Faith in the World Today, and in History

I’m catching up a bit today, while none of these articles is especially time sensitive, I find them both important and uplifting. And, in truth, I got sidetracked with Easter and Cliven Bundy’s confrontation

Over at the Newman site, John Charmley tells us in Cardinal Newman’s words why sometimes we don’t believe what is written (or told) us plainly.

We have in the Gospel for this day what, I suppose, has raised the wonder of most readers of the New Testament. I mean the slowness of the disciples to take in the notion that our Lord was to suffer on the Cross. It can only be accounted for by the circumstance that a contrary opinion had strong possession of their minds—what we call a strong prejudice against the truth, in their cases an honest religious prejudice, the prejudice of honest religious minds, but still a deep and violent prejudice. When our Lord first declared it, St. Peter said, “Be it far from thee, Lord, this shall not happen to Thee.” He spoke so strongly that the holy Evangelist says that he “took our Lord and began to rebuke Him.” He did it out of reverence and love, as the occasion of it shows, but still that he spoke with warmth, with vehemence, is evident from the expression. Think then how deep his prejudice must have been.

This same prejudice accounts for what we find in today’s gospel. Our Lord said, “Behold we go to Jerusalem, and all that is written of the Son of man shall be accomplished. For He shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked and scourged and spat upon; and after they have scourged Him, they will put Him to death, and the third day He shall rise again.” Could words be plainer? Yet what effect had they on the disciples? “They understood none of these things, and this was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said.” Why hid? Because they had not eyes to see

via Faith and Prejudice — NEWMAN LECTURES.

Archbishop Cranmer asks us to calm down and listen to what Prime Minister David Cameron said the other day about Britain being a Christian country. His Grace also thinks that we might make allowances for the PM to be growing in his faith. It wouldn’t be the first time that a visit to the Holy Land/or the death of a child had that effect. I think there may well be much truth in that, and if there is here, Thank God.

Apparently, No10 had no intention of releasing a transcript of the Prime Minister’s speech to Christian leaders last week: unlike other faith gatherings, it was an impromptu declamation, spoken spontaneously from the heart, and some there felt that the content didn’t merit courtly promulgation, not least because it wasn’t honed, crafted or filtered by aides to extinguish any hint of offence.

But His Grace agitated and agitated, and the oration was made public. And it was seen that the Prime Minister spoke intimately of the loss of his son, Ivan; and of his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land; and of his quiet times in church; and of the need for Christians to do more “evangelism”. He is a politician; not a theologian: his words were those of a layman, but no less sincere for that.   

And then he released an article in the Church Times - My Faith in the Church of England - in which he demanded the right to speak about his faith “in this ever more secular age”. And he dared to refer to the United Kingdom as a “Christian country”, and again called for Christians to be “more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives”.

via Don’t condemn Cameron’s claim to Christianity–Cranmer

In Jerusalem, some Lutheran nuns who have provided a guesthouse for Holocaust survivors since 1961 are wrapping up their mission because there are so few survivors left. It reminds me that it is up to our generations now to make sure the Holocaust is never forgotten and especially never repeated. Well done, sisters.

Residents of the Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood who have watched nuns in their white habits go in and out of a house at 10 Ein Gedi Street for the past half century will soon notice their absence. Beit Avraham (House of Abraham), as the sisters of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary call their home, is closing down.

Since 1961 it has served as a guesthouse for Holocaust survivors. But with so few survivors still alive — and those still living too frail to come visit — the nuns have decided their work has come to an end.

“We received our mission from the Almighty. The Almighty gives and the Almighty takes away. Our job has ended,” says Sister Gratia in a conversation with The Times of Israel in Beit Avraham’s reception room. Sister Gratia, 71, arrived in 1975 from Austria to help run the guesthouse.

[...]

The Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary is a Lutheran-based order, but operates independently. It began as a Christian organization founded in 1947 by German theologian and intellectual Dr. Klara Schlink, along with Erika Madauss. As president of the Women’s Division of the German Student Christian Movement from 1933 to 1935, Schlink refused to comply with Nazi policy barring Jewish-born students from meetings. During WWII, Schlink was summoned twice by the Gestapo because of her uncompromising stance in defense of Jews.

via Lutheran nuns end Jerusalem mission to Shoah survivor–The Jerusalem Connection, hat tip to Irishanglican

And Gene Veith told us the other day how atheism is built on the foundation of Christianity

Theo Hobson, in the British Spectator, critiques the New Atheist insistence that we can have morality–indeed, a better morality–apart from religion.  In doing so, he shows that even today’s secular humanist morality, which the atheists take as axiomatic, actually derives from Christianity.

A truly atheist, Darwinistic morality would look more like Nietzsche’s nihilistic will to power.  In contrast, today’s egalitarian benevolence would be impossible without the Christian teachings of creation and grace.

From Theo Hobson, The return of God: atheism’s crisis of faith » The Spectator:

The problem that confronts them [the new atheists] is as stark as it is simple: our morality has religious roots. Put another way: when God is rejected, the stakes are gulpingly high; the entire moral tradition of the West is put in question.

This was the insight of Friedrich Nietzsche — and for all the different atheist thinkers and philosophers since, it remains just as true today. It’s all very well to say that blind faith is a bad idea, and that we should move beyond it to a more enlightened ethical system, but this raises the question of what we mean by good and bad, and those ideas are irrevocably rooted in Christianity. Nietzsche saw this, and had the courage to seek a new ethos amid the collapse of all modern systems of meaning. Did he find one? Yes, in pagan power-worship — the sort that eventually led to fascism. We think of him as mad and bad — but he was brave. Imagine Ed Miliband trying to follow in this tradition, gazing into the abyss of all meaning, the dark crucible of nihilism.

via Even secular humanism depends on Christianity

And there, in four articles, a cross-section of how our faith operates in the world today, usually well, and a warning to be more discerning in our reading and listening.

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Thou Shalt Not

The Promulgation of the Law at Mount Sinai, by...

The Promulgation of the Law at Mount Sinai, by the illustrators of the Figures de la Bible, 1728 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I want to pick up on something Jess said this morning about how the world perceives us as Christians, she said this in her article.

 

Yet, how divided we appear to the world. How unable to take on board His message that we should ‘be one’ and that it would be through our mutual love that we would show the world who our Lord was. We say much, but too often what we say to each other sounds to the listening world negative and limiting. Pope Francis was not saying we should not talk about sexual sins and abortion, indeed he has rightly said abortion is a dreadful crime against humanity, but he was reminding us that there is a media out there which will always take the chance to make us sound as though we are obsessed with negative – ‘do not do this’. Yet we are reminded, on this greatest of days, that Jesus’ formulation of the Law was a positive one:

 

And she is right, the world often perceives us as entirely negative. But in reality, we are by far the most permissive people in the world, even as our Jewish forebearers were before us. We have only ten rules, laws, commandments, whatever you care to call them.

 

I wrote this a while back, as the start of a post, and never managed to bring it to completion, but it fits well here, and makes the point I want to make today.

 

Three little words, what a change they have made in the world.

 

Three little words, repeated ten times, with various simple clauses that have transformed the ancient world of thugs and tribes to the modern world

 

Three little words, from God’s lips to our ears (and eyes).

 

But it’s important to remember that God reserves judgement to him, not us.

 

It’s also remarkable that there are only ten.

 

There are no long lists of proscribed things

 

Nor are there long lists of prescribed things, only ten proscriptions.

 

In any time and place it’s a very permissive code of conduct, and yet because of that very fact, it has allowed civilization to flourish, especially western civilization.

 

And that is the key, isn’t it? It’s very permissiveness has allowed the modern world to develop, and the reason it has developed most in Northern Europe and the parts of the world descended from it, is that the laws of those principalities, have followed suit. They have taught us what we must not do, and left us free to do all else.

 

This isn’t true elsewhere, if we look at Roman law codes or Islamic law, we will find that you must do these things and you must not do anything else, unless you first get permission from the prince. And those societies have stagnated over the centuries.

 

GK Chesterton had this to say

 

“The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.”

 

And he also said, and this is quite pertinent to history that,

When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom; you do not even get anarchy.

You get the small laws.

 

But, you know while Easter is the holiest day of the year for us, we all remember how excited we were about the easter bunny coming,when we were kids, so let’s lighten up for a few minutes, and celebrate our child like status, after all we were all reborn in our faith this morning

 

 

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He is Risen Indeed!

So it is here, the day of days!  For those of us who have observed some Lenten practice, there is almost a mixed feeling – having acquired the habit of giving up something, and taking something on, the challenge is not to give both up. It is some index of the society in which we live that where for Christians this is the greatest day of the year, he secular world, not really knowing what to do with it, prefers Christmas, which is more easily coopted into a spendfest.

He is Risen. What does that mean to each of us? We can only answer for ourselves, although each of us is an integral part of what it means, because Jesus died for each of us. That, for me, is the truly awesome (in its real sense) part of the Easter message. As I prayed at the altar of repose on Thursday night, I knew that I’d have been one of those falling asleep in Gethsemane; on Good Friday amidst the funereal gloom of the Stations of the Cross, there was a sense that my sins were the stripes He bore; much as I flinched from them, it occurred to me to wonder whether I flinched so easily from occasions of sin? At the Easter Vigil last night, as the Church was bathed in light, there was that sense that all had now changed. It changed for us all when He said to the Father ‘thy will be done’; it can change for us when we follow His example.

I live in the UK, a particularly secular part of a secularising Continent; America has more of a sense of what this day means to mankind, and long may that be the case. For all the effects of the culture wars, America still has more Christians than anywhere outside of China, and Christianity is still vital. The shining city on the hill is no secular vision.

Yet, how divided we appear to the world. How unable to take on board His message that we should ‘be one’ and that it would be through our mutual love that we would show the world who our Lord was. We say much, but too often what we say to each other sounds to the listening world negative and limiting. Pope Francis was not saying we should not talk about sexual sins and abortion, indeed he has rightly said abortion is a dreadful crime against humanity, but he was reminding us that there is a media out there which will always take the chance to make us sound as though we are obsessed with negative – ‘do not do this’. Yet we are reminded, on this greatest of days, that Jesus’ formulation of the Law was a positive one:

 “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

If we think of ‘being good’ merely doing no harm, we miss the positive message of the Resurrection. Our love for each other is communicated in action, and if our actions to each other as Christians contradict the message of universal love He brought, then our witness is not only impaired; it is fruitless.

We love Him because He first loved us, though we are sinners. If He can love us, we can try, in His name, to love each other. As dear Dolly Parton sings, “He’s alive, and I’m forgiven, Heaven’s Gates are opened wide.”

A happy Easter to all Neo’s readers.

Christ is Risen

That’s the importance of the day. Jesus the Christ is risen from the dead.

A few words on some of the symbolism, The term Easter comes from the old Anglo Saxon goddess of spring, although the only real mention is from the Venerable Bede. The egg being proscribed during Lent was offered in abundance at Easter and is an obvious metaphor for rebirth. There is some evidence for a hare hunt being traditional on Good Friday but, it’s a fairly obvious sign of “go forth, be fruitful, and multiply” anyway.

We have been talking this week about Jesus the leader, and his unflinching dedication to the death to his mission. On Easter this mission is revealed. It finally becomes obvious that His mission (at this time, anyway) is not of the Earth and it’s princelings. It is instead a Kingdom of souls.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

And so we come to the crux of the matter. The triumph over original sin and death itself. For if you believe in the Christ and his message you will have eternal life. This is what set Christianity apart, the doctrine of grace. For if you truly repent of your sins, and attempt to live properly, you will be saved. Not by your works, especially not by your wars and killing on behalf of your faith, valid  and just though they may be,  but by your faith and your faith alone. For you serve the King of Kings.

And as we know, the Christ is still leading the mission to save the souls of all God‘s children. It is up to us to follow the greatest leader in history or not as we choose. We would do well to remember that our God is a fearsome God but, he is also a just God. We shall be judged entirely on our merits as earthly things fall away from us. So be of good cheer for the Father never burdens his people with burdens they cannot, with his help, bear.

As we celebrate the first sunrise after the defeat of darkness, Hail the King Triumphant for this is the day of His victory.

The Peace of the Lord be with you all.

Sacrifices

Zadkiel was said to be the Angel who prevented...

Zadkiel was said to be the Angel who prevented Abraham from sacrificing his son, Isaac. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From Genesis 22

 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.

Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

11 And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.

12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

We know the story as well as any don’t we? Abraham was fully prepared to sacrifice his only son, the his future of his family, that he cared about more than anything to God.

That what is meant by sacrifice. It means giving up something that means a lot maybe everything to us for a cause. In truth, as hard as it may be for us, it doesn’t really mean giving up chocolate for Lent. (The nice thing about God is that he understand about symbols though, so it does count.)

But here’s a thought for you, if that angel in verse 11 was late or got sidetracked, Genesis, Israel, Judaism end right there, Christianity never starts. The Bible ends at Genesis 22. Good thing angels aren’t human, isn’t it? Because then Abraham’s clan are just another bunch of nomadic Semites roaming around doing human sacrifice.

But the angel is on time, and stopped Abraham, and God provided the sacrifice, not a lamb but a ram. And that’s why we’re talking about this today.

Because this is not quite the end of human sacrifice in Judaism, there would be one more instance. That instance took place yesterday. It was quite different from what Abraham was willing to do. In fact, it is unique in history. because for the only time in History

God sacrificed his Son for man, not the other way around.

Think about that for a while, in all the universe, God has one begotten Son, and he was sacrificed like Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac. Here is the lamb of the sacrifice that the ram filled in for.

The omnipotent, omniscient God, who knows all about us, how we are disobedient, childish, petulant, greedy, vain, prideful, and all those other things that we know we are, gave up his own Son, who was sacrificed for us. He took upon his shoulders the sins of all of us, willingly, for all our generations, only asking that we worship and believe. And thusly:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

And that is something to think about this Saturday as we wait, pray, and hope for the Resurrection.

Since the Passover which our Jewish friends just celebrated and Easter itself which is intrinsically linked to it are both celebrations of the freedom of individuals, as well as free will to choose good or evil, I thought I would include this here to remind us in America of who we are.

Good? Friday

Christ Before Pilate. Friedländer (1969): p. 83.

Christ Before Pilate. Friedländer (1969): p. 83. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a child, I always wondered how the day when Jesus suffered murder by the state could be called Good. As I grew up and put away childish things and thoughts, I came to understand the story. It is the ultimate story of servant leadership. It is the story of how God himself came down in the guise of a man, to show us the way. Here’s a part of the story.

And so now we come to the climax. We have seen Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we have seen the Last Supper with its echoing call “Do this in Remembrance of Me”, we have seen the arrest during prayers in the garden.

We have seen Peter, renamed Cephas (the Rock) deny the Christ 3 times. We have seen the trial before the Sanhedrin, and the passing of the buck to the Roman, Pontius Pilate who could find no fault in this man but allowed him to be condemned according to Roman practice.

We have even seen the treachery of Judas,who for 30 pieces of silver betrayed his Lord, soon repented, attempted to return the reward (which ended up funding the paupers cemetery) and his death as a suicide.

And so now we come to the fatal procession from Jerusalem to Golgotha.

In one way or another we will all walk the Via Dolorossa. One of the mottoes I use to keep trying to do the right thing, “No one, not even Christ, ever got out of life alive”. For me, that about sums it up. You may as well do the right thing, you might not get the reward on earth that you were striving for, but at the judgment seat you will be rewarded.

Here is the story according to St. Matthew:

And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross, and the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew.

And the chief priests said unto Pilate, It should be written and set up over his head, his accusation, This is he that said he was Jesus, the King of the Jews. But Pilate answered and said, What I have written, I have written; let it alone.

Then were there two thieves crucified with him; one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it again in three days save thyself. If thou be the Son of God come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others, himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now; if he will save him, let him save him; for he said, I am the Son of God.

One of the thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth. But the other rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation; and this man is just, and hath not sinned; and he cried unto the Lord that he would save him. And the Lord said unto him This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli,lama sabachthani?(That is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?) Some of them that stood there, when they heard him, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let him be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

Jesus when he had cried again with a loud voice, saying, Father, it is finished, thy will is done, yielded up the ghost. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and the bodies of the saints which slept, arose, who were many, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, heard the earth quake, and saw those things which were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him for his burial; among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.

Now, remember this was on Friday following the triumphant entry the prior Sunday. How the mighty had fallen, from the crowd’s hero, one might say a rock star, to an executed criminal buried in a borrowed grave in a week.

This was the man many had expected to free Israel from Rome, there would be others for that mission, it would culminate at Masada and in the destruction of Jerusalem and the diaspora. The next ruler of the city, after Rome, would be Islam, contested by the Crusader knights. But until our own time Jerusalem would not be ruled again by the Jews.

And so the Messiah, the King of the Jews died. The lesson would seem to be not to upset the applecart, to go along to get along, even to sit down and shut up, wouldn’t it?

It’s a pretty sharp lesson too. One of the most cruel methods of execution ever devised by man.

And so ends the story;

or does it?

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