The Testimony of Christ

A meditation by Michael Pahl on January 19, 2020, called “The Testimony of Christ.” It’s a reflection on the titles given to Jesus in the New Testament, in particular the four confessions of Jesus found in John 1:29-42.

Here is a written excerpt from the introduction:

The early church invested a great deal in the language used to describe Jesus. For the first 500 years of Christianity, a lot of careful thought and vigorous discussion went into working out how to confess Jesus well.

In the early church, if you denied certain descriptions of Jesus this indicated a deficient theology, even “heresy.” Affirming these descriptions of Jesus indicated a healthy theology, what came to be known as “orthodoxy.” For Christianity, “sound doctrine”—a theology that is healthy and whole, leading to health and wholeness for individuals and the church—is at its heart about how well we confess Jesus.

Every description of “false teaching” in the New Testament works like this: there’s a deficient understanding of Jesus, which has led to unhealthy or even harmful ways of thinking and living. In fact, you could say that the entire New Testament is really about providing a sufficient testimony of Christ, a full picture of who Jesus is, so that we can live into the salvation, the life, the wholeness that Jesus brings to us and the world.

So beware of those who cry “false teaching” every time someone disagrees with them! “False teaching,” or even “heresy,” is about having an inadequate confession of Jesus, leading to ideas and attitudes and actions that cause real harm to others. “Orthodoxy” is about having a robust understanding of Jesus, confessing Jesus fully and truly, prompting us to love in the way of Jesus.

But why is our confession of Jesus so important? Why does our understanding of Jesus hold so much theological power?

Here’s what I think is going on:

Every confession of Jesus tells two stories: a story about God and a story about ourselves. Every confession of Jesus tells a story of God with Jesus at the centre, and every confession of Jesus tells a story of us with Jesus at the centre.

And these stories shape our world: they shape our theological and moral imagination, prompting us to imagine a better world, and spurring us to live into that better world.

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The Heavens Were Opened

A meditation by Michael Pahl on January 12, 2020, called “The Heavens Were Opened.” It’s a reflection on the baptism story of Jesus in Matthew 3:13-17 and its connection to the Servant Song of Isaiah 42:1-9.

Here is a written excerpt:

“As he came up out of the water,” Matthew’s Gospel says, “suddenly the heavens were torn open and Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”

It’s a deliberate echo of our passage in Isaiah 42, which opens with God saying these words:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

Jesus is this Servant of God. Jesus is God’s Chosen One, God’s Beloved Son, anointed by God’s Spirit to bring forth justice to the nations. In Jesus the heavens have been torn open and God has come down to earth, bringing sight to the blind, liberation for the oppressed, God’s reign of justice and peace for all.

He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;

Isaiah’s Servant Song continues

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

Jesus God’s Beloved Servant comes in meekness and humility, in gentleness and compassion, for all who find themselves caught up in hostility and violence, guilt and shame, futility and despair, suffering and death—“a bruised reed he will not break.” And this is how “he will faithfully bring forth justice”—through his suffering love in solidarity with the lowly and oppressed, even unto death.

Jesus was washed in the Jordan by John, and nothing will ever be the same.

The heavens have been torn open, and God has arrived on earth.

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Are We There Yet?

A meditation by Ron Falk on Epiphany Sunday, January 5, 2020, called “Are We There Yet?”

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Worth the Wait

A meditation by Michael Pahl on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22, 2019, called “Worth the Wait.”

Here is a written excerpt:

We tend to skip over the opening verses of Matthew’s Gospel when we read it. That’s the extended genealogy of Jesus through Joseph’s family line. Matthew lists Jesus’ descendants from the patriarch Abraham to ancient Israel’s king David, and from David to another exile in Babylon, and from this exile to Jesus the Messiah.

We tend to skip over this genealogy, and that’s too bad, for a few reasons. One reason is the women named in Jesus’ family tree, and the significance they had both in Israel’s history and in Jesus’ heritage. Another reason, though, is that when you do read the genealogy, naming fourteen generations three times over, you can better appreciate Israel’s long wait for its Messiah.

Long, long ago, God had made promises to Abraham: promises of blessing for Abraham’s descendants, promises of blessing for all the nations through Abraham’s descendants. And Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, also called Israel, and Israel the father of Judah, and Judah the father of Perez by Tamar, and so on, and so on, and on, and on.

Then, long after that, but still long ago, God had made promises to David: promises of a son of David who would reign as king forever, bringing about the fullness of God’s kingdom of justice and peace on earth. And David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and so on, and so on, and on, and on.

Then, long after that, but still a long time ago, God had made promises to the exiled people in Babylon: promises that God would come to them and reign among them through David’s son, finally bringing about that promised justice and peace and flourishing life, not just for Israel but even for the nations. And Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and so on, and so on, and on, and on.

If we have a hard time imagining the wait Ahaz and Judah were called to—a patient trust for a few years at most, while armies lay siege to Jerusalem’s gates—how much harder it is to imagine the wait Matthew portrays for Israel—patiently trusting for generation after generation, dozens of generations, through slavery and liberation, covenant and wilderness and promised land, kingdom united then divided then toppled, one exile and then another, returning and rebuilding, now stifling under yet another oppressive empire.

How long, O Lord? What are you waiting for?

After fifty-plus generations of unfulfilled promise, here’s the choice before Israel. Here’s their fork in the road. They can trust that God has not abandoned them, that God loves them with a deep and abiding love, that God is yet with them. They can even now prepare the way for the Lord. Or they can ignore this promise of God’s loving presence, and try to forge their own way.

Mary and Joseph, at least—and Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Anna and Simeon and other faithful Israelites—continued to trust that God was still with them, still on their side.

And so the virgin Mary conceived and bore a son, and he was called “Immanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” This was how the birth of Jesus, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, came to pass.

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Christmas at MMC

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Getting Ready While We Wait

A meditation by Michael Pahl on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2019, called “Getting Ready While We Wait.”

Here is a written excerpt from the introduction:

“How long, O Lord?”

It’s a common refrain in the Bible, found nearly twenty times from the Psalms to Revelation.

“O Lord, how long?”

It’s a common refrain in the Bible, because it’s a common experience of God’s people: stuck in a time of waiting, in a space of discomfort or pain or sorrow, longing for peace and joy and life, feeling as if God is ignoring us, as if God has abandoned us.

These are the Advent seasons of life: waiting for God to come, yearning for God’s salvation, longing for God’s deliverance.

“How long, O Lord?”

We might tend to think of this as the cry of an individual person in their individual circumstances. There are a few of these in the Bible, like David in Psalm 13. But most of these cries of “How long?” arise out of the collective experience of God’s people.

There’s Psalm 94, for example:

O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord,
and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the stranger,
they murder the orphan,
and they say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.” (Ps 94:3-7)

Or there’s the Prophet Habakkuk’s opening complaint:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted. (Hab 1:2-4)

We can understand these feelings, can’t we? We, too, look around our world and see the migrant child being left to die, the evildoer boasting, violence rising around us like the rising seas, justice being perverted, and the wicked exulting over it all. We cry out to God, but God does not seem to be listening. God does not even seem to see the evil we see, being committed in plain view.

“O Lord, how long?”

Nearly twenty times in the Bible, both Old and New Testament, this cry goes up from God’s people: “How long, O Lord? How long must we wait for justice, for peace, for salvation from our oppressors and vindication of our just cause?”

God, what are you waiting for?

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Our Wait Begins

A meditation by Peter Hildebrand on the First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019, called “Our Wait Begins.”

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