Thou mammering shard-borne strumpet!
Archives For February 2007
We gather here week after week to commune with the Lord, and we bring our children to this table. This is good and right, but it is worth reminding ourselves every so often why we do this. And it’s a good idea to know why we bring our children to this table particularly in the climate we live in where it is not very common and sometimes not very well received. We do not bring our children to the table out of superstition. We do not believe that grace is a substance and that after a lack of bread and wine one could measure a quantitative difference between two people. There is no grace calculator; there is no grace scale, and even if the idolatrous minds of men tried to come up with one, it would be completely useless. Our children are welcome and invited to this table because they are God’s children. God feeds his children; he does not starve his children. It is no accident that throughout the Old Testament the people of God are called the “children of Israel.” John picks up on this same theme when he repeatedly addresses exhortations in his epistles to “little children.” The point is that we all come as little children. And given what Jesus says, it is safe to say that you may only come as children for of such is the kingdom of heaven. You may not come here believing that your understanding of theology or liturgy or philosophy earns you any special grace points in the sight of God. Your high school diploma, your masters degree, or the fact that you are over 5 feet tall do not get you one inch closer to the Lord of this table. You must come here as children, hungry children: hungry for food, hungry for fellowship, hungry for the attention of your Father. So if you are a child of God, come now, hungry and be filled.
Opening Prayer: Almighty and Gracious God, you have gathered us here in your presence. We have heard many words this week: many of them ugly, many of them wicked, many of them shallow and meaningless, and many of them lies. But we have come now to hear your Word. Speak to us now with your life-giving word: your good word, your true word, and your faithful word. Strengthen and comfort us; equip us for the journey before us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
This is the first Sunday in the season of Lent. As we have pointed out previously, Sundays are not technically included in the 40 days of Lent. Yet, as we journey through the days and weeks leading up to our Savior’s death and resurrection, these Sundays are significant to the fight just as every Sunday is strength and encouragement for the battle. Today we also begin our study of the book of Exodus.
Picking up with Genesis
The book of Exodus begins recapping the end of Genesis, but the recap is worded such that it assumes that the readers/hearers know all about Genesis. The house of Jacob is reviewed (vv. 1-5) emphasizing the number 70 which reminds us of the seventy nations of Genesis 10 descended from Noah. Israel has become a nation. Joseph is mentioned as one “already in Egypt” (v. 5), and it is assumed that the reader/hearer understands the significance of Joseph dying (v. 6, 8). Another connection to Noah is the fulfillment of the commands to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 9:1, 7). Israel has been faithful to this extent in Egypt. This of course reminds us of Genesis 1-2, and verse 7 makes the connection even closer: (literally) “And the sons of Israel were fruitful and they swarmed/teemed and they multiplied and they became mighty/numerous…” This “teeming” is what the fish and sea creatures are said to have done on day five in Genesis 1; this is what God commands Noah and his sons to do in 9:7, and it is what the frogs will do in Exodus 7:28. The fact that Pharaoh is trying to stop this growth means he is fighting Yahweh. Finally, if we look back at the end of Genesis, there seems to be some indication that things were already in decline at the end of Joseph’s life (50:24-25). At the very least, God references Joseph’s prophecy when he begins to act (Ex. 3:16).
Come Let us Deal Wisely
Interestingly, the word “Pharaoh” is not used until the very end of this first episode in Exodus. The Pharaoh is referred to as the “king” four times before he is named “Pharaoh” (1:8, 15, 17, 18). “Pharaoh” itself seems to be a title for the ruling house of Israel. One commentator suggests that it is the name of the literal house where the king ruled, somewhat equivalent to us referring to “Washington” or the “White House.” It is this “new king” who did not know Joseph who calls his people to be “wise” (1:10). Prior to this, the word “wise” has only been used three times and all (ironically) in connection to the Joseph narrative (Gen. 41:8, 33, 39). It is the “wise men” of Egypt who are unable to tell Pharaoh what his dreams mean, and it is Joseph who suggests (after interpreting his dreams) that Pharaoh put a “wise” man over Egypt to prepare for the coming famine. Pharaoh declares that Joseph is the only one “wise” enough for the job. Thus it is hardly surprising that this “new king” who does not know Joseph should suggest this sort of “wisdom” to his people. Where the Pharaoh who knew Joseph cooperates with Joseph to save many lives, the new Pharaoh is determined to end many.
The Hebrew Midwives
We should note the king of Egypt makes three attempts to diminish the “Hebrew problem” in Egypt. First, he introduces task masters who afflict them with burdens (v. 11), but that results in the Hebrews multiplying and growing even stronger (v. 12). Secondly, the king intensifies the slave labor, making them serve with “rigor” (v. 13-14), and he instructed the midwives to kill the baby boys of Hebrew women (v. 16). But when the midwives disobey the king, Israel multiplies even more and grows even stronger (v. 20). Thus, finally, Pharaoh makes a universal edict to all of his people, ordering them to throw any male Hebrew babies into the Nile River (v. 22). We should note that Pharaoh is going after the “sons” of Israel. This is the same title given in 1:1 to the descendents of Jacob, and in fact, the word “son” is used 7 times in the first chapter. We know what is coming in the book of Exodus, but it is worth noting now that the “sons” of Israel are being oppressed and drowned in the river and God will visit this same judgment on Egypt shortly. Finally, it’s worth pointing out that the midwives are blessed for their civil disobedience and lying (vv. 19-21). The reason given for their integrity is that they “feared God.” This reminds us of Abraham’s somewhat similar situation with Abimelech (Gen. 20:11). There, Abraham lied to Abimelech because there was no “fear of God” in Gerar. Just as God blessed Abraham’s wisdom and faith with great riches (Gen. 2:14-16) so too here, God is good to the midwives, and Shiphrah and Puah are blessed with households (1:20-21) like Jacob’s sons (1:1).
Conclusions and Applications
One of the things that we do not see here, but which we learn about later is that Israel fell into idolatry in Egypt (Josh. 24:14). The blessing of Israel was the result of Joseph’s great wisdom and faithfulness and refusal to compromise, but the covenant curses fell upon Israel for their great disobedience as well (which we can see coming cf. ch. 37-38, 50:15-18). We must always remember the lessons of Job and Ecclesiastes, but this does not negate the way the world works: people reap what they sow. And consequences have generational effects. It is not enough to see our children faithful; our goal is our grand children and great-grand children. As we live between the great Easters, it will not do to throw up our arms and hope for the best. We are called to live by faith, trusting and believing that God does bless faithful obedience, and even in the midst of broader covenantal curses, God gives households to faithful midwives.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Our great and merciful God, so often we have lived presuming upon your goodness and grace, but you have called us to faith. Lord we believe, but help our unbelief. Rescue us from the pits that we have dug for ourselves. Grant us grace to live with open eyes and ready minds, living before you with faithfulness. Make us hungry for your blessing, believing with every ounce of strength within us that your blessings are far better than we can even imagine.
Worship is warfare. We are not here to pat each other on the back; we are not here to get an ego massage. We are not here to sing and say things that make us feel good. We are here as the armies of the most high God, the hosts of the Lord of hosts.
This means that what you do here matters. You may not mumble through the prayers while wondering how much longer till you can leave. You may not worry about what you’re going to serve for lunch, what you’re wearing, or what you look like. You may not hum the songs quietly to yourself as though singing is somehow an optional exercise.
You are the armies of God. You have been anointed in baptism, set apart and claimed by God to do battle, and your arms are weapons that make guns and swords look like sticks and stones. We have been given the Word of God which is sharper than any sword and more deadly than any nuclear blast. The Word is our weapon as we sing it, as we declare it, as we listen to it, and as we eat it. And this is not some kind of make-believe war game. The Scriptures declare that God is enthroned on the praise of his people and that when God is enthroned and declared as Lord and King, he sends judgments on the earth and he causes kingdoms to fall.
So come and worship now with faith. Sing out as though the words in your mouth were swords in your hand. Call out your prayers and responses with boldness and courage. Listen to one another and speak and sing together in unison, uniting your voices like a well ordered-army. Listen eagerly and attentively to the Word read and preached. Believe that you are waging war now, because you are. And believe that God promises to bless us, because he does.
The Christian Almanac records that on February 23rd, 303 A.D., the Roman Emperor Diocletian re-instituted a severe persecution of the Christian Church. Struggling to revitalize an empire that was beginning to pull apart under a number of political and economic factors, the emperor identified Christians as one of the greatest threats to the cohesion of the empire. This “movement” challenged the empire with its fundamental loyalties to the Lord Jesus. In the days and months that followed, Diocletian targeted leaders and writings, hoping to scatter the laity. Thus, many church leaders were dragged from their homes and meeting places and tortured to death. Christian books and Scriptures were burned. Nothing was deemed too harsh: the rack, the scourge, slow fires, crucifixion, and other barbarities were carried out against faithful Christian leaders. But this dark hour was the night before a remarkable new day for Christendom. Only ten years later Constantine would issue the Edict of Milan giving legal protection to the Christian faith.
As we celebrate the season of Lent, journeying with the Church to Easter, it is good to be reminded of those who literally suffered to the point of death in hope of resurrection, in hope of Easter. May God grant us strength and courage in our little “crosses” that we may obtain to the resurrection without any fear or shame.
The sermon text for this Sunday will be from Exodus 1. Our other lessons will be from Deuteronomy 26:5-10, Romans 10:8-13, and Luke 4:1-13.
Turns out that technically, according to E. Randolph Richards, the word “scroll” was originally the verb, and the word “roll” was the noun.
This juicy tidbit was found slinking about in the footnotes on p. 49 of Paul and First-Century Letter Writing.
This is an outline of a recent presentation I gave at New Covenant School in Anderson, SC.
Toward a Biblical Vision for a Classical Curriculum
It was St. Augustine who said in his Confessions that “we learn better in a free state of curiosity than under fear and compulsion.” At the same time, every experienced teacher knows that some stuff just isn’t fun. Many of students, we think, shouldn’t even be trusted in “free state of curiosity” even locked up alone in a room with their history book. Please note that I am taking for granted very basic Christian values like hard work, discipline, and high academic standards. Nothing that follows is meant to suggest otherwise.
Teachers as Curriculum
Given what we’ve already seen about the nature of teaching and knowledge, it is not too difficult to realize that teachers are the most important curriculum. Another way of saying this is that “subjects” don’t exist on their own. What we mean when we say “subject” is the cumulated efforts of study of some area of creation and history. When our students study “math” we mean that we are introducing them to the labors and observations of people. And then we (the teachers) are standing up their in front of them as yet one more witness of how the world works in these particular instances. Every individual teacher is the face at the front of a great crowd of witnesses on any given subject. And yet, you, the flesh and blood teacher at the front of the classroom are the most important one for your students. The task of these students is to imitate you; to become like you (Lk. 6:40). You are not only called to be “good examples,” you are called to be the examples. Your job is to love your area of subject so much as to draw your students into the story; you’re aiming to stun, to romance, to stupefy your students with your studies. But what does this look like?
A Curriculum of Play
By this I do not mean that education should be less than rigorous or that we need to lower academic standards. Rather, if we see education as centrally concerned with imitation and discipleship then it is not too difficult to see the need for learning to be good actors. Christians have been suspicious of theater and drama for its many failures in the areas of morality, but “play” is central to being good Christians. We are called to “act” like Christ and to act like those who imitate him well. Also, if we understand knowledge as a kind of loving with all that we are then acting is a way of embodying the truth. Short plays, skits, and speeches can be excellent opportunities to live out what is being learned. Stories also invite our students to imagine themselves in foreign situations, to pretend, to act out (if only mentally) the world that the teacher is inviting them into.
A Curriculum of Poetry
While Augustine said that we learn what we love; it was Blaise Pascal who said that we love what we find lovely. This means that as teachers, we are called to present the world that we have been called to present in way that is beautiful, noble, and good. For several semesters of science, we used Audubon Field Guides, and we spent as many hours as we could outside observing and discovering. When we weren’t outside, we were inside drawing pictures of them, learning their names, and writing stories and poetry about them. Included in poetry is a love of song and the Psalms in particular. Martin Luther said that singing something is like saying it twice. Putting words to music gives them glory and beauty. Of course some subjects fit will with “ditties”, but we should be careful not to ignore the glories of the Psalms and hymns of our heritage. Finally, poetry teaches us to integrate. There is no area of the world that Jesus is not Lord of, and thus, if all things consist and are held together in Him, then they must all relate and supplement one another. The glory of poetry is metaphor, seeing the world through the world. As people of the Book, we should be people enamored with good books. As people of the Word, we should be people enamored with words: Scripture, literature, poetry, languages, etc.
A Curriculum of Laughter
When we studied history and literature, I wrote short, silly plays for my students to act out. Often enough, the plays would include various one-liners about things completely off topic (e.g. video games, baseball, dirty laundry, etc.). The point was of course to make my students laugh, but it was also to teach them something fundamentally true about the world and history. We live in the world that a good and sovereign God rules over. The story of the world and creation is a story that pleases God and he rejoices in. And we have been invited into that story. This means that we need to learn to rejoice and laugh at the world with the Lord of heaven. We know that the story of history is the story of God’s triumph over all evil with his grace. The death and resurrection is a comedy, and therefore the history of the world is comedy, a romance: it will have a happy ending. From this point of view, teaching our students to laugh with joy and wonder at the world that God has made is teaching our students to love the Triune God and revel in His goodness.
We have argued that fundamentally, when we say “classical education” we mean a full-orbed biblical education. We mean that we are seeking to follow the old ways, the good paths. We are seeking the good life, the life of abundance. We want students that have sharp minds and quick wits but also fat souls, joyful and thankful for their studies, not inoculated to the goodness of God. We have noted that learning is essentially discipleship, and since worship is the center of Christian discipleship, Christian education must flow out of Christian worship too. Just as worship is a dramatic performance and appearance before God, so too learning should be dramatic, artistic, and even theatrical. As Christian worship is filled with the poetry of God (his words and songs and blessings), so too Christian education should be filled with beautiful words and song. And just as Christian worship is a declaration of the Lordship of Jesus and His victory in the world, so too education should be full of the joy and laughter of faith. Perhaps one of the hardest skills that teachers need to learn is how not to tell all, how to intrigue and surprise, how to make our students hungry for more.
This is an outline of a recent presentation I gave at New Covenant School in Anderson, SC.
Toward A Biblical Vision for Classical Education
While it is exciting to see what God has done over last 25 years in this country with Christian Education, as educators, we know that one of the most important disciplines of learning is repetition and review. It’s not a silly question to ask, “What do we mean by Classical Education?” Some have emphasized the “classics” in terms of content, others have emphasized “classical empires/culture”, and still others have used the term primarily to describe the medieval Trivium, some in terms of subject matter others more specifically as applied to K-12 learning stages. And many of us have attempted to do a combination of all of these things.
We know that when we say classical there is at least some sense in which we are looking back. We realize that we have gone off the trail; we’ve lost our way in some way. And we want to get back to where we were going before. We see the ruins around us, and we want to follow the prophet’s exhortation. Jeremiah 6:16: “Thus says the LORD: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls.” But as Christians it is not merely enough to find old stuff. Dust is not the guarantee of success. Unfortunately, it appears that this is the idea some folks have gotten when it comes to classical education. But we are Christians, and we know that sin and ugliness is old too. So when it comes to looking back, we want to look back to what we know was good. The only infallible source of history and antiquity is the Bible. Thus, as Christians, when we say “classical” we mean first and foremost biblical; we mean Christian.
Classical Education as Discipleship
Of courses it’s not enough to sprinkle a bunch of Bible verses in our text books and move on. Having a weekly or daily chapel doesn’t make an education classical or Christian. The Scriptures speak of learning and education in highly personal terms, in terms of discipleship. Ephesians 4:17-21: “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus…” Luke 6:40: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” In other words, our students are not studying subjects; they are studying us. We, like Paul, are urging our students to imitate us as we imitate Christ (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1). Imitation is more than just ideas or words. Imitation involves facial expressions, attitudes, actions, and more. We imitate Christ by doing what he says, but also doing as he did as, for example, in the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23). This is why worship is the center of our discipleship.
Classical Education as Knowing and Loving God
We learn not only be watching and listening but also by doing and saying and acting. Much of what we are talking about has a lot to do with our theory of knowledge. What does it mean to know something? If we want our math students to *know* math, it would be a good idea to have some notion of that might look like before we begin. If we start at the beginning, we remember that “knowing” is first used in connection to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Knowledge is presented as something that is far from neutral. Without denying the historicity of any of Genesis, the fact is that one lesson we learn is that we must acquire knowledge under the blessing of God or under the cursing of God. There is no other option. In other words, learning is covenantal. We will either keep covenant by faith as we learn or will break covenant by unbelief as we study. There is no middle road; there is no neutrality.
We know from the law and Christ’s own words that the entire law and the prophets are summarized with the two greatest commandments (Mt. 22:37-40). Fundamentally, this is how we are called to keep covenant with God: loving him with everything that we are. And this brings us back to the idea of knowing. Shortly after the incident in Eden, we are told that Adam “knew” his wife and she bore a son (Gen. 4:1). Knowing is something we do with our bodies and our minds. And this kind of knowing is really a deep sort of loving. St. Augustine is remembered as saying that in order for us to come to know something we must in some way come to love it. In other words, learning and knowing is not primarily a kind of “getting” but rather a kind of “giving.” When students learn literature or spelling or music, they are giving themselves to the stories, to the rules, to the practice of doing those things well. They are imitating their teachers, watching their teachers love their areas of study and following after them.
What we are aiming for as classical educators is the training of students who follow Christ in every area of life. Our aim is teach our students how to live well. We’re not aiming merely full brains; we’re aiming for fat souls (Prov.16:24, 19:8). Souls are fed with imagination, laughter, stories, poetry, puzzles, and more laughter. We are not merely aiming to have students graduate without having left the faith; we are not aiming merely to ‘make it’ to college. We are aiming to have disciples that are militant and courageous for Christ in every sphere of life, students who love life because they have known Christ and love him with all that they are.
We noticed this morning that the world is our feast, our banquet. God created Adam and Eve and put them in a garden and told them about the food. Fundamentally, this meal is what we are called to do with everything in the world. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, named it, distributed it, and they rested and enjoyed it. And we do the same in our lives. We take hold of the world, give thanks for it, restructure it to make something better, give it a new name, evaluate it and rest in it. This is the pattern of God’s creation; and here at this meal, we see that this is the pattern of the new creation. God is taking hold of you here and remaking you into his priestly people, and as he does this, you are called to go out into the world to act as you have been acted upon, glorifying creation, taking it from glory to glory. This meal symbolizes our calling in the world to be active, taking dominion of all creation, and with thankful, grateful hearts turning the glories of God into greater glories for his honor and praise. So come with faith now, and then go out in faith to enact this Eucharist in all you do to the ends of the earth. Your sins are forgiven through Christ; the world is yours for the taking.