Lessons from History; Some Things Never Change

This is one of those weeks that we think about absent friends when one gets to my age, a fair number are waiting on the other bank, but not all. Many things keep us from being with those we wish to be around, both in our lives and theirs. Can’t be helped. But we can think of them and remember. This is a post from July of 2012, part of it is a sermon presented by my friend Chalcedon (there are links to the rest of his series), and then a current follow up to Rebecca Hamilton. Since she no longer blogs, the link is dead, but the advice is just as current at was then. Enjoy. Neo

Chalcedon451, Jessica Hoff’s co-writer at All Along the Watchtower has done a series on a long sermon that has major significance for us today. My understanding is that Chalcedon is a distinguished scholar and historian of the early church, which is consonant with his work that I have seen. It is something that our clergy don’t often go into with us and yet, it tells us a lot about where our faith began and how took the shape we know today. I’m going to let Chalcedon introduce his subject, and then excerpt it. But, in truth, you need to read the entire series. So let’s get started.

Theophilus ofAlexandria is regarded as a Saint in the Coptic Church. He was Patriarch of Alexandria from 385-412, when he was succeeded by his nephew, the great St. Cyril. Much less well-known, he has been neglected by later historians. The best (indeed the only) scholarly introduction by Norman Russell. Theophilius’ homily on the Penitent Thief is worth our reflection

….

This, if you like, is the way of Our Lord Jesus Christ, when he saw the real enemy of the whole human race, who is the devil. For the devil invade the whole earth, and afflicted everyone with many kinds of sins, which he spreads with these great scourges, namely, idolatry, robbery, vanity, fornication, theft, murder, slander, licentiousness, envy, hatred, contempt, anger, sorcery, pollution, fraud, arrogance, perjury, falsehood, corruption, prostitution, deceit and whatever is similar in them. These are the traps which the devil set for humanity, until he brought it to perdition and dispersed it.

….

When he descended into this world, he came to the people of Israel and preached to them saying: ‘Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ (Mt. 4:17) But they paid no heed to his holy counsels. After this he performed all the signs of his divinity in their presence, miracles without number. … It was because an adulterous woman was made worthy of this great grace that her hands anointed the feet of him who had created her. (Lk. 7 37-8 ) From the moment she participated in the purity of his divinity, the voice of God came to her. ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’ (Lk. 7:50

….

They crucified him with two thieves. One of them, who was unworthy of the vision of his divinity, said to the Lord, deriding him: ‘If you are the Christ, save yourselves and us’. (Lk 23:39) The other replied, rebuking him with indignation: ‘Do you not fear God? We are receiveing the reward of our sins, which we have committed, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him with great joy, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Lk 23:40-3).

The Gate of Paradise has been closed since the time when Adam transgressed, but I will open it today, and receive you in it. because you have recognised the nobility of my head on the cross, you who have shared with me the suffering of the cross will be my companion in the joy of the kingdom. You have glorified me in the presence of carnal men, in the presence of sinners. I will therefore glorify you in the presence of the angels. You were fixed with me me on the cross, and you united yourself with me of your own free will. I will therefore love you, and my Father will love you, and the angels will serve you with my holy food. If you used once to be a companion of murderers, behold, I who am the life of all have now made you a companion with me. You used once to walk the night with the sons of darkness; behold, I who am the light of the whole world have now made you walk with me. You used once to take counsel with murderers; behold, I who am the Creator have made you a companion with me.²

….

All these things I will pardon you because you have confessed my divinity in the presence of those who denied me. For they saw all the signs which I performed, but did not believe in me. You then, a rapacious robber, a murderer, a brigand, a swindler, a plunderer have confessed that I am God….

….

See, now, brethren, what torment the man who denied the Lord brought upon himself? We should therefore watch over ourselves that we should not be led astray, that for the sake of the things of this life we should not be made strangers to him who has created us. Perhaps there is someone today who is denying God for the sake of riches, because the love of money closes the eyes of those who are given to it. Such a person takes the part of Judas. He has sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.³

I think there are lessons for us approximately 1600 years later in this homily.

  • First, Jesus came to save us but, if we fail to recognize him, he, in his turn, will also fail to recognize us, with dire consequences for our soul.
  • Second, Confessing in church on Sunday morning isn’t going to cut it, if you are not going to confess your faith when it has a cost for you, your return will equal your benefit. You shall reap what you sow.
  • Third, let not the things of this world concern you more than the things of the next. Be careful, it’s very easy to do this, even with good will.

Would you like a real-life example of this sermon in action? I thought so. Let’s wander out to Oklahoma and talk with a legislator there a bit, her name is Rebecca Hamilton, and she is a heroine of mine.

Where there is no vision, the people perish.    Proverbs 29: 18

 … and he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.     Mark 6: 34

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.   Luke 12: 48

Demagoguery is not preaching Christ.

Protecting priestly privilege is not preaching Christ.

Pandering to your parishioners is not preaching Christ.

Pandering to your brother and sister clergy is not preaching Christ.

Pandering to political parties and secular powers is not preaching Christ.

Protecting your career and advancement in the Church is not preaching Christ.

We are like sheep without a shepherd. In fact, we are more than like sheep without a shepherd. We are sheep without a shepherd. Telling us how to vote is not telling us how to live. It does not equip us to be the salt and light that bring the Kingdom. It does not grow our faith in Christ. What it does is gather political power to the person who is telling us how to vote.

We are lied to, manipulated, whipped up into hatred and degraded with cheap slogans instead of intelligent dialogue by the media, the two political parties and the various candidates. We don’t need more of the same coming at us from the pulpits in our churches.

We need Christ and Him crucified. We need clergy who will preach the revolutionary, civilization-building, soul-saving Gospel of Christ in all its fullness.

Continue reading Stop Slogan-Voting. Stop Hate-Voting. Stop Being Manipulated. Part 6. Preach Christ = Preach Christ Crucified. In fact you should read the whole series, it is all of this quality.

So there we have it, the church in Alexandria in approximately 400 AD and the church in Oklahoma with exactly the same problem in 2012 AD. Is it any different where you live?

Same problem, Same solution.

 

¹ Theophilus of Alexandria: The Penitent Thief (part 1)

² The Penitent Thief (part 2)

³ The Penitent Thief (3)

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.

Hope, and Prayer

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As I said in my last post, I do not feel competent to offer solace to the other victims in this scandal: the women who have been cheated, by themselves, and by pressure tactics from having their children. They too pay a heavy price. While I don’t have any personal experience of this, my dearest friend, Jessica does, and in this post from February 2014 she recounts her experience. Neo

Thomas Merton wrote that ‘Only the man who has had to face despair is really convinced that he needs mercy. Those who do not want mercy, never seek it.’ One of the things which puzzles me is how those who do not know of God know they need him and come to him. I have been privileged to share in a remarkable example of how this question is answered by God.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine had a knock on the door of the vicarage where he lives. It was a young woman. She was pregnant and did not want to be. She could not get an immediate appointment with a doctor or a medical social worker, or even the counsellor she was seeing at the abortion clinic; she’d heard that you didn’t need an appointment to see a vicar – so there she was. She’d never been to church and admitted she didn’t know what ‘it was all about’, but she needed an ear. My friend listened to her for about an hour. He did not try to influence her against her will, but to discern that will. She was clearly confused and in some desperation.  After the hour, she left, thanking him.

We heard nothing more until Friday evening, when she telephoned to say she was going to have an abortion the next day; she asked if he would come to see her on Sunday. He asked if he could bring a friend – me, as he felt a woman might help in the situation; she said that would be fine.

I posted about her on my own site and asked people to join me in prayer for her. Most of those commenting did so, although there was one poster who thought we ought to be telling her what a dreadful sinner she was, although, since she knew not the Lord, it is hard to know what she would have made of that. We went, wanting to be there to extend compassion to her, and to do whatever the Lord wanted.

When we went into her small flat, it was clear that she was depressed – it was like a huge cloud over her. She told us that she had been counselled about all the medical things, and the side-effects, but she had never felt so empty and so ‘wrong’. She cried, and it was hard to know what to do, so I held her hands. I asked if she’d mind if we said a prayer, and through her tears she said she didn’t really mind, though couldn’t see it would help. The three of us held hands and I asked God to have mercy on the three sinners in the room, and to grant His grace to the dead child. The room filled with light. We all felt the same thing. She gasped. We sat in silence, holding hands for as long as was needed.

As he light faded, I asked her how she felt. She said: “As though God has spoken to me saying that I should go and sin no more,” I asked if she knew where those words came from, and she laughed and said “I’ve just told you, God told me.” I said I knew, I had heard them too, but did she know they had been said before? She asked what I was talking about, so I told her about the woman taken in adultery. She got very serious: “But I thought you Christians would condemn such a slut – and one like me, but you haven’t, and God loves me.” We all cried.

God, alone, can comfort the child who will never be born, but whatever anyone says, I believe that child is with God. But the would-be mother, a soul so lost she did not even know she was lost, had come to know God’s mercy.

Out of the stuff of tragedy a new hope was born. We cannot know what He has in store for her, or for us – but we can trust and love and show the compassion He shows to us. Is there anything more to Christianity at bottom?

I’ll add a bit here, the woman that Jess talks about here is now engaged to that vicar (then, now a priest) and from what I hear they are very happy. After hearing God’s word, she instantly became a pillar of the church, and still is. So while he and Jess lost the child, mostly because of a lack of time, I think, she and Fr A. saved the mother. But this is an extraordinary story, in that she stumbled across a very good priest, and a very supportive woman to help her. That happens rarely. How many of the women who go through this trauma (for that is what it is) are damaged, some beyond earthly repair? Many, I warrant.

I know a bit about that black pit of despair that she was in. I’ve been there a couple of times, and without help, I doubt I would be here, because I was very close to suicide, and from what Jess has told me, not all of it published, I don’t think this woman would have lived a week, without their caring, prayer, and God’s intervention.

So recoil in horror at this unfolding story, that’s appropriate, but remember this, as well. In this case, God himself quoted Christ to the woman taken in adultery, “Go, and sin no more”. That’s not letting anybody off the hook, that is what Christ taught us to do. They will likely pay a higher price than we could imagine, or impose. So, let us go and do likewise.

As for the people running abortion mills, like Planned Parenthood, well I doubt God is amused.

My comment at the time this article appeared was this:

Thus only those sinners belong in the kingdom of Christ who recognize their sin, feel it, and then catch hold of the Word of Christ spoken here: “Neither do I condemn you.”—Martin Luther, Treasury of Daily Prayer, p. 1235.

Neo

A Law of Liberty?

English: John Henry Newman Category:Venerated ...

English: John Henry Newman Category:Venerated Catholics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We often speak here of leadership, what it is, how to do it, and such. This is another installment. But we have some underbrush to clear first.

We have often noted that Christianity is based almost entirely on ten things you must not do, we call them commandments, and we share them with Judaism. They range from worshipping false gods, murdering people, and coveting the things that are your neighbors, not to mention the one that w all had trouble with: honoring our Father and Mother. Jesus removed the yoke of the old covenant that included such things as the dietary laws, and here added only these:

Matthew 22:36-40 King James Version (KJV)

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

That’s a pretty permissive rule, isn’t it? Pretty much do what you want but do love God and do not hurt your neighbor. And then He commissioned us to share the Good News.

Matthew 28:16-20 King James Version (KJV)

16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.

17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.

18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

OK, I know and you know as well that it’s not as easy as it sounds, nothing worth-while ever is, and it took literally centuries to brig the canon together (what we call the Bible) so that we wouldn’t make so many mistakes, or at least would learn from those that went before us. But compared to the value of the prize, it’s not an impossible mission either. And so we should remember that old catchphrase which will help us immensely.

  1. The Mission
  2. The People
  3. Yourself

You’ll have your priorities pretty much straight, anyway.

John Henry Newman had some thoughts about how Christ leads us as well. Like much of his work, it strikes me as absolutely true.

The Gospel is a Law of Liberty. We are treated as sons, not as servants; not subjected to a code of formal commands, but addressed as those who love GOD, and wish to please Him. When a man gives orders to those whom he thinks will mistake him, or are perverse, he speaks pointedly and explicitly; but when he gives directions to friends, he will trust much to their knowledge of his feelings and wishes, he leaves much to their discretion, and tells them not so much what he would have done in detail, as what are the objects he would have accomplished. Now this is the way CHRIST has spoken to us under the New Covenant; and apparently with this reason, to try us, whether or not we really love Him as our LORD and SAVIOUR.

A Law of Liberty? — NEWMAN LECTURES.

 

A Question in the Comments

copts-attacked1On Jessica’s post Where is Comfort, the Unit asked Jessica in comments a question.

Golly gee Ms. Hof. Thanks for comment. I wonder if you could maybe post here as to a question I still have? One of the last things Momma said to me is “the righteous suffer with the unrighteous.” I spare you (well spare myself) the details as many suffer. But her circumstance didn’t let me delve into what she knew Biblically on that.

That was 2006, she 91…me now in seventies. Thank you so much. the unit

Jess got sick before she answered it, and I think it deserves an answer. She’s far better qualified but I’ll take a shot at it.

St. Peter tells us in I Peter 3:18 that

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

Which is, of course, fairly obvious, or at least we hope so, since we are all sinners, and hence unjust, and need His grace to save us.

But you and I know that sometimes it seems that we who try to do the right thing feel like we are almost oppressed in our society doesn’t it. I, like you see all the stories about Christianity being driven from public life, and all the rest, and in truth sometimes even it seems like those we love and are in the faith hurt us. And we get sick, and we suffer, even in fact as Jess herself has, and those that love her have, and it just doesn’t seem right, does it?

In many ways, I suspect a lot of it, is simply that our culture has led us to believe that we should be happy, in this life. Sometimes we are; but that’s not what Jesus promised was it? He promised that we would be persecuted in this life, and would find our happiness in the next.

But Ezekiel 21 tells us this:

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem, preach against the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel; and say to the land of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I I Am against you, and I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off both righteous and wicked from you.Because I will cut off both righteous and wicked from you, therefore My sword shall go out of its sheath against all flesh from south to north,

And that is a pretty dire prophecy, I would say. Dr. John Oakes tells us here, however

When God brings physical judgment on a nation, both the godly and the

ungodly will suffer. This may seem unfair upon first consideration, but
when God judges a nation, as he surely has a right to do, the suffering of
both the good and the evil is inevitable. However, the righteous may
suffer physically, but they will not lose their place in heaven if their
heart is devoted to God. This is a general law of human existence. God
causes the rain to fall on the good and the evil. Some of the blessings of
God will fall on those who do not even acknowledge him. Sometimes, even
good people are caused to suffer because of the sins of others, but in the
end, God will reward them for their righteous life. God does not promise a
care-free life to those who turn to him.

And so it seems like in many ways, if you are righteous, you will suffer along with the unrighteous, in this world. Calamities happen to us all, just as we all get the spring rain, we also get the tornado. We are seeing plenty of that recently aren’t we, what with the Copts and the Iraqi Christians, two of the oldest of Christian communities, going back to the time of the Apostles themselves.

But, at the last we are judged individually, and that is where our reward is. In the next world, not this one. And we have to trust Him, who told us in Mathew 11:30

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

And the key here is that a yoke is used on at least two oxen, it is surely placed on us, but the other side is placed on Christ Himself, who helps us by sharing our burden.

Remembrance and Honor

Gettysburg_national_cemetery_img_4164And so as we move into Memorial Day weekend where we commemorate and remember those millions who have given their lives for our (and other peoples) freedom, we should also take time to remember President Lincoln’s words on 4 March 1865:

Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

As is usually the case, we seem to have done a lousy job of that, doesn’t it. It seems to be the way of nations to forget the warrior after the war. So it has always been, and so it may always be. But doesn’t have to be, America has registered many firsts, this would be a worthy accomplishment for the American people, to disprove Kipling’s words, once and for all time. Especially as we remember and mourn those that our neglect has taken from us before their time. 😥

And that, would be a mission worthy of America

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