Displaying episodes 1 - 30 of 66 in total
As many of you probably know, one of the most famous Orthodox theologians of the 20th century was Fr. Alexander Schmemann. He was dean of the seminary I went to (St. Vladimir's), and his life's work was to teach about the Eucharist (which means, "thanksgiving"). He died on December 13, 1983, but his last liturgy was on Thanksgiving Day. Since Thanksgiving was this week, I thought it'd be appropriate to recount his words here. It was entitled, "Thank you, O Lord!"
This week, the Nativity Fast began for Orthodox Christians around the world. This 40-day period, is a time in which we prepare for the Nativity of our Lord according to the flesh. But, as we watch our diets and take meat out of our lives, an important question comes up: is the impossible burger permissible? It’s not technically meat, but it looks, smells, and tastes like meat … So, does it fit the fast? The Bottom Line: when we fast, we have to be sure we don’t miss the forest for the trees.
If I were to ask you what feast Christians celebrate on January 6th, what would you say? It probably depends on which Christian tradition you were brought up in. If you are a western Christian, you’d probably say “Epiphany.” But, if you’re an eastern Christian, you will probably respond “Theophany” instead. Now, they are the same feast and, at the same time, they aren’t. There are some major theological differences in the emphasis between east and west, but, I’m much more interested in the difference between the words. What exactly does “Epiphany” mean and what exactly does “Theophany” mean? And, what does the difference in definition tell us? The Bottom Line: Our 4th type scene is “Theophanies,” which is a revelation of God.
In the Gospel of John, we hear the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at a well. Most sermons focus on the foreignness of the Samaritan woman: her identity as a “Samaritan” is contrasted with Jesus’s identity as a “Judean.” This then leads the preacher to speak about the inclusive nature of the Gospel. However, this scene is a type-scene, one that goes back to Genesis. So, if it’s a type-scene, we must ask: what is the hearer supposed to recognize about this scene? Well, the answer is that we’re supposed to recognize that two future spouses are meeting. This is their introduction to each other, an introduction that’ll eventually lead to wedding bells. Now, this story—about Jesus and the Samaritan woman—just got interesting. If this scene is really an “encounter with a future spouse,” what then is John trying to say? What’s his point? The Bottom Line: When two folks at a well meet, their just might be wedding bells about to ring!
One motif that appears over and over again in the Bible is the image of the barren woman. All the matriarchs of Genesis had problems having children: Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel; and the motif appears again in the New Testament: St. John’s mother had a hard to time having children too. Why would this motif appear so often in scripture? What literary purpose does it serve for the authors of scripture? What’s the spiritual meaning? The Bottom Line: The motif of the barren woman reminds us that it’s God who bestows life.
If you could go back in time and speak with a 1st-century Roman about crucifixion and how the empire used them, what would they say? They might say that "... By [the cross] barbarian nations are subdued, by it the scepters of kings have been secured …" Or, they might say that the cross, “"... grant[s] victory to the faithful over the enemy …" If they had said either of those things, they would be absolutely correct! The cross was an instrument of torture that the Romans used to keep subjected peoples—such as Galileans, Judeans, and other nations—in line. The Romans wanted to instill fear to prevent uprisings and revolts against them. But, isn’t that we Christians also say about the cross? That it grants victory and subdues barbarian nations? Yes … yes it is. So, how can both the Romans and the Christians say the same thing about the cross? After all, one put people on crosses while the other hung on them. The Bottom Line: For Christians, God’s victory comes through defeat!
One of the first type-scenes, or conventions, in scripture that we’re going to look at is Annunciations. “Annunciation” is a Latin word that essentially means, “announcement.” But, for the original biblical readers, what would they have expected when an announcement was made to someone from a messenger of God? What would they have expected the message to be? To whom and for what purpose would they have expected the message to be delivered? And, do we get “announcements” from God today? The Bottom Line: In understanding Annunciations, we may realize that an angel is making an announcement to us as well!
We all know that the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and, if we want to understand the Bible, we either need to learn the original languages or find a translation we understand. But, far too often, we think of translation and understanding in a much too narrow way. We limit “translation” work to translating the actual words. What we don’t think about is translating context. Surprisingly, this context includes reoccurring scenes that become a pattern. The original biblical readers would be expecting this when hearing scriptural stores. The Bottom Line: Understanding type-scenes in the biblical literature will enhance our understanding so that we can walk the Way.
For every feast, the Orthodox Church has special readings. For most feasts, those readings tell the story of the feast. For example, at Christmas, we hear the story of Jesus’s birth; at Pascha, we hear about Jesus’s death and resurrection. But, for the Feast of the Dormition--the celebration of the death of the Virgin Mary--the story doesn’t appear in the Bible. So, what do we read? Well, we’ll soon see that the reading the Church selects actually talks about a different Mary and has nothing to do with death? So, what’s going on? Why did the Church select these particular readings? The Bottom Line: Trust in God is the key to it all.
When is a story not just a story? When is bread much more than water, yeast, and salt? When is the command to “feed” someone more than a command to give someone actual food? When you’re dealing with the Bible, that’s when! The Bottom Line: Sometimes we have to look past the miracles and signs to see what scripture really getting at, to see how it’s feeding us with the bread of life.
In today’s podcast, we continue our exploration of the Law and its relationship to Christians. However, this week we get a twist. Though the early Jewish-Christians in the Book of Acts don’t advocate for circumcision, they do apply some legal restrictions on Gentile-Christians. Why would they do that? What’s going on? The Bottom Line: the Law serves a greater purpose to guide us on the Way that leads to life.
One function of scripture is to tear down our idols, our premeditated perception of God or those things we submit to in place fo God. This frees us so that we can worship the true God. Scripture does this in various ways. The Old Testament, for example, proclaims an unseen God, compared to the gods who exist as visible idols. This breaks our attachment to the gods we create in our minds and the ones we submit to in place of the Almighty. It also proclaims a God who willingly destroys his own temple, freeing us of the notion that God lives at a specific place during a particular time of history, and is a god for a particular ethnic group. And, finally, it proclaims a God who mocks us for using traditional forms of worship, such as sacrifice and incense, in order to force us to see the good in others and love our neighbor. The New Testament continues this tradition. There, we see how the gospel usurps the Roman household—which has the paterfamilias or Caesar as its head—and uses this societal structure. But, instead of Caesar being at the top, Jesus is. This causes us to question who is really in control: earthly powers or Christ? Now, this may sound all fine and good, but does scripture still function this way for us today? I say, “Yes!” … a resounding, “Yes!” The Bottom Line: Many of the qualities we value as Americans are usurped by the gospel and given a fuller meaning that can only be found through the gospel.
Do you remember being a teenager? Do you remember ignoring your parents when you were a teen? You were probably thinking, “Ugh, why do I have to listen to my parents? They don’t know anything. Besides, they can’t control me and my life!” If you’re the parent of a teenager now, you also know what I’m talking about. But, did you know, this “teenage” mindset is exactly the sort of mindset we should have as Christians. The Bottomline: We’re called to ignore the powers of this world because true power comes from above.
We all know that the Christian feast of Pentecost is the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. This story is told in the New Testament book of Acts. But, did you know that there’s a Pentecost celebrated in the Old Testament as well? The original celebration was an agricultural feast. Later, it came to be a celebration of the giving of the Law. So, if we see the gift of the Holy Spirit as a gift of the spiritual law, then the New Testament celebration of Pentecost seems to be a fulfillment of the Old Testament Pentecost. However, on the day we celebrate this feast, the Orthodox Church assigns us a Gospel reading that’s about the Feast of Tabernacles. Huh? Did the Church get the feasts mixed up, or is something more going on? The Bottom Line: Like Dorothy pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz, the Church’s combination of the Feast of Pentecost with the Feast of Tabernacles allows us to also pull back the curtain to see greater depth to the feasts.
Have you ever said something that you wish you could take back? I bet the moment you said it—right away—you knew you shouldn’t have. You could see the shock, hurt, and pain of your words on faces of your loved ones. Perhaps, you started apologizing in the hopes that you could, somehow, swallow your words as if they had never left your lips. But, it was too late. Your friendship, your reputation, was broken. If only there was a reset button. The Bottom Line: Our fallen human nature is like those words we shouldn’t have said, but scripture tells us that by hearing the words of Jesus, are relationship with God is recreated.
If you read church news or online blogs, it’s easy to get disillusioned: there’s so much bad news. Combine this with a bad experience with Christians or a church and it’s no wonder that over 50% of Americans no longer affiliate with a Christian denomination. After all, the church seems to have proven itself to be full of hypocrisy and self-aggrandizing. But, did you know that the criticism leveled against the modern church were first leveled against us by the Bible? The readings from these past few Sundays serve as a warning for us today that we have to walk the Way or else we’ll become just like the religious authorities of Jesus’s day who turned the Temple into a den of thieves. The Bottom Line: The Good News is that even when institutions go bad, the message of Christ’s resurrection still breaks out!
As I thought about the theme of one of the Easter Sundays, the Myrrhbearing Women, I wondered: what’s the deeper symbolic meaning that the first witnesses of the resurrection were female? Then, the answer came to me through the movie Shrek.
The Bottom Line: It isn’t the appearance of Jesus to us that saves, but our faith in what has been written by John that saves
The Bottom Line: no matter how hard we try to monetize the Good News and lock it up so that only we benefit from it, it’ll break free of the sealed tomb and the locked room!
In anticipation of Passover this Sunday, when we will celebrate the rising of the Anointed One from dead, here is the Passover homily read at every Orthodox Church around the world in the early hours of the morning. Blessed Resurrection to you all!
As we read the concluding words of Jame’s letter, we hear about sickness and healing, confession of sins, the prayers of the righteous, and bringing people back to the Way. But how should we understand all this? Is anointing related to the modern day service of unction? If so, how? And, are we to really expect a sick person to become well through prayer? Also, is James’s confession of sins to one another the same as modern day confession? If so, how? Finally, is there a connection between unction and confession? Is so, what is it? The Bottom Line: Jame’s Christian vision is one where there’s power in community, so much so that it leads to our salvation.
Life isn’t fair. We all know it—we can see the unfairness around us. But, why is it that some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth while others are born into abject poverty? And, why is it that some people, who should know better, go out of their way to make our lives miserable? Well, James doesn’t address the “whys” of our questions, but he does give us advice as to how to deal with these matters of inequality and injustice: we must be long-suffering like Job and the prophets. But, that doesn’t sound like any fun. Well, it isn’t However, there is Good News. The Bottom Line: Christ is standing in the doorway as the one who can set things right, and he is compassionate and merciful to those who are long-suffering.
Translations are good in that they help us read something we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. But, unfortunately, they can sometimes be misleading. Previously, we talked about how translators can impose their will on the text by what words they chose to use. And, as we’ve seen, this sometime obscures connections the original text was trying to make. However, there’s another problem with translations that we haven’t dealt with yet. What happens when the translator choses the right word, but our understanding of word’s concept is different than the original author’s? Today, James hits hard on the “rich.” But, do we understand being “rich” in the same way they did in the first-century? The answer is “no.” And, what about being “poor”? What does this mean? The Bottom Line: understanding the biblical text is more than just learning languages—it’s also diving into the culture of the ancient world.
One of the tricks to hearing and understanding scripture is to be able to hear it as a unified whole. In other words, it helps to have a macro understanding of what’s going on. When we understand scripture in this way, we can see connections between different passages. Those connections give us insight, and, when we see those, scripture has deeper meaning. Today’s passage from James is full of connections: to both the Old Testament and the New Testament. And, those passages illumine what James is saying, and, in turn, James reinforces what they are saying. And, today, we also have some fun with languages: Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac! The Bottom Line: the self-referencing nature of scripture gives us a single message—we are called to walk the Way!
In her second Harry Potter Book—Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets—J.K. Rowling wrote, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” If I were to insert this quote into the 4th chapter of the Epistle of St. James, you’d think it had always been there. James completely agrees: it’s our choices that show us who we are. Our choice, as Christians, is to either be a friend of the world and an enemy to God, or to submit ourselves to God and resist the devil. The Bottom Line: Only by humbling ourselves before God can we chose the way of Life.
When it comes to Paul and James, we often believe they are at odds with each other. In one corner is Paul, who stresses salvation by faith and says that, “… all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse.” And, in the other corner is James, who says, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” So, which is it? Are works a part of our salvation or not? Martin Luther was so frustrated trying to figure this out and reconcile the two men that he thought it was best just to delete the Letter of James from the New Testament. However, I think Luther got it dead wrong. I believe the two men are very compatible. The Bottom Line: James and Paul are on the same page, so much so that I argue that James is even borrowing Pauline concepts as he writes his letter.
Commenting on the importance of teachers, Albert Einstein once said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” And, Bill Gates once said, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids to work together and motivating them, the teach is the most important.” There’s no doubt that teachers are essential in our society. They impart our values, cultural norms, and teach skills needed for living in society. It’s teachers who contribute, in large part, to the develop of our youth into fully grown and mature adults. They have a lot of sway when it comes to showing others how to walk the Way. It’s for this very reason that James says that God will be a harsher judge to teachers than to the rest of us! The Bottom Line: Because teachers play such a vital role in helping people walk the Way, their words ought to be words of blessings instead of curses.