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I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Friday, February 19, 2016

"Mysteries of God"

The biblical metaphor that drives this blog, and Prairie Table Ministries in general, is being "servants" and "stewards." I'll get to those in blogs shortly, (and I did touch on them previously a few years ago), but today I want to focus on the last part of the 1 Corinthians text: "mysteries of God?"

What are the "mysteries?" (Well, if I--or anyone--knew that answer they wouldn't be mysteries now, would they?) There have been many suggestions over the years, but I want to offer one as well.
Most of the good commentators believe that "mysteries of God" refers to the purpose God has for the world, especially as it relates to the crucified and resurrected Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God. And that makes some sense. The context of the phrase occurs at the beginning of an extended letter that seeks to clarify several positions of the early Christian community in the town of Corinth.

In order to judge any of the disagreements, the judge has to be beholden to neither party, and Paul, the author of the letter and the judge of the disagreement, wants the folks at Corinth to know that he works for God, not either one of the parties of the disagreements. So, the phrase "mysteries of God," is a way to explain how what he is about, and where he gets his authority from, comes from God and is about the things God wishes to be about. And for most commentators what God wants to be about is Jesus Christ as the Son of God for the salvation of the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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As it goes, I have no problem with that interpretation; however, it misses a salient point that all people in congregations realize. That is, that if God is going to be about saving the world, then God has to be concerned about the world, not just the saving. (This is why I have such a love-hate relationship with the Academy. They glibly gloss over what most of us are concerned with in order to obsess about things most of us do not find relevant. In this case it's because they care more about what Paul might be thinking about Paul than what God might be thinking through Paul. At Prairie Table, we try to think about God from our participation in the Biblical story.) And IF God is concerned about "the world" instead of just the "saving," the phrase "mysteries of God" takes on a whole new meaning.

Now the phrase no longer points to Jesus the Christ and his death and resurrection as the "mysteries," but rather the world and all that is in it becomes the "mysteries." This helps me understand why the plural "mysteries" rather than "mystery" would be used here. Because Paul has already called himself a servant of Christ, what Paul stewards is not Jesus Christ, but rather those whom Jesus Christ served--that is--us. We are the mysteries of God. The people Jesus Christ wants to take care of are the people Paul feels called to take care of as well. He is "stewarding" Christ mission to love God's mysteries.

Those mysteries are us. Do you understand yourself? (Paul didn't. In fact, he claimed very famously that he was a mystery unto himself.) Do you understand Donald Trump? Do you understand why we continue to burn our world even though we know we shouldn't? Do you understand why we use violence to solve issues even though violence has NEVER solved anything? These are all mysteries, and the people who are involved in those kinds mysteries are "the mysteries" whom we steward.

We will talk about "stewarding" down the road, but it is vital to Prairie Table that we understand who the mysteries of God are. It means we take care of people. It means we take care of where people live, like the the planet, or our towns, or even our homes. It means we take care of ourselves, our own bodies, our own roles as caretakers of God's love. Because we hold to take care of God's mysteries, and those mysteries are people, we take care of people. All people. No discrimination.

 I do love how commentator Richard A. Horsley said the phrase means "God's fulfillment of history,"* because that phrase means to me that God wants this world, this universe to be filled with love. What God is about is loving the world. How that happens probably involves Jesus, but everything else about that loving is a mystery...

May your table be full and your conversations be true.

Richard A. Horsley, First Corinthians, (Abingdon Press, 1998)

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