June 15, 2014
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
The text today is commonly thought to be written in the Priestly tradition, most likely addressed to a community in exile. The story of creation focuses on God, who carves out order in the realms of time and space, pushing back the waters of chaos and creating light, dark, sea, sky, creatures (even sea monsters) and finally, humankind, Adam.
The repetitive text begins to take on a rhythm throughout the seven days. God speaks, and suddenly creation is. Then God sees that it is good – seven times over. The Hebrew Bible mentions the number seven more than 500 times; it is a symbol of wholeness and completeness. God’s creation is good and whole.
We learn much about God from this text. From Genesis 1:1, we know that God creates. We also know that God speaks, which is intricately tied to his act of creation. It is that much more important to notice, then, the sudden divine plural when God comes to the creation of humans. Previously he said, “Let there be,” and there was. Now, God says “let us make humankind in our image.” Finally, God blesses, telling both animal and humankind, “be fruitful and multiply,” granting humans dominion over the rest of creation.
How is humankind God’s unique creation in the story? What special responsibilities were humans granted, and how have we done in upholding the goodness of God’s creation?
The psalmist bursts out in a song of praise of God, building on the theology encountered in Genesis 1:26-28. In 8:4 he wonders how a God who created the heavens, moon and stars, could “remember” and “visit” humans, and even establish them as royal regents in his kingdom. In the theology of this psalm, God is the divine cosmic monarch who has put the human race in the status of king. Humanity’s dominion over “all things” is emphasized in this psalm, but in his Bible commentary, James Mays reminds us that dominion can become domination when humans forget that they are subordinate to God. We must remember that there are many different strands of theology represented in the Bible. When we read canonically, we can compare Psalm 8 to Psalm 104, another psalm of praise to God, which celebrates God’s creation, but scarcely mentions the role of humans in the order of creation. The second creation story, which begins in Genesis 2:4, also sets a different vision of humans as co-laborers with God.
What differences do you see between Psalm 8 and Psalm 104? What do the conversations among various authors of our Holy Scripture tell us about how God reveals himself to us?
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Paul concludes his second letter to the Corinthians using a standard form. He gives a farewell, final exhortation, sends greetings from the “all the saints” who are with him and ends with a blessing. Yet we can learn much about the community to whom he wrote from Paul’s exhortations. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates Paul’s words as “put things in order,” but it could also mean “may your ways be mended”; furthermore, “listen to my appeal” could mean, “encourage one another.” Both suggest that the community needs to be strengthened, especially since they are followed by recommendations to “agree with one another” and “live in peace.” Paul promises that God will help heal the community’s divisions with his love and peace; they will not have to do it alone. We do not know the community’s specific struggles, but all of us have experienced division, quarrels and disagreements within community. We know how difficult it is to encourage one another at these times.
Might we be strengthened, knowing that even the earliest Christian communities also struggled with one another? Greeting with a kiss was a common practice amongst family members. Do we consider our Christian community to be family? If so, how might that change our communal and individual practices?
On a mountain again, the resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples one last time. In the Gospel of Matthew, mountains are where important things happen: the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ final temptation, the Transfiguration and now the Great Commission. Earlier, in Matthew 10:5, the disciples were commanded specifically to proclaim the Good News only to “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” not to the gentiles. Now that God’s saving mission is complete through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the commission is expanded to the gentiles. The disciples’ task is to make disciples, baptize and teach all that Jesus has already commanded them. That commission extends to us today. Churches tend to focus on at least one of the three commands: They are good at teaching, or expanding the flock by baptizing members, or nurturing lives of faith through discipleship. It is much harder to do all three.
In which, if any, of the three commands does your church excel, and why do you think so? In what ways might your church grow or be enriched if you focused on the other commands? What are the challenges in making disciples, baptizing and teaching?