The One True Gospel

Galatians 1:6-10
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

The Incredible Freeness of Grace

The Incredible Freeness of Grace

The Christ-Churches,
As Marcus Borg refers to them,
had gone off the rails.
Paul has harsh,
even nasty and
mean-spirited wishes
for the ones who are undermining
the gospel
he brought to the God-lovers
he introduced to Jesus.
These underminers
are accusing Paul
of undermining the gospel
they see as the “true way,”
and Paul,
in return
who views his version of the gospel
as the “true way,”
offers a double curse back on them,
telling the Galatians
that they themselves are
foolish and bewitched
and suggesting to those who
are undermining his teaching
to go and castrate themselves.
YIKES!!!
So what is going on
here that would make Paul so outraged?
Understand that the
God-lovers Paul converted
were gentiles
who had been to Judaism,
but not circumcised,
and the accusers
were Jews who had become
followers of Jesus’ Way
and as Jews
were already circumcised.
The key to understanding Paul’s rant
is found in the words
justification, faith, law, works.
Circumcision,
to Paul was a work following the Jewish law.
Justification and faith
were the gifts of Jesus
bringing salvation to us
without any work needed on our part
to fulfill any,
and to Paul’s thinking,
outdated law of God.
For Paul,
the gospel he preached was free
and consistent with Jesus’
life, death and resurrection,
and circumcision
was fulfilling the statutes
of a law Jesus
died trying to dismantle.
Unfortunately,
this is an argument playing out in our own time,
and in our own churches
and it can get really insidious.
I am neither a fan of Paul
nor of his outrage,
but I do agree here with Paul
that there is only one true gospel
and it is a gospel of grace
free and clear with nothing to do but
to breath it in like air.
There are no formulas.
There is no good confession.
No law or rule.
Only grace free and clear.
To me
the only take-a-way from scripture
is that the faith of Jesus
is what saves us,
not anything we can do—
not even our own faith…

PAUL AND HIS TIMES

When Your World Flips and Splits

When Your World Flips and Splits

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (the first of Paul’s writings)
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Before there was any written Gospel there was Paul.
When the canon of Christian scripture
was put into a fixed order
it was done by supposed
documentary importance
rather than chronological order,
giving the impression of a fixed set of ideas.
But they are actually a changing story
that can show the progression
of how early Christians
grew in their understanding
of Jesus.
10 years younger than Jesus,
Paul was a Roman Citizen,
and a Pharisee.
Luke claims Paul
studied under the great Rabbi,
Gamaliel in Jerusalem.
Paul was knowledgeable in Roman
as well as Jewish law,
was well versed in
the Greek style of rhetoric,
and while he never actually met Jesus,
he had studied enough about
the Movement Jesus began
to know it was clearly opposed
to the strict Pharisaic
understandings designed to keep
Jewish societal edges intact
and cultural uniqueness inviolate,
and needed to be stopped.
He was an aggressive anti-Christian.
About five years after
Jesus’ crucifixion,
Paul had a conversion experience while
on a journey to Damascus
where he planned to persecute Christians,
and was won over to the Christian Way.
Paul went on from there as a true believer,
founding small communities
that followed the Way of Christ,
and the new movement
to which he had been converted.
What he proclaimed was
all from word of mouth learning.
There was nothing written down yet.
The Gospels would come 30 – 50
years later.
The immediacy of the Resurrection story
of which Paul writes in this text
was a story that had been believed
by those left
when Jesus was killed:
that there would be a second
coming in their own lifetimes.
By the time Paul was writing,
that story had already morphed
and the second coming
was being pushed
back to sometime off
in a distant future.
His new-found ministry
was to non-Christians rather than Jews.
Many of the Christian-Jews
disliked his inclusion of non-Jews
into their movement
and worked to stop him.
There is a plasticity
in the Christian Scriptures.
An ebb and flow and growth
of story and telling and information
that is organic and in constant change.
The writings of each generation,
are for that particular generation
and its own peculiar needs.
Paul’s writing is to the communities he founded.
They are situational,
or topical.
His theology has been termed,
occasional theology,
or theology that is aimed
at a particular occasion
and never intended
to be a universal statement,
though, sadly,
it is used many times in that manner.
We can find hope in Paul’s writings—
think if it as prescription
as opposed to proscription,
and as such,
and to the chagrin of
biblical literalists,
should never be considered binding.
The writings of Paul
are good instruction
to the First Century
churches he founded,
but seriously problematic
as doctrine-fodder
in our own time.
We, now, should be,
like Paul,
writing situational theology
for our own particular time
and our own peculiar needs.

FROM THAT SECRET PLACE OF THUNDER

 

From Where the Thunder

From Where the Thunder

Psalm 81 (NRSV)
Of Asaph.

1 Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
2 Raise a song, sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our festal day.
4 For it is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
5 He made it a decree in Joseph,
when he went out over the land of Egypt.
I hear a voice I had not known:
6 “I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
7 In distress you called, and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.Selah
8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
9 There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
10 I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

I answered you in the
SECRET PLACE OF THUNDER,
wow!!!
But for us
we now know where that place is—
that secret place of thunder—
and,
with our over-abundant knowledge of science,
we may find it difficult to be
overwhelmed
by the inherent mystery
in this now transparent metaphor.
What are the
metaphors that would work best for you?
I like the poetic nature of Asaph’s words
(he wrote the psalm),
but I have studied enough
meteorology
to not be mystified by the allusion.
How about,
“I have answered you
from that secret place
behind time
where the winds of
the cosmos
explode
into realms
and worlds of being.”
Wordy but poetic,
and containing mystery.
Still, from what
secret, mysterious, wonder-filled
place
does Divinity speak to you
and remind you
that relief
is given,
the burden
has been lifted,
your hands
have been freed?
What does the voice
you have not
known
sound like,
and
when is it
that you hear it?