Apportioning God's Breath - Numbers 11:22-32

It is hard for us to focus on things spiritual, especially when we are consumed with baser issues like food. Comfort, warmth, hunger, thirst, and other immediate concerns often interfere with our grappling with those issues we consider more spiritual. In the Bible, however, these issues are all bound up together, even if we often cannot quite understand them as related. God, however, calls us to see both the spiritual and mundane as part of a whole. We make the distinction between economic concerns, dietary issues, workplace demands, and leisure activities, keeping them separate from the spiritual or religious aspects of our lives. We even make a distinction between those called to full-time ministry as somehow different from those whose jobs are not in a church or other non-profit institution. We somehow entrust our official ministers with greater responsibility for living in God's presence than what we expect of others. Moses struggled with these issues in relating to the people u…

Joined with Christ - Romans 6:3-14

Many generations ago, Confucius spoke to the need to define our terms. He was a Chinese ruler and philosopher to whom many sayings have been attributed across the centuries. This saying, was of great importance if for nothing else that the Chinese language and people as we know them were in effect a conglomeration of a thousand languages and peoples. Across the cultural and social milieu, words were ripe with disparate meanings from one culture to the next. Communication across social and cultural divides called for close scrutiny of what one meant by the words one chose. Confucius was wise enough to recognize that we do not always mean the same thing with the same word, and therefore we need to take the time to define our meanings in order to communicate effectively. We sometimes get hung up on terminology in a way that abuses the use of those terms. When it comes to the Bible, the problem is greater, as we give special ritual or sacramental value to certain terms, even or especially …

Born a Refugee - Matthew 2:1-15

We generally think of immigrants and refugees as people not like ourselves. To some degree that is correct, as we do not live the same conditions that make them refugees or immigrants. On the other hand, there is not as much to cast them as “other” as we are wont to imagine. Perhaps the real issue is that we find it easier not to relate to those who live different lives, such that our own lives do not become inconvenienced by struggles we don't quite understand. Because we deem them different, we can write them off without much more thought. What is clear in the gospels, however, is that Jesus continually placed himself in the position of identifying with the refugee, outcast, immigrants, stranger, and marginalized to ensure a clear message of God's care and concern for those we would write off. More than once in the birth narratives, we find Jesus identified with outsiders. In Matthew's text, we find Jesus becoming a refugee. Matthew tells a different birth story for Jesus …

Grace Incarnate

A birth wrapped up in clouds of shame, The gossips shared uncaring blame For one who bore a word of grace Wrapped in a womb and love's embrace. Beyond the comfort of a home This Word incarnate would be born, Announced to shepherds, not to kings, "Good news for all!" the hills would ring. A feeding trough there for his bed, A paltry wrap from feet to head For one whose life God's presence beamed Into the midst of those we deemed Unworthy of a second thought. This babe forgotten, magi sought To pay the homage due his birth, With gifts of great material worth. 'Twas not the great for whom he came, But for the poor, the blind, the lame, The crowds abandoned to despair Without a hope or yet a care. The shame which wrapped such humble birth Is ours not his, for o'er the earth Despair claims those we should embrace,
Extending Christmas' fullest grace.
—©Copyright 2017, Christopher B. Harbin
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Wonder to Ponder - Luke 2:1-18

Good news can come in unexpected ways. Sometimes it is shocking and requires us to pause and take stock of the message we have received. Good news can force us to re-evaluate our prejudices and expectations, forcing us to reconsider our priorities and plans. It may even change our perspective on reality. We don't normally pause long enough for all that to happen, but good news can be a major interruption in our patterns of living. What is unexpected can cause discomfort even while it is to our benefit. The unexpected happens in the birth story Luke paints for us. In the midst of a mundane tale of traveling to pay taxes to the Roman Empire, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. God sent an angel to announce this birth to a band of shepherds keeping watch over sheep in the hills outside of town. This should have been a run of the mill birth, yet God sent angels to announce it. The angels heralded Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, but this announcement was to shepherds on the hillsides beyond…

Creating Flesh - John 1:1-14

There is more than one way to tell a story. We tell stories in different ways to stress one or another point. Matthew told us of Jesus' genealogy with its moments of shame. Luke gave us a picture of the importance of Jesus' birth couched in reflections on the upheaval of social structures Jesus would encourage. Mark skips Jesus' birth story entirely to get on with his narrative of a message he demands be repeated over and over. There is nothing wrong with different perspectives. The emphases are different and designed to steer us to varied ways of considering particular issues at hand. The Gospel of John tells a different kind of Christmas story than the ones we are more accustomed to. John says nothing about sheep, shepherds, angelic choirs, stables, donkeys, pregnancy or marriage. John's story is much more straightforwardly theological verse. He starts off with a reference to the Genesis 1 account of creation, and then he moves to speak of God coming to earth in human…

A Ten Commandments Problem

I'm not opposed to the ten commandments. They served a purpose in limiting violence in revenge. They provided a society in formation a basis for moving forward in a more healthy direction. While Jesus and other rabbis of his day found other commandments in the Torah that superseded what we call the ten commandments, these are still basic building blocks for a just society.
No, my problem is not with the ten commandments. They are a pretty decent list of commands we should embrace. The problem is when we make them out to be more than they are.
We want to believe that somehow the ten commandments are the fullness of God's will for the nation of Israel and by extension our own. We want to enshrine the ten commandments and turn them into monuments that somehow become a stand-in for God's presence in our public lives and in our system of government.
The Decalogue was never designed to become a monument or a symbol of a theocracy. There is a reason that Jesus summarized the gre…