Covenant Inclusion and Greatness in Genesis

God called Abram and promised to make him a great nation with a great name.

The LORD said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:1-3)

Worldly greatness, however, is not central to the covenant. Abraham and Hagar’s son Ishmael is excluded from God’s covenant people, but God promises to make him a great nation anyway.

So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael were acceptable to you!” But God said, “No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his future offspring. As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father twelve tribal leaders, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will confirm my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.” (Genesis 17:18-21)

Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac will carry God’s covenant promise, and God’s chosen people will be his descendants. Isaac will the covenantal heir through whom God will fulfill his purposes in the world. Both Isaac and Ishmael, however, will be the father of great nations. God’s covenant, it seems, is not primarily a path to greatness. The covenant is about something else.

Continue reading “Covenant Inclusion and Greatness in Genesis”

Repairing the 18th Century Methodist-Episcopal Schism in America

Yesterday I discussed the 18th century schism that separated the Methodist movement in America from its Anglican roots, primarily citing the work of John Wigger in American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists. The recently announced proposal for full communion between the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church addresses the 18th century schism between the two groups.

We affirm the ministry of bishops in The United Methodist Church and The Episcopal Church to be adaptations of the historic episcopate to the needs and concerns of the post-Revolutionary missional context. We recognize the ministries of our bishops as fully valid and authentic. We lament any ways, whether intentionally or unintentionally, explicitly or implicitly, that Episcopalians may have considered the ministerial orders of the United Methodist Church or its predecessor bodies to be lacking God’s grace. It is our hope and prayer that in this full communion proposal we may heal these divisions, right the sin of separation from the 1780s, and share in these mutual adaptations of the historic episcopate for the greater unity of the church in mission and ministry.

A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness
The Episcopal Church and The United Methodist Church
A Proposal for Full Communion

You can read more about how American Methodists “adapted” the historic episcopate to the American missional situation in post-revolutionary America at United Methodists and Apostolic Succession.

The Failed Union Between the Methodist and Episcopal Churches

On May 17, the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church announced a proposed framework for full communion between the two denominations. Perhaps the proposal will produce better results than the first efforts at reconciliation which took place in when both churches were very young. Within the first decade of Methodism’s existence as an independent church, two half-baked attempts at reunion with the Episcopal Church failed.

Continue reading “The Failed Union Between the Methodist and Episcopal Churches”

Why the Stone Was Rolled Away

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. (Matthew 28:2-6)

Matthew’s gospel gives us perhaps the most dramatic version of the empty tomb story. There’s an earthquake. There’s an angel whose appearance was like lightning. The angel rolls the stone away. The guards become so terrified that they fall to the ground. There is, however, one obvious element missing from Matthew’s account.

In the mid-second century, the author of the apocryphal, so-called “Gospel of Peter” wanted to fill in the missing piece of the story.

But in the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, when the soldiers were safeguarding it two by two in every watch, there was a loud voice in heaven; and they saw that the heavens were opened and that two males who had much radiance had come down from there and come near the sepulcher. But that stone which had been thrust against the door, having rolled by itself, went a distance off the side; and the sepulcher opened, and both the young men entered. And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding). And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from they sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them.

In the so-called Gospel of Peter, the stone rolled itself away so that Jesus (and his cross!) could get out. In the Gospel of Matthew, the angel (or messenger) rolled the stone away so that the women could look in.

Matthew draws us a dramatic picture of the tomb on Easter morning, but he never tells us about Jesus emerging from the tomb. The stone is rolled away from an empty sepulcher. The grave could not hold the savior. Rather, the angel rolls the stone away from the entrance of the tomb so that the women could see evidence of the angel’s proclamation:

He is not here. For he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

Chrysostom’s Invitation to Embrace Jesus

And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word. And behold, Jesus met them, saying, “All hail.” And they came and took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Matthew 28:8-9

Some among you may desire to be like these faithful women. You too may wish to take hold of the feet of Jesus. You can, even now. You can embrace not only his feet but also his hands and even his sacred head. You too can today receive these awesome mysteries with a pure conscience. You can embrace him not only in this life but also even more fully on that day when you shall see him coming with unspeakable glory, with a multitude of the angels. If you are so disposed, along with him, to be compassionate, you shall hear not only these words, “All hail!” but also those others: “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world.”

Saint John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew