Feed my sheep?

1263

Jesus spoke about how when we ignore the hungry and the homeless and the dispossessed, we ignore him. His followers hadn’t cottoned on, and as so often, he ended up having to explain to them. In becoming man, he saved us, and we are all made new in him – and have a common bond. This was one of the most powerful things about early Christianity. At a time when everyone made distinctions – ‘Jew’ or ‘Gentile’, ‘Roman’ or ‘Barbarian’, as well as the ones we’re still familiar with – rich and poor, insider and outsider – Christians were all brothers and sisters, and one of the things which impressed the Pagan society within which it was situated was the way in which it considered those who were of no account – widows and orphans – as mattering. They mattered because like the rest of us they are made in the image of Christ – and in helping them, we help Christ.

Over here, during the twentieth century, the State took on many of the philanthropic functions previously carried on by voluntary organisations, not least the churches. But over the past decade or more, as the over-reach of the State becomes apparent because of economic crises, the churches have sort of begun to insert themselves into some of the gaps. So, in terms of the refugee crisis which you may have heard of, with thousands on thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing the crises which have engulfed their countries, our Government has tended to give some funding to the churches and to other groups and told us to get on with it.

That’s how I find myself helping a couple of nights a week, and one Saturday a month, at a help centre for refugees. We serve food, we help find accommodation and schooling, and we put them in touch with others who can provide professional help such as psychiatric care. Though we have some funding from the local authorities via the Government, much of what we spend comes from donations, and the generosity of people is humbling. So, too, are the stories we hear.

I’m in no position to take sides – except that of the people we are trying to help. When you hear what these people have been through, your heart breaks – and there but for the Grace of God we all go. Most of the people I meet were, until a few years back, middle-class professionals, teachers, doctors, lawyers, who suddenly found their lives destroyed by the civil war in Syria. If anyone had told them, five years ago, they’d be eking out an existence in a bedsit in a foreign country depending on handouts, they would not have believed you – but that is just where they are now. But, once they are in a stable place, they help us to help others coming after them.

It’s not always easy. Some of the men in particular clearly feel humiliated in having to take charity, and some of them don’t much like being helped by women. It would be easy to get irritated by that, but what’s the point?  True charity is not setting conditions on what you do such as expecting those you help to be grateful in the way we would express gratitude. A female friend expressed some crossness that I was covering my hair when I go to help, but I know, from talking to many of the women, that they feel more comfortable when their men aren’t unsettled. Some will think this a form of appeasement of Muslims, but I left out one detail – most of those we are helping are Christian refugees. In their churches women and men sit on opposite sides of the aisle, and the women always cover their hair. In following their custom, we’re simply making them feel comfortable – it is an act of courtesy, acknowledging that even if they are homeless refugees totally dependant on our charity, they are men and women from a culture which we can show some respect to.

They say that you shouldn’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes, and having shared some time and space with these men, women and children, all I can say is that it isn’t hard to see them as brothers and sisters. What is heartening is to see how they respond, and how a comradeship grows between us. As one women with whom I prayed recently said to me: ‘You are good sister to me, and if needed, I would be to you, we are one in Jesus Christ.’ Yes, I thought, we are, and I believe you would be if the boot was on the other foot.

Easter: Past and Present

source-of-power-15-nov-2009-15-638I sit here now, in the dark of an early Nebraska Saturday morn, and look back over the week we call Easter week and think it truly named.

That’s because a week ago, I was watching a friend of mine founder in a situation, not of their making, which was coming very close to stealing their soul. Who or what was involved in that situation is none of our business, but I was deeply concerned, they had not all that long ago come into conflict with their local church, and everything had gone downhill from there. They were indeed showing uncommon valor, and I was mostly reduced to the role of a spectator, not least since I had not the gleam of an idea of the solution either. But I surely resembled the Disciples on that long-ago weekend. As  Rev. Brian Hamer says in his sermon for tomorrow:

On the evening of the first Easter Sunday, the disciples were locked in the upper room for fear of the Jews. They were filled with fear, doubt, and dread over their past, their present, and their future. Yes, the disciples were scared to death. But it was in the midst of their fear and doubt that Jesus came and stood in the midst of them and said, “Peace be with you.” Even in the original language, Jesus’ first word to them is “peace.” See how this word is loaded with rich Gospel! Peace for Peter, who denied the Lord. Peace for Peter, James, and John, who slept in Jesus’ moment of need in the garden. Peace for the ten disciples who fled from the cross. And Jesus gave them the proof of God’s peace by showing them His hands and His side, the marks and proof of the crucifixion. This is the Man who was wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their iniquities. The disciples were filled with joy as the reality of Jesus’ resurrection gradually dawned upon them. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

And so, as I sat here, and worried, and fretted, and tried to find a solution, for my friend, and yes for myself, I mostly missed the glory of Easter, due to my earthly concerns.

And yet God works in miraculous ways, and at the end of Sunday, my friend was extricated from the situation and was able to bring another friend of ours out as well, simply because God gave them, as he did St. Thomas, a view of His grievous wounds, allowing them to see the truth, and then He gave them the courage to take control of the situation. The Epistle for tomorrow in the historic one year Lutheran Lectionary is 1 John 5 4-10.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. 10 He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.

And so it has proved, in fact, God has even found my friends a new church, in a new city, a new job, and another person worthy of their love. Truly a new Easter for them. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer reminds us:

O, ALMIGHTY God, who art a strong tower of defence unto thy servants against the face of their enemies; We yield thee praise and thanksgiving for our deliverance from those great and apparent dangers wherewith we were compassed. We acknowledge it thy goodness that we were not delivered over as a prey unto them; beseeching thee still to continue such thy mercies towards us, that all the world may know that thou art our Saviour and mighty Deliverer; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

He 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 often spoken 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 sets 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. But our God is also a merciful God. 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.

 

He is Risen indeed!

And hath appeared unto Simon!

Even Simon, the coward disciple who denied him thrice

“Christ is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon!”

to Simon Peter the favoured Apostle, on whom the Church is built

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 future of his family, that he cared about more than anything to God. I find it interesting that this also took place on 25 March, as The Clerk of Oxford reminded us yesterday, and it was also the eighth day of creation, it is also Lady Day, and still other things. By far the most important day in salvation history.

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.

‘This doubtful day of feast or fast’

Annunciation and Crucifixion, from BL Add. 18850, f. 204v

Annunciation and Crucifixion, from BL Add. 18850, f. 204v

Something unusual today for Good Friday. It falls on Lady Day, the Feast of the Annunciation, something that won’t happen again until 2157. Our forefathers in the faith considered it to be the true date of the Crucifixion. A Clerk of Oxford tells us:

This day was not only a conjunction of man-made calendars but also a meeting-place of solar, lunar, and natural cycles: both events were understood to have happened in the spring, when life returns to the earth, and at the vernal equinox, once the days begin to grow longer than the nights and light triumphs over the power of darkness. Here’s Bede explaining some of the symbolism of this latter point (from here, p.25):

It is fitting that just as the Sun at that point in time first assumed power over the day, and then the Moon and stars power over the night, so now, to connote the joy of our redemption, day should first equal night in length, and then the full Moon should suffuse [the night] with light. This is for the sake of a certain symbolism, because the created Sun which lights up all the stars signifies the true and eternal light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world, while the Moon and stars, which shine, not with their own light (as they say), but with an adventitious light borrowed from the Sun, suggest the body of the Church as a whole, and each individual saint. These, capable of being illumined but not of illuminating, know how to accept the gift of heavenly grace but not how to give it. And in the celebration of the supreme solemnity, it was necessary that Christ precede the Church, which cannot shine save through Him… Observing the Paschal season is not meaningless, for it is fitting that through it the world’s salvation both be symbolized and come to pass.

As Bede says at the end here, this dating is symbolic but it is not only a symbol; it reveals the deep relationship between Christ’s death and all the created world, including the sun and moon and everything on earth. According to some calculations 25 March was also considered to be the eighth day of the week which saw the creation of the world (for more on that, see this post), as well as the date of certain events from the Old Testament which prefigured Christ’s death, including the sacrifice of Isaac and the crossing of the Red Sea. It is the single most significant date in salvation history, and for that reason has also made it into some fictional history too: those of you who are Tolkien fans will know that the final destruction of the Ring takes place on 25 March, to align Tolkien’s own eucatastrophe with this most powerful of dates.

It happened in 1608 too, and John Donne wrote about it:

Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day
1608

Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
She sees Him nothing twice at once, who’s all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall,
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive yet dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she’s seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen;
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, she’s in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angel’s Ave and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God’s court of faculties,
Deals in some times and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fixed Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the other is and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both.
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or ‘twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone:
Or as though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.

via A Clerk of Oxford: ‘This doubtful day of feast or fast’: Good Friday and the Annunciation.

Naught For Our Comfort

This is a repost of a post I made reworking Jess' first (and guest post here) in the fall of 2014, when she was just starting her recovery. It gave me comfort then from the strain and worry involved, and the horribleness of knowing she might be gone from my life,  just like that. Now, it still gives me comfort, as I look around an America, that I  barely recognize. I hope it does you as well. Neo

I doubt that it is news to any of you but, one of the great joys of mine in writing this blog for the last two years has been the help and friendship of Jessica, and her co-author Chalcedon. I admire them both greatly, and one of the reasons for that is that they have rekindled my love for poetry, and you have seen all of us use it to reinforce our points. It is hardly a new method but, it is one used rarely these days. I suspect because most of us are so ill-educated that we are unaware of its richness, and ability to reinforce our point.

If you read much of Lincoln’ writings and speeches, for instance, you will see it used to great effect. For instance his famous, “of the people, for the people, and by the people’ was not original, nor did he claim it was, and his listeners knew it was not. The original is this: “This Bible is for the government of the people, for the people and by the people.” it is by John Wycliffe and it is from 1384.

And so they have enriched my life, and will continue to do so, God willing, and yours as well because it is reflected in my posts for you. And so

A sea-folk blinder than the sea
Broke all about his land,
But Alfred up against them bare
And gripped the ground and grasped the air,
Staggered, and strove to stand.

For earthquake swallowing earthquake
Uprent the Wessex tree;
The whirlpool of the pagan sway
Had swirled his sires as sticks away
When a flood smites the sea.

Our towns were shaken of tall kings
With scarlet beards like blood:
The world turned empty where they trod,
They took the kindly cross of God
And cut it up for wood.

He bent them back with spear and spade,
With desperate dyke and wall,
With foemen leaning on his shield
And roaring on him when he reeled;
And no help came at all.

There was not English armor left,
Nor any English thing,
When Alfred came to Athelney
To be an English king.

It was a very bad time to be King Alfred of Wessex, and I think it holds parallels to our time as well. to continue

“Mother of God” the wanderer said
“I am but a common king,
Nor will I ask what saints may ask,
To see a secret thing.

“But for this earth most pitiful.
This little land I know,
If that which is forever is,
Or if our hearts shall break with bliss
Seeing the stranger go?”

And here we come to my introduction to this epic by Jess when she quoted to me on one of our political defeats

I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher

“And this is the word of Mary,
The word of the world’s desire
`No more of comfort shall ye get,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.’

Naught for your  comfort has become a catchphrase for us when things go awry, which has been often these last few years for us Americans, and for Britons as well.

We are living through a failed presidency (or, at least, trying to) and one of the reasons it has failed is that many of our countrymen have confused Obama with God, and I suspect he has as well. That never turns out well, and it is not here either.

I’m reminded that first class leaders hire the best men they can find to help them, and second class leaders hire third class helpers, and worst of all, third class leaders hire lackeys who will tell them what they want to hear. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

But we are going to have to soldier until after the next election and hope we find a man (not a god) to help us lead in the rebuilding western civilization, for without our leadership it will fall. It’s going to be an epically hard battle, and we could do worse than to emulate King Alfred.

But remember, we remember King Alfred because he won. Let’s finish with the rest of the poem.

And this was the might of Alfred,
At the ending of the way;
That of such smiters, wise or wild,
He was least distant from the child,
Piling the stones all day.

The King looked up, and what he saw

Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.

[…]

They shall not come in warships,
They shall not waste with brands,
But books be all their eating,
And ink be on their hands.

Yea, this shall be the sign of them,
The sign of the dying fire;
And man made like a half-wit,
That knows not of his sire.

What though they come with
scroll and pen,
And grave as a shaven clerk,
By this sign you shall know them
That they ruin and make dark;

By all men bond to nothing
Being slaves without a lord,
By one blind idiot world obeyed
Too blind to be abhorred.

By thought a crawling ruin,
By life a leaping mire,
By a broken heart in the breast
of the world
And the end of the world’s desire.

By God and man dishonored
By death and life made vain
Know ye, the old barbarian,
The barbarian come again

The eternal battle against barbarism is ours to win for our generation or to lose for generations to come. It has taken us a thousand years to get where we are, and it might take longer to recover. So, Stand Fast, my friends.

Did that interest you enough to wonder about the poem and its author? I hope so. It was written by G.K. Chesterton (and it’s much longer than the excerpts here) it’s called The Ballad of the White Horse. You can find it at Project Gutenberg.

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