Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Household of God: a Six-Week Bulletin Series

NOTE: I'm still tweaking the layout to mimic the hardcopy. Blogger isn't exactly uniform in its use of CSS. Please forgive the odd spacing and alignment.

INTRODUCTION

How often have you heard the term “Household of God” in sermons or scripture readings? Do you think of a big church with a massive altar and ethereal lighting?



Is this what you think of when you hear the words “Household of God”? It could be much simpler and much greater than that.

Jesus, in the Gospel according to John, says, “In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (14:2) We understand the Father’s House to be Heaven. But what if the Household of God isn’t only something we wait to see but also where we live right now?

As Catholic Christians, we believe that we have been adopted into God’s family. St. Paul writes frequently of our status as children of God, “no longer a slave, but a son [or daughter], and if a son, then an heir” (Galatians 4:7). Jesus Himself frequently uses parables about family relationships to explain how God cares for us, forgives us, gives His gifts to us, and gives His own Son to die for us. So we, right now, as God’s adopted children are part of this Household of God—one Divine family.

Over the next few weeks, we are going to explore what it means to be part of the family of God and how it is expressed in our church, particularly in how the Apostle Paul reveals to us how we are to live as sons and daughters of God the Father, as brothers and sisters of Jesus, and as a truly Christian family.

BRIDE AND BRIDEGROOM

Paul talks about the relationship between Jesus and the Church much like the relationship between a man and woman in marriage.



Does our love for Christ seem like the love for a betrothed? Christ’s love for us is like that.



This image is not new in Christianity. The People of Israel were often depicted as the bride of God throughout scripture, most notably in Song of Songs, but also in the works of prophets like Isaiah and Hosea. However, the People of Israel were frequently not a faithful bride, so the image of God as bridegroom was one of constancy in the face of rejection.

Jesus also used the image of a bridegroom in parables to speak of Himself: as one for whom the wise and foolish virgins wait in Matthew 25; as the Son of a king who has prepared a wedding feast in Matthew 22; and as a bridegroom with whom His followers celebrate in Matthew 9:15 and Mark 2:18. However, the letters of Paul really develop this image of Jesus and what His sacrifice means for the faithful.
In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul speaks of the church of Corinth as if he were a jealous father guarding his betrothed daughter: “I feel a divine jealously for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her husband” (11:2). Paul wanted to give the Corinthian church completely to Christ and wanted their commitment to the gospel to match his fervor.

In Ephesians, Paul compares a husband’s commitment to his wife to that of Christ to His Church: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (5:25–26). A husband’s love for his wife is supposed to be self-sacrificial, just as Christ sacrificed Himself for His Church. This, Paul says, is a mystery, that two shall become one (5:31–32).




In Colossians 3:18, we see the often misunderstood exhortation that wives be subject to their husbands. But the same exhortation occurs in Ephesians in a different context. Couples are to submit to each other mutually (Ephesians 6:21). So marriage is not about one having power over another, but of a mutual self giving. The relationship between Christ and Church should be the same. Christ empties Himself out for us, so we should empty ourselves out and be filled by Him.



CHURCH AS GOD’S HOUSE

We talk about the Church as God’s household, and we sometimes refer to our individual chapels as “God’s house.” However, the Greek word ekklesia, which we translate as “church,” actually means “assembly.” Still, Paul talks about the Church as if it were a building project—something we construct as a community together.

As Raymond Collins notes in “The Power of Images in Paul,” Paul writes in both 1 Corinthians and Romans about laying foundations on which others build. “For no other foundation can anyone lay,” Paul writes, “than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). And in Ephesians, Paul writes that those in the Church are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19–21).

Paul’s words allude to passages in Hebrew scripture that prophesy Christ’s coming. In Isaiah, the prophet writes, “therefore thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: 'He who believes will not be in haste’” (Isaiah 28:16). And again in Zechariah, the prophet writes, “Out of them [the house of Judah] shall come the cornerstone, out of them the tent peg, out of them the battle bow, out of them every ruler” (Zechariah 10:4). The Lord says, of these people, “I will bring them back because I have compassion on them, and they shall be as though I had not rejected them” (10:6).

Jesus is the cornerstone of the foundation built on the apostles and prophets, and we are the bricks that make up walks, the timbers that support the roof, the tiles that keep out sun and rain. But we’re also the builders, constructing the house where God lives and comes to us.


BROTHERS AND SISTERS

Adelphoi—this Greek word means “brothers” or “brethren” and is usually now translated as “brothers and sisters.” It is hands down one of the most common ways that Paul refers to the faithful throughout his letters. In fact, the word adelphoi occurs 18 times in the “Letter of Paul to the Romans” alone!



Everyone has their place in a family, and each person plays a part in making a home. As Christians and Catholics, we need to value each other as family, each of us playing a different part.

One of the hallmarks of early Christianity was the devotion that members of the community exhibited to each other, as if all were members of an extended family. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells His apostles that people will know them by their love for one another (John 13:35). Tertullian, a third-century father of the early Church, made mention of the reactions of the non-Christian gentiles to Christian communities in his writings: “‘See,’ they say, ‘how they love one another,’ for themselves are animated by mutual hatred”

Raymond Collins notes how often Paul relies on kinship language in his letters to convey the attitude Christians should have toward one another. We are brothers and sisters in Christ! We need to act like it and love one another!

Sometimes Catholics and Christians act a little too much like brothers and sisters.



In the opening of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul stresses kinship bonds: “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1:10). Paul is saying what should be obvious to all of us. Brothers and sisters should be building each other up and supporting each other, not tearing each other down.

Without love, we are merely noisy gongs or clanging cymbals (1 Corinthians 13:1). To Paul, this brotherly love is the essence of Christian life, and the kind of love that our Savior showed for us in life and death.



HOUSE RULES

What would your house look like if it operated with no rules? It would be a bit chaotic, wouldn’t it?



Every home has rules of one kind or another, and Paul most definitely had some opinions about what kinds of rules a Christian home should have. In fact, he has two separate lists of rules that have been given a special name by scripture scholars: Haustafel, which means “household code” in German. (1 Peter 2–3 also has one such list.)

We’ve already talked about some of these rules and how they relate to husbands and wives. Paul stresses mutual self-giving and sacrifice: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Of course, Paul talks about the obligations children: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (6:1). But he also talks about the obligation of fathers to rule the home justly: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in discipline and instruction of the Lord” (6:4). He even adds a word about how slaves and slave owners should act toward one another. (Keep in mind that slavery was very common and accepted in Paul’s time.) Every person in the house has obligations toward every other person. We also have obligations to work as if we’re serving God (Colossians 3:23). Our work should always be an offering to our Lord.
Paul knew, as the Church today knows, that charity begins at home. The Church sees the family as the fundamental place where Christian living is modeled and taught. It even refers to the family as the Ecclesia domestica or “domestic church” (CCC 1655).

Our house rules are one way that we can teach the values that our faith preaches. We learn to act lovingly in a loving home. From there, we need to go out and be Christ’s love to the world.


Our house rules don’t put up barriers between us. They make it so that we can live together in peace and harmony.



IT’S A BIG, BIG HOUSE…

“In my Father’s house there are many rooms” (John 14:2). When we hear this verse, I think many of us often conjure up an image of a sprawling mansion with manicured gardens and lawns. But Jesus was also giving as an image of community and inclusivity.


How do you picture the Father’s house? A castle? A country cottage? What does our image say about what we value?


For Paul, this sense of Christian community was paramount. One of the problems he seems to be responding to in 1 Corinthians 11 is that the people were making distinctions based on wealth or social rank, and that some members of the church weren’t sharing table fellowship with those of other social classes during meals held before the liturgy. “[D]o you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” he writes (11:22). To Paul, such divisions were a desecration of the Eucharistic celebration.

In other letters such as 2 Thessalonians, Paul is concerned with false teachings that set up divisions among Christians, or in factionalism caused by Judaizers (Galatians) or by spiritual elitism (1 Corinthians 1:11–13). Paul frequently reminded the churches he founded that there is only one gospel and one body of Christ. All members need to work together for the good of the whole.

Sadly, internal division hasn’t gone away in our own time. Too often our Church is divided by disagreements about doctrinal orthodoxy, social teaching, or proper liturgical practice. Disagreements may be inevitable, but we need to accept each other where we are and continue to help each other on the road to salvation—like one big family. We should always teach the truth but do so with love.


There’s room for everyone at the table, but we need to mind our manners and act with love.


The word “Catholic” comes from the Greek word katholicos, which means “universal.” That word reflects the many cultures, rites, and expressions found in the Church today. God’s house, the Church, is big and all embracing. There is room for all of us here.



WORKS CITED

Catechism of the Catholic Church. Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1997.
Collins, Raymond F. The Power of Images in Paul. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2008.
Horton, Fred L., Kenneth G. Hoglund and Mary F. Foskett. A Basic Vocabulary of Biblical Studies For Beginning Students: A Work in Progress. 2011. 6 August 2011 .
Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999.
“Lexical Concordance.” The Apostolic Bible Polyglot. First Edition. Newport: The Apostolic Press, 2006.
Tertullian. “Apologeticum.” 1 June 2005. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 5 August 2011 .


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Galatia: A Celtic Island in the Anatolian Desert

This essay was for an assignment for New Testament Letters. I'm finished with the course work and now just have to take the final. Then two more classes, and all course work will be finished!
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About 13 years after his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, Paul left Syrian Antioch and began what would be the first of three missionary journeys. To say that Paul’s journey was difficult is an understatement. Driven out of Iconium by a Jewish mob (Acts 13:50) and stoned by another in Lystra (Acts 14: 19), the Apostle certainly had what most of us would consider “enough.” Yet it is during this time that he established some of the first Gentile Christian communities among the cities of Galatia. Paul says very little about the Galatians except in regard to their gracious reception of him and their early acceptance of the faith. In his references to their lack of knowledge of God (Gal. 4:8), one can assume that the Galatians were pagan prior to their conversion. He praises them for their hospitality in receiving him in his illness (Gal. 4:12–14), but very little else is offered of the inhabitants of this region. Acts likewise has very little to say about this intriguing Celtic people who lived in the rough, desolate land of central Anatolia.[i]

During the time of the Roman occupation of Asia Minor and Judea, Galatia extended from the coastal regions of Bithynia and Pontus in the north nearly to the southern Mediterranean coast of Anatolia.[ii] It included parts of Phrygia, Lyconia, Pisidia (including Pisidian Antioch, which was sometimes considered part of Phrygia)[iii], and parts of other surrounding regions. The Galatia of Paul’s time corresponded with this larger political entity and included many of the cities where Paul preached: Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, to name a few (Acts 13–14). The central region of Galatia was bleak and barren, with harsh, cold winters and hot, dry summers. The inhabitants eked out a living producing wool, carving tombstone, and vintaging wine. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor suggests that wine may have made life in such harsh climes a bit more bearable for the Galatians but contributed little to the economy.[iv]

The Roman province of Galatia took its name from the earlier region settled by Gaulish migrants called Galatai[v] or Keltoi by the Greeks or Galli by the Romans,[vi] while in modern parlance, they would be called Celts. The Gauls had been pushing east for some time and had made contact with the empire of Alexander the Great by 335 B.C. but made no serious incursions into Greece until well after his death, sometime around 281, when an army led by Bolgios defeated King Ptolemy Ceraunas of Macedonia.[vii] following this victory, internal squabbles led to the fragmentation of the army. One part, led by leaders Brennus and Acichorios, decided to take their game to Delphi and loot the shrines there, but they were defeated decisively.[viii] The original army led by Bolgios was defeated in Thrace. A third branch led by Leonorius and Lutarius chose a different route, passing through Thrace, but crossing over to Asia Minor at the invitation of Nicomedes of Bithynia.[ix]

One could certainly question the thinking of Nicomedes in this instance. After all, the Galatai had already separated Ptolemy’s kingly head from the rest of him and had also gone on to wreak terror among the Greeks in Delphi. However, Nicomedes had his own concerns. His brother Zipoetes had been causing him problems at home, and his neighbor to the southeast, Antiochus I of Seleucia, also had designs on his territory. Negotiating through Antigonus of Macedonia, he hired 10,000 Galatai mercenaries (with 10,000 additional camp followers).[x] While the Galatai solved Nicomedes’ short-term problem, they also created a long-term headache for all of the surrounding kingdoms in Asia Minor. After they were defeated by Antiochus I, Mithridates of Pontus settled the Galatians on Seleucid land, and the Celts proved very difficult to remove.[xi] As Simon James notes, they had a penchant for wealth, especially when it belonged to others, and also had other less attractive qualities:
They periodically burst out of their territories on plundering raids, bringing back prisoners as well as goods; and in the third century Galatia became a centre for trading slaves and holding prisoners for ransom. Surrounding states raised special taxes to free those taken. The Galatians inspired widespread terror, especially since they had a reputation for sacrificing prisoners.[xii]

The Celts raided cities to the west and demanded tribute from many of them. They would continue to be a thorn in the side of many of the surrounding kingdoms until Attalus I of Pergamum defeated them for good in 232 B.C. The surrounding Hellenist kingdoms recognized the area settled by the Galatians as a state of its own, concentrated around Ancyra and the city of Pessinus, the latter of which would be the location of Paul’s missionary work among the Galatians of the first century A.D.[xiii] Peter Berresford Ellis notes, however, that the Galatai preferred to live in the surrounding areas rather than in the cities, in duns or hill forts.

During this period, Rome began to exert its power over the ever weakening Hellenist states in the region. The Galatians, who seemed to have a penchant for siding with the wrong parties, allied themselves first with Antiochus III, and suffered a devastating loss to the Romans in 190.[xiv] They became vassals to different kingdoms at different times, but all under Roman rule. They managed to push their boundaries to include parts of Phrygia and Lycaonia.[xv] During this period, the Galatai never really unified but were more of a loose confederation of three tribes: the Trocmi, the Tolistobogii, and the Textosages. While they eschewed centralized authority, they were not without some governmental structure, as James notes:
Each tribe was divided into four “septs” or clans, probably with distinct territories. Each sept was ruled by a chief called a tetrarch (from Greek, tetra-, ‘four’; archos, ‘chief’). He was assisted by a general, two deputy generals and a judge.[xvi]

One chieftain, Ortiagon, attempted unsuccessfully to unify the clans into a single nation. Not until a treacherous king of Pontus, Mithridates V, massacred a large delegation of Galatian chiefs did the tribes unify around one remaining chieftain, Deiotaros. After a prolonged struggle, the Galatians managed to secure their land from the threat of Pontus, with the help of a powerful ally. Rome soon recognized Deiotaros as the ruler over all of the Galatians.[xvii] However, the Galatians chose sides poorly again, first with Pompey against Julius Caesar, and later with Mark Antony against Augustus. By 25 B.C., Galatia was firmly under Roman control.[xix]

Culturally, the Galatians appear to have held onto much of their Gaulish heritage. While they spoke Greek and intermarried with the local population,[xx] they still maintained their cultural identity. St. Jerome, in his commentary on Paul’s letter to the Galatians, notes that even in the fourth century A.D., the inhabitants of this region spoke Celtic.[xxi] They would have been quite distinct from the local populace in their appearance, with lighter skin and red or blonde hair. By Paul’s time, some mixing of genetic stocks would have occurred, perhaps making the Galatians less physically distinct. However, it seems likely that they would still look considerably different than people of the neighboring regions. They wore bracae or breeches (which the Romans considered effeminate and barbaric) and striped or checked shirts and coats (much like a tartan) that were fastened over the shoulder with a buckle.[xxii] Classical references to the Galatians are not particularly flattering. Livy referred to the Galatians and their Phrygian neighbors as a “degenerate, mongrel race.”[xxiii] Murphy-O’Connor describes the general opinion thus: “The Galatians for their part were considered to be large, unpredictable simpletons, ferocious and highly dangerous when angry, but without stamina and easy to trick.”[xxiv]

However, they were not impervious to the influence of the neighboring peoples. This influence is particularly notable in the area of religion. Simon James notes that the Galatai brought with them their practice of human sacrifice and created a central shrine, Drunemeton (oak-sanctuary), which seems to hint fleetingly at some Druidic practice.[xxv] However, while Sts. Clement and Cyril of Alexandria and Stephanus of Byzantium each claim that the Galatians had a Druidic class,[xxvi] James indicates that there is no firm evidence that the Galatai maintained Druidic practices in Asia Minor.[xxvii] Like the Greeks and Romans, the Galatai were polytheistic, but James indicates that they did not conceive of gods in human shape until late in the Iron Age.[xxviii] In their new homeland, they adopted the gods of their Phrygian neighbors and even became members of the priesthood in Pessinus, which had been the religious center for the Phrygians.[xxix]

Murphy-O’Connor notes that the status of Pessinus as the shrine of Cybele may explain why Paul stayed on after recovering from his illness. As a major center of worship and trade, Pessinus would attract vistors, and Paul’s message could be carried away to other towns in the province.[xxx] Galatia was a unique intersection of cultures, which made it fertile ground for a new message, the good news of our Lord.

Works Cited
"Antioch, of Pisidia." 1915. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. James Orr. 28 June 2011 .
Ellis, Peter Berresford. The Celtic Empire: The First Millennium of Celtic History, c1000 BC–51 AD. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1990.
"Galatia." 1916. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. James Orr. 28 June 2011 .
James, Simon. The World of the Celts. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1993.
Jerome. "Galatians." 13 July 2005. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2 July 2011 .
Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome. Paul: A Critical Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Endnotes
i. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, Paul: A Critical Life, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 192.
ii. “Galatia,” 1916, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Ed. James Orr, 28 June 2011 .
iii. “Antioch, of Pisidia,” 1915, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Ed. James Orr, 28 June 2011 .
iv. Murphy-O'Connor, 191.
v. “Galatia.” .
vi. Simon James, The World of the Celts (London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1993), 12.
vii. Ibid., 37.
viii. Ibid., 39.
ix. “Galatia.” .
x. Peter Berresford Ellis, The Celtic Empire: The First Millennium of Celtic History, c1000 BC–51 AD (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1990), 92–93.
xi. James, 40.
xii. Ibid., 41.
xiii. Murphy-O'Connor, 186–189. Also, Ellis, 97.
xiv. Ibid., 94
xv. James, 41.
xvi. Ellis, 102.
xvii. James, 41.
xviii. Ellis, 105.
xix. Ibid., 106.
xx. Murphy-O'Connor, 188.
xxi. Jerome, "Galatians," 13 July 2005, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2 July 2011 .
xxii. James, 65.
xxiii. Murphy-O'Connor, 190.
xxiv. Ibid., 189–190.
xxv. Ibid., 41.
xxvi. Ellis, 95.
xxvii. James, 41.
xxviii. Ibid., 89.
xxix. Ellis, 94.
xxx. Murphy-O'Connor, 193.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Dan Lord: A Thug No More

It wasn’t the content of the pledge that was the catalyst, though it is tempting to assume that. The catalyst was that I referred to God at all, that I took a part of my life and said without reserve: “This is yours—you can have it back. Sorry I broke it. I won’t screw with it again, I promise.”


Dan shares the story of how God ruined his life as a punk rocker.

When you're done with that, check out his story on how he made friends with the devil.

Did I mention that these are conversion stories?