Solving for x

God’s surprising approach to outsiders
August 14, 2016 | John 4

Solving for x
Not to bring up unpleasant memories, but do you remember high school algebra? Do you remember “solving for x”?

The teacher would give you an equation like this

2x + 3 = 7


4 + 4x = 22 – 5x


3x2 + 12x + 6 = 42


15x3 – 100 = 20

Your job would be to “solve for x” in each of these different equations. It wasn’t always easy, was it? Once you got out of school, you may not have had so much opportunity to “solve for x,” but “x” still represented the unknown. Part of the reason why we use “x” for the unknown, is that xenos in Greek means strange or foreign. (There’s a TED talk which gives another reason.)

In math and in life, we always have trouble with the unknown.

The statistical website fivethirtyeight recently asked about people in the Northeast about baseball and politics:

In the survey, [we] asked 1,071 people which baseball team they supported (if any), how strongly they supported the team, and then . . . asked them this:

How upset would you feel if you had a son or daughter who married a Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees . . . fan?

Red Sox fans were asked about marriages to Yankees fans and vice versa.

Eitan Hersh, “What The Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Can Teach us about Political Polarization” (Aug. 11, 2016).

It turns out that about 1 in 5 baseball fans would be upset if one of their children married a fan of a rival team. (Let me just be clear about one thing — if any of our kids gets married to a Red Sox fan, Katherine is going to be way beyond “upset.”)

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“Son of God”

As we come to Matthew 14:15-36, we see two crucial miracles which have been much pondered.  The first, of course, is the feeding of the five thousand; and the second is Jesus walking on the water.

C.S. Lewis considered these miracles to be (in one sense) very different from each other.

Walker Feeding of the 5000
Dirk A. Walker, “Feeding of the 5000” [link].
The feeding of the five thousand was a miracle which repeated, at a specific time and a specific place, what God does everywhere, all the time:

[T]he two instances of miraculous feeding . . . . involve the multiplication of a little bread and a little fish into much bread and much fish. . . .  Every year God makes a little corn into much corn: the seed is sown and there is an increase. . . .

Look down into every bay and almost every river.  The swarming, undulating fecundity shows he is still at work “thronging the seas with spawn innumerable” . . . .  And now, that day, at the feeding of the thousands, incarnate God does the same: does close and small, under his human hands, a workman’s hands, what He has always been doing in the seas, the lakes and the little brooks.

C.S.Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study 164-65 (MacMillan 1947).

In the multiplication of the bread and the fishes, Jesus shows himself to be doing what God does all the time.  Lewis calls this a “Miracle of the Old Creation.”

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Fractal Compassion

From the biggest picture to the smallest interaction

Matthew 9:35-36

Math Class!

Okay, so you take a triangle, like so. 20150816sermon_Page_01A simple equilateral triangle.

Now you connect the midpoints of the sides to divide it into three triangles that are ½ as big. (There really are four, plus the original one, but it looks like three.)

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Now you take each of the three, and you divide them. You have nine triangles, each the 1/4 the size of our original.

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Do it again! Now you have 27 triangles, each 1/8 the size of the original. You can
keep on doing this, and the patterns are not the same, but they are similar, on a smaller and smaller scale.

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This is one of the simplest illustrations of the concept of fractal geometry, which you may have heard of, and which has all sorts of useful applications in the real world. Some very simple rules (like “connect the midpoints of a triangle”) can result in some very complex and beautiful patterns.

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(Don’t worry, this is not a TED talk, there’s a sermon in here somewhere.)

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“Jesus never talked to two people in the same way.”

The Christian consensus has collapsed, and much of the rise of the so-called religious Nones is really the falling away of people who were only loosely attached to a church tradition. So there is a grand moment of clarification, and among the many things we need to clarify is our ability to communicate. Much of our witnessing, on the one hand, assumes that people are open and needy. It also assumes a whole series of formulae or recipes. I would argue that Jesus never talked to two people in the same way, and neither should we. So as part of the grand clarification of our generation, this is a time to reexamine our communication and see if it is as biblical as it should be.

from Tim Stafford, An Interview with Os Guinness, Christianity Today (July 23, 2015).

Meursault, revisited

A first-time author re-views the events of Albert Camus’ The Stranger from the perspective of the murder victim’s brother.  The brother shares the murderer’s disdain for faith:

“I detest religions and submission. . . .Who wants to run panting after a father who has never set foot on earth, has never had to know hunger or work for a living.”

Kamel Daoud, The Meursault Investigation (2015).

Ah, but a deity who walked and worked, sweated and suffered, loved and lost his life — now that would be a God to worship.

Nice review at the NYT site — — I’m looking forward to reading this one.