Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 17
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[c]
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

A famous Cretan once said “all cretans are liars.” But was he telling the truth?

Now your head is spinning. If he was lying when he said all Cretans are liars, then perhaps Cretans aren’t liars after all. If he was telling the truth when he said all Cretans are liars, then how can such a candid Cretan be labelled a liar. See the problem?

I know, this is too much for 11.30 on a Sunday morning. But it’s not my fault. The passage that Taye read for us contains a direct quote from the philosopher-poet Epimenides. And in the same poem he creates the Epimenides Paradox, the problem of those lying Cretans.

Yes, you are not hearing things. In the same poem that that Epimenides says ‘for in him we live and move and have our being,’ he also gives us his paradox, the Cretan calling all Cretans liars. Odd.

But the author of the Acts of the Apostles is not done with this particular line of thinking, because he quotes another classical Greek poet—this time Aratus—when he says ‘we are his offspring.’ This one might be more interesting, since the ‘he’ in the line ‘we are his offspring’ is Zeus. Or Apollo, if you are more Roman than Greek this morning.

So Paul has accepted an invitation to visit the Areopagus in Athens—literally the hill of Ares—to discuss his particular philosophy in the very place where philosophers gather to talk philosophy. First Paul was arguing with some—Stoics and Epicureans—and the next thing they are asking to learn more. So off to hill of Ares they go—Mar’s Hill for you Romans—and the conversation begins.

Paul delivers a sermon that may contain the most clever bit of contextual theology in the Bible, and on that very spot some were saved. But that would be jumping ahead. First, Paul has been looking around. Discouraged, we learn, by a city full of idols, until he sees something. We’ll let Paul tell the story:

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”

At first glance it seems like Paul has lost his copy of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” but that may not be the case. I think he called them ignorant in the best possible meaning of the word. ‘You don’t know? Then let me tell you.’ You are ignorant of this thing you treasure, so let me fill you in.

Before I continue with this fine sermon (Paul’s, not mine), I should note that one statue among many in the public square with the inscription TO AN UNKNOWN GOD was more common than you might think. This was a deeply religious society, even if they were a tad confused by all the gods, and so it would follow that you might hedge your bet—spiritually speaking—by erecting a kind of placeholder shrine, to some other god you might have missed. It was a simple solution to a common problem: too many gods.

Back to Paul’s sermon, he begins at the beginning as he sets about to describe this unknown god they should know. This God made heaven and earth, and doesn’t live in an earthly temple like Olympus. This is the God of all times and all places, who made humans to yearn for God: ‘For in him we live and move and have our being’ Paul said, then added for good measure: “Some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

He concludes that since we are God’s offspring (made in God’s image) then it follows that this God will not be an idol of silver or gold or the finest marble. No, we must repent of such foolishness and give ourselves to the very one God sent to forgive us.

We learn that some were unconvinced—Luke says they sneered—but some were moved that day: “Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.”

So what did Paul really do that day? In order to explain what I think he really did that day, I’m going to need the help of the Rev. Lillian Daniel. Lillian is a minister in Chicago and a frequent blogger with The Huffington Post, and she made quite a stir a couple of years back when she wrote a blog entitled “Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me.”

Now maybe Rev. Daniel could use a little Dale Carnegie herself, but she has a point, so we will let her speak:

On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is "spiritual but not religious." Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo. Next thing you know, he's telling me that he finds God in the sunsets.

But I like sunsets. She continues:

Like people who go to church don't see God in the sunset! Like we are these monastic little hermits who never leave the church building. How lucky we are to have these geniuses inform us that God is in nature. As if we don't hear that in the psalms, the creation stories and throughout our deep tradition.

And finally the coup de grâce, because you can tell she’s having fun:

Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating.

Don’t you wish you were a blogger? Think of the things you could say! She was a way, you have to admit.

But beyond edgy and clever, she is really just a letter-day St. Paul. The self-absorbed spiritual-but-not-religious person beside her on the plane is the direct heir of the Stoics and the Epicureans on Mar’s Hills, discussing the latest idea: which new god is the most compelling, and how the old-used up gods are so last season, how they are so literally antiquated.

The men and women who gathered on Mar’s Hill were dilettantes, people with an interest that never goes below the surface, eager to learn but never commit. And this seems to sum up the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd: happy to buy the book, but determined to tell no one. Or eager to see the sunset, but less likely to see Jesus in the broken person sitting on the sidewalk.

And perhaps the most annoying part the spiritual-but-not-religious conversation at 35,000 feet—and I’ve had them too—is how terribly rude the ‘sunset person‘ can be. I have just told them that I have a vocation, a thing to which I have given my whole life, and their response is ‘I think organized religious is crap, or evil, or passe,‘ or all the other things I have heard since I started having the very conversation Lillian describes.

But that is neither here not there, since we already know that following Jesus will seem foolish to many, another helpful thing Paul reminded us. Instead we need to see this as an opportunity—not to defend ourselves—but to defend the faithful ones who gave us the gift of faith and expect us to pass it on the same manner.

So off to Mar’s Hill we go, not because we want to, but because we have to. Our faith is in the sharing, the story of those brave ones who took a risk to challenge complacency and carelessness. Now boarding at gate one, your next flight and an new seat mate. Amen.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fifth Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 2
2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

If you resent Tim’s addition of the Iced Capp, you might be a purist.
If you’re still mad about expanding beyond the original six, you might be a purist.
If you prefer Public Enemy over P. Diddy, you might be a purist.
If your shirts are cotton and your pants are wool, you might be a purist.
If you adhere to the Original Trilogy and think Jar Jar Binks is an abomination, you might be a purist.
If you refuse to live in anything built after 1900, you might be a purist.
If you think LEGO should be a bunch of blocks and nothing more, you might be a purist.
If thou thinkest the Bible soundeth best in the tongue of Elizabeth I, thou might be a purist.
And If you think putting pineapple on pizza is the devil’s work, you might be a purist.

So what’s wrong with being a purist? It seems everyone has a little purist in them, otherwise we’d all be wearing polyester and cheering for the Columbus Blue Jackets. And being a purist comes with a long and storied tradition—which is kind of what being a purist is all about. So for today we’ll embrace our inner purist, and try to determine where this impulse comes from—seek the source, again, a very purist thing to do.

Of course, the author of 1 Peter is kickin’ it old school:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (2.9)

Throughout this passage, the author is giving us image after image to reinforce the idea that this community is unique. To be the church is more than simply a collection of believers, it is a call to be a distinct community—a community set apart for a purpose. And even the word community might be inadequate, and we might turn instead to something stronger like household.

“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (2.5)

The first question, then, is why all the metaphors? What was the need to be met by the constant generation of images? We know from our friend Dom Crossan that this was an assembly of “nuisances and nobodies,” a new religion made up of people at the bottom of the ladder. Slaves, ex-slaves, women—anyone who lacked power and status—tended to find the message of Jesus Christ compelling.

So it follows that such a diverse and mutually distrusting group would need some glue to bond together, some new way of understanding themselves that would lead to a sense of community. Only together could this movement flourish, and we might argue that only together could it exist at all.

And so the author of 1 Peter, and nearly all the other authors of the New Testament, return the community to the language of ancient cultic practice, the language of priesthood, as a means of forging this common identity, a common way of understanding themselves.

Why priesthood? First, the role of priest in the religion of Israel was not unlike what we associate with an order of leadership in the church. Maintaining the tradition, instructing the faithful, guiding people toward purity in practice. For Israel, the role of priest was to ensure a continuous sense of God’s presence before the people, and you might even go further to say the religious practice was a way to ensure that God was present to the people at all.

So priests ensure purity, and it is purity that will give this diverse community its identity. And this is, in fact, where the passage begins, when the author insists that “like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (2.2-3).

And back to our theme, this is nothing new. The aptly-named “priestly tradition” of Israel was all about first principles, going back to the beginning, and finding the purest form of faith. Walter Brueggemann points to the ‘great narratives’ that make up the priestly tradition, and he begins at the beginning:

Genesis 1 and the blessing of the sabbath, both as an important practice but also as a defining characteristic of this people.
The flood story, purifying the earth and also creating a covenantal understanding of the relationship between God and humanity.
Circumcision, an outward sign of continued covenant and identity, and
The promise of land, the aspiration and hope of this people God has chosen. (Reverberations, p. 151)

Then Brueggemann goes a step further by reminding us that much of the Hebrew Bible that defines this tradition came together in exile. Just as early Christian writers confronted the challenge of forging unity under difficult circumstances, the priests who gave us much of the Hebrew Bible did the same. Carried off to Babylon, these writers and thinkers needed to find stories and images to unite a people, to give them a common sense of identity, and to keep them pure before God.

In effect, there are three sets of exiles in this story, beginning with the priests of the priestly tradition, giving birth to this renewed sense of identity. Next, the early church, defining themselves outside the mainstream, in a form of exile from the way the world around them worked. And then to us, like the community of 1 Peter we are in the world but not of the world, citizens of heaven by living here on earth.

Of course, if you are uncomfortable with this language, this ‘other-worldly’ notion of the faith, you are not alone. It has been used in many unhelpful ways, from Christian exclusivism to ignoring the needs of the natural world in favour of the heavenly realm instead. Yet, even evangelicals have rediscovered the environment, and decided that you can look forward to the coming Kingdom and care for the world God made at the same time.

Obviously, we too struggle with this idea of Christian identity, of what it means to be a ‘holy nation and God’s special possession,’ and we are led to believe that this endemic to our faith. From the very beginning, from the moment God chose to be in covenant with a particular people, the struggle to define and maintain a unique identity began.

It troubled the first believers to look up and count the stars, clinging to the promise of chosen people.
It troubled those in exile, separated from temple and tribe and never giving up on the promise of return.
It troubled the early church, choosing Jesus as Lord when Caesar had such a pressing claim on the known world.
And it troubles us, in a strange kind of double exile, no longer citizens but consumers, and never fully citizens but rather ambassadors for Christ.

In trouble, we turn to each other. And this seems to be the heart of 1 Peter: forging an identity as believers in community. A royal and holy priesthood, not a collection of individuals that share a common faith, but fellow guardians of spiritual household, receivers and givers of mercy.

Jesus said “peace I leave you, my peace I give to you—I do not give to you as the world gives.” We walk with the Risen Christ, confident that we are united in seeking the pure, spiritual milk of the good God we serve. Amen.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

I’m not saying my brother is a tyrant, but when you’re the skipper in a race, it kind of comes with the territory.

And so, through the years we have come to understand our own Captain Bligh, and the kind of things that should and should not happen on the boat. First, no idle chit-chat. ‘Come on people, we’re racing.’ I get that. Second, focus on your job. ‘Trim to my course.’ No problem. Third, sail your own race, which means don’t spend your time admiring all the pretty boats.

And so while most of the crew is suffering under our own version of Pharaoh—we’ll call it the sailing equivalent of making bricks without straw—I’m longing for the skipper’s next business trip, when I get to be Captain Bligh instead. His last words are usually something like ‘don’t break my boat,’ but after that, it’s carte blanche.

Of course, after the race, when the prohibition on idle chit-chat is over, we have an opportunity to enjoy each other and get caught up. And to add something positive to my portrait of the skipper, he frequently invites beginners and newcomers on board, and so we get to sail, meet new people, and be oppressed all at the same time.

Meeting new people, the pattern is often the same. It’s not a secret that we are sailing with a clergyman on board, although it is considered bad luck. Ignoring that, there is often a moment—usually over a pint—when someone says ‘wait, you’re a minister?’ Then the questions come.

The first question is usually something general, like ‘what do ministers actually do?’ Good question. ‘We sail on Tuesdays.’ The next question—and I’m never sure why—is often something like ‘how do you get paid?’ And if I’m not quick enough to say ‘generously, by the loveliest people you’ll ever meet,’ there is a follow-up question such as ‘you must be paid by the government, right?’

When you hear a theory like this more than once, you begin to puzzle at the logic of such a suggestion. Working for the public good means a government salary? Maybe. The more likely theory is that people simply can’t conceive how such an unusual occupation might be remunerated.

Really, all I need to do is read them Acts 2:

43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

In other words, a co-op. A group of people pool their resources for the sake of the whole. “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” Well, maybe not everything. A congregation this size is going to need more than one lawn mower, but the overall theory still stands: To enhance our life together as believers, we gather our resources and focus them here. Praising God, helping others, making a space for the community, or to quote the great Fred Kaan, “worship and work must be one.”

Back to the sailboat for just a moment, people find all this hard to believe. They will even argue the point: “Yes, but how does a group of a few dozen people manage all that?” Deep commitment, a sense of common purpose, the gracious response of a people who feel blessed by God—I can go on for some time, but people still struggle to accept this. And I can tell you why.

My in-house biblical scholar tells me that a primary preoccupation in the time of Jesus was establishing kinship ties. If you determined that someone was kin (“hey, aren’t you my father’s cousin’s brother’s nephew from Gilead?”) then you had some obligations under the rules of kinship. You might give them a goat, not because you want to, but because you have to. After all, they’re kin.

Outsiders, on the other hand, were not really your concern. In the absence of any kinship tie, you could simply ignore them or interact with them on the basis of quid pro quo. You want a goat, you need to give me some shekels. There are no free goats for you, my friend.

And then, into this world, something else arrived. Something now called ‘fictive kinship,’ a type of kinship that was not literally kinship, but had all the hallmarks of kinship. As soon as people started calling each other ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ and as soon as they started holding things in common, something completely new began to develop.

And Jesus himself set the parameters of this in Matthew 12:

Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

And while to still sounds a little harsh, especially on Mother’s Day of all days, the point was fictive kinship: we may be companions and friends, but we will function as kinfolk, without quid pro quo, without suspicion, and without the sense that there is anything that separates us, one from another.

So how do we get people to understand? Well, it would seem best to try to be an Acts 2 kind of community. And how we define this will determine the example we set, the message we send to the world out there.

So Acts 2. In what might be the most important chapter in the Bible (I can make outrageous claims like this because Carmen is not here today) we experience the birth of the church at Pentecost, we hear Peter’s most important sermon—the sermon where he both convicts the crowd for the death of Jesus and shares the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus. And finally, we get this wonderful description of the nascent church, holding things in common, but also dedicated to fellowship, breaking bread together and prayer.

In other words, a community like no other. Now, part of the problem for modern-day evangelists is that we don’t like making claims like saying we are a community like no other. Perhaps we remember the bad old days of Christian triumphalism, the abiding sense that we had the key to truth and salvation. We don’t want to go back there, to be sure.

And then there is the other argument we hear, often from people in the church, that their book group or lacrosse team or their yacht club is also a very caring group, filled with lots of caring people, but then the argument begins to trail off. Maybe they remember that these groups require rules to function, or have embedded quid pro quo into the fabric of the organization (so many volunteer hours required or you must pay extra).

Or perhaps they begin to recognize that most groups in society—and even society itself—runs on a program of mutual self-interest. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s a very good thing. Mutual self-interest keeps nations from going to war, and gives us schools and hospitals, and every other benefit to being part of society.

But it’s not like kinship. No one is going to give you a goat or continuously forgive your foolishness based in mutual self-interest. Reciprocity is a system that works, but it won’t give you a glimpse of the Kingdom. No, if you want a glimpse of the Kingdom you need to visit a congregation, maybe one that looks just like this, where people hold things in common, dedicate themselves to fellowship, and breaking bread together, and prayer.

Of course being an Acts 2 group is not without challenges. We may get snippy, or have doubts, or even hold back a little (Acts 5 has an answer for that, but that’s another sermon altogether!), but at the end of the day we are a forgiveness people. We are fictive kin, living as the best families live, in a context of love and forgiveness, and constant prayer, amen.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

If you thought mainline Protestants were in trouble, consider the sorry state of Jediism in the UK.

Way back in 2001, nearly 400,000 residents of the UK described themselves an Jedi. By 2012, the number had dropped by over 50%. Now, before you lose sleep over the notion that so many have to turned their backs on Master Yoda and the Force, consider that the 2001 result was largely in response to one of the first “viral” internet campaigns.

Geeks worldwide (and I mean that in the most positive way) were encouraged to write in “Jedi” as their religion on their national census form, just to see how many “guardians of peace and justice” there were in this galaxy.

And in the UK it worked. And this, of course, was followed by an effort to add Jedi Knight to those deserving religious protection under the law—an effort that eventually failed. And the worldwide effort failed too, with countries like New Zealand refusing to publish a distinct Jedi total, lumping them in instead with The Church of Elvis and another religion with the evocative title “Rugby, Racing and Beer.” So, what time’s your service?

Just now you’re thinking ‘what kind of preacher-magic will he use to link Jedi Knights to the Road to Emmaus story?’ Well, I won’t use the Force, but I will remind you that Anakin Skywalker was thought to be the chosen one, and after he went over to the dark side, there was great confusion among the remaining Jedi. Okay, that doesn’t really work.

So Jesus said to the two on the road, “So, what are you talking about?” They stood for a moment, faces downcast, and one of them, Cleopas said, “are you the only one in town who doesn’t know the things that have happened this week?”

And the hidden Jesus said “What things?”

“About Jesus of Nazareth, a powerful prophet, who was handed over to death. It was our hope that he would be revealed as the chosen one. But then something remarkable happened: the women in our group found his tomb empty, and spoke with angels, and learned that he is alive! But the men followed, and found only the empty tomb.

And Jesus said, “how slow you are, unwilling to believe all that the prophets predicted. Don’t you recall that the chosen one would suffer before gaining glory?” And beginning with Moses and the prophets, he explained all that was written in the Bible concerning himself.

The rest, of course, you know: the breaking of bread and the recognition that this was indeed Jesus, the Word made bread and reappearing in the sight of those who gather in his presence and break it. It is paradigmatic in the fullest sense of the word: when we break bread we are granted the same presence, the same recognition that the Risen Christ joins us at table.

So that’s the joy of the passage, but what of the great frustration of a passage such as this one? Where is the missing explanation that Jesus gives them, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, explaining to them what was said in the scriptures about himself.” So what did he say? Luke doesn’t tell us. We will need to figure it out, looking at the clues, and imagining what he meant when he began with the figure of Moses.

Citing the prophets seems simple enough. Early on Isaiah says ‘unto us a child is born: wonderful counselor, the prince of peace’ (Is 9). Jeremiah describes him as ‘the righteous branch’ of the tree of David, long promised to Israel (Je 33). And Isaiah brings it full circle, grown up as a tender plant, but then despised of men, a man of constant sorrow, acquainted with grief (Is 53). It’s almost too easy to find Jesus in the prophets, something future scholars will note and turn into complete careers.

But Jesus began with Moses, the liberator, the law-giver, the one who argued with God on behalf of a broken and disobedient people. So maybe that’s it. Maybe Jesus wants us to see him as the new Moses precisely because he will spend eternity arguing for us, asking God to forgive our brokenness and disobedience.

Remember the moment when God tried to say ‘look Moses, at what your people are doing,’ but Moses would have none of it? “No,’ Moses said, ‘those are your people, and you brought them out of Egypt. What would the Egyptians say if you killed them now, having gone to all the trouble of liberating them?’ And God relented.

That may be all there is to the Jesus-Moses connection, but I think it may go further, and to try to prove it I’m going to turn to our old friend Walter Brueggemann. He wrote a wonderful book called “Reverberations of Faith” in which he tries to give a short summary of every key concept in the Old Testament. But he goes even further, explaining that you can’t understand these key concepts unless you also look at four people: Moses, David, Elijah and Ezra.

Today we’ll stick to Moses, and what Brueggemann tells us goes from the familiar to the unexpected. First the familiar: Moses is the ‘human perpetrator’ of the Exodus, the wilderness guide, the ‘mediator of divine revelation’ and, of course, the intercessor who saves the unruly ones in the desert.

The unexpected Moses, the one we need Brueggemann to see, can be broadly described as the one who engages in a practice we now call rewritten Bible. It works like this: The Law of Moses, the commandments revealed in the Book of Exodus and other laws that follow are not Moses’ final word on the law. He is also given authorship of Deuteronomy, rewriting the very commands he has shared in Exodus.

In other words, Moses shares God’s commands, then sets about to interpret them (or rewrite them) as an aid to understanding, and in doing so creates an entire new way of approaching scripture. Brueggemann calls this “authorized rootage and contextual extrapolation,” but then he’s just showing off. What he means is that Moses establishes the foundation of the law and then gives it meaning, both then and now. He creates a model for ongoing interpretation, convincing us that these are more than words on a page: they are living words that continue to bloom and grow in our imagination.

So Moses is the Great Extrapolator, the model that Jesus cites at Emmaus precisely because he came to do the same thing. Jesus says “do not think for a moment that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets—I have not come to abolish them but fulfill them” (Mt 5.17). Jesus too will extrapolate: by fulfilling the law, and by demonstrating the heart of the law, which he tells us means loving God (with all our heart, mind and soul) and loving our neighbour as ourselves.

Brueggemann tells us that every time Jesus says “you have heard it said...but I say unto you...” we learn that God is still speaking, that scripture is still being rewritten, and that the Word of God is busy generating more meaning for our lives. The Puritans said “God has yet more light to break forth from the Word” and it remains true. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall never overcome it.

And when he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

The Road to Emmaus is an emotional journey, from sadness and longing, to confusion and the first moments of recognition. Hearts began to burn in light of revealed meaning, as Jesus appears in bread broken and wine poured, but also in the opening of Holy Scripture.

May we too recognize the risen Christ in our midst: in the rituals and actions that define our faith, but primarily in the Word, opened to us, generating new meaning and new life, now and always, amen.