14 May 2014

Teaching Luke: "Do not be afraid, little flock..."

Last Sunday I filled in as leader for the Discussion Class (Luke Part 2) at Southwest Central Church, Houston, since Michael and Brent were both out of town. Yes, me! At church and teaching on Mother's Day and only a little bit weepy. How I rejoice in this evidence of healing and spiritual growth!  I don't think I was ever privileged to teach a class that was a better fit with the morning's worship service. Our passage from Luke melded perfectly with the reading from Acts 2 from our "Peter Speaks to You" series which informed our worship last Sunday.

In its detailed discussion of Luke, the class had reached Chapter 12 but I began with a reminder of the last verses of Chapter 11:
53 When he went out from there, the experts in the law and the Pharisees began to oppose him bitterly, and to ask him hostile questions about many things, 54 plotting against him, to catch him in something he might say.
Everything in the next section (Luke 12:1 - Luke 13:21) happens in this context of opposition, hostile questions, and plotting "to catch" Jesus which gives an urgency to his words. When Jesus heals on the Sabbath, the experts in the law say, "Gotcha!" but the section concludes:
 13:7 When he said this all his adversaries were humiliated, but the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.

The setting is one that Luke has used before, most notably in Luke 6, Jesus' Sermon on the Plain--Jesus teaching his disciples in the midst of a crowd. And, oh! what a crowd, "so many that they trampled on each other." This emphasis on the size of the crowd introduces one of the major Lukan themes: "the world turned upside down." What seems big or valuable is really of no value; what seems small and of little value is really a great treasure.
Jesus and his disciples are surrounded by hostility, a hostility that is moving toward Jerusalem and a cross, just as the original readers of Luke's gospel, the early Christian church, are faced with persecution and the very real possibility of martyrdom. As Craddock writes,  "...these words are more fitted to the church after Jesus' resurrection than to his immediate disciples, because these sayings both imply and openly state the gift of the Holy Spirit." In the face of this hostility, Jesus repeatedly assures his disciples that God cares, that God provides, that the unfruitful fig tree will be cut down, that the faithful servant will be rewarded, and that the Kingdom of God will grow from the small mustard seed which he is sowing into a "tree" where birds may nest in safety and provision.

(Note: in both Jewish and Buddhist traditions and early writings, the mustard seed is an image of creation, an expanding universe, eternity. Its appearance here--particularly with the mention of "garden"--may be evocative of similar ideas.)

The section, Luke 11:53 - Luke 13: 22, is marked by
  1. movement 53 "Then he went out from there" and 22 "Then Jesus traveled"
  2. and the use of "leaven" and birds
Although none of the commentaries I looked at mentioned it, in my reading I noted a chiastic structure:

A     LEAVEN of the Pharisees,  that is hypocrisy
B           Birds e.g. sparrows for whom God cares.
             NO FEAR you are worth more than sparrows     
C             A Question from the crowd re. inheritance
                 Jesus answers with a question:
                 "Who made me the judge?" DIVISION of property
D                   A parable: rich man building barns ("eat, drink, be merry")
                     Not ready for his death and headed to "Gehenna"
E                     DO NOT WORRY
                        Birds e.g. Ravens do not build barns, God provides
                        Lilies, grass withers and is burnt, God provides
                        32 “DO NOT BE AFRAID, little flock,
                              for your Father is well pleased to give you
                              the kingdom.
                                33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor.
                            Provide yourselves purses that do not wear out—
                            a treasure in heaven that never decreases,
                           where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.
                      34 For where your treasure is,
                         there your heart will be also."
  D'                  A Parable: servants waiting for their masters' return
                       Ready with loins already girded and lamps continually burning
 C'              A Question from the Disciples (Peter)
                  Jesus answers with a question:
                 "Who is the trustworthy steward?" DIVISION of households
                 "You hypocrites!"
                 "Judge for yourself what is right!"
B'        Wild birds that nest in the mustard tree
A'    LEAVEN of the Kingdom of God

In this text Jesus seeks to reassure his small group of followers in the midst of a much more numerous crowd that the Kingdom of God will grow, that God will provide everything his "little flock" needs just as he provides for birds.
Major teaching themes include:
  • hypocrisy
  • "my" possessions vs. God's provision
  • "riches" vs. "treasure"
  • being prepared for persecution, for death, for judgment
Of the repeated themes which this class has been noticing we see:
  • angels,
  • Holy Spirit
  • the world turned upside down
  • the poor
  • the Kingdom
  • clean/unclean (I'm not sure this item is on the list on the blackboard)
  • and numerous pairs
We have a pair of fears: the one who can destroy the body vs. the one who can destroy the soul.
We have a pair of brothers--as we had a pair of sisters in Chapter 10:38-42--where one asks for judgment against the other.
We have not a pair but a triplet of birds: sparrows, ravens (an "unclean" bird), and wild birds. The appearance of the third reinforces the chiastic emphasis on E Luke 12:22-34 as the key section of this text.
We have a pair of questions; one from the crowd and one from the disciples represented by Peter.
We have a pair of parables both speaking to being prepared for judgment.
We have a pair of trees: an unfruitful fig tree and the tree that grows from the mustard seed.
We have a pair of "divisions" of an inheritance and of households.

Does Chapter 12 51 "Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 For from now on there will be five in one household divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
relate to Chapter 11 16 Others, to test him, began asking for a sign from heaven. 17 But Jesus, realizing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, and a divided household falls. 18 So if Satan too is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?"

And, perhaps, there is a pairing of baptism and fire in 13:49-50 which looks forward to the second chapter of Acts, also written by Luke.
Part of that passage was the key text to our worship service on Sunday:

Acts 2:42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and held everything in common, 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. 46 Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts, 47 praising God and having the good will of all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved.

In Luke/Acts, as Talbert suggests, the purpose of wealth is to share with the poor, with one another. Much of our class discussion centered around the difficulty of putting this teaching into practice.

I read and made use of the discussion of this section in these books:

Craddok, Fred B.: Luke: Interpretation for Teaching and Preaching. 1990

Talbert, Charles H.: Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary. 1982

Brent and Michael gave me a third book with these which I read but from which I made no notes so I doubt that it contributed to my understanding of the passage.
Scripture quotations from the NET Bible via Biblegateway.

07 May 2014

Memoir: Daddy on a summer morning...

I've been putting in a new yard. When I started removing grass to prepare a new bed, I noticed that my hoe was dull. I remembered the countless mornings from the time school turned out in May until School started in September--yes, we pretty much kept to those dates because in a rural farming community children are labor--that began with "iron sharpening iron" as Daddy filed our hoes and the rising sun colored the eastern sky and tinted the land rose gold.
I could not find my file so I asked DMP to pick one up on the way home. He did and when I opened the package in the morning light to begin a day's work, I finally got the joke.
Daddy had brought home a new file and laid it carefully on the edge of front stoop as he began using the old file on our hoes. Mother came out and sat on the stoop with her coffee cup watching him. Hiding his smile under the wide brim of his hat, he said, "Dot, hand me that S.O.B."
She shot him a look of both shock and anger.
His blue eyes sparkled and he looked directly at her and said, "That's what it is; read the label."
She did; they laughed. She blew him a kiss and tossed him the file and we got on with our day.
Even at the time, I knew they had shared a joke, a private joke, one of the countless little ways they affirmed their love day in and day out.
My new file is a Nicholson 10" Black Diamond Single Cut Bastard.
"Single Cut Bastard." What a wonderful phrase!
It would make a good line for a poem or a title for a novel.

04 May 2014

Chiaroscuro: Playing with light and shadow

I've had a week of experiencing light and shadows.
Making the most of Houston's last cool weather before the summer blast, I spent lots of time working in my yard. While working in the hot afternoons, I often longed for some rest in a patch of shade. The patio table umbrella was nice; the natural shade from my neighbor's trees was nicer. For me, those shadows became a place of shelter, a resting place.
Gregory Gibbs, 2014, used by permission.
One day last week a young friend posted a "selfie" that I found quite intriguing. I lingered over the photo and returned to it several times in the week. Something in the photograph reminded me of a Rembrandt painting that had first fascinated me in childhood when I found  it in the World Book Encyclopedia. Rembrandt's single candle lighting is called chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro was not original to Rembrandt. Several of my other favorite 17th and 18th Century painters--Leonardo Da Vinci, Peter Paul Rubens, Caravaggio--made use of the technique. Chiaroscuro lends a painting "dramatic intensity, rhythmic visual harmony, and psychological depth." {I would very much like to properly cite this phrase but am not certain where it originates. Two sources that I found interesting are:  Jeffrey A. Netto's 1999 article for his English course: Writing in the World of Painting   and a really fun power point from teacher web "Outside the Lines." }

All this to say that I had already been thinking some about light and shadow when I arrived at The Cenacle Retreat House on Saturday morning for the "spiritual spa day." 

My friends, Amy, Chelsie, Brandy, Michal, Luci, Elana, and me
on the patio of the Cenacle in light and shadow.
I was very much looking forward to a massage to  ease the aches and pains of the week's hard labor in the yard, to being indulged with some delicious lunch and a high tea, and to spending some quality time with friends. It was a truly wonderful day. Walking the beautiful gardens and woodlands allowed me to experience more light and shadow.
One of the two sessions I attended was Connie Longsworth's Musica Divina, a meditation technique similar to Lectio Divina using music rather than text. Connie suggested that we could use this technique not only intentionally but any time when we were trapped listening to music in a car, on hold, shopping. We could use it for any genre of music, as a way of encountering God in everything.

I did not care for either of Connie's selections: Captivate Us by Watermark and Cyndi Lauper's True Colors. I found the music uninteresting; I found the poetry, particularly True Colors, dreadful. Nonetheless, as I reflected on the words and the relationship of those two pieces to each other, I noted that both songs were very sensory, extremely visual, and that both relied on motifs of light and shadow.
"like the stars..." "radiant bright... in your breath and shadow..." "let everything be lost in the shadows of the light of your face..." from Captivate Us
"You can lose sight of it all and the darkness inside you..." "I see your true colors shining through..." "Like a rainbow..."
from True Colors
My journal notes:
by K Cummings Pipes 2 May 2014
Light by its very nature creates shadow.
Shadows are not the same as darkness.
Darkness is an absence of light.
Shadows are the result of light's presence;
they are part of the light's revelation.
For example:
I do not, I cannot doubt unless I first have faith.
Indeed, doubt is not the absence of faith;
doubt is a shadowed faith.
The presence of the Light reveals shadows.
Shadows change with the movement of light
or with the movement of the object that casts the shadow.
Remove the object and the shadow is gone.
Such removal may be necessary
when the shadow is the result of some hindrance or sin in my life.
Not all objects can be moved;
they are not sin but circumstance.
These objects are to be walked around, not stumbled over.
Sometimes a shadow object can become a candlestick,
lifting the light higher and increasing illumination.
Looking at a shadow from different angles,
seeing how the shadow changes in time and space,
may create a fresh perspective or open a new path.
If there are no shadows, there is no Light.
The play of the Light and shadows bring
"dramatic intensity, rhythmic...  harmony,
and psychological depth" to my life
and are indeed a shelter and a resting place.