tribes simply being a way for Rachel and Leah to slap each other with their sons -- He will be Asher because I am happy while you are not. Can we just bring down the notch a bit? Even soap operas don’t get that sleazy! Our founding fathers being nothing less than product of a dysfunctional family just isn’t going to stir a lot of ancestor honoring.”

 

“But Sam,” I imagine the moderator being wise and so having a beard down to his ankle, and snowy white, like Gandalf, “that is what is so strangely beautiful about our story. It really isn’t about us. It isn’t about how great we Jews are. If we were ever to fall into that stupid mistake, it would be the death of us. It isn’t about us. It is about God, God’s faithfulness to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and then to Joseph even in Egypt and far from the promised land. It is about this amazing God that is intimate with us. I hear this story and true, I have to put my kids to bed before I can finish some of them. And God seems barbaric at times, like Bel or Dan these gods of the Canaanites. Yet God’s voice breaks through, doesn’t it? It shatters anything we expected of any other gods. Truly all these stories about our ancestors were not about them at all. All of our stories is really about God. And if God is the main character, then there isn’t a thing we can change. If we take our Cain, then it also removes that important character of God, His great mercy.”

 

“Well, yes, I see that. I see that. The more I read it, the more I see it….Okay let’s go with it.”

 

“Well then. Let’s finish this up. I want to make it back home before sunset. Any other suggestions.”

 

The moderator is about to close the meeting with a prayer but I think I would have blurted out,  “Well, that thing about sacrificing the son, that is just too scary!”

 

Reading

They were all crammed in Lydia's courtyard, more than 50 at the least, for the news had spread that Epaphroditus had returned with words from Paul, and everyone was eager to hear from them both.

"We were worried greatly about you Epaphroditus," Lydia rubbed the hands of the young man which showed the wear of the travel, "First we heard you fell terribly ill, at your death bed, then we heard you were back to your feet and praise God for that, for I would have carried a heavy guilt to my death bed for having sent you on a perilous trip."

Epaphroditus smiled. He lost a few pounds, but he was healthy again, physically weaker but spiritually stronger. He could still feel Paul's hands on his forehead, small but full of heat, blessing him as he left Paul in Rome with his letter in his sack. "Paul was terribly worried too. He nursed me back. Could you believe it? I went to tend to old Paul, alone in prison, to care for him, and it was the old man who had to wipe sweat off my forehead. But our Master had mercy on us all. I got my life back -- I thought it was the end of me, Paul was spared sorrow, I and most important, I have his letter." He took it out of his sack and handed it over to Lydia. Several times he almost lost his life to marauders for the letter. They all thought he was stashing gold in his sack, they way he clutched it, and when they ransacked it and found only a plain parchment without any insignia they thought him just a young man smitten with Cupid's arrow carrying some love letter and let him go advising him against the foolishness of giving his life for a woman. But for Epaphroditus, this letter was more precious than his own life.

When Lydia felt the parchment on her hands, she felt she was touching the finest purple linen her hands had ever touched, far more precious than any gold. In it was the words of Paul, her teacher, the one she met at the riverbank, just outside the city, whose teaching were so foreign they sounded like a crazy man's rant, yet she could not tune them out until she found herself begging them to stay at her place. They were Jews. And she had some wealthy Jewish customers and knew enough of their xenophobic laws, like the one prohibiting eating with Gentiles. But there she was, practically begging them to stay at her home, a Gentile's home, and on top of all that a widow. Paul thanked her and was about to go but Lydia was hungry for what he was saying. She simply couldn't wait until the next day. She always got her ways, and she did that day too. And it was here, in this courtyard, under a full moon, she heard the most amazing news about a Galilean who died for her sins and rose from the dead. She got baptized that night. No Roman bath ever made her feel that clean.

"Epaphroditus!"

"Julius!"

"I am glad you are back with us, alive and not a ghost! And how is it with Paul?"

"Paul is great! His spirit is strangely alive!"

"Oh I know that! No prison is going to kill his spirit. That night when I was on guard, him and Silas was singing out their lungs out! First I laughed. I thought they were drunk! Then I got annoyed and was going to kick some sense into them but as I made my way to their cell, I paid attention, to find out what they were singing about. It helps that they can blow but something about the words was calming. Even the usually rowdy prisoners were all silent, listening; it was as if all of us were in the amphitheater listening to some beautiful and haunting song. Then the earthquake. Well, you know the rest. I would have stuck myself with my own sword except Paul comes running to me, holds my  hand."

Julius wiped tears with his sleeve.

"Sorry. Look at me, not manly to lose my composure like this. But every time I tell that story..."

"Daddy!" Lucius, Julius son, not more than seven, ran and grabbed his legs, having explored enough of the courtyard and needing to return to safety.

"Julius, we all owe Paul a lot. His message has all made us followers of our Master. That is why I had to go even at the risk of my own life. I had to tell Paul about what the Spirit is doing in Philippi, and I had to hear from him again. Now I am eager to hear his letter read. "

"You didn't take a peak?"

"I was tempted, but it was to us. I didn't feel right."

"A young man of great self-discipline! You have a bright future."

"Brothers and sisters!" It was Lydia and her alto voice stilled all the conversations milling around the courtyard.

"Thanks to Epaphroditus we have a letter from  Paul." There was a long silence, full of expectancy, as Lydia looked into the eyes of every face. It made everyone in the room look at each other. She noticed how different they were, masters and slaves. And there was Enoch and Gaius, Jew and Gentile, now best of friends. Their community had tensions. But there they were, all eager to hear what Paul had to say.

She unrolled it and she could see Paul, his high forehead, piercing eyes, thin strong frame standing up to speak, even hear his voice as she formed the sound of the letters:

“This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.
I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus,”

Physicality of Spiritual Life

When Muhammed made his followers kneel five times a day then made it a requisite for Muslims, it was a brilliant strategy. A following of 40, mostly his relatives, ballooned to hundred and would soon take Mecca than half of Europe, a family affair became a global movement. That discipline made intimacy with God available to everyone and anywhere, anyone can kneel and you can kneel anywhere.

That physical-spiritual discipline offered greater meaningfulness of life than the Arabic paganism they were born into. They lived in fear of their household gods, so much so they did not want to think about them much. When disease broke out or enemies were encamped outside of the gates, then they made sacrifices to their stern gods to stem their wrath. Ironically, though their gods were physical, made of stones or wood, they related to them in an aloof way. Though their gods occupied a corner or a room of their mansions, hovels and streets, they did not occupy the people's hearts. Their relationship to these material gods were not physical. The idols with their stone carved bodies were more like irascible spirits whose tantrums needed placations.

Muhammed had the Arabs trash the idols, use the wood for fire, and said God took no physical form. But he also knew that man cannot be spiritual without being physical, so devotion to the pure spiritual being was done physically. This was not a novel idea. He picked it up from Jewish merchants, seeing them pray three times a day. It was what maintained the Jewish identity though they were landless.

 

Now Islam takes that physicality to the extreme. Not only did they increase the prayer from three to five, they also took the presence of God as a political state in this physical world. The Caliphate became a necessity, and how you traced that physical lineage to Muhammed became a religious matter. ISIS is a tragic embodiment of this idea to fanatic extreme. The work of God and the work of man is confounded. The Kingdom of God must be won with a sword. The body has consumed the spirit.

Christ slapped the hand of Peter when he reached for his sword. Christ did not want him to confuse God's Kingdom with the kingdoms of this world. We cannot force it. 

Though the Kingdom is not of this world, it is in this world. The Kingdom of God is not won by swords, but it is revealed in services that are physical.  
 

-Lord, when did we give you water? 

-When you gave water to the thirsty, when you visited me in prison.

There is no bodiless spirit, so their is no bodiless spirituality. If the extremes of Islam is danger of subsuming the spirit in the body, then the danger of American Christianity is the subsuming of the body in the spirit. We think we can be spiritual without getting out hands dirty. You can pray however you want, you can praise sitting down and you can love God without ever washing the dirtied feet of a homeless. We think our main spirituality is what we do with our mind and in our mind. We have an atrophied Christianity.

We don't feel the need to visit prisons because well, we heard a good sermon, our mind is satisfied, we have done our spiritual duty. 

Perhaps our visits to prison start with us getting on our knees. Not five times a day, but three times a day is a start, a practice we can take from our Jewish heritage, the likes of Daniel but also Jesus, Peter, and Paul. We should not practice it out of fear and turn it into a new way of justification, but with the joy of discipline as when we are learning an instrument we always wanted to play. We should do it with the same need as much as we eat three meals a day and don't think that it is legliatic at all. We eat physical food because this body needs it. We kneel because our spirit needs to pray. 

 

 

Racial Tension and The Church

 Dylan Roof unleashed a torrent of bullets, point blank, on people who welcomed him into a bible study. He coldly and methodically murdered them because they were black and with a demonic dream to instigate a racial war. I think it would be imbecilic in our part to dismiss that as an impossibility. Not that we should lock up church doors and breath fear. Fear-mongering only douses oil into an already flammable situation. On the other hand, dismissing the danger of escalating racial conflict is cowardly, another form of giving into fear. Fear blinds us, makes us turn away. Hope gives us courage to see what is in front of us, because hope does not believe that what is in front of us is the final scene.

We assume that since we made so much progress in racial relations, we won't slip back into the old days of lynching. We won't go back to Jim Crow laws, as much as no one wants to go back to brick-size flip phones with the inconceivable conveniences of smart phones. But societal progress is not like technological progress. Tolerant societies can fall back into intolerance, especially in time of perceived scarcity. History is replete with societies that have rolled back on their progress. For all their sophisticated system of law and cultural transmission that seemed to guard the progress, societies have lost what was built on decades of slow hard work, often within a generation. 

The Arabian Empire, with Islam as their uniting nuclear force, created an amazingly tolerant society that stretched from the border of China to Portugal. The society was more tolerant than the Christian Europe groping in the "Dark Ages." Many Christians rejected the Pope and sought refuge under the Caliphate. In that diverse society a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim theologian would discuss Aristotle's work in a local tavern. The western world owes much of its rational mode of conversation that set the ground for the scientific revolution to these open table conversations. Arabic words in our English language, such as "alebra" and "chemistry" are vestiges of that progressive society. But as Arabian Empire began to wane, they also waned in their toleration. Imams drinking coffee with a priest was an easy target for a mob. Today's Muslim nations are dangerously intolerable.

The Western world has their own poster-child in Germany. Germany was producing some of the greatest minds of Europe whose works have become canon for Western education. But in less than 3 decades, the society devolved into a racist state. 

We cannot sit on our progress, blinded by arrogance or fear, believing progress will protect us. Each generation must guard and advance toleration. 

The church must take a lead on this by regaining its fundamental identity as a church of diversity. 

When Constantine replaced the eagle with the cross, it wasn't simply his personal statement of faith, putting a Christian bumper sticker on his shield as part of his witnessing. He saw the political advantages of the cross. Christianity was able to do what the Roman Empire could not do for centuries, unite the people under a single identity stronger than their linguistic and cultural differences. Rome controled the lands, but not the people of those lands. People gave their taxes and young men to conscription out of the fear of the sword. But Christ had the hearts of a Jew and a Gentile. Around the table of Christ sat masters and slaves, Africans and Gauls. People gave up their household gods and even the gods of their cities for Christ. Christ was the first universal God. 

Constantine wanted that same unity-in-diversity community he saw in the church for the state. Sadly, once the church sidled up to the throne, she became protective of her new power. Ironically, the new wealth  led to mentality of scarcity and the church began to discriminate. Arians got mobbed in the street for singing the wrong songs about Christ. The church fomented anti-semitism. Even wise Anselm promoted pogroms from the pulpit. The church thought the best way to honor their Jewish rabbi was by persecuting his people.

This contradiction finds its most ironic image in Luther who was the greatest mind to champion Paul, using Paul's "justification by faith" to sever the chains of Rome. But he totally disregarded Paul's love for the united church and created rhetoric to murder Jews which the Nazis used, centuries after him, to prop up their propaganda with glee.

When a church is divided, it cannot be the conscience of the society. It cannot speak of tolerance when its own congregations are not worshiping together with people unlike them. In the aftermath of the church shooting, it was good that different churches got together, and the pastors of black churches and white churches held hands in prayer. It is part of the healing, but it does not give hope. And I think we should bring down the confederate flag. But that action does not give hope either. It can backfire, giving us a false sense of progress and excuse us from the hard work of progress.

The church has to look to herself and repent of how she has become homogeneous and even more divided than the larger society. Dylan grew up in a Lutheran church and shot blacks in an African Episcopalian church. We have to stop making excuse for homogeneity in our congregation in the name of "evangelism and growth." Last time I checked, cells that multiply without differentiating are deemed cancerous. We have to reflect the diversity of the neighborhood we worship in. Multi-cultural congregations are not PC initiatives. They are simply being the church. For they are taking the "mystery of the gospel" seriously, that the dividing walls were broken down and that Jew and Gentile is one family, and that families should always eat together regularly, even after a spate, and not just meet for the occasional choir sharing.

The church can speak of a more tolerant society and be persuasive when it shows how it looks like in the life of its own congregation. 


The Table

After the Passover ended, we boarded a ship at Philippi in Macedonia and five days later joined them in Troas, where we stayed a week.
Paul’s Final Visit to Troas. On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper.
— Acts 20:6-7

by Rev. Samuel Son

It was only few years ago that Paul came to Troas without a plan for all his plans failed to pan out. No synagogues in Asian or Bithynia opened their doors to him. He thought it was punishment for his brash breaking away from Barnabas. After all, it was Barnabas that fished him out of the anonymity of Tarsus and got him a job at the church in Antioch when no one wanted to take a chance on him because he had a record as far as Christians were concerned.

So he stood at the dock where huge ships from Italy and Greece came in. The Aegean sea came in gently and then rammed against the boats and the barges. In that swirling blue he saw a man begging him to come to Macedonia. The next dawn he got on the earliest departing boat.

Who would have imagined that he would come back here, and there would be believers who gathered every Sunday.

Paul takes the bread and breaks it and says, This is by body!

The people around this table are also the body of Christ. There is Timothy and Gaius, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica where he got kicked around a bit. So many good friends. If not for this table, they would be strangers thinking they had nothing in common.

Paul then pours crimson wine into the cup, This is my blood!
He is a murderer turned missionary. Where would he be if not for Jesus' blood?

He continues, Do this in remembrance of me.

So this is how Jesus must have felt in his last supper, Paul imagines for this also would be his last supper with the believers at Troas.

He is fights back the tears as he receives bread from an elder he had ordained.

Here he is, breaking bread at the city of his brokenness, surrounded by the people he has come love more than himself, people from all the cities he labored at, people who were so broken that they were ready to be made whole. 

The bread melts on Paul's tongue. He has never tasted a bread more sweet in its plainness.

 

 

 

A Good Team is Made of Broken People

TIMOTHY

Timothy was called many things, but none of them made him tear up. Yes, the names hurled at him hurt, all the more reason not to give them the satisfaction to see his pain.

-Mutt, Gentile Dog, Barbaric, Impure, Unclean, Backwater, the Defiled.

He hated going to school. The harder he tried to fit in, the more he stood out. It was strange how in the morning when he gazed at himself in the mirror, it was always the feature he hated most that stood out, his father's eyes, his mother's nose. 

So it caught him off guard when Paul said to him “My Son.” Even his father did not say those words who left before he could say “Dad.” So when Timothy heard himself being called “son,” before he could take control of his emotions - which he thought he had mastered -- he was sobbing like a kid. And he was back on the playground, on the market streets of Lystra  and all those people who pelted him with those names. And the single word, “Son,” took all those names and calmed them down by embracing them all.

PRICILLA AND AQUILA

Pricilla and Aquila landed in Corinth still shaking in shock. This all seemed like a nightmare and Pricilla still believed that any moment, she would be roused awake to their home in Rome. They had made it, unlike most of the Jews, in Rome. They had worked hard, opened their own tent-selling mom-and-pop shop. And after a decade of frugal living, they had bought a house, a small corner lot, just enough for the two of them. Then one night, a loud bang, papers thrown into their face and soldiers clamoring that the property belonged to the Emperor because the Jews were being expelled for treason, and they found themselves outside on the street, homeless.

They did not see how they could rebuild again, but they got started again, nevertheless, with the only thing they knew how, tent making. On the third day, they saw a Jew, short, bald, a weathered face made gentle with an inviting smile. He was always humming hymns while stitching fabric. One day he stopped by and said, “Hello,” and after few pleasantries they were telling this guy, who called himself Paul, everything that happened to them.

Paul heard their story, his eyes rapt in empathy which is not pity, but something more loving and strict.

When they had finished their story, Paul broke out in a smile that seemed to make light of their suffering but not in a dismissive way but in the way hope makes light of even the darkest experience. Then Paul rolled up his sleeves, “this was in Lystra,” showed his abdomen, “that was from Thessalonica, not too long ago, and this,” he exposed his back to them, “was from Philippi” and it was lined with welts that ran the length of his back. There was hardly a clean patch of skin.

From that day on they sewed tents together as Paul spoke of Jesus who was expelled from Jerusalem and nailed to the wood but how the Great Reject was the Great Savior. They began to forget the home they lost in Rome. Actually, the whole world no longer felt like home because the nights spent tenting and talking about Jesus with Paul felt like home.

Resurrection Claim

by Rev. Samuel Son

In conversations with naysayers of the resurrection, I point to the historical fact that these apostles died for their claim. “Why would they die for a lie?”

They invariably argue that many die for lies, and they point to jihadists: “Not only do they go to battle for lies, they even kill!” They clump jihadism with martyrdom. That is like saying because an apple is red, strawberry are also apples because they are red. It creates a false categorization.

Jihadists and martyrs are not taken from the same cloth. Jihadists blow themselves up to kill others because they have to make others believe what they believe. They live fanatically because it is the only way to sustain their claims, constantly stoking them through extremisms. Their very defensiveness makes them uncompromising and aggressive. 

Martyrs, on the other hand, don’t kill themselves to kill others. The don’t strap bombs. But if they are threatened to recant or be killed, they will give their life because their belief is not based on their fanaticism but on truth, and truth is powerful enough to convict a man to be faithful. Cognitive dissonance did not lead the disciples to make up the story of resurrection, it was to avoid cognitive dissonance that they sang hymns to their risen Lord while the lions roared and the fires raged and began climbing up their legs.

Lies need fanaticism. Truth creates faithfulness. Jihadists need their claims to be true so they kill. Martyrs know their belief is true so they are ready to die, if need be.

The twelve apostles were not fanatics or jihadists. They were martyrs. They were witnesses, convinced of what they saw, and sticking to it. Then it make sense to consider their claim.

The Pagan Confessor

The first person to recognize Jesus as the Son of God was the pagan who crucified him. This is especially significant in the gospel of Mark where everyone keeps saying of Jesus, “who is this guy?” Even the disciples who camped out with him three years straight are still scratching their heads. No one can figure out who Jesus is!

When Jesus is manhandled then nailed to the wood, they conclude, “he is no messiah.” They are all too familiar with this plot. The messiah-claimant is proved a fraud and his disciples are hunted down. The cross was the final “nail in the coffin” for their dreams to be the oligarchs of the new Jewish Kingdom. If Jesus is no messiah, then he sure ain’t some son of God as he was wont to speak at times.

It should have been the same for the Roman Centurion, utter contempt of Jesus. The Romans took the crucifixion from the Persians and perfected it into the worst physical and psychological torture. It was a public shaming of the criminal. Romans were not crucified. Cicero warned his citizens, “do let the word ‘cross’ be on your lips.” Even speaking of it brought shame. And this Centurion was familiar with its machination. After all, he carried it out hundreds of times, every execution only confirming his contempt for the one crucified and unquestionably deserving of it. How else could he have continued on his job? We can’t kill a person with a human face. So he despised everyone he nailed and the more he hammered pikes into wrists, the more he despised them. But that day, when the dark suddenly fell at midday, something broke in his heart and a light came in. His confession was spontaneous so he did not know the full meaning of how own words, which made it more sincere: “Surely he is the Son of God.”

It was not the confession of a monotheist. It was spoken from the pagan world where there are many gods. In that sense, it wasn’t orthodox. Like all understandings, he said from the categories he was fed from birth. There are many gods. Gods sometimes couple with human beings and birth demi-gods. There are sons of gods who won great victories, like Hercules. Sometimes humans can become demi-gods through great military conquests like his own emperor Augustus who was crowned with the title Filie Dei (Son of God). Yet, even as the confession climb out of those pagan categories, it also breaks them. To see a man dying on the cross as victorious, to see a criminal, not even human, as the Son of God in par, at least, with the Emperor was a revolution.

Perhaps my own orthodoxy can get in the way of seeing who Jesus really is? Maybe I can learn from those who speak of Christ without the sophistication of a theologian or even the piety of the Christian? Maybe I should not judge the way pagans speak of Jesus because they might be on to something. 

The Gospel-Threat

Ironic, and the laugh is on us now, that what Rome failed to do with their lions and swords, to privatize the gospel, we have done it voluntarily.

"Religion is the opium of the people," thus Karl Marx belittled Christianity. His target was all religions, but Christianity was square in his sight. Funny though, why did Nero chop off Paul's head if Paul's was only inadvertently serving the Empire by spreading religion that would numb the people to the Empire's raping with a false promise of better days after death. There were plenty of mystery cults those days, promising salvation through a secret knowledge or ritual. They had their eccentric preachers that could match Paul's strangeness. Many were harrased by young boys restless after their tutoring, but mostwere not prosecuted by those in power. Paul, on the other hand, is getting either arrested or kicked out, all with the police's consent. He is even accused of treason in Thessalonica. Even more strange, he gets a hearing with Caesar. Why would Caesar bother with a street preacher, unless he has become a threat.

We forget how threatening the gospel is to the powerful. It started even at the birth of Jesus with paranoid Herod killing toddlers recently weaned, to Pilate who crucified Jesus and sarcastically giving him the title "King of the Jews" and, ironically, the man who questioned truth said something true. Pilate dismissed Jesus from his memory. But in less than 40 years, Caesar is tries and executes a person speaking about that crucified Jew who, it turns out, is not just the King of the Jews but the King of everything, Rome included. The message of Jesus was threatening because it put everyone in power on a watch for the true King is going to demand account on whether they are ruling justly. All human rulers were made into stewards in the story of Jesus. Rulers don't want to be demoted or judged for their actions, so they rebelled as it was foretold in one of Jesus' parable.

How did we forget this part of the gospel? That justice is an essence of the gospel because it is about Jesus who will bring justice and demands justice from all given authority.

Don't we forget it because such proclamation is risky? After all, where did Paul end up with such message?  In the chopping block. But Jesus did say take up your cross. And we turned it into a metaphor: the cross as a burden. I have heard some say "my spouse is my cross" which is demeaning of the spouse and the cross. The cross is the risk we take to publicly proclaim the lordship of Jesus. We are risk-averse, especially when it comes to our own life. So we privatized the gospel and allegorized the cross. It is quite safe to be a Christian today.

Ironic, and the laugh is on us now, that what Rome failed to do with their lions and swords, to privatize the gospel, we have done it voluntarily.

NT Wright, Kingdom and Justification

Many of us were blown away by the teachings of NT Wright (Winter Retreat 2015). But the teacher is only as good as his content. And what ultimately amazes us is the awe-inspiring coherence of the story of God in the books of the Bible. And when Jesus is understood in that Great Story of God, and salvation becomes the story of how God is restoring all creation by becoming King through Jesus and through us, our hearts are stirred. In that story of New-Creation, our personal salvation doesn't become less personal. Our individual lives matter to God who has our names engraved on his palm. But our salvation is freed from the privatized and the isolated concept of a life in heaven. And frankly, life up there in heaven sounds a bit boring. But a life saved to serve the King and to be part of the restoration of this earth through my gifts sounds like a movement worth giving one's life to. 

Now there are those who question whether Wright goes too far in emphasizing the Kingdom aspect and loses the essence of salvation. That in making salvation an act of becoming the "people of God," salvation is reduced to ecclesiology, that it is simply a matter of joining a community. That in emphasizing that faith always leads to work, that he is saying that work is necessary for salvation. 

This latter is the strongest charge against Wright, that he is threatening the central doctrine of "justification by faith" which is the cornerstone of Protestantism. 

John Piper wrote an engaging and thoughtful essay on this (link below). 

I think these theological conversations, to a point, are helpful as they might force us to clarify exactly what we believe. But of greater importance is that we go back to the scripture itself. If the conversations make us pay more attention to scripture, then the conversations has done their part. If we get stuck on parsing the doctrines as stated by theologians and scholars, whether they be Luther, NT Wright, or Piper, and we are basically brandish our arguments under a flag of certain school (I believe the Corinthian church was doing that), then we have mired ourselves in needless dispute.

What is evident and beyond dispute is the main plot of the Great Story, that Jesus rose from the dead, resurrection is the inauguration of God's rule, we are offered forgiveness if we repent, and as people of God we are enlisted and empowered to renew this earth. So after our discussions on theological matters, let's go out and do the work that unites us for the God who has already united us. 

John Piper's book on Justification by Faith. NT Wright's interview response to some of the questions on his teachings.

But more important than these writings and interviews, Scripture.

Read Ephesians and Galatians in their entirety and in one sitting so you can the whole edifice of Paul's argument. Then you can hear for yourself what Paul is saying when he says  "We are saved by faith and not by works."

God Rescues So Put On Your Jacket

It is because God rescues, we can take the many little mundane but essential steps of faith, things simple as putting on our jacket because we are leaving the old world behind.

by Rev. Samuel Son

Every time we call on the name of Jesus we are saying, "YahWeh saves" for that is what that name means. But we have limited God's area of saving to forgiveness, which makes even the act of forgiving a moot point.

For sure, forgiveness is the greatest act of rescuing. It came by spilling the blood of one truly righteous man who lived in full trust of God. But forgiveness isolated becomes a spiritual event alone. Anything only spiritual is ethereal, and anything only ethereal becomes unreal.

What we are forgiven from? Sins.

And where are those sins committed? In the physical world. God's forgiveness rescues us from the ways we hurt and destroy each other in this physical life. That God forgives means God rescues us, not only later for our spiritual state, but now in all of our physical needs.

When I read the Psalms, David is always seeking rescue from some political intrigue or enemies at the gates, and it is always tied to his need to be rescued from his sin. God's rescue encompasses all areas of our life.

Jesus' healing was central to his ministry because it was evidence of the rescuing work of God. God rescues us from death which is the punishment for sin, and so God will also rescue us in this life from brokenness of body and mind.

But the rescuing requires our response, for the response itself is part of the rescuing.

When Peter is rescued from the maximum security of Herod Agrippa's Alcatraz, the chains come off and the doors are opened on their own, but the angel commands Peter to "put on his cloth" as if the worst thing that could happen is Peter being rescued then dying of catching a cold from the draft. It is such a mundane command. But mundane as it is, it is what is required of Peter. The angel will break the chains but the angel will not put on  the coat for him and carry him on his back. Peter must walk out of the prison on his own two feet. Peter does it thinking it is all his sweet dream before his end, but it is enough of a walk of faith to start him dashing to John Mark's home as a free man.

God rescues us from our poverty and then he will say, "now do your budget." That is simple as adding numbers. If we don't do that part, then we will end up squatting in the jail though no chains cut our wrists.

God rescues us from a painful hurt and then says, "call that person and meet for coffee." If we don't make that call, then we won't be walking out to the sunlight though the bars are wide open.

It is because God rescues, we can take the many little mundane but essential steps of faith, things simple as putting on our jacket because we are leaving the old world behind.

Obedience, Law, and Charles Hebdo Attack

59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
— Luke 9:59-60

 Before the command of Jesus all laws are superfluous. We cannot make a complete commitment to follow until we are ready to let go of all laws and their tempting but false promises of justification. Just as Adam and Eve’s obedience demanded that they forget the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so our trust in Christ means distrust of our judgments.

But does this mean we don’t make any discernments of what is good and evil? How about the terrorists in Charlie Hebdo attack who killed innocents in the name of “Allah.” Did they not justify their action as obedience to their “god?”

Central to the life of obedience to Christians is the person commanding. Our obedience is to a person, Jesus. And Jesus did not leave us ignorant of his personhood. We have four gospels that tell his story. We have numerous letters from people who got to know him personally, and his personality comes out in them and in their words. And there is the Holy Spirit who is constantly reminding his people of Jesus. With Scripture and Spirit, Christ’s commands are not nebulous. Christ commands us to greater love for God and our neighbors. Christ gives specific commands that creates greater love. The clarity of specific commands comes from a personal knowing of Jesus.

Jesus, then, does not command the murder of innocents. When Peter slashed an ear off from a temple guard, ready to coronate Jesus by blood, Jesus pushed Peter’s sword back into its sheath, We can be sure that it was not Jesus whispering into the terrorists ears.

The terrorists did not hear from God. They used name of God to absolutize their categories of good and evil. Once their targets were turned to “infidels” it gave them a perverted moral space for carrying out their terror. They were men of the law, saw themselves as the hammer of the law, so they could not see that the law was diabolical. They were disobeying God.

What I Learned about the Lord's Prayer from a Coptic Priest

I met Father Misaeil, an Egyptian Coptic priest, at his beautiful sanctuary with Mary, the twelve apostles, and the two angels who flit through the pages of scripture looking down on our meeting with curiosity and hope.

He wore his waist long grey beard and his ankle long black frock with pride, a look most church planting manual would discourage as being irrelevant. The preacher should wear casual jeans to tell the congregation to relax before the Holy. Father Misaeil would probably see casual jeans as irreverent and nor relevant at all.

Father Misaeil stroked his beard, cracked jokes and reminded me of how many of the early ecumenical councils were led by bishops form Alexandria. The Coptic church, he continued, was nourished by the blood of Mark who was martyred in the streets of Alexandria. It felt like the time my mother told me how she visited her mother's grave every day for a year when she was 13, a family history that was not told me when I was young but felt like self-discovery when I heard it.

As we ended our conversation I asked if we could pray together. He said sure and stood up, because that is the only way to pray. I was ready to pray the evangelical style, use some cool, hip phrases I've picked up from blogs and books about the "unity in a post-denominational world" but he launched right into the Lord's prayer.  He took Jesus' words at face value, that whenever we pray, we should be praying the prayer he taught.

I followed him a half-step behind because I did not want a variant version to collide in mid-air, whether he would use "sin" or the more somber sounding "transgression."

After the prayer, he looked at me with pity and asked, "You do know the Lord's prayer?"

I had to explain that I wanted to make sure to use his English version.

What if more Christians prayed the Lord's prayer, more regularly? 

What if we prayed with attention to its words? Then how could we miss it central theme, the Kingdom.?

Every day we are to pray for greater manifestation of the Kingdom through our joyful obedience. And wouldn't such daily commitment to the Kingdom and obedience lead us towards greater unity?

I don't think Paul, who did so much to plant so many churches throughout the Roman Empire, would accept the divisions we have. I don't think he would be satisfied with our unity claimed in the spiritual realm with the concept of "universal church" a theological concept made up to excuse our sinfulness toward division.  Unity has to have some physical manifestation.

Unity of all the churches is an impossible task. Only Kingdom-minded people would believe it possible and worth living for. Only people praying for the Kingdom could sustain such faith. And only a prayer taught by Jesus keeps us praying Kingdom-centered prayers.

Our Father in heaven, 
help us to honor your name.

Come and set up your kingdom,
so that everyone on earth will obey you,
as you are obeyed in heaven.

Give us our food for today.

Forgive us for doing wrong, 
as we forgive others.
Keep us from being tempted 
and protect us from evil.

For all kingdoms are yours,
All powers are yours,
And all glories are yours.

Amen.

The LORD Jesus

by Rev. Samuel Son

The confession “Jesus, my Lord and Savior” is lost on us because the word “Lord” is archaic. We don’t call anyone “Lord” anymore. The title closest to it is “Sir,” but their similarity is that of a bowl of water to the Pacific, not much. The relationship established by those two titles is vastly different. “Sir” doesn’t carry absolute authority and its demand of obedience. Lordship does.

Because we have lost the authority of Lordship, we pretty much did what whatever we wanted to do with the word “Savior.” We privatized the word. Christ saves my soul for eternity when I assent to the right doctrines. But eternal life is far more majestic and earthy than our faddish translation of it as mere afterlife. I can’t find such reductionist teaching in Scripture.

When Cornelius the Centurion, the first Gentile convert, gets baptized, his words “Lord and Savior” resonated with the Roman Imperial Cult’s proclamation that the Roman Emperor was “Lord who saved the nations by bringing peace.” So when he knelt to get baptized, the emperor Tiberius was being replaced.

Jesus is Lord and Savior because Jesus is the True Emperor that the Roman Emperors have failed to be

The confession of Christ as Lord means Jesus is the King over all, including earthly thrones. And Savior is one who comes and saves the nations. Jesus is Lord and Savior because Jesus is the True Emperor that the Roman Emperors have failed to be (and for that matter including the failed Jewish kings). And Jesus saves us not by plucking our soul out of earth which is going to hell, but by establishing his own Empire over the ends of the earth. God has become King, the promise of all the old prophets of Israel.

And if Lordship and obedience is the main narrative of salvation, then the whole civil war between work and faith, legalism and grace loses its animosity. The conflict between the two families is traced back to an incident that never happened. Paul was not a disciple of grace who was run out of town by disciples of work based salvation (at the heart it was ugly prejudice, Jews who did not want Gentiles to share in Israel’s inheritance). There is no distinction between faith and obedience. Obedience is the faithful living under Christ’s Kingship. Christ has started the salvation work and the work will be done, regardless of our individual choices. But we can choose whether we get to say we played a role before the coronation day, the return of Christ.

Obedience in this way demands all. Obedience in this way is adventurous. We have been all knighted.

 

Let's Call Him Immanuel

In a ghetto alley, because the hospital

is out of bed, two teenage lovers

circle their newborn to obstruct the wind.

 

Miles away from their fathers and mothers,

having run away from the voracious gossip

of a small town to start a new life,

only the hisses of abandoned felines

praise the miracle which is every birth.

 

She holds the infant whose head is still

wet with amniotic fluid and

refracting the lamp's light, the mother rubs

her nose into his which has just taken

his first few gulps of the Earthen air

and the father says, Let's call him Immanuel.

by Rev. Samuel Son

Theological Reflections and Q&A

by Rev. Samuel Son

At 54, my grandfather moved up to Seoul to study theology and become a pastor. My grandmother balanced rice bags on her head to sell on the streets to support her husband. Two years prior to the move, my grandfather was beating his wife for tithing all his hard earned money to church until one day he was struck dumb. He penciled to his wife to bring in the village pastor. The pastor rushed to his home,and the pastor and his wife began singing a hymn. My grandfather joined in on the 3rd verse when his mouth opened again.

Grandmother with her great-grandson Dylan

Grandmother with her great-grandson Dylan

We are God's Family because God worked a miracle

We are God's Family because God worked a miracle

Healing and miracles are not a sideshow entertainment or stories strung by gullible ancient folks with pre-scientific ignorance. Neither is it the main show. Healing and miracles is one way the Kingdom of God becomes more apparent in our fallen world.

Here is a short theological reflections on miracles and healing and some Q&A. 

·         We don’t believe in miracles. We believe God works today.

Miracles have to be understood in the larger worldview of God at work. We are not interested in miracles to feed our faith or our curiosity for the supernatural. We just believe God is not limited by His creation (Deism). 
Orthodox Christians believe God was incarnated in Christ and the Father resurrected Christ. To believe in those doctrines is to believe God works miracles. (“The revelations of God in the flesh implies miracle”-Karl Barth). To believe God works miracles is to recognize God’s Freedom  Deism always transmogrifies to idolatry. God who is hamstrung in His work becomes the work of human hands.

Paradoxically, the emphasis on miracles can be a sort of Deism. If miracles are the only place God works, then the natural processes of life are self-run. They are run by laws without need of God after he has wound them up on creation. This is not the biblical worldview. God doesn't create and then punch out. The world continues to revolve so faithfully because God faithfully sustains it. It is literally true that even the simplest daily act (like you making sense out of the blips on this screen) is a miracle. But God sometimes makes his presence more conspicuous by miracles we cannot fully explain and we term "supernatural." But the division into the "natural" and "supernatural" betrays the boundaries of our knowing. "Supernatural" is simply what we don't have explanation for yet. God is at work in all things. What is important is the recognition of the freedom of God to work in both what is common and what takes away our breath.

·         Healing is the the sign and the manifestation of the Kingdom of God

In his first sermon (Luke 4:18), Jesus boldly declares that the day of the Lord’s favor, as prophesied in Isaiah, has come true with him. After that proclamation, Jesus demonstrates the presence of the Kingdom through rebuking of evil spirits and healing. The healing do not prove the Kingdom. It is simply what happens in the Kingdom. For in God’s Kingdom, there is no sickness. Healing is that reality of God’s Kingdom being experienced now. Yes, the Kingdom is not fully established so we experience death. But its presence is not less real. It is like engagement. The wedding day is still months away but the engaged couple already lives, and thus experiences, the the joyous life of commitment. As the sun gives light warming our body, so when the Kingdom of God nears, it gives health to our whole being, body and spirit. Even Jesus’ healing is less about the power of the individual Jesus, and more about the Kingdom of God which is more apparent with Jesus.

Moreover, as healing is simply one of the manifestation of the Kingdom, our trust is placed on the entire reality of the Kingdom  which includes prisoners from debt being freed, and the oppressed being liberated. The confidence to work for social justice is the same confidence behind our prayers and expectations for healing for God's Kingdom, where both the society and the body is made whole, is already present because it is surely coming, just as the engagement makes the commitment of marriage real at the moment of engagement.

·         But not all are healed? What happens when a person is not healed?

Not everyone is healed because the Kingdom of God will not be fully established until the King (Christ) returns. Until then, we have partial experiences of it. Until then, we seek fuller expressions of it.

Additionally, if everyone is healed, than it turns the freedom of God on its head and reduces God into a controllable tool of the human healer. God chooses to heal through the hands of His followers. Which means God can choose not to heal through those same hands.

We have to hold these two paradoxes together. That God wants to heal everyone and that God does not heal everyone. Both are reasonable in their own logic, and both have evidences to uphold them. Though as a statement they seem to contradict, the tension between the two take makes better sense of the world. For example, scripture tells us Jesus healed everyone but also that he did less healing at his hometown. Now, even science does this, holding two contradictory statements in tension. Science believes (cannot proven but assumes) that everything is knowable and that everything cannot be known. Without holding those two assumptions, you cannot begin to do science.

We have clear cases where healing did not work. As mentioned, Jesus did less healing in his hometown.  Jesus’ enemies mocks him with the words “Physician heal thyself” which meant Jesus probably got sick and caught cold and needed bed rest. Paul’s sickness, the thorn on the side, was not removed though Paul himself was healing everyone he touched. 

§  Healers did not heal oneself for the same reason we don’t save ourselves. Part of being saved is that we depend on God by depending on the people of God. We must hear the gospel from another human being. An angel appears to Cornelius to send for Peter. Why didn’t the angel just tell the gospel himself? It is part of the humility necessary to accepting the gospel that we need trust another human being for the truth of the gospel. Likewise, we are healed by others to know that healing is not from ourselves. The power is not inherent but divine.

·         Is faith needed for healing?

o   Faith is not needed for healing. Healing is the prerogative of God. If God desires to heal, God will, no matter how doubtful a person is. If God chooses not to heal, than no matter how much faith a person has, it won’t happen. If healing is dependent on faith, then healing is reduced to human psychological state or will power.

·         Then what is faith?

o   Faith is our willingness (it is more a matter of our will over our intellect) to accept the reality of God. It is the act of aligning our life to the reality of the Kingdom of God. The more we align to the Kingdom, the more we see the Kingdom (this is not that different from when we set out heart on buying a minivan, we begin to see more of them). In reverse, the less we align, the less we will see because we will misinterpret all the signs of the Kingdom. Even genuine healing will be explained away or misinterpreted for those who lack faith. Christ did less healing in his hometown who did not have faith for this reason: not because Christ could not, but all healing was and would be misinterpreted by their doubt. This is also why when his enemies come to him seeking signs, Christ doesn’t give any.

·     Do I have the gift of healing?

Healing is not a gift. It is the expression of the Kingdom that is here. So if you are baptized, you have the spirit of Christ. So it is your privilege and duty to preach the good news, and with it to demonstrate it. You demonstrate it by praying for people. And if there are people suffering, pray for them boldly. Pray for healing. But remember, healing is not the main point. Praying for healing is one way of expressing God’s love for them which is the essence of the Kingdom of God, God's Loving-Rule.

·         How should I be praying for healing?

As said, healing is just one part of you praying for the Kingdom of God made more apparent. So when praying, simply imagine the resurrected Jesus standing next to you (for this is what the Spirit-in-us means). What would our risen Lord do for your friend? Then pray. Keep it simple and bold. You can even imitate the way the apostles prayed: “Jesus Christ heals you” and then give them simple commands to act as one healed. Praying such prayer is as much a practice as a preacher practices preaching. 

·         Is healing against science and medicine?

God working does not negate human working. God working actually encourages greater human endeavor. The Cornelius conversion is a good analogy. The Holy Spirit is given to Cornelius. This was not the work of Peter. Yet, Peter was needed. Peter was called to speak the word and not the angel. And it is in midst of Peter’s preaching that Cornelius receives the Holy Spirit. Peter’s preaching is not the cause of the Holy Spirit, but it was the occasion. The relationship between God’s work and human work is mysterious in every case. But it is God’s humility to bring divine agency and human agency into partnership. Just as Peter must use his skill in his preaching, so we are to use our skills to use the wisdom of science and medicine.

Isn’t this just God filling in the gap? Of course God would fill in the gap. This doesn’t make him the God of the gap as if human knowing will finally remove him. As much as a father will fill in for his child and will let the child do more as he matures, so God will do the same with the increasing knowledge of human beings. And God is not jealous of the growth of human knowing. God welcomes it. But all that knowing will not make us more independent. Rather our maturity will bring wiser dependency on God. True knowledge, after all, leads to true humility. So we should seek doctors and modern medicine, while praying for healing. We have to do our part of taking care of our body, getting good rest, eating well, with greater confidence because we know God is healing us through such natural means and God can heal us immediately and beyond our current ability to explain them. 

·         Then what about suffering?

The truth that God heals does not make suffering meaningless or a manifestation of doubt. There can be meaning in suffering. Christ’s suffering was necessary for our redemption. Paul suffered greatly and saw it as part of completing the sufferings of Christ for the church. Here too it is best for us to hold the two paradoxes. God wants to heal everyone’s suffering. God uses suffering. It is by holding these two that Paul can actually tempt the sea of the Roman court and Jesus stays on the cross. Both believe that suffering can be used by God but they also know it is not the ultimate will of God. Both know that there is joy at the end. Christ knows there is resurrection, a body that will no longer suffer evil and sin and pain. And for that joy, he endures suffering and shame.

Paul, The Walking Proof of Resurrection

And immediately Paul began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is indeed the Son of God!"  All who heard him were amazed. "Isn't this the same man who persecuted Jesus' followers with such devastation in Jerusalem?" They asked. "And we understand that he came here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests." 

Saul's preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn't refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.  After a while the Jewish leaders decided to kill him. - Acts 9.20-23

Saul just murdered Stephen and made him the first Christian martyr. In Damascus, he almost made himself the second martyr. The Jews had good reason for silencing Paul. His brilliance could not be matched. His proof of Jesus as messiah through scripture was unassailable. After all, he was the star disciple of Gamaliel. If Paul was not knocked off his horse by Christ, we would still have know him today as the greatest Jewish Rabbi. What he did for Christian theology, he would have done for Jewish theology. All philosophies, it is said, are mere commentaries on Plato and Aristotle. Perhaps, it is truer to say all Christian theologies are commentaries on Paul.

But the hasty murder plot of the Jews did not stem simply from their shame of being beat in an argument. More pressingly, Paul himself was the irrefutable proof of the resurrection of Christ. He had killed a leader of the Way and came down with papers to physically assail anyone affiliated with the WAY. But now he is shouting at the market square, “Jesus is the Son of God!” This wasn’t a change of allegiance, done my many for selfish reasons. This was a sudden change of world view. Only something dramatic causes such immediate shift. So what did Paul experience that changed him so completely and suddenly?

Paul knows the burning question so he tells them what happened to him, he heard the voice of Jesus. He is sure because the voice behind the blinding light identified himself as Jesus and identified himself with the community he was persecuting. Paul did not reason himself to Jesus. Jesus revealed himself to Paul. Now Paul had no choice but to rebuild his whole understandings from that cornerstone. This supernatural explanation is the only rational explanation for Paul’s utter transformation. The Jews could not mount any counterargument against that. So they do the only solution left, kill him. Jews in Jerusalem tried to kill Lazarus and bury the evidence of Jesus’ unheard of miracle of reviving a man dead for 4 days. The Jews in Damascus is led to that same action for Paul was the walking proof that Christ rose from the dead.

Paul’s life proves the resurrection as much as the current unity of the 50 states is proof that the Union won the Civil War. Any other alternative story is nonsense. That Jesus’ resurrection was a scam or a hysteria doesn’t take history serious enough. 

Time and The Hours of Prayer

Rev. Samuel Son

If you control time, you control reality. For what is reality but the passage of time? We are beings in time. This instinct comes out in the watches we wear, the omnipresent clock on the notifications of smart phones, and the calendars tacked on our walls. We cannot meet a person until we make an appointment in time. We plan, organize, and live by the marks of time. How you divide your hours determines what pulls your life.

Romans counted their years with the birth of their Empire or by the rule of their Consuls. People could talk about events only by talking about the Consuls and their reign. Through the calendar, the Consuls became a permanent fixture of people’s life.

Currently, many are trying to replace “B.C.” (Before Christ) with “B.C.E” (Before the Common Era), because much more is at stake than which acronym has a better ring.

The creation of the day of Sabbath was God taking back man’s presumption that they can determine the measuring stick for time. The seventh day is holy. Which was to say everything was holy because the Jew now saw every day of the week in relation to the completion of the week in Sabbath.

Today, we don’t have the same reverence for a day set apart for God (Sunday for us Christians), because, we are less superstitious and more free, so we say. We are not stuck in legalism so we can skip Sunday, we also say. But we are lying to ourselves. This is not a maturity into grace but capitulation and slavery to the secular society. Sunday is no longer the Lord’s day, but the 2nd day of the weekend, the end of our work week. Though our calendars say Sunday starts the week, we don’t feel it that way. Today, you have options to start your calendar app’s week on Monday.

By taking away God’s right to measure our time, we handed our lives over to the secular society. No day is sacrosanct. Every day is for work. Even weekends spent for pleasure, has become work, work to have enough pleasurable experiences to make the work week worth the labor, and with enough photos to share with others to fool others to think we are enjoying our lives because if we fool others, we can fool ourselves. When God doesn’t measure time, we become slaves to the systems that take our labor and money with nothing to give back to our soul.

The hours of prayer is letting God determine our day. We don’t wake up at 6am to work. We wake up at 6am to praise our Lord. This is the potency of the hours of prayer. Though the prayers are short, they cast a shadow through all the hours in between. I am working in the light of the noon prayer or looking towards the afternoon prayer. Though I am not always thinking about God, my rhythm is set by God and in that sense I am always praying to God. The snare doesn’t always have to be hit for the drum to keep pulling me in its beat. I am giving my day to God by praying the set hours.

My phone alarm is vibrating. I am called to pray.

Tips on hours of prayer:

  1. Pray out loud enough for your ears. Pronounce each word. Don’t rush. Reading out loud is what makes the word come alive. In fact, 90 percent of understanding happens in the hearing.
  2. If you miss an hour of prayer, don’t sweat it. Pray it when you remember. If you miss more than one, don’t pray catch up. Just pray the next prayer hour.
  3. Don’t stress trying to memorize. Repetition with attention to the prayer’s movement will inscribe it into your heart. And when you have that prayer in your heart, it will keep praying in behalf of you. You will say it before you know it.

Holy Spirit Collar

by Rev. Samuel Son

Just this morning when I went for my annual blood test, the phlebotomist asked, “are you a priest?” I was wearing my collar.

She was a catholic and could not understand how anyone can stomach the contemporary worship void of tradition. I confessed to her that at times I want to be a Catholic priest because the evangelical church sells his soul in trying to be popular. What a fascinating morning discussion. If it wasn’t for the collar we might have been lamenting about the dreary rain. When I said good bye, I blessed her. A smile lighted her face.

Such is the power of the collar. A cop pulled me over once and sent me off with a warning (love this). A stranger stopped me to share his passion for all things Hurricanes (our hockey team) and then for prayer for her daughter who wasn’t recovering from her surgery. I preached over a casket holding a 25 year old young man who coughed the night before and did not wake up. He was a former youth student. I baptized a four hours old infant then gave him back to his dad, who held him until he moved on to the Father’s arms. I have united two strangers into a union thicker than blood. After all these are the words I say in a wedding, “By the power invested in me…”

The collar is power. I can wear the collar because I have been ordained.

Every Christian has a collar for every Christian was ordained in their baptism. Their collar is the power of the Holy Spirit. And receiving the Holy Spirit is simply putting it on, as much as I put on the collar in the mornings. The power is external power, for sure, but it is a gift and so ours to use or neglect.

I used to think the Holy Spirit was given to few, only to those who are desperate enough to grovel. But Christ has already obtained that gift for us and has distributed it. It is just sitting on our closet.

Sometimes I hesitate wearing the collar because it forces me to behave. I know I am representing when I have the collar on. But the times when someone cuts me off and I am about to give the finger and the collar gives a little tug so I give the crazy driver the cross and a smile, I am grateful. It is making me a better person. Self-control is rubbish. It is Spirit-control.

So you might not have the physical collar, but perhaps yours can be a cross since a physical reminder is useful. But more importantly, prayer is how we put on the collar of the Spirit. Throughout the day, pick up your collar. Pray, then prepare for some out of ordinary questions and requests.