Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Simply Jesus

February 28
Chapter 7 – The Campaign Starts Here

1.  Wright begins by noting that Jesus issues a public proclamation that Israel’s God was at last becoming king.  The circumstances surrounding such a proclamation in Jesus’ day were vastly different from ours, as Wright illustrates.  Even so, what challenges remain regarding acceptance of divine kingship and providence?  Why are we still so reluctant to let God rule?

2.  This public proclamation effectively initiated the start of a campaign…marked by numerous healings and celebrations to drive home this new reality.  Justice and peace involve putting things right in the world; thus, broken people are healed and celebrations of God’s taking charge are launched.  Heaven and earth are coming together…evident in the forgiveness and healing of people, one by one. 

How do forgiveness and healing work hand-in-hand?  How do they combine to usher in God’s reign?

3.  Jesus’ first announcement took place in his home synagogue (one of our gospel lessons in worship earlier this month.)  This did not go well.  Jesus welcomes and includes “outsiders” into God’s kingdom…oh, no!  Where do we likewise struggle to include “outsiders” into our congregations and into our hearts?  What doubts, fears, and concerns keep us from being more inclusive?

4.  Jesus announces God’s reign again at the home of a Pharisee.  Here, Jesus is approached by a tearful and grateful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with oil.  In announcing the forgiveness of her sins and commending her faith, Jesus again has opened the kingdom of God to everyone.  This king is indeed up-close-and-personal. 

How does this particular story hit home for you?  How close do we allow God’s love & forgiveness to touch us?

5.  The intricate interaction of John the Baptist and Herod Antipas are compelling and complex.  A lot of questions come to the surface as we read this story.  Here again, Jesus announces that God’s campaign is already underway; that God’s kingdom is quite visible in John’s ministry and his message.  From here, Jesus assembles his 12 disciples and moves God’s campaign forward.

Where do you witness God at work today in the breaking down of old “rulers” and their “kingdoms?”  What systems of oppression (and their guardians) are being challenged and addressed by the Jesus’ gospel today?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Simply Jesus

February 21
Chapter 6 – God’s in Charge Now

1. Wright points out that skeptics have always scoffed at the biblical miracle stories of Jesus.  He then offers four quick responses: A) Jesus attracted large crowds by his healing.  B) His remarkable acts prompted some to align him with the devil.  C) Jesus backed up his talk of newness with real signs.  D) We should be skeptical about skepticism itself.

Wright then warns, “Be careful with your worldview.  You’re in danger of reaffirming the very split-level cosmos that Jesus came to reunite.”  What does he mean by this? 

 2.  Jesus was declaring, “God’s in charge now – and this is what it looks like!”  His listeners would’ve agreed on some levels with this and disagreed on others.  If so, then why this and why that?  We’ve been asking those same questions ever since.  So, where do you see God “in charge” of things these days?  Where is God clearly not in charge?

 3.  Wright illustrates how short-lived grand announcements can be…packed full of unrealistic expectations, only to be dashed by time and unrelenting reality.  Why are we so hopelessly prone to believing such pronouncements?  What made Jesus’ announcements different?

 4.  Wright offers a brief outline of Jewish history, illustrating the challenge of believing that their national problems were fixable any time soon.  Jesus announced that God was in charge, but the evidence for many suggested otherwise.  The solution, Wright says, was re-living the Exodus…to tell the story, sing the songs, and keep celebrating God’s victory, even though it deeps on not happening. 

 Take a moment now to briefly review & discuss each of the seven themes of the Exodus:

·        Wicked tyrant
·        Chosen Leader
·        Victory of God
·        Rescue by sacrifice
·        New vocation and way of life
·        Presence of God
·        Promised/inherited land

5.  This story has sustained the Jews ever since.  Why?  Our story, as Christians, includes the Exodus, but moves ahead with the “new exodus”…the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

How does this new exodus complete and fulfill God’s intentions for humanity and creation?  How does it give further notice that God indeed is in charge?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Simply N.T. Wright

Chapter 5 - The Hurricane

1.  Wright exposes the misjudgment of Jewish hopes and national aspirations when contrasted with the prophetic vision and mission of Jesus.  As a result, "The harsh wind of western empire would blast away the Temple itself..."  We can certainly relate to such experiences of misjudgment as a nation in our history.  Where do you remember this happening, and how did we fare with the awkward process of "recalculating?"

2.  The third element of this first-century perfect storm is the wind of God.  But, as Jesus declares, they failed to see it coming...distracted by dreams of national liberation.  Yet, God remains sovereign over his creation, as displayed in the quote from Psalm 18:7-15.  What is your picture of God's sovereignty today?  Where do you witness this "wind of God" blowing among the national and global "hurricanes" surrounding us?

3.  Israel's history with kings started out poorly and ended tragically.  David, it seems, had the greatest impact as Israel's King.  Yet, tragedy marked his life as well.  Once thought untouchable and divinely protected, Jerusalem and the sacred Temple became subject to God's judgment.  God's earlier promise to establish and maintain a "House of David" left the Jewish people confused, in light of their checkered past.  Historically speaking, where have we and other nations of our time experienced similar struggles and confusion of identity/purpose?  What are the risks and dangers of presuming to act on "God's behalf," yet chasing our own destinies?

4.  Over time, it became clear that God was a much better king than any human king.  Thus, in worship and song, they expressed their longing for a return of his sovereignty and the restoration of Israel and all of creation.  Providing numerous Old Testament texts, Wright assembles a compelling conclusion: "The human 'shepherds' have been a dismal failure; only YHWH himself will now do...the result is that Israel will be YHWH's sheep indeed."  "Somehow, when God is king, 'David' will be king."  Given this rich and complex history, Jesus emerges from this royal lineage of King David to carry out God's purpose.  In him, the ancient prophetic promise of God's return and deliverance was suddenly materializing before them...yet they could not see it.  Why?

5.  Wright concludes the chapter with this observation: "God is now in charge, and he is in charge in and through Jesus."  The puzzle of Jesus, he says, boils down to two questions.  Why would anyone declare Jesus to be such a king?  And, what does Jesus' kingship mean for us today, in a world that largely fails to acknowledge his rule?