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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Background Images for Everyone - Week 19 - 2017

Here it is - a free background image for you. Make of it what you will, but share it freely and tell others you found it here.

A Resurrection of Justice - A Sermon (Luke 24: 13 - 35)

The world around us has already moved on. They celebrated Easter with chocolates, and bunnies and then moved on to other things – but in the church we are still in Easter. The world outside is already gearing up for graduations and summer vacations – but in the church we are still in Easter. Our scriptural reading for today (Luke 24: 13 – 35), like last week’s reading (John 20: 19 – 31) takes place “that very same day” (Luke 24: 13 New Jerusalem Bible) Easter Sunday. We take our time here; we linger in this, the “Lord’s Day.” The world may have already moved on to the next shopping holiday – but in the church we are abiding for a while in this resurrection day.

“Now that very same day, two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. And it happened that as they were talking together and discussing it, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side.” (Luke 24: 13 – 15)

These two disciples – Cleopas and another unnamed disciple (in later tradition, named Simon) (Maclean 422) – may not have recognized Jesus as their risen Lord and master, their eyes may have been supernaturally blinded against seeing him for who he was, but the risen Jesus did not want them to remain in the darkness of ignorance. As they walked those seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus he walked them through the scriptures, “starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.” (Luke 24: 27)

We cannot know what passages Jesus explained to them on that dusty road, but let’s take our own little trip through the scriptures, through Moses and the prophets, and try to understand the resurrection a little better.

The first thing that we should understand – and this may help us to understand why the Cleopas and ‘Simon’ were so disappointed that day – in the Hebrew Bible / Old testament, especially the earliest parts of it, there is little that speaks about a resurrection.

The idea of a resurrection of the dead “does not appear except in texts that are rare, obscure with regard to their precise meaning, and late” (Martin-Achard 680). In the Old Testament there is no concept of resurrection, life after death, or rewards or punishments in the afterlife. In the Old Testament, the dead, all of them –the good, the bad, and the ugly- go to the grave, the pit, to sheol. And that’s it. Sheol, the place of the dead, was a place of no return. No one came back from there. No one gets out alive.

“A cloud dissolves and is gone,
so no one who goes down to Sheol ever comes up again,
ever comes home again,
and his house knows that person no more.” (Job 7: 9 – 10)

The road to Sheol was a “road of no return. (Job 16: 22). For the Jewish people, the grave was an inescapable prison.

But this thought caused a sort of crisis of faith for them. IF God is good, and IF the world belongs to him and is under his sovereign control – then why, they asked, do the righteous sometimes die horrible, painful deaths at the hands of powerful and wicked men? IF God is good, and IF the world belongs to him, then there must be justice for the righteous – if not in this life, then … perhaps in the next.

And so, slowly, over time, an idea developed among them that in the later days, in the time of the end, everything would be made right; the righteous dead would be rewarded and wicked, powerful men would receive the punishment due to them. And there would be, they began to understand, a resurrection of the dead.

In the book of Daniel (written during a time of intense persecution and struggle, during the Maccabean wars against the tyrannical Antiochus Epiphanes) we find this newly developing hope expressed: “Of those who are sleeping in the Land of Dust, many will awaken, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace. Those who are wise will shine as brightly as the expanse of the heavens, and those who have instructed many in uprightness, as bright as stars for all eternity.” (Daniel 12: 2 – 3)

The origins of Jewish belief in a resurrection after death are unclear (Nickelsburg 685). But by the time of Jesus, many (but not all) Jews accepted the idea of a life after death; the Sadducees did not accept this new and still developing theological point, and they argued with Jesus (and presumably with others who believed in the coming resurrection).

But the idea of resurrection was, at its foundation, about justice.

So, while Cleopas and ‘Simon’ may have believed in, and hoped for the resurrection of the dead, they still grieved the great injustice that had been done to their Teacher, their master, Jesus – the one that they had hoped would be the one to set Israel free (Luke 24: 21) And, while Cleopas and ‘Simon’ may have believed in, and hoped for the resurrection of the dead, they did not expect Jesus to be raised from the dead.

They thought of the resurrection of the dead as a great and general event all at once, at the time of the end. They did not expect a dying Messiah, and they did not expect his singular resurrection. As the New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright has said, “Nobody expected the Messiah to be raised from the dead, for the simple reason that nobody in Judaism at the time expected a Messiah who would die, especially one who would die shamefully and violently” (Wright 19). And no one expected the Messiah (or anyone else for that matter) to be raised up in resurrection before the general resurrection at the end.

But as they walked those seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, with their eyes still blinded and their understanding still darkened, Jesus walked them through the scriptures again, explaining how Moses and all the prophets pointed to him and to the justice that his resurrection promised.

And this is what the resurrection is really about; this is what we must understand. The resurrection is about Justice. “The resurrection stories in the Gospels do not say Jesus is raised, therefore we’re all going to heaven, or therefore we’re going to be raised.” The resurrection stories in the Gospels are not there to give us a rosy hope for justice someday. The resurrection stories are there to say that the Kingdom of God – which is the kingdom of life, the kingdom of the living, the kingdom of the resurrected – has broken into this world of death and is bringing life and justice with it. The stories of Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospels say that “Jesus is raised, therefore God’s new creation has begun and we’ve got a job to do” (Wright 21).

The hope and promise of our resurrection is not (not merely) the hope of life after death someday – but life after life, and of renewed life and full life in this world now.

We cannot begin to answer the question of how did the resurrection happen – the resurrection of Jesus is a supernatural event, outside the realm of observation and quantification. But we can answer the question of why. Why is there a resurrection? Why is Jesus resurrected? Why does he promise this resurrection to us, his followers? For Justice. For Righteousness. For the renewal of all creation. Jesus is resurrected and we’ve got a job to do.

I’m always disappointed when I hear people say - and when I hear Christians especially say with a sigh and resignation, “well… that’s just the way things are.” Or “that’s just the way the world is.” No. I do not accept that. If we do not believe in change, the possibility and the necessity of making change for the good in this world, then why do we bother to speak of the resurrection of Jesus? Look again at the scriptures that Jesus opened for Cleopas and ‘Simon’ – the Law and the Prophets – passages of Holy Scripture concerning justice for the poor and the oppressed. The resurrection of Jesus may not be about our politics – but it doesn’t change our political belief, why bother to believe in the resurrection at all? “A deeply orthodox theology about the resurrection… is the proper seedbed of radical politics” (Wright 23).

Further, I may not agree with the conclusions of John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament Scholar who believes that the resurrection of Jesus was not a ‘real’ event[i], but I fully embrace his conclusion that while we might disagree over whether or not Jesus’s resurrection was a real event, a literal, physical, bodily et cetera… resurrection, what really matters is what we do as the result of our belief in Jesus’ resurrection; “I want really to know how we are going to take back God’s world from the thugs” (Crossan 29).

This is what the resurrection means. This is why we linger here in Resurrection Sunday two weeks after Easter. In his letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul wrote at length about the nature Jesus’ resurrection and concluded by saying, “Thank God, then, for giving us the victory [over sin and death] through Jesus Christ our Lord. So, my dear brothers, keep firm and immovable, always abounding in energy for the Lord's work, being sure that in the Lord none of your labors is wasted.” (1 Corinthians 15: 57 – 58). 

The resurrection of Jesus (and the promise of our resurrection) does not mean we sit back and hope for that ‘pie in the sky, by and by’ – but that we are to be at work in this world, in the here and now, creating the justice and righteousness that is the character of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ victory over sin and death does not mean we kick back and relax until we are raptured away, but that we get to work, that we make things better for our neighbors, for the immigrant, for the sick, and the poor. He arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever with his saints to reign” (Lowry). And this is what is to believe in his victory over the dark domain of death, to believe in the resurrection – to reign with him in this world by working for justice.We have a hope and a mission in this world because Jesus’ resurrection (and the promise of our own) is about Justice.


Lowry, Robert. “Up from the Grave He Arose (Low in the Grave He Lay)” 

MacLean, Gilmour S. “The Gospel According to Luke: Exegesis” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume 8. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1952. Print.

Martin-Achard, Robert. “Resurrection (OT)” The Anchor Bible Dictionary Volume 5. New York. NY: Doubleday. 1992. Print.

Nickelsburg, George W. E. “Resurrection (Early Judaism and Christianity)” The Anchor Bible Dictionary Volume 5. New York, NY: Doubleday. 1992. Print.

Wright, N.T. and John Dominic Crossan, “The Resurrection: Historical Event or Theological Explanation? – A Dialogue.” The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in Dialogue. Ed. Robert. B. Stewart. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press. 2006. Print.

[i]  …though we do have to be careful about that word “real.” “The word real is one of the slipperiest ones in modern English…” (Wright 32)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Rufus Reading

Our local public library is having a photo contest for National Pets Month (who knew that was a thing?) - patrons are asked to share photos of thier pets 'reading.' So here is Rufus reading a biography of the painter Henri Matisse.

Friday, April 28, 2017

April Lilacs

April Lilacs by Jeff Carter on

Audiophoric - World Citizen - New Music

Yesterday I shared some music that I've made on my own. Today I'm sharing music by Audiophoric - a musical group of  which I am but one of several contributors. It's jazzy, it's world beat, it's rock, it's a little of this, a little of that - as you'd might expect of a project from so many different collaborators.  Give a listen. Tell me what you think.

Maybe you'd like to purchase a copy of the album.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lonely Cold - New Music

I used Ableton Live and a few sounds from The Freesound Project to create these songs:

Lonely Cold 1
Lonely Cold 2
Pop Ring Tone
Tambourine 70 BPM
Korg - Mono - E4 - Revolving
Satellite Bad Signal
Loop A01a Drums  

Biblical Limericks: Ignoramus

The stranger en route to Emmaus
must be a complete ignoramus -
he hasn’t heard a word
of all that has occurred
to the one we had hoped would save us.

Luke 24: 13 - 21

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Monday, April 24, 2017

Null Point Voids

The Zeros buzz outside, in the dark, just beyond the window while I sleep – while I am not sleeping. Buzzing. An empty noise, meaningless. Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless buzzing in the dark.

The agents of naught – deputized, authorized, weaponized – hover just out of sight, hidden opportunists waiting for the moment to strike. Inexplicable, inherently inimical they answer to no one; they answer to nothing.

You cannot resist; they do not exist. Null point voids. Light shines through them leaving no mark, no shadow, no trace. Welter and waste. Speak silence and silence speaks, but says nothing. 


Don't let your eyes be fooled: there is only one candle.

Candle by Jeff Carter on

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Background Images for Everyone - Week 18 - 2017

Here it is again - a free background image for you to use as your very own. Use it where you work, shop, or play. Use it in good health, for richer for poorer for as long as you like. I only ask that you share it with others and that you tell them you found it here.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

How Did this Happen?

My daughter has gone off to prom. How did this happen?

Many Other Varieties

The Kingdom of Heaven is something like this: I tilled up a portion of the back yard to plant a garden, but while I slept someone came and sowed other seeds in my garden, and went his way. When my garden sprouted, so too did the other seeds. My son said to me, “Dad, these aren’t the plants you wanted are they? Do you want me to dig them up for you?”

“No,” I said to him. “These may not be the flowers I planted, but look! there are Peter, Paul, and Marygolds, Whole-Milkweed, Snap-Crackle-Pop-Dragons, Paisley Parsley, Sneezeweed, Encumbered Cucumbers in Cummerbunds, Cyan Peppers, Daisies and Nightsies, and many other varieties that I do not recognize. Let’s let them grow. This is even better than what little I had planted.

The Kingdom of Heaven is something like this, but obviously this is fiction: my son never volunteers to help in the garden.

Impressionistic Photography

I like trying to make photographs look like paintings (rather than the Chuck Close method of making paintings look like photographs).  Here's an impressionistic photograph of my neighbor's crab apple tree.

Impressionistic Crab Apple by Jeff Carter on

Learning Hebrew

Because I am one of those unfortunate pastors who does not know how to read Hebrew or Greek, and can only read the bible in translation, I have decided to finally rectify my ignorance.

To that end, I have begun learning how to read and speak Hebrew. I am taking lessons from my friend Dr. Jim West - who offers his skill as a tutor in both Hebrew and Greek at very reasonable rates (16 weeks for $100. He'll work with rank beginners (like me) or with those who just need a refresher. I'd recommend him to you.  (And I'd also recommend his blog - Zwinglius Redivvius - to you as well if you like snark, theology, and the reformers.)

I've also dug up the Introduction to Hebrew text that my wife had in one of her college classes. (It may have been over 20 years ago, but I saved it because... well because you never know when you'll want it again.)

I'm also using a listen and repeat sort of lesson on CD while I'm driving - and using the Duolino app on my smart phone. It's free and fun (and sometimes frustrating). You can also find free lessons in Biblical Hebrew on YouTube.

נדמו עמי מבלי הדעת

Thursday, April 20, 2017

More Bitter Blossoms, Another Sweet Night

More Crab Apple Blossoms here.

Crab Apple Blossoms at Night II by Jeff Carter on

A Limerick Prayer

Oh, my faith, like my life, is broken;
my hope is not more than a token.
I know I can’t fix it,
except Deus Dixit.
God, give me a word fitly spoken.

Proverbs 25: 11

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bitter Blossom, Sweet Night

The Crabapple tree is part of the genus Malus; it's fruit is bitter - hence the name derived from the Latin malum which means evil, misfortune calamity. The fruit and blossoms may be bitter, but they sweeten the night air.

Bitter Blossoms, Sweet Night by Jeff Carter on

A Limerick for Emil Brunner and Karl Barth

Brunner and Barth’s friendship was defunct,
all past camaraderie now junked,
and the source of their hate
was scholarly debate
pertaining to the Anknüpfungspunkt. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

T Rex Walks Alone

After a night of partying at the discotheque, T Rex has to walk home alone.

T Rex Walks Home Alone by Jeff Carter on

Continued Adventures in Backyard Gardening

In this episode of my continued adventures in backyard gardening: I use a motor tiller. Between work and rain, I've been trying to find a time to get out to the local rental shop to get a tiller to use in the backyard. (My kids, MST3K fans suggested that I should rent a forklift... and then they sing: "He tried to kill me with a forklift! ¡Olé!")

It rained this morning, but not more than a hour. It was bright and sunny the rest of the afternoon, so I rented the machine and tilled up a garden area. And just in time too. It was clouding up to rain again as I drove the tiller back to the rental shop.

It went pretty well. I've never used a big motorized tiller like this, so I was a little nervous about gory, bodily mutilation and  / or dismemberment. But, at the end of it all, I still had all ten fingers and all twelve toes (eight on one foot, and four on the other...) and the children and pets are all still accounted for.

Now I'm ready to plant my seeds: Radishes, Mustard, Cilantro, Cucumbers, Cayenne  Peppers, Squash, and a mix of flowers for the Butterflies. In smaller sections near the back porch (that I dug up by hand - too small an area for the big power tiller) we planted sunflowers, milkweed, and a mix of seeds for the bees. I also have seeds for Cat Grass that I'll put in a flower pot for our cat.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Background Images for Everyone - 2017 - Week 17

Here it is again, just for you (or someone like you) a free background image (one new each week) to download and use at home, work, school, church, in the heavens, on the earth, or in the underworld... use them in good health. I only ask that you share them freely and that you tell others you found them here.

This image was created using foil, cellophane, and pieces of colored glass - and no Photoshop manipulation.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Midnight Callithump

Now comes the unwelcome shivaree, the midnight callithump, the grand parade of sleeplessness.

See the slack-jawed cut-throats in red sport coats and orange eyepatches that lead the procession.  And see behind them, the prestidigitators of impressive height. Next in line, the political idiots in full spectrum and plumage trailed by their deaf-mute translators. The children scream. Of course they do.

Hirsute apothecaries with mortars and pestles bump and grind while a dozen denizens of the distant north dance upon the line. Automotive precogs hold aloft their standard gears and cogs. Arboreal linguists follow close behind – they are developing an alphabet to describe the whispered conversations of maple tress under the moon. No one can hear them.

Next come hierarchs and heresiarchs in equal numbers; they are indistinguishable one from the other.

There are Commanders and Dominoes in voluminous cloaks. There are Dominions and Comanches in native dress. There are blond infidels and beloved idolaters. And look! Look! See the coercive priests (who are lately attempting to disguise themselves as passive aggressive celebrities – don’t be fooled) and the tortured communards whom the disguised priests are leading to the auto de fe: private punishment will be followed by public penance.

Here a group of curious monks and callow novitiates along with a number of polyglots and illiterates, and abecedarians of various ages – you can tell them by their ill-cut tonsures. Here a skeleton army; led by Colonel Cadaver. Eyes right! Here the weeping flagellates with whips and boards. Here Rotarians flipping pancakes, and Shriners in little cars and little fezzes, and other assorted Oddfellows. And here at last those poor fellows, the Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici. Everyone knows that you can’t have a proper callithump without them.

It’s impossible not to notice the mummers and mummies that come next, what with their drums and trumpets, but the line of comic gravediggers that trail behind them are easily overlooked. Can you count the relic hunters that succeed the gravediggers? There should be fifteen – one for each of the Holy Prepuces in the cathedrals of Europe. And then there are the psalmists – one hundred and fifty of them, and then the twin palm readers. They are the perennial crowd favorites; they throw candy. But dour proof readers sweep up behind, disappointing everyone.

Here at the end of the parade is a pack of cynics and manics - hydrophobic dogs that look like men and rabid men that walk on all fours, snarling and growling. Howling. Clawing. Scratching. Biting. The children scream again.

And I scream too for everyone in this riotous progression looks too familiar; everyone in this noisy burlesque dream is me.

Afternoon with Rufus

I May not Understand It (Matthew 27: 50 – 54)

I must say, right up front, that I do not understand the resurrection of Jesus. I believe it, I gratefully accept it, I receive it in faith – but I do not understand it. It is beyond our comprehension. It is outside of all human experience. There were no eyewitnesses to it. It cannot be replicated in a laboratory. I do not know what to make of it

But I am, fully, unabashedly, grateful for what it makes of me.

And yet, the Gospel of Matthew makes the story even more difficult to comprehend, if that were even possible. If the supernatural resurrection of Jesus weren’t enough, Matthew also describes a number of concurrent phenomena that threaten to boggle our already reeling minds. At the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, the veil of the temple in Jerusalem was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth shook violently enough to split rocks and to burst open a number of tombs – from which the bodies of many holy men and women who had died were raised. And these resurrected saints went into the city of Jerusalem and seen by many.

We could almost explain them with a naturalistic explanation – an earthquake (to which the region of Jerusalem is prone as it is located along a fault line known as the Dead Sea Transform (also called the Syrian-African Rift)) shook the area at about the time of Jesus’ death. Damage from this earthquake caused the veil in the temple to fall, and it fell it was torn in two. The earthquake caused rocks to fall from the steep cliffs around Jerusalem and they were shattered on the ground below, and tombs – which were carved into the stony hills of the region – were cracked open and… the bodies of dead saints were …..

Yeah. That’s where a naturalistic explanation falters. There’s no natural way to explain the revivification and reanimation of numerous dead bodies. It is a fantastical event, to be sure, so far outside the realm of normal, natural, human experience as to be almost unbelievable.

Did it happen? Did it literally, historically happen just this way?

If so, there is a curious lack of historical evidence for it. There is no physical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, either of course. But where one raised, and resurrected body could be denied, discredited, and ignored, where one resurrection could be overlooked, it seems like a mass evacuation of graves in the area around Jerusalem would have attracted some attention, that it would have been noticed (by someone other than Matthew)[i]. “…Many interpreters balk at the thought of so many risen dead being seen in Jerusalem. Such a large scale phenomenon should have left some traces in Jewish and / or secular history” (Brown “Eschatological” 64).  But there’s no trace of this mass resurrection in Jewish writings, or in secular histories. Nothing in Josephus (the Jewish historian). Nothing in Roman government reports. Nothing in the Talmud. Nothing.

And if it did occur – literally and physically just this way – we might have expected the other New Testament writers to mention it, but they don’t. Jesus’ resurrection is there, of course; it is the central theme of the New Testament, without which the whole thing would be in vain (1 Corinthians 15: 14), but there’s nothing in the writings of Paul, in the other thee gospels, in the other epistles or in the Revelation given to John on Patmos about these walking dead.[ii]

This small sliver from the gospel of Matthew is the only place where we read about the raising of the many dead holy ones at the time of Jesus’ resurrection.[iii] And though the “argument from silence” is not the strongest argument to be made, we do wonder why, if many holy ones were raised up from their tombs and were seen by many people in the city of Jerusalem, why nothing of them is said anywhere else. Maybe the bodies of many saintly women and men were restored to life and were seen walking around the streets of Jerusalem in the days after Jesus’ resurrection, but if they did, no one except for Matthew seems to have said anything about it.

But what if we were to read these phenomena not as literal, physical, historical happenings, but as poetic symbols of what’s happening in Jesus’ death and resurrection. There is symbolism here (Barclay 409) and we should take note of it.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is such a powerful event that the effects of it are felt throughout the whole of creation. There is darkness in the heavens (Matthew 27: 45) as the sun is dimmed for several hours. There is a tremendous shaking of the earth (Matthew 27: 51).  And the underworld is opened, releasing those who were dead back into the realm of the living. The heavens, the earth, and what is under the earth are all affected by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 8 – 11 NKJV)

These are apocalyptic, eschatological symbols here – signs of the end, symbols of powerful judgement, but also symbols of powerful grace. Darkness and earthquakes – these are your standard biblical expressions of the kind of judgments to be seen at the end. The prophets spoke this way: of the darkening of the sun and the falling of the stars and of earthquakes shaking the land… These were signs of judgment and wrath at the end. But this terrible and tragic ending (Jesus’ death), is also the beginning of something wonderful and new (Jesus’ resurrection) – which is why we also have the resurrection of these holy ones. They are the symbols of Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection life given by Christ to his followers.

It is the resurrection power of God’s action that is important here, not the identification of those raised saints who were seen in the city afterwards. (Brown “Death” 1126) It is the fact that the way is open, and that access to God has been made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection that is important, not which of the Temple veils Matthew intended to describe[iv].

I may not understand Jesus’ resurrection – it is outside human experience, it stands without eyewitnesses, it cannot be repeated or duplicated. But I accepted it and receive it with thanks and praise to God. I definitely do not understand Matthew’s description of these fantastic phenomena, but I accept them too, as symbols of the mighty work of God. Jesus’ death and resurrection tears the fabric of the universe, even as it tears the fabric of the temple veil, shakes the foundations of the universe even as it shakes the rocks and hills of Jerusalem. And Jesus’ death and resurrection brings life to those who are dead. I may not understand, but I accept it and receive it with thanks and praise. And I say, along with the Roman centurion, who had seen the earthquake and all that was taking place, “in truth this man was – and is – son of God.”

Barclay, William.  The Gospel of Matthew Volume 2. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press. 1958. Print.

Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah: Volume Two. New York, NY: Doubleday. 1994. Print.

Brown, Raymond E., “Eschatological Events Accompanying the Death of Jesus, Especially the Raising of the Holy ones from their Tombs” Faith and the Future: Studies in Christian Eschatology. NY: Paulist Press, 1994. Print.

[i] Yes. I know the author of the Gospel of Matthew (whoever he was) was not an eyewitness to any of the events in his gospel
[ii] There were not zombies, either. (Though that might make for a great story…)
[iii] And there’s debate: were these saints raised as Jesus died, or were they resurrected after? Matthew is a little ambiguous on the point.
[iv] And there is debate about which of the two or three veils Matthew intended. (Brown “Death” 1110 – 1113)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Holy Saturday Silence

Holy Saturday by Jeff Carter on

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Biblical Limericks: Never Say Never

Peter avowed that, whatsoever
the others might do, he would ever
be firm, no matter what.
And this is noble, but
Peter, you should never say never.

Matthew 26: 33

The Crystal Caverns

Merlin's in there somewhere, I'm sure of it...

The Crystal Caverns by Jeff Carter on

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Horror of Incomprehension

I knew it was him when I saw him even though I did not see his face – with that beard of tangled curls – or hear his familiar voice – both coarse and gentle, sharp and kind at the same time. I knew it was him when I saw him. I knew him by his camel-hair coat and his leather belt. I recognized his sandals, the left one clumsily repaired with knotted leather cords.

I saw him walking in the streets of Jerusalem on the Sabbath after Pesach. Others I know saw holy men and women familiar to them, but I saw my master, my rabbi: Yohanan ben Zechariah, Yohanan the Baptizer.

Seeing him again, after his horrible death at the hands of that wretched little king, Herod, was, as you must imagine, a shock. A fright. It was a horror of incomprehension.

How had it happened? There was darkness in the heavens and the earth shook; were the gates of the lower abysses opened then too? And why had he come into the Holy City and not returned to his familiar haunt along the river Jordan? 

And, most disturbingly – if his body, like those of the other holy ones, had been raised – why had he come headless?!

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Fascist Economy Is Geared for War

I have been reluctant to label the current GOP dominated government of the United States as fascist – mostly because the term is notoriously difficult to define. The word itself is derived from the Italian word fascio meaning “a bundle of rods” suggesting something not easily broken, strength through unity. But it’s not so easy to pin down fascism as a political ideology; it’s more a loose aggregate of overlapping traits including an animosity towards socialism, a preference for action over policy, a call for renewed traditional values, etc...

However…even if we are reluctant to identify President Trump’s administration and the GOP congress as fascist, we can say that they share some traits in common with fascists groups.

The Italian politician and historian, Angelo Tasca (writing under the pseudonym A. Rossi) wrote: “The fascist economy is a closed and planned economy with war as its objective…preparation for war may relatively reduce unemployment and improve the lot of some classes of workers, but under a system of autarchy it is only achieved by sacrificing the standard of living of the working class as a whole.” (67)

Even as the United states launches a wave of Tomahawk missiles into Syria, Raytheon’s stock is rising in value. Raytheon – the U.S. Defense contractor that makes the Tomahawk missile, as well as a number of other missiles and missile defense systems, is profiting from our steps toward another war in the Middle East.

And at the same time the GOP government is cutting education, healthcare, minimum wage protections, etc… it is making plans to increase military spending by $54 Billion.

Maybe Trump and the GOP aren’t fascists, but they share some troubling traits with the fascists.

“I now come to the crux, to what I might call the plan of control for Italian economic policy in the coming fascist era. This plan is determined by one single consideration: that our nation will be called to war. When? How? Nobody can say, but the wheel of fate is turning fast” (Benito Mussolini quoted by Tasca 66 -67).

Tasca, Angelo (as A. Rossi) “The Rise of Italian Fascism” Fascism: An Anthology. Ed. Nathanael Greene. Arlington Heights, IL: Harland Davidson Inc. 1968. Print.

Background Images for Everyone - Week 16 - 2017

Here it is again: a free, weekly background image for you to use in any and all of your projects at home, work, school, church or aboard the international space station. Use it in good health. I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others that you found it here.

This week's image comes in two versions - 1) suitable for Easter (as I make them for our church  programs) and 2) 'normal'.  Use either or both. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Who Is This? And What Does He Want? (Matthew 21: 1 – 11)

It may be difficult for us to admit or to accept, but it may not be possible for us to fully understand what is happening in this story, or what was intended by the one who recorded the oral traditions about Jesus into the form in which we have received them. Too much has been left between the lines, too much has been assumed. Relevant details that were still known and simply understood by the audience of the oral traditions were not recorded and we are left attempting to fill in the gaps. (Albright 251) The gospel writers rarely describe Jesus’ motives. The gospels give us his words and actions, but leave it to us to interpret, to figure it out; it’s up to us to supply the meaning. But we can only speculate. (Johnson 500)

Why did Jesus go to Jerusalem? Did he go intending to provoke a political conflict in the holy city? Did he go to challenge the religious leaders? Did he arrange the rental of the donkey with it owner beforehand, or was this an act of spontaneous generosity? Was Jesus making an open declaration of his messiahship after keeping it a secret for so long, or was that something only understood afterwards in 20/20 hindsight? The question asked by the people of Jerusalem that day is still with us: “Who is this?”

And when was that day? As recorded, this triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place in the spring just ahead of the celebration of pesach, that is the Passover celebration. But many of the details (the few details that are recorded for us) are connected to the autumnal festival of sukkot – the celebration of Booths or Tabernacles. The palm branches (Johnson 502), the shouting of “hosanna,” (Pope 291) and the hallel of Psalm 118 (quoted in Matthew’s story) were all part of the sukkot celebration. Did Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem actually happen in the fall rather than in the spring? And if so why did the gospel writers move it? If so, what does that change mean?

And that word, “Hosanna,” what does it mean? As used by Matthew it seems to be a word of praise in a cry of honor. “Hosanna to the Son of David! … Hosanna in the highest heavens!” But the Hebrew word is not an expression of praise, it is an imperative – a command: “Save us, now!” (Pope 291) Of the 31 times it is used in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) 29 of those are addressed to the deity – to God, and the others are addressed to the King – God’s anointed agent. (Pope 290). Are we to understand that the people on that morning in Jerusalem were crying out to God and to God’s anointed one, the Messiah, to Jesus of Nazareth, for deliverance and salvation? “Save us, O Son of David! Save us, O Highest Heaven!”

Jesus was relatively unknown in Jerusalem. He’d spent most of his time in the region of Galilee. The gospel of John records at least four trips to the Holy City, but the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) describe only this final visit. Did the owner of the donkey and her foal somehow know “the lord”? Did they make arrangements for Jesus to use the animals?  Did the shouting crowds gathered with palm branches recognize and acclaim Jesus as their king? Did Jesus ride upon the donkey and the foal specifically and deliberately in order to fulfill the ancient prophecy – reading it like a checklist of tasks to accomplish or did his actions (intended or no) fulfill those words? Or was it only applied after the fact?

It may be difficult for us to accept or to admit, but it may not be possible for us to fully understand what is happening here. Who is this? Who is this? And what does he want?

He comes riding into Jerusalem (whether in the fall or in the spring) as the victorious king – but this is a strange king and a strange victory. He is victorious with no shot fired and no swords drawn. A king proceeded and followed by palms instead of spears and pilgrim praise instead of warrior shouts. He is a king in lowly pomp (Milman). A king who banishes chariots and horses from Ephraim and Jerusalem, a king who puts away forever the bow and arrow and proclaims peace to the nations (Zechariah 9: 9 – 10).

This is not the kind of king we’d understand, or the victory we would expect. We’d anticipate that the king would launch a round of Tomahawk missiles at his enemies, launch another wave of Hellfire attack drones. We would assume that it would not be long before he sent troops to invade and put boots on the ground. The king we understand would not ride in lowly pomp, but would travel in comfort and in style fitting his status and his office, with dignity and honor and swelling pride.

Who is this? Who is this strange victorious king that does everything backwards and wrongway round?  He is Jesus the prophet king of Nazareth. He is the one who saves us from our sin, from our despair, from our death, the one who saves us from the miserable circumstances of our lives. We wave our branches and we shout hosanna! Rescue us! Save us from our anxiety, fear, poverty, and illness. Save us! Rescue us from our debts and doubts, our ignorance, enslavement, oppression and addiction. We shout hosanna! in praise and in supplication Save us, Son of David, we praise you. Rescue us, God of highest heaven, we praise you.

Who is this? This is Jesus the prophet king – who wins by losing, lives by dying, and defeats his enemies with love and forgiveness. Who is this? This is Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet king, who brings peace to the nations and peace to our lives.

Albright W. F. & C.S. Mann, Matthew: Introduction, Translation and Notes. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1971. Print.

Johnson, Sherman E. “Matthew: Exegesis” The Interpreter’s Bible Volume 7. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 1951. Print.

Pope, Marvin H. “Hosanna.” Anchor Bible Dictionary Volume III. New York, NY: Doubleday. 1992. Print.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom by Jeff Carter on

A Time Machine in the Church Basement

Let us suppose that I have constructed a time machine in the church basement. Why not? The church basement is as good as any other place. A time machine right down between the shelf of old hymnals, blue AA books, and battered copies of the KJV with Jesus’ words in red and the dissonant old piano with cracked and yellowing ivory keys would not seem so strange.

And let us suppose that we could use this time machine, this fully functional and not at all dangerous time machine in the church basement to visit (or re-visit) the stories recorded in scripture – supposing, of course, that we could locate them along the flow of the historical time line.  Why not? The stories of the bible are endlessly fascinating. Using a time machine to visit Moses, or Jehu, or Deborah, or Manasseh of Judah, or Peter seems perfectly reasonable even if I don’t have a robot named Gizmo or a Flying House.

So. With the Bible as our travel guide, where would we go?

Suppose we wished to visit the man after God’s own heart, King David, the son of Jesse himself. Why not? Perhaps he would teach us one of his psalms. After fastening our safety harasses and putting on the protective eyewear, the switches are thrown and the levers pulled. With a zzzap of static electricity and a whiff of ozone the church basement disappears and we find ourselves in Jerusalem on the roof of David’s palace on a cool evening in the spring.

It happens towards evening as the king gets up from his nap, and strolls along the palace roof. He sees from the roof a woman, a beautiful woman, bathing. “Who is she?” the king inquires and the report comes to him that she is “Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite who serves in the army of the king.”

Now we’ve read the book and we know that this story does not end well for any of those involved, so let us suppose that we step into the story, suppose that we constrain the king (may he live forever) from making such a rash and unwise decision, that we persuade him to resist the temptation to take Bathsheba for his own. And suppose that the king (who usually had all those who opposed him killed) thanks us for our timely intervention. The king does not sin. Uriah does not die and the shadow of the sword does not hang ominously forever over the house of David.

With another zzzap of static electricity and whiff of ozone we attempt to return to the church basement, but… It is gone. The church basement is gone. The church is gone. In fact the Church with a Capital C is gone.

We consult our travel guide, one of those battered KJV bibles with Jesus’ words in red – the book falls open to Luke chapter 3, to the genealogy of Jesus traced through Mary… he was the son (as it was thought) of Joseph, son of Heli, son of Matthat, … yadda, yadda, yadda… son of Nathan, son of David.

This strikes us as important, though we’ve never paid too much attention to the genealogical lists. We check again, this time the lists of the sons of David. “…He reigned for thirty-three years in Jerusalem. These are the sons born to him in Jerusalem, Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon – the four of them children of Bathsheba.”

In our supposing, David never seduced and stole the wife of Uriah, never had Uriah killed, never fathered any sons with Bathsheba, and the unborn or not-born Nathan never had sons and grandsons and greatgreatgreatgreatgereatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreat grandsons who would have become the ancestors of Mary who would give birth to Jesus if only we hadn’t interfered.

But the church basement is still there, and the old hymnals and blue AA books and battered KJV bibles with Jesus’ words in red are there, and the tuneless old piano as well. This supposition of ours falters because Luke’s genealogy of Jesus isn’t traced through Mary, and because time doesn’t work like that, and neither does God.

Even so. Perhaps a time machine in the church basement isn’t such a good idea.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Background Images for Everyone - Week 15 - 2017

Here it is again, your weekly free background image. It's free to you or someone like you, to use at home, work, school, church, or wherever. I only ask that you share it freely and that you tell others that you found it here.

Biblical Limericks: World Champion Trick Rider

It would appear in reading’s first pass
that in Jerusalem’s crowded mass,
to meet the prophet’s text -
though it leaves us perplexed -
he straddled both the foal and the ass.

Matthew 21: 7

Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
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