Their relationship remains unclear.
They may be unlikely brothers,
or perhaps like Oscar and Felix,
they are simply an odd couple
sharing the same high rise apartment.
But Elohim and Yahweh—
the two gods of Genesis—
have competing stories
about how they did it,
how they created all that is,
each one claiming the honor
and vying for our adoration and worship.
Elohim, a man of few words,
created the heavens and the earth
by the power of the spoken command.
“Let there be light,” he said
and there was light.
I imagine him seated in a director’s chair,
gesturing broadly with his hands
as he speaks clear and simple instructions
to the dark and formless void.
A firm believer in evolution,
Elohim has watched his simple creation
of a flat earth covered with a dome
become a vast expanding universe
of stellar clouds and dark matter.
Yahweh, in contrast,
always prefers a hands-on style,
sculpting creatures from the earth,
breathing life into muddy forms,
and evicting disobedient tenants.
Elohim prefers the big picture,
the grand scheme,
the massive expanse of the untamed cosmos.
Yahweh, on the other hand,
believes that god is in the details.
A micro-manager of earthly affairs,
Yahweh spent centuries on a singular project
and controlling the destiny
of the Hebrew people
like tokens on a game board.
Today, many years later,
I imagine them in their retirement,
Elohim sitting at his telescope
watching the movement of the heavens
and Yahweh in his basement workshop
crafting a new species or two.
At the end of the day,
they sit together side by side,
Yahweh with his knitting,
and Elohim reading Carl Sagan,
bickering over the remote control.
(copyright © 2014 Kurt Struckmeyer)
Category: God (Page 1 of 2)
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning, around 6 o’clock, to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage of one denarius, he sent them into his vineyard.
When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So, they went.
When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.
And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.”
Around 6 o’clock, when evening came, the lord of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.”
When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage of one denarius. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more for their twelve hours of labor; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”
But he replied to the ringleader, “Friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not make an agreement with me for one denarius? Take your denarius and go! I wish to give to this last one the same as I give to you. Is it not permissible to do what I wish with the things that are mine? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
So, the last will be first, and the first will be last.
(Matthew 20: 1-16)
Knowing the historical context in which this parable was told can lead to some unusual and even disturbing conclusions about its meaning. In first-century Palestine, work was scarce and poverty widespread. Day laborers were peasants who had lost their land through indebtedness. If they were no longer needed as tenant farmers for the new landowners, they would become part of the “expendable” class. They were on a downward spiral and were desperate for work to survive. They did not have many options. They could choose between day labor or robbery. If they were too weak for either of these, they would become beggars at the gate (like Lazarus) until they died of hunger and disease. When Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), reflecting on the fate of peasants in a time of war, said that the life of humanity was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” it could aptly apply to the expendable class in the time of Jesus.
Jesus brings together the social extremes of an agrarian society: the elites and the expendables. And he arranges this meeting at a time when the elites were dependent on the lowliest of laborers. To ensure a timely harvest, the landowner needed their labor.
O God of peace, be with us now.
Stand here beside us; bring hope this day.
Transform this world of greed and strife,
From domination to your new way.
Teach us to make an end to war,
An end to bloodshed, an end to hate.
May hearts and hands in your new reign
End earth’s oppression and liberate.
Empower us so we can build
A world of justice where all can share.
Providing food to all in need
With your compassion and loving care.
The poor, the lame, the sick, the blind,
Are brothers, sisters, the whole world round.
You now invite them far and near
To your great banquet of love unbound.
You send us forth to find the lost,
Abandoned, lonely, and homeless ones.
You welcome all in your embrace
Forgiving freely as daughters, sons.
You set before our hungry eyes
A feast of plenty with wine and song.
We gather round as family,
A loving circle, where all belong.
You bless all those who work for peace
And cry for justice across the land.
You give us strength to speak your word.
Against all powers, you help us stand.
You teach us how to turn the cheek,
Resisting evil, with peaceful force.
You teach us love for enemies.
Gracious, forgiving, you are love’s source.
O God of love, be with us now.
Stir up your power, transform the earth.
Renew our minds, refresh our hearts,
Send peace and justice, give hope new birth.
Establish your reign here and now,
And help us live a more loving way,
That peace may flourish in our world
And streams of justice cascade today.
Music: “Wexford Carol” (Carul Loch Garman) — Traditional
The time is fulfilled, the kingdom is at hand. (Mark 1:15)
The kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20)
The kingdom of God is among you. (Luke 17:21)
The kingdom of God is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it. (Gospel of Thomas 11)
At the heart of the gospel of Jesus is the kingdom of God. This one phrase sums up the entire ministry of Jesus and his whole life’s work. Jesus spoke in Aramaic and the New Testament was written in Greek. The expression kingdom of God—basileia tou theou (bas-il-EH-ah too THEH-oo) in Greek and malkutha d’elaha (mal-KOOTH-ah dehl-ah-HAH) in Aramaic—points to the ruling activity of God over human social relationships.
As we read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see that every thought and saying of Jesus was directed and subordinated to one single thing: the realization of the reign of God’s love, compassion, justice, and peace within human society. Although Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God frequently, he never clearly defined it. Instead, he spoke of it in parables, comparing something familiar (mustard seed, leaven, lost coins, a man who sowed a field) with something unfamiliar.
Then he said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?” (Luke 13:18)
Therefore, we must always test any proposed definition or meaning of the kingdom against the parables. Over the centuries, a variety of interpretations of what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God have been put forth. We will briefly examine six of the most common explanations: the reign of God as 1) heaven, 2) an inner spiritual experience, 3) the church, 4) a separate society, 5) a new state, and 6) a new world. Continue reading
In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and God was the logos. He was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not grasp it.
—John 1:1–5 (NRSV translation)
When time began, the wisdom of God was there. In this wisdom was life and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness of the world, and the darkness cannot grasp it, nor extinguish it. . . Then the wisdom of God became a flesh-and-blood human being. And he parked his trailer in our neighborhood. We looked him in the face and that face reflected the light of God. . . He gave us endless knowing and understanding of love and kindness and generosity. . . No one has actually seen God, but Jesus who is close to the heart of God has revealed God to us.
—A creative paraphrase of John 1:1, 5–6, 14, 16–18
Greek philosophers introduced the concept of logos (LOG-os) to the early Christian movement, familiarized to us by the prelude to John’s gospel. Although usually translated by Christians as “word,” logos is more accurately translated as “thought” or “reason.” Clarence Jordan translated it as “idea” in his “Cottonpatch” gospels. Perhaps “wisdom” is a better understanding.
Three centuries before Jesus, Stoic philosophers proposed that the logos symbolized the divine reason or creative intelligence that is implied in the order of the universe, giving it form and meaning. For them, humans possess a small portion of the divine logos that sets us apart from lower forms of life.
For the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (25 BCE–50 CE)—a contemporary of Jesus and Paul—the logos was seen as the approachable aspect of an inapproachable and incomprehensible God. Philo believed that one cannot communicate directly with God, but can come to know and understand God through the logos, a kind of intermediary being or spirit that provides insight into the mind of God and reveals God’s governing plan for the world. For Paul, the logos of God replaced the Torah of God as the benchmark of religious understanding.
Do you ever find it odd
that worshipers are greeted
as they leave the sanctuary?
This rite of transition
from comfort to challenge.
The grasping of hands, a warm smile,
a word of encouragement
as if to say
this was just the prelude—
worship begins outside these doors.
The one you seek is not here
he has gone ahead of you.
You will find him
amid the brokenness of the world.
For true worship does not consist
of heartfelt words,
of fervent prayer,
of bread and wine,
But of lives well lived
among those who need our love.
© 2014 Kurt Struckmeyer
I sometimes wonder if God
ever tires of our prayers.
Weekends must be the worst.
Friday prayers at the mosques,
Saturday appeals in the synagogues,
Sunday petitions from the churches.
An endless round of requests.
Do this, O Lord
and do that, Almighty God.
Watch over the sick,
care for the lonely,
help the poor,
encourage the unemployed,
bring peace among the nations.
As if addressing every human problem
great and small,
is part of God’s job description,
and somehow God has forgotten.
Someday I imagine
that God will lose patience
with our foolish words
and will tell us in no uncertain terms
that the care of the world,
the care of one another,
is our job.
“This is your mess, not mine,” God will say.
“Get busy and stop bothering me.”
Perhaps God will add with a chuckle,
“Amen, so be it.”
© 2014 Kurt Struckmeyer
I am told that God answers prayer.
But then a few caveats are added,
meant to temper my expectation
for a quick and positive response.
First, they make it clear
that sometimes the answer will be “no.”
And secondly, I am told
I should not expect a speedy reply
because the answer will come in God’s time, not mine.
With seven billion people in the world,
if only a fraction pray every day
God’s in-box must be jammed 24/7.
The volume must be immense
since God also hears unspoken needs.
I wonder if God employs a triage system
so that brain cancer takes precedence over a math quiz.
Perhaps God weighs the requests on merit
based on an extraordinary need
or an intensity of feeling
or the strength of belief.
If so, my odds of getting through
are slim to none.
I have left messages, repeatedly,
but God never picks up.
Call me back.
© 2014 Kurt Struckmeyer
Music: “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” by Johann Sebastian Bach / “American Tune” by Paul Simon
A young man roams the city
With anger in his eyes.
His rage glows like an ember,
His soul is cold as ice.
And he knows he’s going nowhere,
And he knows he cannot win.
But still he cries at the darkened skies,
While the kingdom is at hand.
The widow makes her daily meal
Of stale toast and tea.
Her money gone, her days grow long,
And fill with memories.
She dreams of friends and family
Of the life that they had planned;
Shadows loom in the empty room
While the kingdom is at hand.
The young girl on the corner
Makes her living on the street.
In motels and bars she bears the scars
Of lovers and defeat.
Then getting stoned, she goes back home
With another faceless man.
Two empty lives drift through the night
While the kingdom is at hand.
The children cry from hunger
As their listless bodies lie
In rooms they share with vacant stares
And silent weeping eyes.
Their stunted minds and shunted lives
Are a curse upon the land.
The children’s tears fill up their years
While the kingdom is at hand.
To those who have no future,
To those who have no hope;
To those who know no kindness,
To those who grasp and grope;
To those whose lives are empty,
To those who need a friend;
The Word of Life has come to you
For the kingdom is at hand.
The Holy Spirit gathers
The lost and lonely ones.
She takes them from their darkness
And bathes them in the sun.
She sends her church into the world
To those whose lives are damned,
To live and die with the joyful cry
That the kingdom is at hand.
To every generation,
To every race and land;
In city or in country,
The kingdom is at hand.
The Lord is here among us,
His promises are true.
The kingdom lives forever,
The kingdom is in you!
Yes, the kingdom is in you.
© September 1976, Kurt Struckmeyer
The season of Advent is upon us. For most people it is a flurry of activity to prepare for the Christmas and New Year holidays: a time of decoration, a time of shopping, a time of baking, a time of lights and candles. For some, it is simply the most stressful time of the year. But historically, advent has been a time of inward preparation in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. It recalls the themes of a late-term pregnancy: waiting and suspense, hope and expectation. Advent literally means “arrival.”
During the season of Advent, the church celebrates Christ’s coming into the world and watches with expectant hope for his return. We are reminded that we live in a time between Arrival One and Arrival Two.
In the biblical story, especially in readings from Isaiah, Advent reflects a people waiting for a messiah—an anointed conquering king—who will save them from oppression and despair. Themes of darkness and light, of night and a new dawn, provide metaphors for a dramatic change to come. In Christian theology, Advent reflects the idea that God is coming into our midst, that a divine child is arriving who will restore creation and set things right—to make us better individuals, to heal our broken relationships, to transform our world with justice and peace. Those are the promises of Arrival One.
However, those promises have not been fulfilled. Things have not gotten better—injustice is the norm, wars persist, the poor continue to suffer, the planet is in crisis. The world is still mired in darkness and despair. Arrival One was insufficient. So we are told to wait for Arrival Two—when Jesus will return and finally set things right. Ultimately, we are told to look for the return of a supernatural messiah to save us from the toxic mess we created. And so we are told to wait. And to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
But I think we have it all backwards. Instead of waiting for God to act to set things right, perhaps God has been waiting all along for us to act. The message of Jesus is that we are the ones who are called to make a better world. If you are looking for a messiah, wait no longer; simply look into the mirror. You and I will have to do it ourselves.
The readings for Arrival Two tell us that Christ will come again, and we are to prepare for the momentous day. But the return of Jesus is not found in the future. Instead, his return is found daily in those who follow him and embody his message and mission. Christian theology, beginning with the Apostle Paul, reminds us that we are the body of Christ. Jesus has returned in us and through us and among us. We are the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus. If the spirit of Jesus is to be manifested in the world today, we are the divine actors who will play the role. The truth is that Christ is always coming—through us.
The message of the Arrival Two lessons is one of preparedness. Prepare for the task ahead, and do so quickly. For soon the seasons of Advent and Christmas will be over and as Howard Thurman wrote, then “the work of Christmas begins.”
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”
God is waiting. We have much work to do. What are we waiting for?