I have often spoken of the power in the mystical sands, the healing offered in that holy water. I have written verse on the touching of stones and the praying the prayers of the ancients as I have sojourned the storied land. Israel is for me a place of history, a place of sacrament, a piece to a sacred puzzle I have been assembling for more than forty long years. It is testimony and Ebeneezer and I return time and again to find center and a sense of home.
So I set my sights and make my plans for pilgrimage once more but this time I return to follow the footsteps of Jesus and the women central to his ministry. Imagine with me for a moment an experience where you could set your course to grow closer to Jesus by walking in the places he walked and by learning the stories of the women with whom he traveled and served.
Imagine the wonders of the newly excavated Migdol- ancient fishing town in the Galilee and home of Mary of Migdol or Magdalene. Worship at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth where we visit the home of Mary and see her there reversing the curse of Eve and redeeming womankind.
Set your eyes towards Jerusalem to walk the Via Dolorosa and visit Calvary’s mount to the tomb where they laid him and the stone where his body was prepared lovingly by the women who had remained with him until the end.
Lose yourself in the warmth and hospitality in the old city in the Dormition Abbey consecrated as the place where our Lady died and travel deep into the desert to learn the mysteries of Masada– the Winter Palace of Herod and the last stand of the Jewish Rebellion. Hear the stories of the women who escaped the doom to be carried off to Rome. Sound intriguing?
Then come along with me and some of my friends on pilgrimage to Israel. We will worship and study, and feast this December 27, 2016-January 5, 2017!
.In those days folks were suspect of strangers, didn’t trust others from foreign lands. Fear had seized the hearts of the cities such that the ancient practice of hospitality had been all but lost.
She lived in the border town, was the woman who lived on the wall and saw it all go down—the bloodshed, the fighting, the wars so if anyone should have been afraid she certainly had cause.
I’ve seen her city with my own eyes, looked down from the craggy, dusty mounts of the biblical Moab to see the lush green valley and fertile fields of Jericho. The city on the edge of the Promised Land must have looked like heaven on earth for those who had wandered in the harsh, barren wilderness for forty long years. Ages upon ages later as I watched the palm trees sway in the balmy air and saw the sun dance on the water, I understood why the ancients called this, “the land flowing with milk and honey.”
The people in Rahab’s city had long heard of and feared Israel and her God so when those God people appeared on the horizon, the king of Jericho sent orders to keep watch for intruders and to report back any trouble to come their way (Joshua 2)." "That will fix it" the king thought, "Fear will force my people to find the others, the ones who are not like us." "And anyway, our city is safe" he reasoned, "We have a great, strong wall."
How she found her way to the wall is unknown to us, but suffice to say it is where you end up when you have nowhere else to go; no family, no support, no backup plan. It was how a woman survived when she had no other course, she sold her body so she could eat and feed any children she might have, she put herself in harm’s way to survive another miserable day.
The characters on the wall were not the elite of the community, no these were the wanderers,the alcoholics,the thieves, these were the ruffians, the ones who were lost and sought a moment of pleasure in their own miserable existence so depravity sewed depravity and the cycle was without end. Only Rahab’s story was different, because in her we see again how the זוֺנַה the harlot is God’s choice to be a conduit of grace and the one to birth redemption into her time and place.
When Joshua sent the spies to scope out the city after forty years in the wilderness, Rahab anticipated their arrival. She’d heard the stories of the “God who led people through the sea” the One who fed the wanderers bread from heaven, and “stood guard over their camps like a pillar of fire!” So when the spies arrived, the men who were sent from this God she decided to take a chance and put her life in the hands of the One who “brought this people out, so he could bring them in (Deuteronomy 6.23).”
The king, upon learning that spies had entered the city, rounded up his men to question the people on the wall. Grabbing her arm and holding her by the scruff of the neck the soldiers breathed venom into her face, “Have you seen these men?!” they demanded, “Tell us the truth whore! Your worthless life depends on it!” And just then her whole life flashed before her eyes; she knew she had a decision to make in the space of her breath. She could keep doing what she had always done, she could continue to eek out an existence on the wall entertaining men who thought more of the dust on their sandals than her happiness, she could continue to sell off parts of her self to survive one more hour, one more day until there was nothing left, or-- she thought with a flash--she could take a chance on the God of the storm and the sea.
“I haven’t seen them!” she lied, as her heart beat loud and fierce, her mouth went dry and her ears burned hot. She knew the men were hidden under the rushes and if the guards decided to look too carefully she and the men of Israel she was protecting would die. Instead, the guards believed her story and left her so she quickly helped the men scurry out of the city and up the mountainside to safety but not before they promised to spare Rahab and her household.
So when the armies of Israel returned to march around the city, she hung her scarlet thread outside her window, the same window where men had stared up at her and considered her price before, the same window where she probably considered throwing herself down from time and again. Instead, the deep crimson thread read like the blood over the doorpost to the armies of Israel so that Rahab and whatever people she had were spared and she was adopted into the family of God.
This Advent season when there are wars and rumors of wars, when our world is violence filled, when fear of the other has robbed our joy and stolen the power of embrace may we pause to remember the time long ago when God came to us in the most unexpected way.
Let us remember the time when the no good, down and out harlot became the heroine, when she chose to take a chance on this God and found a miracle in the strangers. Rahab's is the story of the prostitute whose risk lands her in the story of redemption history, establishes for her a place in the genealogy of the Christ (Matthew 1) and her inheritance is secured in the annals of faith (Hebrews 11). Her story calls out to remind us, God is the God of the harlot, the untouchable, the other. Her story beckons to us across the sea, and says "Be not afraid."
Times were hard to say the least, help seemed far off and options few. Folks left home in the morning and never returned again due to some unforeseeable act of God. When this happened to her the first time the ancient custom kicked in and she was married to her husband’s brother. The plan was for the brother to take care of her, giver her children, grant her security in the cold brutal world. Only this man was no good, he paraded around, took the accolades, let everyone pat him on the back for doing the right thing-- the hard thing, but in secret he was using her for his pleasure and denying her any hope of a future.
Her name, Tamar, means little palm tree. She was a Canaanite girl likely married into the family of Israel-the one who struggles with God-at the tender age of twelve or thirteen; wed to Judah's son Ur and widowed shortly thereafter. Her second husband Onan, more wicked than his elder brother, took the praise of being Tamar’s goel, deliverer, redeemer, but deceived the entire community every night when he took her and spilled his seed on the ground ensuring that Tamar’s child wouldn’t usurp his inheritance (Gen.37).
After Judah’s second son was struck dead Judah was through with the black widow Tamar and he sent her packing back to her father’s house where they said, “What are you doing back here, we don't need another mouth to feed?” “We told you not to get involved with those people!” She endured her life as a desolate woman and waited for the chance to marry Judah’s third son but word never came and soon she knew Judah never intended to send for Tamar. It was at this point Tamar had to choose between two evils, to remain in her father’s house as an image of shame and failure that in her culture would bring down the entire family or she could find a way to make it back into the family of God.
And then here is where it gets sticky, and why it's hard to share this passage at women’s conferences, the reason we skip this whole beautiful and terrible narrative on our syllabi in Bible courses, because there is too much sex and semen and outright prostitution. But to skip over this piece of hope is to fail the consideration of the whole counsel of God and if we are going to take passages restricting the roles of women in leadership we must also consider the texts where God is on the side of the prostitute.
Tamar's story is dirty, harsh, unsavory and the truth is we want clean, gracious good wives as heroines so we sanitize the Scriptures and create idols of what we wish were in the text, what is permissible to say in Sunday School and refuse to embrace the miracle of the text that is.
What’s true is Tamar did the only thing she thought she could do, she dressed up like a prostitute and lured her father in law into sexual relations with her. When it became known that she was with child and they stormed her tent to drag her out into the street to burn her alive she was able to produce Judah’s staff and seal and prove he was the father of the child. Then-and only then-Judah did the first decent thing in his life, he testified to her righteousness and his sin and took her in as his own.
And so this lovely, inglorious story has a remarkable and redeemed end in that God blesses Tamar’s risk, somehow understands the desperation of her life, takes account of the men who have used and abused her and grants her with not one, but two sons and a place in the story of Jesus. Tamar becomes then one of the five named women in the genealogy of Christ—women who were known to their communities as harlots and whores, forgotten, desperate and soiled (Matthew 1). In Matthew's Gospel Jesus is not only the son of Abraham but also son of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah's wife and Mary the Virgin.
Perhaps this Christmas it helps us to reflect on the women God used to birth forth Christ, to reckon with the truth of their less than perfect lives and to see what God sees in the broken, the left out, the displaced and forgotten, the shamed and the lowly. Maybe this Advent we can adjust our gaze and see what is true in this blood soaked weary world, God is with and for those whom the system has turned away, the ones whose safety net has failed. God who could have come to us by any means chose to do so through women abandoned and betrayed.
So it was and may it ever be.
The fog of war, that’s what at least one politician called it, when smoke and the sound of bullets ricochet around the world. The dizzying noise and throbbing pain of fear, survival, we strain and struggle to find the courage to lift our heads again after the atrocities of the Russian flight, Paris, Beirut and Kenyan attacks.
I lie in my bed, my own baby sleeping in the next room and give thanks for him and hold the babies on the border up to God. I pray for children displaced from their homes, running for their lives as their chubby fingers reach for their mothers who are being trafficked and shackled into sex slavery in epic proportion in exchange for the lies and false promises of smugglers. I cry for the little ones coughing in the cold night air hoping to be welcomed, to find safety and refuge.
I am no government official or policy maker, I’m no military strategist or counter terror expert, I’m just a mama and a Jesus follower and a student of the horrors of ages old violence done in the name of God, and I can’t help but think about all those babies.
I remember fondly time spent in Syria a few years ago. I remember the vivid colors, bright smiles and pungent smells. I remember warm, educated, sophisticated people, multi-generational families gathered for worship in the Church of our Lady in Sednaya. I remember standing in caves, struck silent by the thrum of the stories told by the cold rocky walls carved out of the earth where the earliest Christians had taken refuge, those who had fled persecution in Jerusalem and re-located in haste to Antioch. I dined with friends as the table of abundance was spread out before me, I held hands with new believers and prayed for their keeping and care in these uncertain days.
I walked down Straight Street in Damascus to find the home of Ananias just as the apostle Paul had done before me, used the wifi at a tavern named after the one sent to the Gentiles by way of the Jews. Took tea at the Convent of St. Thecla and prayed in Koine Greek on top of a mountain with a priest keeping watch in the chapel of the Sepharim. I think of them, see their faces in my dreams, I think of those babies dressed in ruffles and lace bouncing on their parents’ proud knees.
I am sorry for everyone in the world tonight who is afraid—for those who live in the city of lights and for those who wait for help in a makeshift tent in a camp between here and there, for people who live in Indiana and Tennessee who are frightened because the wars that have always been “over there” have now moved in “over here.”
As the narrative unfolds before our eyes, around the clock media coverage takes over our lives and fear grabs us by the throat and dares us to open wide our hearts to people in need, I cannot help but think about the stories of Scripture and how God’s people have always been on the run.
From Abraham and Sarah to Jacob and Joseph, to Moses and Miriam, Ruth and Naomi and David the shepherd before he was king. I think of the refugee child, Jesus, the baby who came to be our hope, whose parents were turned away when they sought safety from the cold and terrors of the wild to bring him into the world. The baby, whose parents, upon discovering a genocidal plot led by a tyrant king fled for their lives in the cover of night to take refuge in another land far from the reach of the murderous monarch. And suddenly, all those years ago don’t seem so far away and the stories we grew up on speak across the epochs of our histories and we are invited again to welcome the stranger and to know Christ in her while we cling to the angels’ sweet refrain, “Do not be afraid.”
Something happens when you become a mama at forty one years.
When your life’s work has been focused out there, and taking the right next steps; about proving yourself in an arena where we hang our achievements on the walls and add letters to the ends of our name. When your field is built on searching, digging deep, posting findings, projecting results; when you are trained to always look for the emerging voice, to be abreast on the newest way and the ancient equivalent, it can be difficult to lose sight of here and now.
When all your energy is invested in preparing ministers you can forget to minister to yourself, to serve and honor those with whom you share a
home, to be awake in the day to day four walls of where you live. When you travel across the world to discover the wonders of by gone civilizations to study ruins and find magic in the storied stones and timeless dust you can miss the miracles in your own zip code the mercies that break fresh and new with each morning’s first light.
So when a little healer comes your way, wrapped in soft pink flesh, cradled in heaven’s scent, stars dancing in his eyes you stop-- and the rest of the planet goes silent --as you wait to learn what his tiny fingers and curled angel toes have to teach you in this world.
That is exactly how it happened for me almost a year ago now when an unexpected phone call on a Sunday afternoon changed our lives forever. We’d had life changing calls before to be sure, so many times before when the voice on the other end broke news that shattered the world; when the ground we stood on erupted and gushed forth in fire and white hot pain leaving behind only ash and embers that were all but snuffed out by the dark cold reality that is death.
But this time, it was different.
The voice on the other end heralding the news that in the space of a few seconds you have become a mother, and your husband a father, and your baby boy not twenty four hours old is waiting to greet you. You pack a bag in disbelief like so many times before only for this trip, your face hurts from smiling and instead of choosing a funeral dress, you consider curling your hair so your son meets you at your best that first shining moment.
And then they wheel the gift in, these nurses who have kept watch, held and loved this little guy so he was loved right from the start, they laugh and they cry as you take him in your arms for the first time and there is nothing but joy and new and miracle and wonder. You blink back tears because somewhere down deep, though this dream has long since been placed on a shelf in the far recesses of your heart, you always knew he would come to you this way and here you now are.
You hold him the night through because he sleeps sounder on your chest than in the hospital crib and already you fit together skin to skin, heart to heart and he is yours and you are his.And suddenly the words of your prayer rings again in your ears like a lullaby soft and true, “I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”
You remember the promise, reading it that night in the dark hospital room while the machines beeped and you watched her breathe in and out and knew the letting go had already begun, you turned the page of her well worn bible and read, “The Lord will again fill your mouth with joy and your lips with shouts of laughter” Job 8.21.
And on this night, in the hospital reclining on the most uncomfortable bed, holding your baby boy you know the promise has come to pass; you know as you hold your son and he breathes in life and light and love that the Lord your God has restored what the locusts have eaten and `you will ever so slightly begin to heal
And just like that, as if the stitches have been removed, the ones holding your shattered heart in one piece, reveal the fresh shiny rose colored skin of scars you now bear that sing the song of triumph and all things new. You know this child of wonder has come to invite you back into your one life, beautiful and terrifying as it is, it is yours, and this is now and you are loved and you are known and you are held.
My tanned skin is slowly fading. I chase the warm sun before it shifts from the bright light of summer to the even ‘time shades of gold and russet. The pool is closed most of the day now as kids return to school and the baby needs new shoes. Preparation for a new year is underway and I am keenly aware of the turning seasons. His tiny foot now broad muscles pressed down to hold him up as he makes his first steps in the warm solid earth of this world.
I wonder as I sit in front of the laptop watch the courser blink, if I remember how to write or teach or study anything that isn’t him with his dimpled knuckles and perfect round mouth where cheerios now fit with ease. I know the world rages, terror is amok and new political candidates have burst onto the scene. I am aware of recent abuse and violation come to light from men who stood forward under the bright lights and kept secrets all their own. I haven’t missed the atrocities alleged of women’s clinics where we hoped women were served with care or the number of deaths that continue to rise when my dark skinned brothers and sisters are engaged by those meant to keep us safe. I weep, I cringe, I hold my baby close and count his eyelashes again.
It is not that the world has changed, the jagged edges and soft beautiful wonders are perennial, it is me, I am different. I marvel how this tiny babe has caused my eyes to open, resuscitated my weary heart grown now like so much in the Grinch’s own tale. Here I am at the dawn of all things new, the world as troubled as it was before, my losses a drop of water in the sea compared to so many in my human family and I come to where I have already been—though--changed, renewed, hurts healed over, knees bent in gratitude and bowed to love.
I say aloud and bear on my chest what I have always known but have now come to live-- love heals. These words not a bumper sticker but a victory chant, the broken alleluia of a scholar and storyteller and strip club pastor, new mama and struggling sister. It is the triumphant song of those who stumble in the footsteps of the One who at once reigns and is the slaughtered Lamb (Revelation 5).
I know now that healing is not so much cast down from a grand stage, words sang out under the lights as much as it is the small, human moments when we touch, stand in the gap, hold the sacred space, say what is true and real. I know moving forward is wrought in the fiery irons of authentic friendship with people who sit in the ash heap alongside you and hold your hand at the bottom. I know that transformation is the result of a thousand tiny seconds when love beats through the darkness like a firefly in the summer sky, helps you read your way through and follow the stars. I know God calls to us like God called to Abram and Sarai, “Go, and when you get there, I’ll tell you” (Genesis 12).
This is what I know. As the season fades and the new one dawns I wish you peace and grace, I wish you love and light and eyes to see the shining moments and shimmering skies, time to hold all you love close and the intention to do so. I wish you the blessing of knowing you are where you have been sent and the awareness that those around you are heaven's gifts poured out.
Please find a list of required books for Majeski courses fall 2015-2016. Anderson University classes begin, Monday, August, 31 and syllabi will be available on first day of class. See you soon!!
BIST 6210 History and Literature of the New Testament I*
Ehrman, Bart, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to Early Christian Writings; 5th Ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press,2011)
Reasoner, Mark, Roman Imperial Texts: A Sourcebook (New York: Fortress, 2013)
BIBL 2000 Introduction to the Bible
Frigge, Marielle, Beginning Biblical Studies (Revised edition). Winona, MN : Anselm Academic, 2013.
The Bible (I recommend NRSV but students are welcome to bring any translation preferred but must be able to access Bible for class, every class)
CMIN 2000 Introduction to Christian Ministry
Evans, Rachel Held, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015)
CMIN 3050 Corporate Ministries: Communicating the Gospel
Lischer, Richard, The Company of Preachers: Wisdom on Preaching, Augustine to the Present (New York: Eerdmans, 2002)
Taylor, Barbara Brown, The Preaching Life (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1993)
*Applies to residential and online sections of BIST6210
Once in a while, in the rarest cases your own imagination, images conceived in your own heart and mind take to life in someone else’s depiction. That’s certainly how I felt watching this week’s installment of #FindingJesus as the @cnn series presented St. Helena, mother of Constantine and we might say matron to all Christian pilgrims. Her long neck, the graceful sweep of her hands, the pained brow of a troubled but purposed life that held in place the earned crown, took to screen on Sunday’s episode. She was strong, resilient, clever and cunning and it is to Helena we owe the gift of Holy Land pilgrimage and the blessing of pressing our hands into the dust teaming with resurrection life. If we are indeed to be fascinated by early church holy women, we must include St. Helena in the conversation. If we retrace the steps of Jesus, turn over stones this Holy Week, it is to Helena we owe thanks. While her story is dated to later antiquity, her contributions to the Christian church cannot be rivaled.
According to Eutropius, Helena came from a lowly background and St. Ambrose will later explain that Helena was an innkeeper or a stable maid, perhaps much like Rahab who welcomed the Israelite spies. Though it is unknown exactly how, Helena will meet and become involved with Roman General Constantius Chlorus. While later sources consider Constantius and Helena to have been married, by the time he becomes Caesar, Constantius will divorce and/or dismiss Helena to marry another woman, though Helena has borne him a son—Constantine in or around 272. Constantius then sent Helena and Constantine to the court of Diocletian who is known for his empire wide persecution of Christians.
Surviving Diocletian’s court, Constantine distinguished himself as a general and in 306 following the death of his father, Constantine was hailed Augustus and Caesar. It was in 312 that Constantine saw the vision of the Chi Rho and had had his soldiers paint it on their shields. As Constantine rose to power he became more involved with the Christian church, though he also maintained allegiance to pagan gods and practices as evidenced by coinage and other architecture.
According to tradition, soon after convening the Council of Nicea in 325, a period of family strife for Constantine when rumors of his eldest son Crispus’ affair with Constantine’s second wife Fausta as well as Crispus’ plans to usurp his father surface. Constantine has Crispus killed and later learns that the rumor has been Fausta’s creation to further her own son’s interests. Constantine then has his wife killed in a most unpleasant way. It is shortly after all this treachery in 326 that Empress Helena, by now named Augusta sets out to re-trace the steps of Jesus and discover the true cross.
It is Helena’s journey to the Holy Lands which leads to the re-discovery of many important sites for Christianity, previously taken over by Hadrian and others to build pagan temples and shrines. Helena orders the excavations of one of these sites on the prompting of a dream, believing it to be the site of the true cross. Legend is that upon finding crosses underneath the shrine, Helena takes pieces of the three to a dying woman. Upon placing the cross of Christ on the woman, she is healed. Helena then has the cross split into pieces of wood and disbursed through the empire to encourage the faithful. Helena will also have churches built in Bethlehem and on the Mount of Olives to venerate the life of Christ.
This Holy Week as we read the stories of the Gospels, enact the sacred rituals and remember the life of this Jesus who walked the streets of Galilee and ultimately went up to Jerusalem and Golgotha, let us give thanks also for the woman who first helped us mark these steps so we might follow Jesus in his.
Judas- traitor or friend of God; this is the question raised as we consider the codex discovered in the 1970’s found later to be “The Gospel of Judas” deemed heresy by the Bishop of Lyon in AD 180. The Gospel of Judas is the subject of this week’s installment of the CNN series Finding Jesus.
If you follow this blog you know I am fiercely passionate about the academy equipping the church. That is to say, I understand a good bit of my work to focus on building a bridge between scholarship and pastoral ministry rather than maintaining our long formed silos fashioned by history, schisms and creeds. I advocate for the formation of persons who are educated and informed about matters of faith, church history, theology and scripture.
Part of the process, then, is confronting topics once discussed only in scholarly circles such as The Other Gospels. While the canon of the New Testament, formally named as only 27 books by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria in his Festal Letter of 367 AD, we now know there were many, many other writings. We call these works, the New Testament Apocrypha and among these letters are works that are also called Gospels. These other Gospels include, but are not limited to, Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Phillip and Gospel of Judas which we are delving into here.
Judas is a codex of fragments that have been reconstructed and debated for years since the first translation published in 2006. In the Gospel of Judas, the author presents Judas’ first person account of life with Jesus. In the pieces of recovered text, Jesus is found imparting to Judas secret knowledge through visions and Judas is ultimately entrusted with the difficult task of turning Jesus over to the Sanhedrin so that the will of God can be accomplished. Here Judas does the hard thing for the good of the world.
Further, the followers of Jesus, namely the disciples, are depicted here as utterly clueless and in a nightmare scene, their futures are revealed as blood soaked debauchery and doom. Since Judas is dated to the second century it is interesting that what is offered is a picture of people sworn to the cause of Jesus who are doing anything but living according to his teachings. Essentially, those who Jesus places in leadership think they are doing the right thing but they are not. Given the context of the second generation of the church, in Finding Jesus, Nicola Denzey Lewis suggests Judas is, “a political smear campaign against the people running the early church.”
Scholars debate the translation of Jesus depiction of Judas in the text, while some have translated the greek diamon as “spirit” April DeConick and others read it as “demon” so that Jesus refers to Judas as the “thirteenth demon” so that the text does not vindicate Judas.
Needless to say, this text and others offer us a window into history, a portrait of the early church, and invaluable information as to the tensions and issues inherent in the fledgling movement who had moved towards institutionalization. It is important to remember that Athanasius’ letter did not cause communities to abandon their deeply loved texts and these texts, outside of Athanasius named letters continued to inform church belief and practice.