Shabbat shalom

Image of synagogue at sundown

“Judaism tries to foster the vision of life as a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the longing for the Sabbath all days of the week which is a form of longing for the eternal Sabbath all the days of our lives.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005), 90.

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Questions for Reflection and Discussion (2 Chronicles 7 1-11)

Tissot's depiction of Solomon praying at the dedication of the Temple

Praying and making extravagant offerings to God in ancient Israel, as seen from the perspective of the 19th century

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, March 18 is Chronicles 7:1-11, which continues the narrative of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem – the first Temple, the “Temple of Solomon.” Here are a few questions we might find helpful to consider in class:

In verse 1, fire comes down from heaven and burns up the offerings, and the glory of the Holy One fills the Temple. It’s probably fair to note that this doesn’t seem to have been a routine occurrence in the worship of ancient Israel, but it wasn’t completely unprecedented. Has anything similar, or comparable, ever happened in worship we have participated in? When was that and what were the circumstances? What made it similar, or comparable?

In verse 2, the people bow face down on the pavement, and “gave thanks” to God. How would you describe the impact of the worship event on the people? What feelings does the response suggest: awe-struck? Grateful? Afraid? Something else? How typical are these responses to the worship we are familiar with? How desirable? Why, or why not? read the rest

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Sin as Boldly as Anyone*

cover of Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas

A Christmas present for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation

Reflections on: Eric Metaxas. Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World. (New York: Viking, 2017).

[An installment of the “Read Me” Project.]

Martin Luther was a Christmas gift, this Christmas. The person who gave it to me was delighted to be giving it to me, too, the way you feel when you’re sure you got someone exactly what they’re going to love. “Your hero!” she said, expectantly. I was perplexed enough that I didn’t do a good job of communicating equal delight. “Well, Calvin’s really our guy … but we study Martin Luther too, of course …” So I wanted to get to reading it right away, so I could redeem myself a little, at least.

I admit, though, that I was less than enthusiastic about the enterprise after I read the back cover. Does anyone really care about what the “cofounder of PayPal, entrepreneur, and author of Zero to One,” thinks about a book about Martin Luther? As if those are credentials for assessing the quality of a book about a medieval theologian? Another blurbist described the book as “massive,” and I thought, no doubt more than a little smugly … well, your operational definition of massive and mine are really different. (As in: Church Dogmatics is massive. The Hindus by Wendy Doniger is massive. For that matter, The Order of the Phoenix is massive. By that standard, Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas is not that massive.) If this was evidence for what the publishers thought about the audience for the book, I wondered what I was going to find between the covers.

But it wasn’t nearly as bad as the blurbs led me to believe. read the rest

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Exegetical Exercise (2 Chronicles 7 1-11)

Tissot's depiction of Solomon praying at the dedication of the Temple

Dedicating the Temple for its appointed purpose by using it for its appointed purpose

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, March 18 is 2 Chronicles 7:1-11; it is the next episode in the event we started reading about last week, and that winds up next week with the end of chapter 7 (next, that is, if we don’t count the detailed petitions of Solomon’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 6:22-42). Here are my notes on the text:

First Impressions: Fire from heaven! (Always dramatic.) “For his steadfast love endures forever” sounds like Psalms. That is a lot of sacrifices (v5) … and I have to admit, I’m glad we’ve moved on to a different form of religion. Imagining the temple of the Holy God as a slaughterhouse is a little too confused-categories for me. Lots of specific times and places …

Background and Context: The text follows Solomon’s prayer of dedication in the newly-built Temple (2 Chronicles 6:12-42; see also 1 Kings 8:22-61), and is the part of the narration that winds up the festival of dedication. The rest of chapter 7 is devoted to Solomon’s vision of God following this big national event. read the rest

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

Christ bound and crowned with thorns


In Sunday school we spent time thinking about what a record of elaborate formal national worship might say to us, or how it might serve as any kind of model for our own worship. We noted the attitude of humility Solomon adopts, and people shared stories of kneeling in prayer – interestingly, childhood memories, of fathers, and of joyful memories of being children around those fathers. We thought about the “tribal” character of this national worship … the possible sense of belonging to a whole big group, and how reassuring that would be, but also the possibility that the belonging would involve exclusion of people outside the tribe – and then we remembered that in ancient Israel, in the Torah, there is a lot of emphasis on including “the stranger,” including the stranger in the celebration of Pesach (Exodus 12:48), including the foreigners in the worship in the house of God (like in Isaiah 56), commending love for the stranger “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” and because God loves them (Deuteronomy 10:17-19) … so, that attitude of welcoming the stranger is presumably the antidote to the kind of tribalism that would turn that belonging into an exercise in hating whoever “isn’t one of us.” read the rest

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Shabbat shalom

Image - Friday Evening by Isidor Kaufman

“This is our constant problem – how to live with people and remain free, how to live with things and remain independent.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005), 89.

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Questions for Reflection and Discussion (2 Chronicles 6 12-21)

A painting of Solomon seated with book and scepter

Solomon as a young monarch

Our text (the Uniform Series text) for Sunday, March 11 is 2 Chronicles 6:12-21, the first part of Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the newly-built Temple. Here are a few questions that might be worth considering before or during class:

This text from 2 Chronicles is a historical memory from the life of ancient Israel. What’s the value of such a text today, for people like us, who are so far removed from that time and place? What is a helpful way, or what are helpful ways, for us to receive this text? Why? Can we, how can we, and should we treat this as a “story with a moral”? Why or why not?

The text presents an exceptional occasion of national worship in a new worship space, featuring splendid and elaborate ritual. Does this worship provide us a model for our own worship? In what way or ways? Why? Are there any ways in which it doesn’t provide us a model for our own worship? What way or ways? Why? read the rest

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