Monday, February 22, 2016


Luke 13:31-34[1]
I think for most of us, it can be a challenge to find a way to get a handle on our relationship with God. When we think about relationships, we normally have in mind the connections we have with people. We can interact with people. We can talk to them, we can laugh with them, we can touch them and they can touch us back. Nevertheless, human relationships can be incredibly challenging. Even though you may have spent a lifetime living, eating, laughing, and loving with another person, it can still be incredibly difficult to know what is going on inside. You can spend a whole lifetime with another person and still not feel like you really know him or her.
How much more difficult is it to carry on a relationship with God, whom we can’t see. We can talk to God, but unless you have a special gift that I don’t have, we don’t hear God speaking to us in audible words. Yes, we may have a feeling that God is telling us something, or leading us in a particular direction, but it’s incredibly easy to misinterpret a “feeling.” And, although Jesus made God more “real” to us by living as a human being, in our time we can’t actually touch Jesus, or God for that matter, in the same way we can touch another human being. I think one of the great challenges of our faith is how to maintain a relationship with God throughout our lives, through thick and thin, come what may.
Our Gospel lesson for today addresses what I think is the crucial element in this challenge. To better understand this text, I think we would do well to put it in the context of Luke’s Gospel as a whole. In this section of the Gospel, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where he knows he is going to complete his mission of giving up his life.[2] As Luke recounts this story, he seemingly drags it out—for almost half of the book! The reason for this is that, as he tells the story of Jesus’ journey, Luke recounts a great deal of Jesus’ teachings about what it means to follow him.[3]
In this particular chapter, Luke begins with a story at the synagogue—just as he began his account of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ initial visit to the synagogue in Nazareth, as you may recall, provoked criticism because he made it clear God’s mercy was not going to be bound by the people’s prejudices. In this chapter, Jesus’ visit to the synagogue provokes a similar reaction (Luke 13:10-17). When he heals a woman who had been bound for 18 years, the synagogue leader responded with a very stingy view of God: she should have come on another day, not the Sabbath (Lk. 13:14).[4] But Jesus reminded them that if they had the decency to unbind their livestock for a simple drink of water on the Sabbath, how much more should God’s grace be allowed to free someone who had suffered for years (Lk. 13:15-16).[5]
This sets the stage: Jesus represents a view of God that most of the Jewish people could not accept because they were too tied into their traditional ways of thinking. And so Jesus laments over them all when he laments over Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Lk. 13:34).[6] His view of Jerusalem—meaning the people of Israel as a whole—as those who are unwilling to live in relationship with God echoes sentiments expressed throughout the Hebrew Bible.[7]
His view of God as a mother hen trying to gather her chicks under her wings is one that may seem startling to us at first, but it also expresses one of the key messages of the Bible. God loves us with a love that will not let us go. God is constantly working in each and every life to “gather us” to himself through various ways. In fact, some would say God will use whatever it takes in order to bring his people back to him.[8] But Jesus knew that many of the people of his day and time were “unwilling” to be drawn into God’s ways and God’s life in this way.[9]
It seems to me that when we think about our own relationship with God, that’s the fundamental question we have to address: are we willing to be drawn into God’s ways and God’s life, no matter what the cost? It is not a question that is simple or easy. It’s not simple because it requires us to be willing to open ourselves to what God may be doing in our lives.[10] That doesn’t always line up with the agenda we have for ourselves.
And it’s not easy because it’s not something that takes place quickly. God draws us into his life and his love over time as we open ourselves to him by practicing spiritual disciplines. Traditionally that has taken the form of prayer, solitude, submission, and service.[11] But for some of us, there are other disciplines that can be more helpful: being mindful of God’s presence every day, finding ways to practice our faith in the routines of life, or simply experiencing God through the beauty of a sunset.[12]
Whatever means we use, the key is to be willing to open ourselves to God’s presence and work in our lives. Like any relationship, it’s something we have to cultivate. That can be challenging because we can feel vulnerable when we open ourselves, and most of us don’t like feeling vulnerable.[13] So we may find ourselves unwilling to face the difficulty and the discomfort of allowing ourselves to be drawn more fully into relationship with God. But that just leaves us stuck in the same old ruts. On the other hand, if we’re willing, it means finding ways of opening our lives more fully to God’s presence.[14] It means embracing the new life that God wants to give us through repentance and new levels of obedience. It means cultivating our relationship with God. At the end of the day, however, it means responding to what God is doing in our lives by being willing.

[1] © 2016 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 2/21/2016 at Hickman Presbyterian Church in Hickman, NE.
[2] Cf. Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, 534, where he points out that “Central to the Lukan depiction of Jesus’ mission is its grounding in the divine purpose.” He summarizes further, “As the divine agent of salvation” Jesus “must carry the divine message to Jerusalem, but Jerusalem kills those whom God sends.” Cf. similarly, Fred B. Craddock, Luke, 169, where he says that “the approaching passion in Jerusalem casts its shadow over” this whole section of Luke’s Gospel.
[3] Cf. Joel B. Green, The Theology of the Gospel of Luke, 105, where he says that Luke’s purpose is to “solidify th relation between disciples and master, to provide instruction in the way of discipleship, and to encourage people to join him on the journey of serving God’s purpose.”
[4] Cf. Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, 523. He says that the synagogue leader “publicly challenges Jesus’ authority as a teacher and reasserts himself as the authorized interpreter of Scripture” by simply making a pronouncement that implied “the legitimacy of his interpretation is a given.” He also adds that according to scribal tradition, her condition was not life-threatening, therefore “Her treatment could thus wait until tomorrow, so, …, her need did not supersede Sabbath law.”
[5] Cf. Green, Gospel of Luke, 519: “Jesus’ encounter with this woman and his ensuing interpretation of her liberation as a necessary manifestation of the divine will, an outworking of the presence of the kingdom, on this day, the Sabbath.” Cf. also ibid., 525, where he points out that Jesus counter-argument expresses his view that “today, this day, even a Sabbath day” is “the right time for the redemptive purpose of God to be realized.”
[6] This is a very difficult saying because it can tend toward anti-Semitism. Unfortunately that is an anachronistic reading of the text. Jesus, as a Jewish teacher, carries on the tradition of intra-Jewish debate about the people’s obedience to God (or lack thereof). In that vein, Green, The Gospel of Luke, 538, says, “How will Jerusalem respond to Jesus? Will its inhabitants receive him with pronouncements of blessing appropriate to ‘one who comes in the name of the Lord’? Or will they declare him to be a false prophet, an apostate, as they had God’s earlier envoys? Jesus seems to hope for one response while expecting another.”
[7] Cf. Green, Gospel of Luke, 537: “Jerusalem, then stands as a cipher for Israel as a whole: hence, not only must it be the ultimate destination of the prophet proclaiming the message of reform, but it is there, where the message of reform contrasts most sharply with accepted beliefs and practices, that resistance to the prophet will reach its acme.”
[8] Cf. Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, 15, where he says that Franciscan spirituality “incorporates the seeming negative and moves our life to its hard edges, thus making things like failure, tragedy, and suffering the quickest doorways to the encounter of God.” He continues, “There is nothing that God cannot and will not use to bring us to divine union—even sin (felix culpa).” Felix culpa is a latin phrase meaning “happy fault,” and it is prominent in the Roman Catholic liturgy for the Easter Vigil: “O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer,” the “happy fault” referring to the original fall of humankind into sin.
[9] Cf. Green, Gospel of Luke, 539: “Jesus so identifies with God’s care for Jerusalem that he is able to affirm his long-standing yearning to gather together his people for shelter and in restoration. Alas, this desire is not shared by the Jerusalemites.”
[10] Cf. Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, 8-14, where he describes the process of opening up three inner spaces: our minds, our hearts, and our bodies.  He says (p. 8), “To finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened up within us--and all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body.”
[11] For a summary of these disciplines, see Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline. For an account of how mainline Protestant churches are using them as a source of renewal, see Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us
[12] Cf. Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, xv, where she describes spiritual discipline as the process of “becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”
[13] Cf. Gail R. O'Day, “New Birth as a New People: Spirituality and Community in the Fourth Gospel,” Word & World 8 (Winter 1988): 54, “We are afraid to embrace newness, to accept transformation, because such acceptance would mean letting go of the things that defined our lives before newness was offered. We stubbornly cling to our definitions of life, because we are afraid to accept God's offer of new identity.”
[14] Cf. Henri Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, 56, where he says that the deepest meaning of our personal experience is “a constant invitation calling us to turn our hearts to God and so discover the full meaning of our lives.”

Monday, February 15, 2016

Not By Bread

Not By Bread
Luke 4:1-13[1]
In 1990, I was studying at a university in Western Germany, and I had the opportunity to take a mission trip to Romania. It was the year that the Wall came down, and most of the countries in Eastern Europe followed suit by opening their borders. The people of Romania overthrew their dictator, Nicholai Ceaușescu. It became apparent very quickly that the people of Romania had very little food, and so our church joined the many who took supplies to help out. During my trip, I met with a missionary in Vienna who was overseeing mission work in Eastern Europe, and he remarked that the church in the East under the deprivations of communism had flourished, while the church in Western Europe living in prosperity had declined drastically.
I’m afraid that same observation could be made about our society. In times when our people have been hard-pressed, they have tended to turn to the church for comfort and encouragement to endure. But as a society we have “enjoyed” several decades of prosperity. And the result of that prosperity is that the place of the church, the place of faith, and the place of God in our lives has eroded. Many think it has to do with certain political or social changes. I would say it’s much more fundamental. We have become convinced that we can find fulfillment in life by bread alone, so to speak. We have been converted to the dogma of the commercials we watch on TV: the more you have, the happier you’ll be. Ironically, I think we’d have to say that the opposite has actually been true.
Our Gospel lesson for today tells a story about how Jesus faced a similar, but much deeper temptation. It talks about an encounter that Jesus had with “the devil” after being tested for forty days.[2] Since Jesus had gone without food during that time, the initial opening for the test was fairly obvious—he was hungry! And in a subtle and seemingly innocent way, “the devil” suggests that if Jesus is really the Son of God, he could turn a stone into bread. In this way he could readily solve the problem of his hunger. It would seem harmless enough. If I had gone without food for an extended period of time and someone told me that I could turn a rock into a meal, I probably wouldn’t think twice about it. After all, what’s wrong with eating when you’re hungry?
But Jesus knew that there was much more at stake than the rumblings in his stomach. As the other tests Jesus faced make clear, “the devil” wasn’t just offering a suggestion about the best way to find a meal in the desert. The point of the tests that Jesus faced in the wilderness was about how he would use his power as the Son of God.[3] Would he use it to gratify his own desires?[4] Would he use it to take a shortcut to ruling over the kingdoms of this world that would bypass his death on the cross?[5] Would he win the people’s loyalty by showing them a spectacular sign?[6]
Jesus knew what was going on behind these tests. He knew that the point of all of the tests, even the one about feeding himself, was to determine whether he would follow God’s ways and God’s purpose for his life, or whether he would see to his own needs, thank you very much. I think that’s why he responds to the test by quoting the scripture: “One does not live by bread alone.” He is quoting from Moses’ teachings about the lessons of Israel’s own experience in the wilderness. And one of those lessons is that God had fed them with manna so they would understand that “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3). In other words, during their forty years in the wilderness, they were supposed to learn to trust in and depend on God.
Like the people of Israel, Jesus found himself in the wilderness, at the mercy of the elements, unable even to provide for his most basic needs. This was not an accident. Moses says that the purpose for Israel’s wilderness wandering was “in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments” (Deut. 8:2). I think something similar was going on with Jesus.[7] He had already been filled with the Spirit at his baptism. Luke’s Gospel emphasizes repeatedly the fact that Jesus was able to carry out his ministry through the power of the Spirit. But the more important issue was how he would use that power.[8] The fundamental test Jesus faced throughout his ministry was whether he would use his power in a way that remained faithful to God’s ways and God’s purpose, which would lead him to a cross. Whereas Israel failed in the wilderness again and again, Jesus demonstrated decisively that he would indeed remain true to God and to God’s ways and God’s purpose.[9]
In our day, I’m afraid it’s very easy to believe those who tell us that God’s purpose is to give us health, wealth, happiness, prosperity—in short, everything our hearts could possibly desire. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we’ve all known the disappointment that comes from investing our hopes in gaining happiness from anything tangible. The reality is that when we try to find our ultimate satisfaction in life in the right relationship, or the right job, or the right paycheck, we learn again that “one does not live by bread alone.” It’s an incredibly simple lesson, but we have to keep learning it.[10] The things of this world, the trappings of our lives, the “stuff” we try to use to make ourselves happy ultimately fail to do so. While some of those things may be good and necessary, we cannot find true and lasting happiness “by bread alone.” Only God’s life and God’s ways can truly satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.

[1] ©2016 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 2/14/2016 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Regarding “the devil” in this narrative and the question of whether or not one should see this as evidence for believing in a being responsible for evil in the world, I find the statement in Fred B. Craddock, Luke, 55 to be a succinct summary of what I would consider a “biblical view.” He says, “Scriptures variously characterize the power of evil in the world: tendencies within ourselves; a personal being outside ourselves, apparently a powerful angel gone astray; a cosmic power; and organized forces arrayed against the will of God for the world. In whatever images or concepts, Scripture agrees with experience that there is in us and among us strong opposition to love, health, wholeness, and peace.” If there is a personal being or an “apparently powerful angel gone astray,” it is essential to emphasize that one should not “believe in” that being. “Believing” is something that Christianity has always reserved in the Apostles’ Creed for God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hence I speak of “the devil” in quotation marks and without capitalizing the reference!
[3] Cf. Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, 191-92: “the testing conducted by the devil seeks specifically to controvert Jesus’ role as Son of God either by disallowing the constraints of that relationship or by rejecting it outright.”
[4] On the first temptation, cf. R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel According to Luke,” New Interpreters Bible IX: 99. He says, “Jesus is challenged to repeat the sign of God’s provision for the people, but if he makes bread for himself, he abuses his sonship by serving his own needs rather than depending on God’s provision for his needs.”
[5] On the second temptation, see Culpepper, “Gospel According to Luke,” NIB IX: 99: “The second temptation is the gain of power by compromise.”  On the question of whether the devil actually possessed the “authority” he offered Jesus, cf. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, “Jesus rejects the challenge to worship anything other than Yahweh, his Father, and makes it clear that his mission is solely to see that God’s kingship is established over all. Yahweh is the sole king of the world; he alone is to be served.” Cf. also F. Bovon, & H. Koester, Luke 1: A commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1–9:50, 144, where he says that this could either reflect the “pessimistic view” that “that the princes receive power and glory neither directly from God nor from the people, but from the devil, and that they therefore honor him, not God, or, in nonmythological language, that they exercise their power in their own interests, not in the service of others” or that we are meant to understand that “the devil is also a liar, and Luke may well accept in a different context the Hebrew Bible belief in God as the source of political authority.”
[6] On the third temptation, see Culpepper, “Gospel According to Luke,” NIB IX: 100: “This time the temptation is to put God’s promises to the test. Specifically, Jesus was tempted to call upon God to deliver him from death in Jerusalem. Ironically, as every Christian reader knows, Jesus would eventually face death in Jerusalem, and when he did he would choose not his own deliverance but faithfulness to his Father’s will (see 22:42). … Jesus would fulfill his divine sonship not by escaping death but by accepting death and defeating it. Unlike Israel of old, Jesus refused to put God to the test (Deut 6:16).”
[7] Cf. Green, Gospel of Luke, 192, where he says that there is a “far-reaching similarity” between Israel’s testing and Jesus’: “According to Deuteronomy, (1) Israel was allowed to hunger in order to learn that one does not live by bread alone (8:3); (2) Israel was instructed to worship the one and only God, and not to follow after any other god (6:4-15); and (3) Israel was commanded not to put the Lord God to the test (6:16). In each case, however, Israel failed in their obedience to God … .” Cf. similarly, Craddock, Luke, 54.
[8] Cf. Green, Gospel of Luke, 191.  He says that in the narrative of Jesus’ baptism, he had already demonstrated “his competence, indicating his possession of the requisite credentials, power, and authority to set forth on his mission. But these are not enough. They must be matched with Jesus’ positive response to God’s purpose. Hence, here Jesus will signal his alignment with God’s will in a way that surpasses the evidence already provided by his display of submission to God at his baptism.” Cf. also Culpepper, “Gospel According to Luke,” NIB IX: 97, who adds the dimension of correcting any “messianic expectations” Jesus may have met: “Having established the sonship of Jesus, Luke turns immediately, before the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, to the story of the temptations. On one level the story describes Jesus’ response to calls for misuse of his power and sonship. On another level, the story educates, disabusing the reader of any expectation that Jesus would manifest his sonship by a series of theatrical demonstrations. The work of the Spirit requires faithfulness; neither compromise with Satan nor concessions to popular demands could be allowed.” See further Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 92-93, where he says that “the messianic kingdom of Jesus, which is put to the test through temptations, and which is more precisely defined in these temptations; for the possibilities which the tempter offers Jesus are ways of seizing messianic power over Israel and the nations.” He continues by saying that in the temptation “his passion in helplessness is prefigured: his victory comes through suffering and death. At his triumphal entry into Jerusalem he offers the people no bread, at his entry into the temple he does not perform the messianic sign, and before the Roman Pilate he does not call on the heavenly legions in order to win a military victory. From the story of the temptations the way to the cross follows. But the way to the cross is the way which God’s Spirit ‘leads’ Jesus.” Cf. similarly, Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.1:264.
[9] Cf. Green, Gospel of Luke, 196: “By facing these tests and proving his fidelity, Jesus has demonstrated unequivocally his faithful obedience to God and thus his competence to engage in ministry publicly as God’s Son.” Cf. also Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX, 510: “The three scenes then depict Jesus as the Son of God obedient to his Father’s will and refusing to be seduced into using his power or authority as Son for any reason other than that for which he has been sent.”
[10] On our experience of temptation, see Culpepper, “Gospel According to Luke,” NIB IX: 101, where he says, “The temptations we experience are often not so clearly recognizable. The choice is not between good and bad but between bad and worse or good and better. … Christian ethics does not come prepackaged. The call is not to adherence to a list of rules and regulations but to faithfulness to the call and purposes of God.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

More Like Jesus

More Like Jesus
2 Corinthians 3:12-18[1]
As many of you know, I’ve had a rather interesting pilgrimage in my journey of faith. I was born in the Methodist church. In the small town where I grew up, however, the Southern Baptists had more going on for young people, so I started going there as a teenager. Although I had already been baptized and confirmed in the Methodist church, the Baptists believe you must have a dramatic, personal conversion experience, and so I was baptized again. After serving as a Southern Baptist minister for 15 years, I no longer felt I could do so in good conscience. There was a great deal of deal of political infighting. But more than that, there was much about the Baptist mindset that just didn’t work for me.
When I came into the Presbyterian Church about 12 years ago, folks in the Presbytery kept referring to me as a “Baptist.” Since I had left the Baptists over differences of conviction, I corrected them. I told them I had been a Presbyterian wandering in the wilderness until I found my way home! And, of course, we do things very differently. Especially when it comes to conversion. We tend to view conversion as a process that takes place over time. In fact, I think we would say that conversion happens differently for different people, and that’s to be expected.
Our lesson from St. Paul for today speaks to us about the process of conversion. It may seem confusing at first, with what he has to say about reading Moses. But I wonder whether Paul might be giving us a glimpse into his own experience with conversion. There has been a lot of speculation about what happened to Paul that made him turn his life around so dramatically. When I listen to this passage, it occurs to me that Paul may be talking about himself.[2] He had been one of those who had read the books of Moses without truly understanding what was there. But when he “turned to the Lord,” the “veil” that kept him from the life that God intended for him was removed. [3]
It’s not clear that Paul is talking about his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, but it seems likely to me. He says that “all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18, NLT). In the next chapter, Paul is even more specific. He says that God has given us “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).[4] I think it’s pretty clear at this point that Paul is thinking of his encounter on the Damascus road. It was that experience that changed his life.
An important part of this process is the work of the Holy Spirit. Again, the language is a bit confusing. He says, “And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Cor. 3:18, NLT). It’s hard to know whether Paul is referring to God, or to Jesus, or perhaps to both. But the point is that when Paul “turned to the Lord” the Spirit began working in his life to free him from what had kept him bound. And the goal of that freedom was to change Paul more and more into the image of Christ.[5]
It would seem to me that this is the goal that St. Paul has in mind for all of us. As we turn to Christ, we find that our whole lives take on new meaning. As we turn to Christ, we find that we gain new understanding into what God wants for us, and new freedom to experience it. As we turn to Christ, the Spirit begins working in our lives in a way that will change us to become more like Jesus himself.[6] That seems to be the primary goal of conversion to St. Paul: at this point he’s not thinking about eternal destiny, he’s thinking about quality of life here and now. And it is turning to the Lord and the work of the Spirit in our lives that gives us the chance to experience the life God wants to give us all here and now.[7]
Where the debate among churches comes into play is the question of how this happens. In many respects, there is a deep divide among churches as to how a person experiences the new life. For some, it is only the Church that can give us the chance to turn to the Lord and come to know the grace of God. For some, the Spirit works as he chooses, and that means that anyone can have a life-changing encounter with Christ anytime and anywhere. For some, this kind of conversion is a choice that the individual makes, and it only “takes” if you make that choice after seriously considering it. I tend to think our varied experiences show that it takes all of the above: the Spirit working through the Church in the hearts and minds of individuals.
In the Baptist world, people speak of their conversion to Christ by saying they were “saved” on some specific date like November 6, 1975. In the Presbyterian world, if someone asks you when you were “saved,” the answer tends to be, “I was saved on a hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago.” As much as I like that answer, I would have to say that I have personally had several “conversions” throughout my life. That may sound confusing as well. There have been times in my life when the Spirit was working to make Christ real to me in a way that was deeper than before. The effect was like being converted all over again. In light of what St Paul says about the Spirit working in our lives, I see salvation as a journey, one that we will not finish until we’re standing face to face with Jesus himself.[8] In the meanwhile, we all are in process.[9] I think what that means for us is that we always try to keep ourselves open to what the Spirit may be doing in our lives. As we do that, hopefully we will find ourselves on a journey, one in which God’s Spirit continually works in us to make us more like Jesus.

[1] ©2016 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 2/7/2016 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Most scholars do not make this connection. W. C. Van Unnik, “‘With Unveiled Face’, An Exegesis Of 2 Corinthians iii 12-18,”  Novum testamentum, 6 (July 1963):154, where he says quite clearly, “There is no other Pauline text which so clearly reveals his deepest experience.”  Cf. also Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, 73, where says, “Paul’s own experience was a living proof of the validity and force of this ‘eschatological exegesis’ of the OT.”
[3] Cf. Van Unnik, “‘With Unveiled Face,’” where he summarizes the context of what Paul is arguing here: “He had set out to prove that he, a minister of the new covenant, was entitled to use παρρησία, freedom of speech. In the Old Covenant there was no ‘openness of face’, as is shown in the person of Moses himself; but in contact with the Spirit who reigns in the new covenant this uncovering of the face, this liberation takes place and has Paul received the freedom of speech.”
[4] Cf. J. Paul Sampley, “The Second Letter To The Corinthians,” New Interpreters Bible IX:69. He says, “For Paul, Jesus Christ is the clear, visible reflection of God. Believers, ‘through Christ’ (2 Cor 3:14), experience the removal of the veil, so ‘with unveiled face’ they can gaze intently upon God’s glory as in the mirror that Christ provides.”
[5] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 101-102: “As representative of the coming, redeeming rule of God, Jesus is also the representative of the true human existence that is to come. For that reason he is also called ‘the image of God’ (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21; 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15), the one whom believers are made like to, so that they may become ‘men’.”
[6] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.2:277, where he says of the Christian: “Conformable to Christ means that in all his humanity, for Christ’s sake and in Christ, he is a child of God. It means, therefore, that he is directed away to the one for whose sake and in whom he is a child of God. This directing and integrating into Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit.” Cf. also Martin, 2 Corinthians, 74: “The office of the Holy Spirit is further described in vv 17b, 18; he brings the Jewish believer out of bondage to liberty, and transforms all believers, Gentiles as well as Jews, into God’s pattern, viz., the archetype of perfect humanity, Christ Jesus, as a progressive experience and by communion with the living God (Rom 8:29; Gal 4:19; Phil 3:21; 1 John 3:2).”
[7] Cf. Van Unnik, “‘With Unveiled Face,’” 167. He says, “Christians are in communion with God. They are therefore permanently in the same situation which Moses, according to Exod. xxxiv, only temporarily enjoyed. … The outward appearance of the Christians change; they now reflect the glory of God. This reflection of the glory, however, does not fade away like that of Moses, but has quite the opposite effect: ‘we are being transformed into the same likeness.’”
[8] Cf. Martin, 2 Corinthians, 72: “This process of “transformation” (μεταμορφοῦσθαι: cf. Rom 12:2) is gradual and progressive, ἀπὸ δόξης εἰς δόξαν [“from glory to glory”], from one stage of glory to yet a higher stage (2 Bar 51:3, 7, 10), climaxing in the goal reached in Rom 8:17, 29, 30.” Cf. also Sampley, “The Second Letter To The Corinthians,” NIB IX:69, where he speaks of this process as “an ongoing transformation that [Paul] considers fundamental to and characteristic of the life of faith.”
[9] Cf. Sampley, “The Second Letter To The Corinthians,” NIB IX:70: “Believers are works in progress; they are being transformed.… the transformation Paul here celebrates is that all believers are (ideally) becoming ever more Christ-like.”

Monday, February 08, 2016

A Better Way

A Better Way
1 Corinthians 13:1-13[1]
Most pastors have a way of developing routines or habits in the way they go about their ministries. For example, when I lead a wedding rehearsal, I try to take a light-hearted approach. I go through the elements of the service and say, “Now I’m reading Scripture, blah, blah, blah.” “Now I’m praying, blah, blah, blah.” Well, as many of you know, I recently performed the wedding service for my son Michael and his new wife Jaime in Canada. And I did my usual routine with the rehearsal. But as I was actually reading this scripture, 1 Corinthians 13, during the wedding, my adorable 5-year-old granddaughter Helen started saying “blah, blah, blah.” Right in the middle of the service. Out loud. I guess I may have to re-think my approach to wedding rehearsals.
But, as they say, often times “from the mouth of babes” comes truth we’d rather not hear. I wonder if, because of the fact that we’ve heard this passage so many times, we’ve gotten to the place that all we really hear is “blah, blah, blah.” I’m afraid that can be true for a lot of us. We’ve heard familiar passages from the Bible so many times that, while we may have warm feelings from hearing favorite verses, I wonder if we really hear the message. Unfortunately, time and familiarity have dulled the edge those Scriptures were originally meant to have.
One of the most helpful ways to try to get around this over-familiarity is to take a closer look at what’s actually going on behind the scenes. In the case of our lesson from 1 Corinthians for today, St. Paul was addressing a congregation that was troubled and torn by factions and divisiveness. He has spent most of his effort in the previous 12 chapters trying to sort out the issues that were causing problems. At this point, he’s dealing with “spiritual gifts.” These were the various abilities that Paul said the Holy Spirit had given to the members of the church in order to build it up, gifts like preaching, teaching, leadership, service, and others.
One of the gifts practiced in the church at Corinth was “speaking in tongues.” While there has been some confusion about what this means, it would seem that it was some kind of non-rational prayer language. Though this may look strange to people who value clear communication, Paul validated it as a genuine gift of the Spirit. He even admitted that he himself had “spoken in tongues.” Unfortunately, those who practiced this gift at Corinth seemed to have developed the attitude that because they could speak a “heavenly” language, they were on a higher spiritual plane than others.
As you can imagine, it didn’t set well with folks in the church at Corinth that there was a group that basically saw themselves as spiritually superior to the rest of them. And part of what St. Paul was trying to accomplish with them was to bring some balance to the congregation by pointing out that all of the gifts are important for the welfare of the church.[2] He used the analogy of the parts of the body to try to help them understand that everyone in the church has something of value to contribute.
In the passage for today, Paul says he is showing them “a still more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). The “better way” that Paul advocates is the way of practicing the gifts of the Spirit with an attitude of love for one another. In fact, he goes to some effort to make it clear that even the most impressive spiritual gifts are essentially useless if they are not practiced in an attitude of love for others.[3] And so he describes the kind of attitude he has in mind when he says, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor. 13:4-5). It would seem, in fact, that he is speaking rather bluntly to them here. Earlier in the letter, Paul has already called them out on the fact that they were being envious and boastful towards each other. Here he makes it clear that is not the “better way.”[4]
On the contrary, I think the “better way” that he wants them to practice is the way of Jesus Christ.[5] It is the way of God’s love for us. Paul describes it this way, love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). He’s not talking about love as a feeling, but rather love as a way of life, love as a basic attitude toward others, love as a commitment to follow Jesus’ example. It is a love that sacrifices for the sake of others; it is a love that is essentially unselfish and giving and generous; it is a love that bears with others with all their flaws and shortcomings.[6] This is the “better way” according to Paul.
This passage of Scripture wasn’t written primarily for married people. Paul is addressing the whole church about the way we are to live in the community of faith. I would hardly say that this church is one that is torn by factions and divisions. But the reality is that the kind of love the Bible teaches us to practice towards one another requires a great deal of us, and we don’t always live up to it. Let’s face it: sometimes it’s not easy to love one another in the church. Sometimes people in the church can rub each other the wrong way. And yet it is the love that we maintain for one another that sets the church apart from any other civic organization. Since we can all fall short, I think it’s important for us to see that the love that St. Paul says “never ends” is God’s love for us.[7] That is, after all, what enables us to keep trying to love one another.[8] It is the love that God shows us day by day, and the love that Jesus taught us by his life and death, that call us all to keep seeking “the better way.”

[1] © 2016 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 1/31/2016 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Cf. Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, 221: “The purpose of chapter 13 is to portray love as the sine qua non of the Christian life and to insist that love must govern the exercise of all the gifts of the Spirit. … Paul is trying to reform the Corinthians’ understanding and practice of spiritual manifestations in worship.”
[3] Cf. J. Paul Sampley, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” New Interpreters Bible X:952, where he says, “no matter how magnificent the accomplishment, power, or action, when love is missing the exercise in question becomes vain, selfish, fruitless, and individualistic.”
[4] Cf. Hays, First Corinthians, 222, where he quotes John Calvin as saying, “I have no doubt that Paul intended it [1 Corinthians 13] to reprimand the Corinthians in an indirect way, by confronting them with a situation quite the reverse of their own….” Hays himself says (p. 227), “the Corinthians will surely have gotten the picture: Paul is implying that everything about their behavior contradicts the character of love.”
[5] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.2:330, where he says of this chapter, “which we shall best understand if for the concept ‘love’ we simply insert the name Jesus Christ.”
[6] Cf. Hays, First Corinthians, 232: Where he says, “Love is not just a matter of feelings: feelings come and go, while love abides.” He continues by insisting that the actions that define love “are learned patterns of behavior that must be cultivated over time in the context of a community that models and supports such behavior. We must learn patience, we must be taught not to keep score of wrongs done against us.”
[7] Cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.2:372, where he says, “Paul expressly says of love in 1 Cor. 13:8 that it οὐδέποτε πίπτει [never fails]. He means that it will still apply to the being and activity of the redeemed in the world to come.” Cf. also Hays, First Corinthians, 231: “Love is the greatest of the three because—unlike the revelatory gifts and even unlike faith and hope—it will endure eternally when the love of God is all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). It is also the greatest because, even in the present time, it undergirds everything else and gives meaning to an otherwise unintelligible world….”
[8] Cf. Sampley, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” NIB X:955: “Faith, hope, and love endure; gifts do not. Gifts are finite; they are given to persons who employ them for a period within the community. Love is the matrix of the life of faith; God’s love for people becomes the force that enables them to love others.”

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Scandalous Grace

Scandalous Grace
Luke 4:14-21[1]
It doesn’t take much to be able to see that prejudice is alive and well in our world today. Segregation may no longer be legal, but it still defines our world in ways that are subtle and others that are not so subtle. As Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, racism is just as real in other parts of the country as it ever was in the “Deep South.” If you doubt the fact that prejudice is still alive and well, all you have to do is listen to the political rhetoric coming not only from our country but also from other world leaders.[2] The sad truth is that what drives the prejudices that they promote is fear, plain and simple. Unfortunately, there have always been those who have no qualms about using fear to gain power.
But the really hard truth about prejudice is that it has a way of taking root in the soil of our faith. I have heard with my own ears a member of a Presbyterian church say that there are some people he wants to go to hell! While I don’t think most of us would be so crass as to actually say that, I’m afraid we may feel that way about certain people we find offensive. At least we don’t want them going to church with us! The problem with this is that it becomes incredibly easy to assume that those we dislike are also outside God’s favor. We can all fall into the pattern of excluding those we deem unworthy of God’s grace.
This may sound like a very negative way to introduce our Gospel lesson for today. It is a message of amazing good news. Jesus appears in the synagogue at Nazareth, his home town, and announces a message full of hope and promise: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4:18-19). It is a wonderfully upbeat message: Jesus was announcing that in him God was going to bring freedom and renewal to all who had been beaten down by the injustice and cruelty of this world.[3]
It is a message that found deep resonance with the audience at the synagogue on that day in Nazareth. I think when it says that “The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (Lk. 4:20) after he read the scripture, it may be a bit of an understatement. You could probably say that everybody in the room was sitting on the edge of their seats. It was one of those situations in which it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. They had suffered under Roman and Greek military occupation for centuries. They had seen their land taken away by the wealthy among their own people who took advantage of the political situation to enrich themselves. They were tired of it and longed to be set free.
So perhaps we can understand that they totally misconstrued what Jesus was saying, as the outcome that day at Nazareth makes clear. They heard him promising to bring hope and freedom and renewal to them—to the people of his own home town. The fact that later Jesus rebukes them with the proverb “Physician, heal thyself,” indicates that he knew they were expecting him to perform miracles for “his own kind” just as they had heard he had done for others who were “outsiders” (Lk. 4:23). [4] It would seem that they were more than a little put off by the fact that he had done wonderful things for others, but hadn’t taken care of the home town crowd.
But that was where they got it all wrong. From the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel, the Scripture makes it clear that the marvelous events that were unfolding were not just for the “home town crowd.” They were not even just for the Jewish people. The fact that the news of Jesus’ birth was delivered by the host of angels to shepherds, who were the lowest of outcasts in Jewish society, already demonstrates that what God was doing was going to break through all social barriers. And Simeon made it very clear when Jesus was presented at the temple: he was going to be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Lk. 1:32).
That was the message Jesus proclaimed on that day in the synagogue at Nazareth: the good news was for the poor—for all the poor everywhere.[5] Jesus made it clear that God’s “favor” was coming upon those who had been excluded from “proper society” as outcasts.[6] The freedom and release and renewal he said God’s Spirit had empowered him to bring was for those who had been beaten down by the hard-hearted attitudes of some of the very people sitting there in the audience. And when he made it clear to them that God’s grace was for the outcasts they themselves had excluded, it enraged them so much they tried to kill him.[7]
It is an unfortunate truth of human existence that we like to be around people who look like us, who talk like us, who live where we live and shop at the same stores as we do.[8] But in the meanwhile we are very likely unaware that we are living our lives in a closed circle. Our human tendency is to prefer to stay in that closed circle. But the message of Jesus is one that will not let us stay there.[9] It is good news for the outcasts of our day—the people we exclude from our circles, whether consciously or unconsciously. It is a message that breaks down all kinds of walls we build up to protect ourselves from “outsiders.”  Because Jesus proclaimed God’s scandalous grace, he calls us to venture outside our closed circles to put God’s good news of freedom and release into practice for everyone, everywhere.

[1] © 2016 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 1/24/2016 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Cf. “Illiberalism: Playing with Fear,” and “Anti-Immigrant Populism: The March of Europe’s little Trumps,” in The Economist, December 12, 2015; accessed at and .
[3] Cf. Fred B. Craddock, Luke, 62: the message of Isaiah 61, the passage Jesus read in the synagogue, is that “Christ is God’s servant who will bring to reality the longing and hope of the poor, the oppressed, and the imprisoned. The Christ will also usher in the amnesty, the liberation, and the restoration associated with the proclamation of the year of Jubilee.” Cf. also Cf. R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke” New Interpreters Bible IX: 106: “Jesus’ ministry signaled that the time for the liberation of the impoverished and oppressed had come, and in that respect at least his work would fulfill the ideal and the social concern of the Jubilee year.”
[4] Cf. Craddock, Luke, 62-63: The fact that Jesus quotes this proverb, along with “no prophet is welcome in the prophet’s home town,” indicates that “Jesus understood the people to be expecting a demonstration of his extraordinary work reported from Capernaum.” He continues by pointing out the problem very likely lay deeper: they were motivated by “resentment that Jesus has taken God’s favor to others beyond Nazareth, especially Capernaum, said to have a heavy non-Jewish population.”  Cf. similarly, Culpepper, “Gospel of Luke,” NIB IX:106. He suggests that they were hoping to “share in the fame of the prophet from Nazareth so that no longer would anyone be able to say (however wrongly) that there were no prophets from Galilee (John 7:52).”
[5] Cf. Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, 208: where he insists that Jesus takes the initiative throughout this narrative: “at every step in his address at Nazareth he asserts the universal embrace of God’s salvific purpose.” Cf. Culpepper, “Gospel of Luke,” NIB IX:108: “Jesus came announcing deliverance, but it was not a national deliverance but God’s promise of liberation for all the poor and oppressed regardless of nationality, gender, or race.” Cf. similarly Craddock, Luke, 63.
[6] Cf. Green, Gospel of Luke, 211, where he points out that the word “poor” was broader that simply either economically poor or spiritually poor. He says, “one’s status in a community was not so much a function of economic realities, but depended on a number of elements, including education, gender, family heritage, religious purity, vocation, economics, and so on.” Therefore, he concludes that the poor included “those who are for any number of socio-religious reasons relegated to positions outside the boundaries of God’s people.” Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 128-29, 175-76; Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 89-90, 112-16, where he points out that what made Jesus’ offer of God’s grace scandalous was the fact that he offered the blessings of God’s Kingdom not just to the “righteous,” but also to “sinners.”
[7] Cf. William Willimon, “Book ‘Em,” The Christian Century (January 27, 2004), 20, where he says that in citing the examples of God’s grace through Elijah and Elisha to those outside of Israel, Jesus “threw the book at them.”  Cf. also Craddock, Luke, 63: “That these two stories were in their own Scriptures and quite familiar perhaps accounts in part for the intensity of their hostility. Anger and violence are the last defense of those who are made to face the truth of their own tradition which they have long defended and embraced. Learning what we already know is often painfully difficult.” He also refers to the story of Jonah, which he says “stands forever as the dramatic embodiment of that capacity in all of us, Jew and Christian alike, to be offended by God’s grace to all those of whom we do not approve.”
[8] Cf. Craddock, Luke, 62, where he remarks suggestively, that “Unfortunately, “The history of the church does not, …, bear unbroken testimony to Jesus’ announcement, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled.’”
[9] Cf. Culpepper, “Gospel of Luke,” NIB IX: 108, where he observes, “God’s grace is never subject to the limitations and boundaries of any nation, church, group, or race. Those who would exclude others thereby exclude themselves.”

Never Ending Love

Never Ending Love
Psalm 36:5-10[1]
I think many of us are people who are searching. We’re searching for the right break or the right person or the right situation or the right place. We seem to believe that if we can only find whatever it is we’re looking for, we’ll finally be happy. We’ll be fulfilled in life. The problem with this approach to life is that we look for that fulfillment in people and things that are finite. By definition, they cannot provide the happiness we seek. Whatever it is we think we’re looking for, when we find it we will inevitably feel let down at some point. Don’t get me wrong—I think we’re meant to find peace and joy in life. But it seems one of the hardest lessons for us to learn is that we cannot look to anyone or anything in this life to provide ultimate fulfillment.[2] There’s only One who can do that.
I think that may be one of the most important lessons the Psalms have to teach us. Repeatedly the Psalmists point us to God as the one who is the source of wellbeing in life, all of life, for all of us. They do it in a wide variety of ways, from reflecting on the experience of God’s presence in worship to the fundamental awareness that God is the one who provides everything that supports us in life—even the sun and the rain. From top to bottom, our lives are constantly in God’s loving care, whether we are aware of it or not.[3]
I believe that is the point of our lesson from Psalm 36 for today. It is one of the classic passages of Scripture affirming God’s unending love and goodness. In an effort to express the ideas behind some of the theologically loaded terms, my translation reads: “Your unfailing love, O Lord, extends to the heavens! Your trustworthiness reaches to the clouds! Your determination to set things right is as firm as the strongest mountains! The healing works of your justice are as vast as the waters of the sea!” (Ps. 36:5-6). I must add, however, that there is probably more going on in these two verses that any translation can adequately express.
In effect, the Psalmist is attempting to summarize God’s character with the words “steadfast love,” “faithfulness,” “righteousness,” and “justice.”[4] I’m afraid, however, that these words are so loaded with significance in the Hebrew Bible it may be hard to grasp all that they’re saying. And yet this description of who God is serves as the basis for just about everything the Scriptures have to say and everything we believe. The Psalmist begins by describing a God of “steadfast love,” a love that never fails and never ends. This is the quality of God’s love: God loves us with a love that will never let us go.[5] That’s where the Psalmist begins in pointing us to the One who is the source of our life: God’s never-failing, never-ending love.
“Faithfulness” is the next affirmation about God. In a world where promises are meant to be broken, we may have difficulty grasping the idea that the God who loves us is absolutely trustworthy. But this is another of those foundational declarations about God: God is the one who never, ever gives up on us.[6] God may let us experience the consequences of our choices, but God will always be there for us. And so this is another basis for looking to God as the source of our life: the promise that God will never give up on us.
The Psalmist also praises God for his “righteousness” and “justice.” Again, these concepts are full of meaning in the Scriptures. God’s “righteousness” is what “sets right” everything and everyone.[7] Theologians call it “salvation” or “justification,” but what it boils down to is that God gives us life! The idea of God’s “justice” may give us more difficulty.  We have difficulty getting past the notion that “justice” equals punishment or condemnation. But in the Hebrew Bible, God’s justice sets out to rescue the helpless and the hurting. Even when it comes to those who may be in the wrong, God’s justice comes to them as grace and mercy rather than condemnation. God’s justice makes us whole! God’s justice gives us life![8]
And so in affirming God’s righteousness and justice the Psalmist affirms that it is God’s intention to give us life. And that intention is as strong and immovable as the tallest mountains. It is as deep and strong and vast as the oceans.[9] In other words, nothing can stop God from carrying out his plan to give us life. And nothing limits God’s plan—it extends to all people and even to all life. As the Psalmist puts it, “you save humans and animals alike, O Lord” (Ps. 36:6). And for those who may doubt that God really is this kind of God, the Psalmist insists: “All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Ps. 36:7-9).[10]
This is where the Psalms point us in our quest to find fulfillment in life. They point us to the God who loves us with a never-ending love, to the God who never gives up on us, and to the God who is determined to give us life that is full and free and joyful. But the Psalmist is aware that life doesn’t always reflect God’s purposes. In fact, the setting of these verses is a prayer for deliverance from enemies who threaten to harm him. Yet the Psalmist knows something that I think we may sometimes forget. No matter what threats we may face, God’s grace will have the last word.[11] Because of that, as we continue our search for a life that will be filled with peace and joy, we can trust that there is a place where we can find it. We find it as we turn continually, day after day, to God’s never ending love.

[1] © 2016 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 1/17/2016 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Cf. Henri Nouwen, Here and Now, 125, where he speaks of “the limitations of human relationships”: “When we are lonely and look for someone to take our loneliness away, we are quickly disillusioned. The other, who for a while may have offered us an experience of wholeness and inner peace, soon proves incapable of giving us lasting happiness and instead of taking away our loneliness only reveals to us its depth.” He says that the answer to this problem is that we must recognize continually that (p. 136) “We are God’s beloved daughters and sons, not because we have proven ourselves worthy of God’s love, but because God freely chose us.” Cf. also Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 25:  “The only true joy on earth is to … enter by love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings … in the core of our own souls.”
[3] There is some discussion about whether the safety and the refuge the Psalmist experiences takes place in the context of the Temple. See, for example, H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 398. It would seem, however, that the all-inclusive language of Ps. 36:7-9 would argue against that interpretation.
[4] Cf. H.-J. Kraus, Theology of the Psalms, 42-46; James L. Mays, Psalms, 33, 311.
[5] Cf. James L Mays, Psalms, 157, where he discusses the Hebrew word hesed, which is translated as “lovingkindness” or “steadfast love” or “mercy.” He says, “God’s hesed is manifest in the way in which humankind depend on God’s saving help: he provides shelter (v. 7b), food (v. 8a), and drink (v. 8b), and so is the source of life (v. 9). Cf. also Kraus, Theology of the Book of Psalms, 44, where he indicates that hesed refers to “unexpected and amazing goodness and kindness” that are not simply spontaneous but result from faithfulness of God’s commitment to Israel.
[6] Cf. Kraus, Theology of the Book of Psalms, 45, where he says that God’s faithfulness refers to God’s “dependability,” in which “his hesed is demonstrated and validated”; he summarizes: “it is a matter of dependability in all that Yahweh says and does.” Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 112-120, 143-148: “God is the same God all the way from promise to fulfillment” (115).
[7] Cf.  Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II.1:375-84: “According to the witness of the Old and New Testaments, the love and grace and mercy of God, …, are the demonstration and exercise of the righteousness of God” (384); cf. also Jürgen Moltman, Theology of Hope, 204: “The ‘righteousness of God’ is God’s faithful love directed toward the goal of setting all humans right with God, with themselves, with each other, and with the whole of creation; thus it refers to God’s redemptive purpose to bring about a new creation.” H. Berkhof, Christian Faith, 135, where he points out that God’s “righteousness” in Paul’s theology “definitely refers to salvation and redemption.” He continues, “the element of judgment is not absent,” yet “this judgment is turned into grace through Christ’s reconciling death” and “precisely in this way God’s righteousness triumphs.”  
[8] Cf. Kraus, Theology of the Book of Psalms, 43, where he points out that “in the execution of justice and the process of judgment” God demonstrates his “righteousness” and “his salvation, his grace.” Cf. also Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, 76: “in the Bible justice is the social form of love.”
[9] Cf. Mays, Psalms, 156: the “attributes of the LORD are said to be cosmic in dimension. Heavens and clouds mark  the upper limit of the world; mountains of God and the great deep are terms of immensity.” Cf. similarly, Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 399, where he says that the “range” of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness “corresponds to the reality of God.”
[10] Cf. Mays, Psalms, 156: the psalmist speaks of the attributes of God’s character, steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice, “as manifest in God’s salvation of all living things—man and beast—and by salvation means God’s ongoing providential care by which he preserves life.” Cf. Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 399: the Psalmist sees “the help of Yahweh … stretched out to its full extent over the world of human beings and animals … . The effect of the ‘goodness’ is universal.”
[11] Cf. Mays, Psalms, 158: “In the face of the threatening shape that evil takes in the character of the wicked, this prayer rehearses and renews the vision of existence as a great system of grace. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not put it out.”