Category: God (page 1 of 2)

the kingdom of God: an introduction

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 Godbasileia 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

the wisdom of God

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.
Continue reading

the Lord watch over your going out

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

praying to God

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.
Ours alone.

“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

call me back

I am told that God answers prayer.
Always.

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.

Please.
Call me back.
I’m waiting.

 

 

© 2014 Kurt Struckmeyer

the kingdom is at hand

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

advent: the waiting is over

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, we celebrate Christ’s coming into the world and watch with expectant hope for his coming again. 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 were the promises of Arrival One. However, things are not better. The world is still mired in darkness and despair. Arrival One was insufficient. So we wait for Arrival Two. Ultimately, we are still looking for a messiah to save us from the mess we have gotten ourselves into. And so we wait. And we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

But perhaps we have it all backwards. Instead of waiting for God to act to set things right, perhaps God has been waiting 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.

The readings for Arrival Two remind us that Christ will come again, and we are to prepare for the momentous day. But perhaps the return of Jesus is not found in the future. Maybe 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. Be vigilant, we are told. You are to be the light of the world. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning. 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?

a creed of love

I believe in the hidden God of love:
the spirit of love and compassion
found at the breadth and depth
of every human life.

I believe in the vision of Jesus:
the reigning of God on earth,
found where people and societies
are governed by the rule of love.

I believe in the way of Jesus:
a love for God and neighbor,
a love for stranger and enemy,
a love for outcast and alien.

I believe in the abundant life of Jesus:
a life of acceptance, inclusion, and forgiveness,
a life of equality, generosity, and sharing,
a life of compassion, service, and nonviolence.

I believe that Jesus modeled the godly life:
healing the sick and serving the poor,
seeking dignity and equality for all people,
and calling for shared wealth and economic justice.
For this he was condemned and crucified
by those who serve the forces of domination
in every time and place.

I believe that though he died,
the spirit of Jesus lives on
among those who strive for peace and justice
and who work to create a better world.

In the name of Jesus,
and in the name of love,
I commit myself to care for others,
to break down the barriers that separate us,
and to seek justice and peace in the world.

Amen.

 

 

© 2014 Kurt Struckmeyer

how Yahweh met Elohim and created the world

the creators

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,
tending gardens,
planting orchards,
setting boundaries,
sewing garments,
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
parting waters,
planning conquests,
dictating rulebooks,
demanding justice,
admonishing kings,
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)

the gods of the Hebrew Bible

The God revealed in the Hebrew bible is an integration of several different cultural traditions in the ancient Middle East. As the tribes of Israel established themselves as a distinct culture among the peoples of Canaan, differing images of God were eventually integrated into the oral and written traditions that shaped the Old Testament. Continue reading

praying to love

“I am God, says Love, for Love is God and God is Love.”
– Marguerite de Porete (1249–1310)

The way we pray is determined by our image of God. The most popular image in the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is that of a supernatural theistic God who dwells somewhere “up there” or “out there” and reigns with unlimited majesty and power. This is the image of a transcendent God—separate from and greater than all of creation, including humanity. The blended God(s) of the Canaanite and Hebrew traditions—Elohim and Yahweh—whom we encounter in the Hebrew Bible, were conceived of in anthropomorphic terms, nearly always with male gender. Ezekiel and Daniel viewed God as a human-like being seated on a heavenly throne (or a flying war chariot) surrounded by a royal court of lesser divine beings. I was taught in catechism classes that the biblical God is omnipresent (present everywhere), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipotent (all-powerful). Because of these characteristics, our prayers are directed to a God who is nearby, accessible, and listening, who already knows what is in our hearts and minds even before we speak, and can answer our prayers by powerful supernatural means when necessary.

For many Christians, a supernatural theistic God is a daily reality in their lives, but for many others, this kind of God is simply not there. They long to feel God’s presence and God’s love, but instead they experience emptiness and isolation. They worship God in church, but find that God is not present in the sanctuary. They pray fervently to God in private moments, but realize that their prayers often go unanswered. In the end, there is only silence. The biblical character of Job cried out to God in despair, “I cry to you God, but you do not answer. I stand before you, and you don’t even bother to look.” (Job 30:20)

Barbara Brown Taylor (b. 1951) describes this emptiness in her book Leaving Church: a Memoir of Faith, in which she relates her experiences at a small Episcopal church in rural Georgia.

On my worst nights I lay in bed feeling like a single parent, unable to sleep because I knew I did not have enough love in me to go around. God was the boundless lover, but for many people God was the parent who had left. They still read about him in the Bible and sang about him in hymns. They still believed in his reality, which made it even harder to accept his apparent lack of interest in them. They waited for messages from him that did not arrive. They prepared their hearts for meetings that never happened. They listened to other Christians speak as if God showed up every night for supper, leaving them to wonder what they had done wrong to make God go off and start another family.

Mother Teresa (1910–1997), who ministered to the needs of the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying in India for over 50 years, felt a similar absence and silence in her life. It began soon after she set up her Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta in the late 1940s and continued until her death in 1997. She interpreted it as a loss of faith.

If there be a God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me—and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.

The image of a transcendent all-powerful, interventionist God is still the most prevalent one in America today. But for some people, it has ceased to be a reasonable working hypothesis. Continue reading

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