Tuesday, August 14, 2012

You really believe in the Bible?

Because we have yet another John 6 text with essentially the same words as before...I bring you an article from two German journalists who converted to Christianity while living in South Africa.  It speaks to Jesus as the true bread from heaven:
Note, if I were translating this professionally I would pay much more attention to the tenses of the verbs.  Germans do this a bit differently than English speakers.

"You really believe in the Bible?"
By Elke Naters and Sven Lager; translated by Google and Pastor Rob Myallis

Zwei Berliner Schriftsteller gehen nach Südafrika.Two writers from Berlin go to South Africa, not knowing exactly what they seek. Und dann finden sie Gott. And there they find God. Elke Naters und Sven Lager erzählen, wie sie zu Christen wurden. Elke Naters and Sven Leger tell how they became Christians. Eine moderne Erweckungsgeschichte. A modern revival story.
Neulich beteten wir für einen sterbenskranken Bauarbeiter, der kurz darauf aus dem Krankenhausbett aufstand, seinen Tropf in die Hand nahm, auf den Flur hinauslief und rief: »Ich bin geheilt!The other day we were praying for a terminally-ill construction worker.  Soon afterwards, he got up from the hospital bed, his medical drip bag in his hand, ran out into the hallway and said, "I'm cured! Ich bin geheilt!« I'm cured! "

Zur gleichen Zeit erhielten wir einen erbosten Brief von einer deutschen Familie, die eine Townshiptour gemacht hatte.At the same time, we received an angry letter from a German family who had made a tour of the poverty stricken townships in South Africa. Ob wir jemals ein Township betreten hätten, wie sonst könnten wir als Schriftsteller das Elend dort bunt und lebensfroh beschreiben. As journalists, we would have described the misery there, but colorfully and full of life. Ihre Empörung machte uns bewusst, was uns so selbstverständlich geworden war, dass wir es nicht mehr bemerkten: eine geradezu aggressive positive Lebenseinstellung. Her outrage made us realize something we had – something that had become so normal for us that we did not realize it: an almost aggressively positive attitude.
We, along with our children, have lived in South Africa for seven years.  It was our decision to see the light in the darkness of the world which brought us to faith. This belief has to do with the transforming power of love.

Eight years ago we lived in downtown Berlin. We were at a point in our life where there was a weariness spreading; it was difficult to grasp. Was it Seasonal Affective Disorder? Typical artistic anxeities? A mid-life Crisis?

We wondered whether this was all life had to offer:  to write books, have kids, go for a drink. A few frenzied nights, good movies and stimulating conversations. And so life passed us by - most of the time very pleasantly, without any particular pain, but also without any particular depth.

There had to be more than all this! Although we lived amid incomparable cultural wealth, art, music and literature offered no answers. We were thirsty and hungry, but no matter what we used to “stuff” ourselves, we were not satisfied.

Since we could not find anything deeper, we tried to go “wider.” We sought more sun, friendlier people, more cultural diversity and a more complete life. We thought about the Mediterranean; Vancouver; or even California. But to our surprise we ended up in South Africa. Our prejudices were immediately confirmed when we drove past the shacks in the townships, which dragged on endlessly. But it was damn beautiful this country.  The expanse!  The mountains next to the sea! The ice blue, ice-cold Atlantic! So much uninhabited, undeveloped nature touched the hearts of us, the city people.

On a warm January night, as we sat on a bench in the garden of Bougainvillea, the moon rose and then stood for a moment on the mountain ridge.  He then, as he pleased, rolled down and sank into the sea. A peace came over us. And we knew we wanted to live here.

\We went lobster fishing, surfed the wild Atlantic, climbed the mountains and got to know people, who reflected the natural generosity of their country. Their life stories were a couple of sizes larger than ours.

Take for example, the candy seller in our children’s elementary school.  He began as a teacher, then been a mercenary in the Congo, followed by time as a corn farmer, and later had his basket factory lost in a tropical cyclone. Now he sells medicinal herbs, African decorations and breeding parrots.  Or, take Wilson Salukazana.  He was a bank clerk during the apartheid era, is founder of a preschool, a whale whisperer, a mentor of many fatherless in the township, king of the clan Hlubi, fundraiser, and with his 70 years, yet a tour guide. Above all, a Christian.

It did not take long before we realized was how much the people here influenced by the Christian faith.  Nelson Mandela’s rejection of violence and his preaching forgiveness for the young democracy saved it from civil war. Without Desmond Tutu and the Truth Commission there never could have been the peace that enabled the victims to overcome the trauma of apartheid and continue living. Forgiveness has always been important in South African life. Unlike in our country.  It is hard to imagine that in Germany, a former Nazi would wash a former concentration camp prisoner's feet, like the former South Africa’s security minister, Adrian Vlok, had done for the churchman Chikane, whose poisoning he had commanded during the apartheid era. Or the mother of the young American Amy Biel, who was stoned to death in a township: the killers, not only forgave, but also helped them to a better life.

Solche Geschichten übermenschlicher Liebe sind in Südafrika an der Tagesordnung.Such stories of human love in South Africa are daily occurances. Immer geht es um Vergebung, Nächstenliebe, Ermutigung, Gemeinschaft. It is always about forgiveness, compassion, encouragement and community. Hier hat der christliche Glaube noch eine soziale Kraft. Here the Christian faith still has a social force. Keine sprengende, sondern eine vereinende. Not an explosive, but a unifying one. Als unsere Kinder sich an die neue Sprache gewöhnt und eingelebt hatten, erkrankte in ihrer Schule der siebenjährige Zach an einem Gehirntumor. When our children had become accustomed to the new language and settled, a seven-year classmate named Zach became ill from a brain tumor. Die ganze Nachbarschaft half, kochte, fuhr seine Brüder in die Schule und sammelte Geld für die Mutter, damit sie möglichst viel Zeit bei ihm im Krankenhaus verbringen konnte. The whole neighborhood helped cook, his brothers went to school and raised money for the mother so she could spend as much time with him in the hospital. Zach ist jetzt zwölf. Zach is now twelve. Und Dutzende Freunde stehen der Familie immer noch bei mit allem, was sie haben. Dozens of family and friends are still in with everything they have. Das ist Jesus in Action. This is Jesus in action.
TDer Glaube der Südafrikaner ist radikaler als Punk oder RevolutionThe faith of South Africans is more radical than punk or Revolution

Unter Südafrikanern lernten wir einen Gott kennen, der in den Menschen lebt und nicht in einem Kirchengebäude.Among South Africans, we got to know a God who lives in the people and not in a church building. Einen persönlichen Gott, der Humor hat, der liebt und den Menschen Zuversicht gibt. A personal God who has humor, who loves and gives people confidence. Einen Glauben, der radikaler ist als Punk, Kommunismus, Feminismus und jede Revolution. A faith that is more radical than punk, communism, feminism, and every revolution. Der Krankheit, Rassen und Klassen überwindet. A faith that overcomes diseases, races and classes. Einen gerechten Gott, der es ablehnt, dass ein Prozent der Bevölkerung 50 Prozent des Profits einstreicht, und der jedem jederzeit ein neues Leben anbietet. A just God who refuses to one percent of the population to pocket 50 percent of the profits.  A God who at any time offers a new life.
Jesus gab sich gern mit Außenseitern ab und schien ständig mit seinen Jüngern Wein zu trinken.Jesus did not hesitate to be with outsiders.  He also seemed to drink wine constantly with his disciples. Vor 200 Jahren taten die deutschen Missionare in Südafrika etwas Ähnliches. 200 years ago, the German missionaries in South Africa did something similar. Sie brachten ehemaligen Sklaven Lesen, Schreiben, Musizieren und ein Handwerk bei. They taught former slaves reading, writing, music and handiwork skills. Sie führen heute noch basisdemokratische Kommunendörfer in allen Teilen des Landes. They still lead grass-roots communities in villages across the country. Auf uns wirken sie wie wahr gewordene Utopien – und das hat uns zu Christen werden lassen. To us they seem like utopia come true - and this has enabled us to become Christians.

Seither sehen wir die Kraft des Glaubens nicht nur in Südafrika.Since then, we see the power of faith not only in South Africa. Der Amerikaner Shane Claiborne zum Beispiel hat schon viele Jahre vor der Occupy-Bewegung 10.000 Dollar in Münzen und kleinen Scheinen auf die Wall Street gekippt, und einen Tumult verursacht, dass die Straße abgesperrt werden musste. The Americans, Shane Claiborne, for example, has spilled -- many years before the Occupy movement -- $ 10,000 in coins and small bills on Wall Street, and caused a commotion that the street had to be shut off. Radikale Großzügigkeit verschließt die Türen der Gier – so lautete seine christliche Botschaft. Radical Generosity closes the doors of greed - that was his Christian message.
In unserem deutschen Freundeskreis wären wir auf mehr Verständnis gestoßen, wenn wir Buddhisten, Veganer oder akoholabhängig geworden wären.Among our German friends, we would have been met with more understanding if we had been Buddhists, vegans, or alcoholics. »Ihr glaubt echt an die Bibel?« – »Ja, wir leben danach.« – »Also seid ihr Fundamentalisten? "You really believe in the Bible" - "Yes, we live it" -. "So you are fundamentalists? Wie Bush und die Leute, die vor Abtreibungskliniken stehen?« – »Nein, aber wir glauben, dass Jesus wiederauferstanden ist und in uns lebt.« »Ewiges Leben, Himmel und Hölle?« – »Genau. Like (George) Bush and the people who are closing abortion clinics? "-" No, but we believe that Jesus was resurrected and lives in us, "" eternal life, heaven and hell.? "-" Exactly. Und wir glauben an ein Leben vor dem Tod.« –»Oh...« Spätestens jetzt wird die zweite Flasche Pinotage entkorkt. And we believe in life before death. "-" Oh ... "  By now the second bottle is uncorked!

Even after a few bottles of wine and serious conversation, n Nicht jeder unserer Freunde glaubt nach ein paar Flaschen Wein, was wir glauben, aber wir haben den Stein ins Rollen gebracht, die Kultur des Glaubensaustausches angeregt.not everyone of our friends believes what we believe.  But we have set the ball rolling and stimulated a culture of faith sharing. Die meisten wissen ja nicht, was es heißt, ein Christ zu sein. Most do not know what it means to be a Christian. Wir sind immer wieder überrascht, wie wenig wir selber lange Zeit wussten. We are always surprised at how little we knew ourselves for a long time. Wir sind zwar konfirmiert, einer von uns ist sogar in einem katholischen Internat zur Schule gegangen, doch das hatte unser Leben bis dahin nicht weiter beeinflusst. We may have been confirmed; one of us even attended a Catholic boarding school, but our lives had hitherto been unaffected. Erst Südafrika, wo wir eine andere Sprache sprechen und ein fremdes Land verstehen mussten, half uns, eine Offenheit zu entwickeln, für die wir sonst nicht bereit gewesen wären. It was our experience in South Africa, where we spoke a different language and lived a foreign country, which helped us to develop an openness for which we would otherwise not have been ready. Offenheit auch für einen Glauben, den wir längst als verstaubt abgelegt hatten. Openness to a belief that we had long set aside.
Anfangs war Südafrika nur Abenteuer, ein Vordringen in unbekannte Welten, das wir wie Anthropologen betrieben.South Africa was initially only adventure, a penetration into unknown worlds.  We operated as anthropologists. Und es war unheimlich und faszinierend zugleich, wenn wir in einem fremden Wohnzimmer saßen bei Menschen, die mit geschlossenen Augen Hände auflegten, in Zungen beteten oder unter Tränen erzählten, was Gott in ihrem Leben bewirkt hatte. And it was scary and fascinating at the same time, when we sat in the living room with a strange man, laying on the hands, eyes closed, praying in tongues or tearfully recounting what God had caused in their lives.
So verrückt das alles zunächst wirkte, die Menschen waren aufrichtig, und die Zeugnisse ihrer transformierten Leben waren die besten Geschichten, die wir je gehört hatten.As crazy as it all seemed at first, people were sincere, and the evidence of their transformed lives were the best stories we had ever heard. Wie die von Enrico. Like Enrico. Enrico war ein hochrangiger Gangster. Enrico was a high-ranking gangster. Seine Zähne sind aus Gold, er ist von Kopf bis Fuß tätowiert, sein Rang ist ihm in die Haut gestochen, seine Vergangenheit offensichtlich, jeder Gangster muss ihn respektieren. His teeth are made of gold, he is tattooed from head to toe, his rank is inscribed in the skin, a clear sign of his past; everyone must respect this gangster. Vor drei Jahren erschoss er beim Säubern seiner Waffe seinen besten Freund. Three years ago he shot and killed his best friend while cleaning his weapon. Als er begriff, dass Gott ihm vergab, was er sich selbst nicht vergeben konnte, änderte sich alles für ihn. When he realized that God forgave him, that which he could not forgive himself, everything changed for him. Er ließ sein Verbrecherleben hinter sich, verdient jetzt sein Geld mit Gelegenheitsjobs, sammelt und repariert Spielzeug für Kinder, schreibt Theaterstücke für Jugendliche. He left his criminal life behind him, now earns his living with odd jobs and repairs.  He also collects toys for children and writes plays for young people.
Oder James, den Gott schwer krank im Krankenhausbett aufsuchte, obwohl James nichts von ihm wissen wollte, und ihn auf einen Schlag heilte.Or James, seriously ill in hospital bed, whom God visited, even though James would not hear from him and healed him in one fell swoop. Seine Familie dachte, er sei verrückt geworden, als er plötzlich zu beten begann und nur noch von Gott sprach. His family thought he was crazy when he suddenly began to pray and just spoke from God. Bis dahin hatte nur seine Frau gebetet und an den Straßenecken gepredigt, und auch das nur, wenn sie betrunken war. Until then, only his wife had prayed and preached on street corners, and then, only if she was drunk. James hörte auf zu trinken, betrog seine Frau nicht mehr und brachte seine ganze Familie zum Glauben. James stopped drinking, cheating on his wife and brought his family to faith. Einschließlich seines unehelichen Sohns, der von Crystal Meth loskam. Including his illegitimate son, who is no longer addicted to crystal meth.
Das war, was uns als Schriftsteller faszinierte: die Menschen und ihre Dramen, die so wahr und wild waren.That was what fascinated us as writers: the people and their dramas that were so true and wild. So lasen wir auch die Bibel, als tiefbewegende Geschichte echter Menschen. So we read the Bible as a deeply moving story of real people. Das beste Buch aller Zeiten, wie schon Bertolt Brecht gesagt hat. The best book of all time, as Bertolt Brecht (a famous German author) said.
Initially, our faith was still a little blurry and it contained a lot of doubt and skepticism. Aber nach und nach entfaltete sich die Wahrheit in ihrer ganzen Schönheit. But gradually the truth unfolded in all its beauty. Das hört nie auf. It never stops. Die radikale Liebe Gottes, die Freiheit, die wir in ihm finden, und wie Jesus sich in jedem Menschen spiegelt – um das zu verstehen werden wir mehr als nur ein Menschenleben brauchen. The radical love of God, the freedom we find in him, and how Jesus is reflected in every human being - to understand this, we need more than just a human life. Dazu braucht man ein ewiges Leben, denn der Glaube sprengt unser weltliches Denken. This requires an eternal life, because faith goes beyond our worldly thinking.
In South Africa we have seen how faith binds the heart of different people. Das ist mehr als eine Religion, das ist real und lebensverändernd. This is more than a religion; it is real and life-changing. Zum ersten Mal fanden wir Freunde, die in keiner Weise waren wie wir. For the first time we found friends who were in no way similar to us. Die nicht die gleichen Bücher gelesen, die gleichen Filme gesehen, die gleiche Musik gehört hatten. They did not read the same books, had not seen the same movies, nor heard the same music; yet we are still close to them. Wie Patrick, unserem jungen Freund vom Stamm der Xhosa. Like Patrick, our young friend from the Xhosa tribe. Patrick hatte in der zehnten Klasse die Schule verlassen, mit dem Wildern von Abalonemuscheln für die Gangstersyndikate etwas Geld verdient und blieb nach einem Fahrradunfall querschnittsgelähmt. Patrick had dropped out in tenth grade and made money poaching various sea animals for the gangsters.  After a bike accident he became a paraplegic. Wir lernten uns im Krankenhaus kennen und beteten jede Woche zusammen, aber es ging bergab mit ihm. We met in the hospital and prayed together every week, but things did not go well with him. Die Bettwunden schlossen sich nicht, er hatte Aids und war depressiv. The bed wounds did not close; he had AIDS and was depressed. Er wurde immer dünner und immer schwächer und schlief den ganzen Tag mit einem Laken überm Kopf. He was getting thinner and weaker and slept the whole day with a sheet over my head. Die Ärzte und sogar seine Familie hatten ihn schon aufgegeben. The doctors and even his family had already given up on him.

But then came Sipokasi, an old school friend of Patrick, and proposed to baptize him. Overnight Patrick was better. The doctors were baffled because the change was obvious.  It was as if someone had switched on a light in him. His depression disappeared; after a few weeks he was discharged from the hospital. His mother was beside herself with joy. She believed that someone previously using a witch doctor had put a curse on her family.  The curse of envy and jealousy is common among the Xhosa, and a lot of money set is aside to counter spells and curses.

So-called sangomas offer their powerful magical assistance in all areas: illness, debt, marital conflict, erection problems, unrequited love - for everything there is a Muti, a spell and potions. Prostitutes pay a considerable sum each month in order to be protected against pregnancy and AIDS, to no avail.

Rose, a modern young Xhosa woman, was intended by her clan to become a sangoma. The world of magic, which we Germans preserve in the tales of the Brothers Grimm, is for real.  Water spirits, witches and demons.  About a year after she had become Christian, the real struggle began for her. Whenever she started to pray out loud, unpleasant things came out of her mouth, insults, curses, weird stuff. Such attacks occurred very suddenly, and she often had to run out of church. The church family was praying but undaunted. And God helped Rose with his love: the fear subsided, the attacks ceased, and they never came back.

With friends like Patrick and Rose, we learned that the Christian faith in Africa is not only a way of life or a philosophy. For Patrick, the Holy Spirit broke the power of evil spirits over his family. He believes in a real God who protected him: a personal God of wonders, who is superior to all other spiritual powers that could harm people.

The Europeans know the word church, but no community

The story of Jesus, that God died on the cross for our sins and his resurrection is victory over death, this enlightens each African; while the Western Europeans understand the supernatural only as symbolic…but then really not at all.

We have learned in Africa that the gospel brings together different people in a family.  The strength of faith is in Ubuntu, the Xhosa name for the unconditional community cohesion. The Europeans know that is the word for church. Except that they have lost the radical early Christian meaning of the word.

Faith has made us stronger as a family and has deepened our love for each other. It’s almost like we’re suddenly seeing our lives in three dimensions instead of just an outline. And we cannot imagine how other people do without Jesus marry; how they cope with puberty in their children; how they endure financial crises, anxieties, desires, fears, death, how they deal with one’s own aging.

We have also realized while in Africa that not everything must be understood. What we know is that God gives us the task to make this world a better place. It is simple. With humor, joy, and with our art.  With sincere love for each other. From person to person - but using a power that is divine.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

John 6:35,41-51

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year B, most recently Summer of 2015.
Summary:  What else can one say:  Jesus is the bread of life.  Three words, actually verbs, pop out this week for me.  All three (καταβαινω, πιστευω and εχω) where likely memorized in the first weeks of Greek 101.  John employs them powerfully here to make three points:  Jesus came down to earth; Jesus came down to earth that we might believe; Jesus came down to earth that we might belive and thus have life.  Here.  Now.  Also, this week I include a quote of the Small Catechism to solve a thorny issue...

Key words:
καταβαινω ("descend" or "go down"; it appears seven times in chapter 6: 16, 33, 38, 41, 42, 50, 51, 58 in various forms). The use of this word throughout John and especially John 6 reminds us that John is an incarnational Gospel (as are all the Gospels!).   While John 6 pushes this in a new direction, the idea of God moving toward earth, coming down, has occured already in John:  The Spirit descends at Baptism (1:33); Jesus refers to Jacob's dream where angels descended at "Bethel," foreshadowing Jesus; Jesus also "goes down" to heal an official's son (4:47) and lastly, Jesus simply said he descended from heaven (3:13).
One could simply be reminded that Jesus in John's Gospel is not an eagle like philosopher above it all; Jesus is not some gnostic or docetic savior; rather he is a flesh and blood, incarnate Son of God.  Yet I think it worth pressing the point further.  John 6 is all about the Eucharist; and the Eucharist is the summation of all things.  In this case, the Eucharist is the summation of all other downward movements by God.  It includes the Spirit empowering, it includes heaven's gates opening; it includes healing of mortals.  In Jesus, Bethel (house of God) becomes Bethlehem (house of bread).  Jesus is full divine yet fully flesh (σαρξ)

σαρξ ("flesh"; just about every verse in section 6:51-63)  Jesus says two puzzling things:  First, that σαρξ is useless; but that on the otherhand, we must eat of his σαρξ.  I do not think John's Gospel is anti-flesh; yet it wisely points out the limits of flesh.  So why does Communion help?  As Jesus says,"It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life."  Jesus words make his flesh, the Communion, have life and Spirit!  To put it another way, courtesy of Luther:
"It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying."  http://bookofconcord.org/smallcatechism.php#baptism

πιστευω ("believe"; the word appears 85 times in John's Gospel).  This might just be the most important word in John's Gospel.  Worth noting is that faith only appears as a verb:  It is always an action.  In otherwords, "Faith" doesn't exist in John's Gospel, but believing does.  It is not by intellectual assent that we live, but fully trusting in God.  Sadly, it often takes us to get to that moment where all hope has been lost that we actually begin to trust...

Grammar:  Present tense and εχω
I have written this many times on my blog.  But here is the deal.  The present tense means something is happening right now and on-going.  Jesus says, "the one who believes is having eternal life."  It does NOT read "the one who believes will have eternal life."  It simply says, "the one who believe HAS eternal life."  Eternal life begins here and now in a relationship based on believing in Jesus Christ.