Understanding a Mystery

Understanding a Mystery

Israel or Palestine – where is it heading?

A sermon by Richard Matcham based on Romans 11:25-36

“Lord I pray that the raw nerves and thin shells this topic will likely touch upon, will enlarge the capacity of us all to engage truthfully with the text and the world, and challenge us to be contentedly discontent with mystery, that we may be more loving to one another, and truly worship you in all your unsearchable and inscrutable ways.  Amen”

Have you ever been in a discussion with someone, on a topic that really interests you, and at the crucial point of insight, understanding and genuine learning, you hear the comment, “Ah, we can’t ever know that, it’s a mystery!”

We often deploy the “mystery card” because it seems to be a way of protecting our own limited understanding on a subject.

Take for example, the Trinity (you know what I mean)!

I’ve faced this situation quite a few times over the years, especially as a young Christian man in my mid-20’s, hungry to learn and know God.

“The Trinity,” we shout, “it’s a mystery.”  And with that mystical phrase, the conversation is closed, and genuine biblical understanding is shoved into the cul-de-sac of frustrated, genuine enquirers, where they stay until they learn to stop asking awkward questions!

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Heretical Eschatology

“The Anglo-American Protestant tradition of Judeo-centric prophecy interpretation was from its inception a political theology.

The tradition openly constructed friends (Jews) as well as enemies (Muslims and Roman Catholics), while cultivating occidentocentric discources that discounted Eastern Christians.  rahebcover

These constructions are manifested in contemporary discourses surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which cast Jews within eschatological dramas while demonizing Muslims and casting aspersions on Christians who are Palestinian or sympathetic to the Palestinian national cause.

The tradition’s most visible and direct impulses are manifested in Anglo-American Christian Zionism, which I define as political action, informed by specifically Christian commitments, to promote or preserve Jewish control over the geographic area now containing Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Robert O. Smith, Interpreting the Bible, Interpreting the World: Anglo-American Christian Zionism and Palestinian Christian Concerns, in The Biblical Text in the Context of Occupation – Towards a New Hermeneutic of Liberation,(Ed. Mitri Raheb), p.156

So writes Robert Smith, pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in his brilliant chapter of the book.  Constructions are just what they are, politcal, religious and ideological constructions of the latest (19th century) theological system that has basically become the Western paradigm.  How can this be? Continue reading

Zionism Unsettled

Zionism UnsettledZionism Unsettled produced by Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (website here), released one year ago in January 2014, is a great resource for Churches working towards a more healthy and hopeful  understanding of the terrible situation between Israelis and Palestinians.  PDF flyer here.

One blogger, a Rabbi no less, Brant Rosen, calls this production an “exciting guide…..smart, gutsy and important.”

James M. Wall, over at Wallwritings defends the publication in the face of an inevitable outcry of antisemitism, poor history, a guide that is “neither false nor misguided.”

The video production links are given below, and in the space given to each video, approximately twenty minutes each, they really are a succint and helpful introduction, something I would commend to followers of Jesus in the Churches everywhere.

In many ways, the criticism, whilst treading a very tired and frankly, predictable path, is a cheap shot given the people who have commended the work.  Of note is the great Old Testament Scholar Walter Breuggemann, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary,

“The urgency of the Palestinian plight in the face of Israeli intransigence indicates that intentional, concrete, and sustained public action is necessary to respond credibly to the crisis. Zionism Unsettled…will prove an effective vehicle for helping to mobilize public opinion so that both attitudes and policies can be transformed in the face of an imperious and exploitative ideology.”

Similarly, Ilan Pappe, Israeli Professor of History at Exeter University, England, is a contributor on one of the productions.  Pappe has contributed to a critique of the Zionist ideology through many articles and books over many years, and has paid a high price for his convictions.

And conviction is the reason I am posting this.  In a paper unconnected to Zionism Unsettled, in a critique of Christian Zionism inTruth Speaking the Truth – Zionism, Israel and Occupation (ed. Michael Prior), Peter J. Miano, Executive Director of the Society for Biblical Studies, writes in his chapter ‘Mainstream Christian Zionism’ that in

“Reconsidering Christian Zionism in its mainstream form leads inevitably to vexing moral conflicts.  It requires re-examination of widely held assumptions about ethnic identity and nationhood and the moral implications of these.”

He adds,

“It raises issues that are considered taboo in the Church and takes us into perilous academic ‘no-fly zones’.  But intellectual honesty requires no less” (emphasis mine) p.145.

I myself have firsthand experience of this taboo in the Church, from people I do not know and people I do.  It is always a heart-sinking moment when the letter you’ve just opened is not so much a robust converstaion but a ‘no-fly zone’ hidden behind language masquerading as informed whilst reinforcing the unspoken taboo – “Don’t criticise Israel – anything but that!”

Well, I love Jewish people, secular or religious.  I love the ancient biblical land of Israel/Palestine.  I love Palestinians, Muslim or Christian.  I do not love or like Zionism, an experimental ideology that has been weighed and found wanting, and in the process, ruined generations of lives.  It is not just intellectual honesty that requires this terrible system of oppression and de-humanising be confronted, but it is moral courage in the face of occupation and conquest that must also drive forward this conflict to peaceful conclusions.

 

Click here to go to the Vimeo video production links…

 

 

…or individually below:

http://vimeo.com/channels/zuepisodes

http://vimeo.com/channels/zuepisodes/90020873

http://vimeo.com/channels/zuepisodes/90025253

http://vimeo.com/channels/zuepisodes/90035526

http://vimeo.com/channels/zuepisodes/90695342

http://vimeo.com/channels/zuepisodes/90698337

http://vimeo.com/channels/zuepisodes/90700383

http://vimeo.com/channels/zuepisodes/90703150

http://vimeo.com/channels/zuepisodes/91430944

Israel-Palestine in Perspective

Three really excellent sermons by Rev. Dr. Alasdair Black of Stirling Baptist Church, relating to the Israel-Palestine problem, given during the recent bombing campaign of Israel on Gaza.  They are entitled, ‘Putting the Israeli-Palestine Conflict in Perspective.’

Click here to go to the church web site or go straight to the sermon below

 27 July What kind of nation? Rev Dr. Alasdair Black  https://sites.google.com/site/sbc100428/ser/other-sermons-2014/download-now1jpeg.jpg
  3 August A Christian response to the Palestinian conflict  Rev Dr. Alasdair Black
https://sites.google.com/site/sbc100428/ser/other-sermons-2014/download-now1jpeg.jpg
 10 August The holocaust narrative in the Old Testament Rev Dr. Alasdair Black
https://sites.google.com/site/sbc100428/ser/putting-the-israeli-palestine-conflict-in-perspective/download-now1jpeg.jpg

Demanding Baal Stewards

British_Museum_from_NE_2After taking a group of budding Bible enthusiasts around the British Museum to look at the Assyrian and Babylonian displays, it becomes apparent that what one is faced with at every turn, is the prevalence, nay, dominance of gods. Dominance in the sense of world-view, and their necessity at every level of society, social, civic, legal and religious.

Ancient Israel never completely purged the idolatry of Egypt from her heart! In this regard she was not uniquely idolatrous in the world, just typical of all. Even during the Exodus, in the wilderness, the intoxication with idolatry is told plainly, “…the people…yoked themselves to Baal of Peor” (Numbers 25:1-3). Baal is a truly demanding god, a god of which the nations seemed to be in an insane love-affair with.

BaalBaal, whose name means ‘master’ was one of the major gods of the Canaanite religions. Often he will be anthropomorphised as a small, thin man, slightly larger than a figure made of pipe cleaners; one hand raised in a gesture of victory (as figure above at the British Museum shows). The bull is also a symbol of Baal, and there have been discoveries of this on a hilltop in what was Samaria, dating to the period of the Judges. It must be said, that there is very strong archaeological evidence to suggest that Baal worship was syncretised with YHWH worship, and any cursory reading of Judges will leave the reader unsurprised by this! This syncretism never really left the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and was totally dominant in the Northern Kingdom.

Worshiping_the_golden_calfThe bull as a symbol is fairly significant in the Biblical text. From the Golden Calf during the Exodus, as Israel were encamped at the foot of Sinai, with Moses actually receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites forged an idol because Moses was taking too long. The pathetic and familiar story is found in Exodus 32.

This clearly left an impression because after the division of the United Monarchy following the death of Solomon (931 BC), Jeroboam, a self-proclaimed King, a self-proclaimed appointer of priests and a self-locator of worship, installed two Golden Calves – in the south at Bethel, and in the north, at Dan (1 Kings 12:1-33). This set a monstrous pattern of idolatry, one that the Northern Kings never shook off; with the Southern Kings barely much better!

 

So as one reads through Scripture, it is clear that idolatry is the plague upon the human heart, and one that Yahweh insists must be healed, by Exile (722 & 587 BC) if necessary (2 Kings 17 and 25). This is what drives the prophets. It is seen clearly that idolatry is the outcome of covenantal unfaithfulness, and the call to repent and turn back to a patient and forgiving YHWH becomes ever urgent. It is noteworthy that Amos refers to the “Cows of Bashan” (4:1), the wealthy woman of Samaria, feeding and gorging themselves at the expense of the poor and needy.

This is what idolatry does, it is a self-feeding at the expense of everyone else, and everything else. It is the exact opposite of the Temptations of Jesus , who refuses to be a self-feeder, and a self-glorifier, and a self-promoter (Luke 4:113). He is the only One in history who has resisted the very things that everyone else has failed to resist.

Baal was a demanding monster and a liar. He consumed nations with a lust for wealth and fertility and war. He is the arch-enemy of mankind, and the destroyer of all that is good. He truly is demanding of those who look to him, of those who are stewards of him in any and every capacity.

In another post we will see how Baal as consort to Asherah and/or Astarte, is linked through the fertility rituals that would in Jeremiah’s time (if not before), promote enforced ritual temple prostitution of men and women, boys and girls, including homosexuality and bestiality – and this just the covenantal people of God!! At the British Museum, you can see this in the figures of large breasted women, holding them out as though tempting desire. The Apostle Paul faced the almost comical if it weren’t so sad scenario of this when he faced a mob at Ephesus, mad with religious fury and patriotism for their multi-breasted goddess, Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:28-41). Artemis

This link to sexualised idolatry is, I think, seen in the present day obsession with sexuality being used as a perversion of relationships seen in the breakdown of marriage, the sexualisation of culture, meaning everything we see is often brought down to two lowest common denominators: If not money (a subject for another time), then sexuality, seen most obviously in pornography and paedophilia, not to mention advertising and film – nothing but locust like consumption, grabbing and taking, self-feeding and self-satisfying. It is this very thing, the self-feeding and self-satisfying, that the Israelites became good at when they hoarded the daily provision of manna (Exodus 16) – revealing a twisted view of their Redeeming and Providing God. They were rightly judged for this and their ‘additional Manna’ was fast-tracked to grow mouldy. Baal’s demands are as insatiable as death itself, even if, in the end, as Isaiah says, he is but wind.

By contrast, it is the One True God who is good, and he alone saves. Martin Luther called the human heart a factory of idols, and this is precisely why we need saving by a faithful Saviour, the true God, not some fictitious invention from our idolatrous heart! Freud said that God is a mere projection of our own desires. That may well be in part a truth, but God as He is God revealed in Trinity is no projection of any human heart. What is a projection of the human heart, is the vile thing that can often find a home in the heart – Baal. And we not only house him, we steward him.

If Christ is not our Saviour, the only One who can purge the human heart, remake it in fact, then we truly will become Baal-stewards, every last one of us. But, as Isaiah says,

“I the LORD speak truth, I declare what is right. Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep praying to a god that cannot save….there is no god beside me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other!”

John-1717-Bible-300x224

The god of war

Ares, the god of war, lives!

And his children Fear and Terror have made Zeus a grandfather!

He rides the earth on his war chariot with his lover, Discord!

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He is a foul impostor on the earth, a god of unimaginable suffering and pain.

Men flock to his side.  They cheer him and throw flowers at his feet.  He is the Victor.

Economies are driven by the desire to satisfy his blood lust.

 

In his name, generations of children are sacrificed.

Baal and Molech are his ancient biblical blue-prints.

Each desiring the bodies of babies thrown to the flames.

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Men cast into war, in the name of freedom.

And sometimes, brazenly, in the name of tyranny.

Sent anywhere and everywhere that his bastard children can spread their fame.

 

Yet when they return, if they return;

Bodies and minds broken; hearts frozen; eyes glazed,

Even then he will not relent.  His lust for chaos is unrelenting.

 

He unleashes his bride, his lover, some say his sister.

Even incest is within his remit.

Discord: you heartless bitch!  Leave mankind alone.

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Shameless, you all press on, within and without the heart of man.

Children driven into the bloodied dust.

Bombs, rockets, bullets and mines.

 

Dictators who do your bidding.

Economies that do your spending.

Governments that do your defending.

 

The game is up!

The time is short.

Your ways are the ways of man.

 

And the ways of man are done.

Nothing new under the sun.

Tyranny is our middle name.

 

You are a false god,

And you have been called, judged, sentenced.

Your doom is certain.

Children-killed-by-Israel-on-beach

For there is One who has come.

A man from heaven,

Light from light

 

God from God.

Word become flesh.

His Cross has sentenced you to death.

Sideways Cross

The Hell of Hells is where you belong.

You shall go down, and unlike this Word made flesh,

You shall not rise.

 

But the sons and daughters of man,

They shall rise.

They shall rise and rejoice.

 

For fear and terror have given way to faith and love.

Discord must yield to Peace.

And this false god of thunder;

 

Must give way before the whisper,

the still small voice,

the sheer silence of the true and living God who is!

 

qol d’mamah daqqah.

God’s breath.

God’s Spirit.

 

Will silence the false gods of war and chaos.

Ares the false god is judged.

Yahweh Lives!

Praise him in London and New York.

Praise Him in Gaza; the guns will be silenced for Ares will be sentenced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus says…. V’s Christian Zionism says….

Rainbow

Christian Zionism says “This is my land, we’re staying put!”

Jesus says, “Go in all the world and make disciples.”

Christian Zionism says “Abraham is our father!”

Jesus says “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.”

Christian Zionism says “We must help rebuild the Temple.”

Jesus says, “My body is the Temple.”

Christian Zionism says “Palestinian ethnic cleansing doesn’t really matter – it’s all part of the Plan.”

Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Christian Zionism says, “This land is ours by divine right.”

Jesus says “But I say to you, love your enemies.”

Christian Zionism says “To criticise the Jews/Israelis is anti-semitic.”

Jesus says “Take the plank out of your own eye first.”

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