Look again/anew at Paul

2013-1014-paul-amongWhat’s the connection between St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and the second-century Roman novelist Apuleius’s comedy The Golden Ass? More than you might think, says classicist Sarah Ruden in her book Paul Among the People (Image). Ruden, who specializes in ancient Greek and Roman literature, became interested in the preconceptions modern readers bring to Paul’s writing when she began studying the apostle herself. –

Read the interview in US Catholic

We shared the link to the interview on our Facebook Page. Now we share it here. Read the article. Share what you think. Keep the conversation going.

A 23 Art for October 9 St. Paul

GRECO, El
(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

Apostle St Paul
1610-14
Oil on canvas, 97 x 77 cm
Museo de El Greco, Toledo
Click to open Web Gallery of Art display page.
Click on their image to enlarge/fit page etc.

I had a hard time choosing between El Greco (who began painting icons) and Greek icons of St. Paul. Click Here for one.
Click Here for another.

Is it just a happy accident?

On Sunday (9/18) we heard a story. “The kingdom of heaven is like . . . .” (Matthew 20:1-16) The parable ends with these words of Jesus: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” The discussion within the Forum spoke to the issues of entitlement, love of neighbor, ego, pride, and placement in the Kingdom. Nothing was resolved; but, engagement with Jesus’ story and the unsettling wind of the Spirit around the table and within us was exhilarating.

With the words about the first and the last and the generosity of God commanding our attention we take a look at this Sunday’s readings (9/25)  and discover Paul’s admonition: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

Is it just a happy accident that these two readings occur on successive Sunday’s in our lectionary? Is it more? What is the Spirit saying to you and me about humility, about honesty, about graciously accepting God’s generosity without judging who should be first or last or wondering if someone is getting more than they deserve or more than we are getting? What is the Spirit saying to you as you take up Jesus’ parable, his story (read Philippians 2:5-11), and Paul’s admonition?

Leave a comment, continue the conversation. Hear what the Spirit is saying.

Well. . . what do you think?

This week we have (haven’t we?) been thinking about Spiritual Gifts (the main topic of conversation on Sunday Morning in the Forum). Rather than cite scholarly sources (which I have been reading), rather than offering extensive quotes, I will offer my current understanding of Spiritual Gifts as an invitation for you to also share.

You and I do not have to be experts, scholars, or theologians, to have an opinion and an understanding by which we live our faith—though it is helpful to let these opinions and understandings mature as they guide us (i.e., let them change as we gain more experience and understanding).

For brevity I will offer an “Executive Summary” of my current understanding. This is not meant to be exhaustive or the definitive “last word” on the topic of Spiritual Gifts—you know, I’m still learning a lot.

  • Everyone, including me, is gifted by God in some way
  • Gifted by God is foundational: God chooses which Spiritual Gift to offer, God takes the initiative, always
  • We choose to accept the gift or not (we always have this freedom, another gift of God’s initiative)
  • We choose to exercise the gift or not (don’t you love this gift of free will?). My own experience tells me that the choice to exercise the gift (or not) ebbs and flows like a tide (though not so regularly). Sometimes I do this easily and well and for a prolonged period (you could float a boat); at other times it is as if I have amnesia (or sloth) and the gift is not used (that boat is mired in the tidal mud).
  • The Spiritual Gift is meant (by God) to be used for the well-being of the Body of Christ (=the Church) and for the welfare of all God’s people and all of God’s creation (=the world). It is not meant to be hoarded, it is not meant to a personal delight nor a self-esteem booster—it is meant to be shared for the good of all (inside and outside the Church, indeed, to be shared for the good of all creation).
  • I’m still working out what the Spiritual Gifts are (according to our “teachers” in the Bible and in our Christian Tradition). As you heard Stan mention on Sunday there are multiple internet resources for exploring the meaning of and kinds of Spiritual Gifts.
  • Believing the Church (at its best) to be organic, living, changing, adapting—the “Body” of Christ—the gifts (from God) are meant to part of an organic whole, not part of some grand Organizational Flow Chart.
  • Closely linked to the organic nature of the Church is that the local church may need different gifts at different times (as communities and their needs change) so I believe a couple of things can happen: the gift you’re given changes to meet the new needs and/or new members are brought into the community with the necessary gifts to meet the new (changing) needs.

That’s probably enough for now. What do you think? What would you like to add (for me and others)? How can we grow together in our understanding of God’s generosity? Leave a comment, please. Let’s see where the Spirit will lead us.

About flesh and body

As we continue to read in Paul’s Letter to the Romans we find a passage filled with words that made sense to the first audience without a lot of explanation, but which need some interpretation in 2011. Here is an excerpt opening the English words “flesh” and “body” as used by Paul in Greek in this letter and in his theology. Walter F. Taylor, Jr. is the Ernest W. and Edith F. Ogram Professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, OH.

Our text [Romans 8:1-11] uses several times the word flesh, making what seem to be almost nonsensical statements such as “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (verse 8).  If that is the reality, why even try to live in God-pleasing ways?  The key is what Paul means by flesh (sarks).  To understand his usage, we turn first to its apparent twin, body (soma).  For Paul the body is neither good nor bad in and of itself.  The issue is how the body is used.  When the body is used as God intended, the body is good.  But when the body is used inappropriately and opposed to God’s intention, it is for Paul a sinful body.  Paul’s shorthand expression for a body that is misused is the term flesh.  And so to live inappropriately is called living according to the flesh (kata sarka).  Read more about Paul’s theology. (Select “2nd Reading” tab)

What helps you to live fully for God? How has your living for God changed over the years? What kinds of “grown up” things do you do as you seek to know and do God’s will?

Leave a comment, reply to a comment, keep the Sunday conversation going. Thank you for participating in the Sunday Morning Forum.