Shabbat shalom

Image - a family celebrates shabbat

“That the Sabbath and eternity are one – or of the same essence – is an ancient idea. [‘The Seventh day is the sign of the resurrection and the world to come,’ and there shall therefore be no mourning on that day. Vita Adae et Evae, 41.1, The Apocrypha and Pseudopigrapha, ed. Charles, II, 151.]”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 73 and note 1.

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Truth Value

cave mural of Avalokiteshvara, other bodhisattvas and mendicant

Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, presents an appealing aspect of unseen reality

Class is all over but the grading, which needs to be done a little more quickly than usual because the university’s Moodle site, where all my students’ work will be, is going to be shut down for maintenance two days before grades are due. Did anyone actually think that was a good idea? I have to assume that for some reason the technical types who would normally watch out for that kind of obvious conflict had no choice in the matter. I haven’t tried to check that assumption out … there are some things that, if I could know them, I might not want to.

As part of the final discussion yesterday, we took up some of the overarching themes of the course: what do we think religion “is,” [and how satisfied are we with the working definition in the book, what would we change in that definition to come closer to what we think we mean when we use the term “religion” ourselves, …], what are the positive contributions it makes to human life, what are the negatives, are the positives and negatives different, or the same, for the different religious traditions we’ve studied … that kind of thing. The students got into the discussion and had plenty to say, and as final discussions go it was above average.

Still, in the course of the discussion I realized that the students and I are farther apart than ever before on the topic of truth. read the rest

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Exegetical Exercise (Judges 11:4-11, 29-31)

Jephthah's daughter Judges 11

Judges 11: Jephthah’s daughter looking a little less than the innocent victim …

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, June 18 is a section from Judges 11, the portion of the story of Jephthah where the elders of Gilead convince Jephthah to lead them in the fight against Ammon, and Jephthah’s vow.

Here’s the text:

4/ After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. 5/ And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6/ They said to Jephthah, “Come and be our commander, so that we may fight with the Ammonites.” 7/ But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Are you not the very ones who rejected me and drove me out of my father’s house? So why do you come to me now when you are in in trouble?” 8/ The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “Nevertheless, we have now turned back to you, so that you may go with us and fight with the Ammonites, and become head over us, over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” 9/ Jephthah said to the elders off Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight with the Ammonites, and YHWH gives them over to me, will I be your head?”* 10/ And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “YHWH will be witness between us; we will surely do as you say.” 11/ So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them, and Jephthah spoke all his words before YHWH at Mizpah. … 29/ Then the spirit of YHWH came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30/ And Jephthah vowed a vow to YHWH, and said “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31/ then who-or- whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the Ammonites, shall be to YHWH that I will raise it up as a burnt offering.”

Here are my notes: read the rest

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Trinity Sunday

etching of Gideon and the angel of YHWH under an oak tree

“With You” – Gideon and the Angel of YHWH

[A sermon on the Uniform Series text for June 11, which is also Trinity Sunday in the liturgical year.]

The text for the morning is Judges 6:11-18, the beginning of the story of Gideon’s call. Gideon lives in the time of the “judges,” and is one of the heroes who step in and restore some semblance of order and stability to the land of Israel when things are going badly, the people are doing evil in the sight of YHWH, and the land is being oppressed by enemies; the time period is the couple of hundred years or so after the initial entry into the promised land under the leadership of Joshua. The stories of the judges come from those early days of the land of Israel, and a lot of that time was … pretty desperate.

When this particular story begins, the Midianites, who judging from the Bible maps are people from what today would be Arabia, are making regular raids into the land of Israel. The Midianites come in very large numbers, with large numbers of camels, who are big, hungry animals; they eat up everything in sight, leaving the Israelites starving and in essence making them work for their deadbeat Midianite “guests.” It would be a little like having all your third cousins come from out of state, sleep on all your furniture, eat you out of house and home, and never offer to pay for gas or buy a bag of groceries – if, that is, your third cousins are also the kind of people who threaten you with guns and knives if you ask questions like when they’re thinking about going back home. To make matters worse, when the Israelites cry out to YHWH, who you might think would help with this situation, YHWH answers back something like: “You know, when I rescued you from Egypt, I told you everything would be great in the land IF you followed my instructions, and guess what, you haven’t followed my instructions even a little bit and you’ve been worshipping the gods of the Amorites, and this is exactly what I told you would happen if you did THAT,” and keeps on washing the dishes or making dinner or whatever else YHWH is busy with instead of rescuing the Israelites again – using the approach we parents sometimes call “consequences.”   read the rest

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Shabbat shalom

Image - portrait of young girl

“Spread Thou over us Thy shelter of peace,
Direct us aright with Thy good counsel …
Save us for Thy name’s sake.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005), 70.

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Exegetical Exercise (Judges 6:11-18)

etching of Gideon and the angel of YHWH under an oak tree

Gideon’s offering of meat and broth and matzoh is accepted by the angel of YHWH/YHWH

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, June 11, is Judges 6:11-18, in which Gideon receives his call or commission from God. Here are my notes on this text:

First impressions: This narrative in particular seems very incomplete without its background (Judges 6:1-10) and the subsequent stories, which continue through the end of chapter 8, with the death of Gideon. The call story itself really seems to require the inclusion of the episode of the presentation of the offering of meat and bread, which is burned up miraculously, and Gideon’s expression of fear at having seen the angel of the Holy One. The story in chapter 6 continues with the destruction of the altar of Baal in Gideon’s town, at God’s instruction, and the altercation over this act (vv. 25-32), that ends with Gideon being nick-named Jerubbaal. read the rest

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painting of Jael, Deborah and Barak

Jael, Deborah, and Barak – agents of God in Judges

The text this morning (Sunday, June 4, 2017), which is the one we are studying in our class using the Uniform Series texts, is the first in a series of texts that remember God’s history of calling people into the service of God throughout the history of the people of God. We’ll be looking for the similarities and differences, the patterns and the unique features, in these call stories, and for what they have to tell us about how to listen for, and to respond to, the call(s) we ourselves receive from God – in the conviction that God does, in fact, reach out to us in this way, just as God reached out to God’s people in earlier times.

This week, we are looking at the story of Deborah and Barak, two people who lived in the early days of the Israelites’ time in the geographical land we have sometimes called Canaan, sometimes Israel, sometimes Palestine:

Judges 4:1/ The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, after Ehud died. 2/ So YHWH sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hegoiim. 3/ Then the Israelites cried out to YHWH for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.

4/At that time woman Deborah, a woman prophet, wife [or woman] of Lappidoth [lights, torches], she was judging Israel. 5/She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. 6/She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “YHWH the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. 7/I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” 8/Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9/And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for YHWH will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10/Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and ten thousand warriors went up behind him; and Deborah went up with him.

read the rest

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