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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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....the bridegroom rejoices to revisit the heart’s chamber when He finds it adorned with fruits and decked with flowers—that is, meditating on the mystery of His Passion or on the glory of His Resurrection.
The tokens of the Passion we recognize as the fruitage of the ages of the past, appearing in the fullness of time during the reign of sin and death (Gal. 4.4). But it is the glory of the Resurrection, in the new springtime of regenerating grace, that the fresh flowers of the later age come forth, whose fruit shall be given without measure at the general resurrection, when time shall be no more. And so it is written, ‘The winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth’ (Cant. 2.11 f); signifying that summer has come back with Him who dissolves icy death into the spring of a new life and says, ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Rev. 21.5). His Body sown in the grave has blossomed in the Resurrection (I Cor. 15.42); and in like manner our valleys and fields which were barren or frozen, as if dead, glow with reviving life and warmth.
The Father of Christ who makes all things new, is well pleased with the freshness of those flowers and fruits, and the beauty of the field which breathes forth such heavenly fragrance; and He says in benediction, ‘See, the smell of My Son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed’ (Gen. 27.27). Blessed to overflowing, indeed, since of His fullness have all we received (John 1.16). But the Bride may come when she pleases and gather flowers and fruits therewith to adorn the inmost recesses of her conscience; that the Bridegroom when He cometh may find the chamber of her heart redolent with perfume.
So it behoves us, if we would have Christ for a frequent guest, to fill our hearts with faithful meditations on the mercy He showed in dying for us, and on His mighty power in rising again from the dead. To this David testified when he sang, ‘God spake once, and twice I have also heard the same; that power belongeth unto God; and that Thou, Lord, art merciful (Ps. 62.11f). And surely there is proof enough and to spare in that Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification, and ascended into heaven that He might protect us from on high, and sent the Holy Spirit for our comfort. Hereafter He will come again for the consummation of our bliss. In His Death He displayed His mercy, in His Resurrection His power; both combine to manifest His glory.
--Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), On Loving God, Chapter III
This coming Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord, and parishes around the world have a vital decision to make: Do we extinguish the Paschal Candle on Ascension Day or on Pentecost?
This question may sound like a liturgist's version of the game, Trivial Pursuit, but there is an important biblical and theological lesson to be learned....
Read it all.
Ascension theology turns at this point to the Eucharist, for in celebrating the eucharist the church professes to know how the divine presents itself in our time, and how the question of faithfulness is posed. Eucharistically, the church acknowledges that Jesus has heard and has answered the upward call; that, like Moses, he has ascended into that impenetrable cloud overhanging the mountain. Down below, rumours of glory emanate from the elders, but the master himself is nowhere to be seen. He is no longer with his people in the same way he used to be. Yet he is with them, in the Spirit.--Douglas Farrow, Ascension Theology (New York: T and T Clark, 2011), p. 64
But then the Lord asks, “Do you love me?” It seems an odd question for Jesus to ask. We can’t help but wonder if some redactor got it wrong. Or perhaps some failure in communication may have taken place; someone must have misheard Jesus’ conversation with Peter. It was probably the person who counted the fish. We are not even sure we can trust John to have gotten it right. The disciples have been with the resurrected Jesus, but they go on fishing? They go back to the ordinary life they had prior to following Jesus? It seems unimaginable.
Moreover, Jesus is not supposed to ask Peter -- or us -- to love him. His job is to love us. In spite of our failures to be faithful disciples, in spite of our confusions about what it means to be Christian, in spite of our prideful presumption that we are our own creator, in spite of our sins, Jesus is supposed to love us.
Is that not the heart of the gospel? -- “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” This passage from John seems to have gotten off script; we are to be assured of Jesus’ love for us, and not the other way around....
Read it all.
Watch it all (just over 1 minute long). Short, provocative and helpful I thought--KSH.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Theology Anthropology Christology Theology: Scripture
Tony DeLLomo is on a mission from God.
In a hard-to-miss motor home covered with biblical passages, “Jesus is God” signs and an offer of a free Bible, DeLLomo has been spreading the Gospel by parking in high-traffic spots throughout central Florida.
“It’s all to glorify God,” DeLLomo said while wearing a sleeveless, white hooded sweatshirt with “Jesus is King” in red letters.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Travel * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Christology Soteriology
For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, howbeit he was not far from us Acts 17:27 before. For no part of Creation is left void of Him: He has filled all things everywhere, remaining present with His own Father. But He comes in condescension to show loving-kindness upon us, and to visit us. And seeing the race of rational creatures in the way to perish, and death reigning over them by corruption; seeing, too, that the threat against transgression gave a firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, and that it was monstrous that before the law was fulfilled it should fall through: seeing, once more, the unseemliness of what was come to pass: that the things whereof He Himself was Artificer were passing away: seeing, further, the exceeding wickedness of men, and how by little and little they had increased it to an intolerable pitch against themselves: and seeing, lastly, how all men were under penalty of death: He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the mastery—lest the creature should perish, and His Father's handiwork in men be spent for nought—He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours. For He did not simply will to become embodied, or will merely to appear. For if He willed merely to appear, He was able to effect His divine appearance by some other and higher means as well. But He takes a body of our kind, and not merely so, but from a spotless and stainless virgin, knowing not a man, a body clean and in very truth pure from intercourse of men. For being Himself mighty, and Artificer of everything, He prepares the body in the Virgin as a temple unto Himself, and makes it His very own as an instrument, in it manifested, and in it dwelling. And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death He gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Father—doing this, moreover, of His loving-kindness, to the end that, firstly, all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone (inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord's body, and had no longer holding-ground against men, his peers), and that, secondly, whereas men had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like straw from the fire.--Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word
Small wonder, given the harrowing times recently, that news about a long-running property fight over a picturesque church in northern Virginia escaped most people’s notice. But the story of the struggle over the historic Falls Church is nonetheless worth a closer look. It’s one more telling example of a little-acknowledged truth: though religious traditionalism may be losing today’s political and legal battles, it remains poised to win the wider war over what Christianity will look like tomorrow.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Conflicts TEC Conflicts: Virginia Global South Churches & Primates Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran Methodist Presbyterian * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology Theology: Salvation (Soteriology) Theology: Scripture
A worldly Church is a weak Church. The only way to stop this from happening is to entrust the Church to the Lord through constant prayer. This was the message at the heart of Pope Francis’ homily during Mass Tuesday morning, celebrated with staff from the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, also known as APSA. Emer McCarthy reports:
"We can safeguard the Church, we can cure the Church, no? We do so with our work, but what’s most important is what the Lord does : He is the only One who can look into the face of evil and overcome it. The prince of the world comes but can do nothing against me: if we don’t want the prince of this world to take the Church into his hands, we must entrust it to the One who can defeat the prince of this world. Here the question arises: do we pray for the Church, for the entire Church? For our brothers and sisters whom we do not know, everywhere in the world? It is the Lord's Church and in our prayer we say to the Lord: Lord, look at your Church ... It' s yours. Your Church is [made up of ] our brothers and sisters. This is a prayer that must come from our heart".
Then, Pope Francis remarked that "it is easy to pray for the grace of the Lord", "to thank Him" or when "we need something." But it is fundamental that we also pray to the Lord for all, for those who have "received the same Baptism," saying "they are Yours, they are ours, watch over them".
Read it all.
A little while back I was in an online chat and was asked this question--do you have a recent sermon you have preached on (the doctirne of) justification? The person with whom I was chatting was in a theological argument with his brother on the topic. I had to think for a while, and found the following one that fits the bill. You can obtain the sermon here (it even comes with an outline)--KSH.
Filed under: * By Kendall Sermons & Teachings * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Anthropology Christology Theology: Scripture
This gospel is one of the most notable that a man can find in the New Testament, and worthy to be commended with all kinds of commendation. But as it is not possible that a man should sufficiently express this sermon of Christ by words ; first let us call unto God, that he will expound these words more plainly in our hearts, than we can by our words and interpretation, and that he will enkindle them, and make them so plain, that our conscience may receive comfort and peace thereby. Amen.
The pith of this excellent sermon is, that God so greatly loved the world, that he delivered his only begotten Son for it, that we men should not die, but have everlasting life. And first let us see who is the giver. He is the Giver, in respect of whom all princes and kings, with all their gifts, are nothing in comparison. And our hearts might worthily be lifted up and exalted with a godly pride, since we have such a giver, so that all who should come unto us by any other liberality, might be counted of no price in comparison of this. For what can be set before us that is more magnificent and excellent than God almighty. Here God, who is infinite and unspeakable, gives after such a manner as passes also all things. For that which he gives, he gives not as wages of desert, or for a recompense, but, as the words sound, of mere love. Wherefore this gift wholly proceeds of God's exceeding and divine benevolence and goodness, as he saith, God loved the world. There is no greater virtue than love, as it may hereby be well understood, that when we love anything, we will not hesitate to put our life in danger for it. Verily, great virtues are patience, chastity, sobriety, &c., but yet they are nothing to be compared with this virtue, which comprises and includes within itself all other virtues. A good man does no man wrong, he gives every man his own ; but by love, men give their own selves to others, and are ready with all their heart to do all that they can for them. So Christ saith here also, that God gives to us, not by right or merit, but by this great virtue, that is by love.
This ought to encourage our hearts, and to abolish all sorrow, when this exceeding love of God comes in mind, that we might trust thereto and believe steadfastly, that God is that bountiful and great Giver, and that this gift of his, proceeds of that great virtue of love. This sort of giving, which has its spring of love, makes this gift more excellent and precious. And the words of Christ are plain, that God loveth us. Wherefore for this love's sake ought we greatly to esteem all things that he gives us.
--Writings of the Rev. Thomas Becon (London, J. Nisbet), pp. 494-495
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Theology Anthropology Atonement Christology Soteriology Theology: Scripture
...one of the most striking and certainly the most moving images coming out of Boston was of people rushing forward toward the sites of the explosions to help the injured.
The Archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley, spoke for many of us when he said that “the citizens of the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are blessed by the bravery and heroism of many, particularly the men and women of the police and fire departments and emergency services who responded within moments of these tragic events.”
But it wasn’t only those in uniform. Carlos Arredondo, a peace activist whose son was killed in Iraq, became a national hero when he jumped over the security fence and started helping the injured. And he wasn’t the only civilian who ran towards the chaos when common sense dictated running away from it.
Read it all.
Paul’s statement of priority is a vital corrective for our confused times. Without hesitation, Paul writes with urgency about the truths that are “as of first importance.” All revealed truth is vital, invaluable, life-changing truth to which every disciple of Christ is fully accountable. But certain truths are of highest importance, and that is the language Paul uses without qualification.
And what is of first importance? “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,” and “that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” The cross and the empty tomb stand at the center of the Christian faith. Without these, there is no good news — no salvation.
Paul gets right to the heart of the matter in setting out those truths that are “of first importance.” Following his example, we can do no less. These twin truths remain “as of first importance,” and no sermon is complete without the explicit affirmation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So it was then, so it is now, and so it ever shall be until Christ claims his church.
Read it all.
In those few paragraphs, John Calvin succinctly sums up election and holiness for the Christian. While there are several themes that come out of this quote and this passage, the one theme that I think springs from this text is holiness. Holiness is the consequence and evidence of our election. We are not holy to be accepted by God, but because Jesus is holy we are holy. God says, “you shall be holy, for I am holy”.
The idea of holiness is almost a peculiar doctrine for the new Reformed movement. I know many young and old in this tradition who feel no obligation to actively and passionately with their entire being, to pursue a life of holiness. They wouldn’t explicitly say this, but their lives wouldn’t reflect otherwise.
Read it all.
Listen to it all (an MP3 file).
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * South Carolina * Theology Christology Eschatology Theology: Scripture
It was sad to read the public comments of the Episcopal Bishop of Washington denying the importance, or need for the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, going so far as to imply this teaching was “outlandish. ” More on that in a moment, but first some background.
Some time ago I brought a former Episcopalian into the Catholic Church who, after the Rite of Reception gave a great sigh of relief and said, “I know the Catholic Church is not without problems, but at least I know the Bishops actually hold the Christian faith. It is such a relief to be in the harbor of truth.”
I remember at the time wondering with him if that wasn’t a bit of an exaggeration of how bad things were in the Episcopalian denomination (this was about 1990). But he showed me a scrapbook of article after article of dozens of Episcopal “Bishops” denying quite publicly the divinity of Christ, the Virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus, that there was any inherent conflict between Christianity and Unitarianism, etc., not to mention a plethora aberrant moral stances.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Bishops * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic * Theology Christology Eschatology
This is what my father as a Jew discovered.
During Rabbinical school studies he was assigned to visit a Christian Church.
But over the course of a year found himself drawn back to that church over and over and didn’t
One day he finds himself going to the altar rail, not to get communion, but to simply receive a blessing,
when all of a sudden, as a Jew, the Living and resurrected Jesus Fills his body-
And in his mind just one sentence,
What if this is all true…
What if this is all true?
A year later he’s baptized and receives the Living Lord Jesus through the power of the Holy
• Are you looking for the dead, among the living?
• Or the Living among the living?
Read it all and listen if you wish.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Eschatology Theology: Scripture
I too have had a son die, so I have a sense of the pain Rick and Kay are facing. But their circumstances are different and my heart goes out to them.
At times like these, there really are no words, but there is the Word.
There is no manual, but there is Emmanuel.
God is with us.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Children Marriage & Family Psychology Suicide Young Adults * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals * Theology Christology Pastoral Theology
In the light of this Easter morning that is now dawning, I want to ask you, especially those of you gathered here to make your new commitment to Christ in baptism or confirmation: Do you expect, do you long, with Mary Magdalene, to ‘see the Lord’ in this life? And if so, what can this mean? What is it so to ‘see’ the resurrected Jesus, to commit yourself to a belief in him, and his life beyond death? What is it to assert, with this, that there is a divine, transcendent force in our universe which rises beyond death, tragedy and failure, which captivates our hearts and minds and turns our lives out of darkness into light?
Everything hangs on this question for us as Christians. If there is no resurrection, if ‘one did not rise from the dead’, then our faith is indeed ‘in vain’, as St. Paul puts it. The problem only comes – let us be honest – in clarifying what, exactly, we are being asked to do in believing this....
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Parish Ministry Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Eschatology
Some people have already tried to force themselves to believe in what the Bible reports of the resurrection of Jesus. But it was not so simple. Always doubt interfered; and then one thought that doubt-for example, scientific doubt in the possibility of such a miracle-was the basis of his inability to believe. That goes without saying. Some of the greatest scientists of all times have believed in the resurrection, just as an apostle of early Christianity. Perhaps you also belong to those who would like to believe, who would also like to have this hope of eternal life. But you say you cannot. I wish to tell you precisely why you cannot believe, and I also wish to tell you how you can believe. You cannot believe it because you are not reconciled to God, and you are not reconciled to God because you do not really wish to repent for your godlessness. All unbelief without any exception comes from this unwillingness to obey, from the unwillingness of sin that separates us from God. In the moment when you do that and sincerely acknowledge your sins, then you can also believe in the reconciliation; no, in this moment you are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and the truth of the Easter message is clear to you. Then you believe in the resurrection, not because it is reported by the apostles but because the resurrected One himself encounters you in a living way as he who unites you with God, as the living Mediator. Now you yourself know it: he lives he, the Reconciler and Redeemer.
And now the stories of Easter become alive to you, worthy of belief, for you now recognize in them him who encounters you yourself. Now you believe not only in Easter; now the Easter certainly is for you a living experience. Now you can say with the apostle: Blessed be the God who has begotten me anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Were Jesus not resurrected, how could he redeem and reconcile you? When he reconciles you to God, you have encountered him, the resurrected One, not bodily, as did the apostle, but not really any less so, through his Word and his Spirit. Now you already stand at the beginning of the new, eternal life. Now you know what the Lord means when he says: "He who believes in me has eternal life." Upon that, everything therefore depends: being reconciled to God, forgiveness of sins, removal of the separation between you and God, joyful access to God, and peace with God through Jesus Christ who gives you on the cross the Father's love and with it eternal life.
--Emil Brunner (1889-1966)
Listen to it all (about 29 1/4 minutes).
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Eschatology
Less than a month after sponsoring an event for Virginia Episcopal clergy featuring a speaker who denies both the afterlife and unique divinity of Christ, Bishop Shannon Johnston of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has presided over a service featuring a similarly controversial figure.
In a Good Friday service at historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, retired Bishop John Shelby Spong decried the Nicene Creed as “a radical distortion of the Gospel of John,” asserted that several of the apostles were “mythological” and declared that Jesus Christ did not die to redeem humanity from its sins.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Bishops * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology
Listen to it all from the parish in which I serve, Christ Saint Paul's Yonges Island, South Carolina, this past Sunday.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * South Carolina * Theology Christology Eschatology Seminary / Theological Education
Without a doubt, at the center of the New Testament there stands the Cross, which receives its interpretation from the Resurrection.
The Passion narratives are the first pieces of the Gospels that were composed as a unity. In his preaching at Corinth, Paul initially wants to know nothing but the Cross, which "destroys the wisdom of the wise and wrecks the understanding of those who understand", which "is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles". But "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (I Cor 1:19, 23, 25).
Whoever removes the Cross and its interpretation by the New Testament from the center, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new center, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith.
–Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), A Short Primer For Unsettled Laymen
Jesus of Nazareth was certainly dead by the Friday evening; Roman soldiers were professional killers and wouldn't have allowed a not-quite-dead rebel leader to stay that way for long. When the first Christians told the story of what happened next, they were not saying: “I think he's still with us in a spiritual sense” or “I think he's gone to heaven”. All these have been suggested by people who have lost their historical and theological nerve.
The historian must explain why Christianity got going in the first place, why it hailed Jesus as Messiah despite His execution (He hadn't defeated the pagans, or rebuilt the Temple, or brought justice and peace to the world, all of which a Messiah should have done), and why the early Christian movement took the shape that it did. The only explanation that will fit the evidence is the one the early Christians insisted upon - He really had been raised from the dead. His body was not just reanimated. It was transformed, so that it was no longer subject to sickness and death.
Let's be clear: the stories are not about someone coming back into the present mode of life. They are about someone going on into a new sort of existence, still emphatically bodily, if anything, more so. When St Paul speaks of a “spiritual” resurrection body, he doesn't mean “non-material”, like a ghost. “Spiritual” is the sort of Greek word that tells you,not what something is made of, but what is animating it. The risen Jesus had a physical body animated by God's life-giving Spirit. Yes, says St Paul, that same Spirit is at work in us, and will have the same effect - and in the whole world.
Read it all.
“Here the hangman stops his cart:
Now the best of friends must part.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.
“Oh, at home had I but stayed
‘Prenticed to my father’s trade,
Had I stuck to plane and adze,
I had not been lost, my lads.
“Then I might have built perhaps
Gallows-trees for other chaps,
Never dangled on my own,
Had I left but ill alone.
“Now, you see, they hang me high,
And the people passing by
Stop to shake their fists and curse;
So ’tis come from ill to worse.
“Here hang I, and right and left
Two poor fellows hang for theft:
All the same’s the luck we prove,
Though the midmost hangs for love.
“Comrades all, that stand and gaze,
Walk henceforth in other ways;
See my neck and save your own:
Comrades all, leave ill alone.
“Make some day a decent end,
Shrewder fellows than your friend.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live lads, and I will die.”
–A. E. Housman (1859-1936)
O My chief good,
How shall I measure out thy bloud?
How shall I count what thee befell,
And each grief tell?
Shall I thy woes
Number according to thy foes?
Or, since one starre show’d thy first breath,
Shall all thy death?
Or shall each leaf,
Which falls in Autumn, score a grief?
Or can not leaves, but fruit, be signe
Of the true vine?
Then let each houre
Of my whole life one grief devoure;
That thy distresse through all may runne,
And be my sunne.
Or rather let
My severall sinnes their sorrows get;
That as each beast his cure doth know,
Each sinne may so.
Since bloud is fittest, Lord, to write
Thy sorrows in, and bloudie fight;
My heart hath store, write there, where in
One box doth lie both ink and sinne:
That when sinne spies so many foes,
Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,
All come to lodge there, sinne may say,
No room for me, and flie away.
Sinne being gone, oh fill the place,
And keep possession with thy grace;
Lest sinne take courage and return,
And all the writings blot or burn.
--George Herbert (1593-1633)
The story of the salvation of the dying thief is a standing instance of the power of Christ to save, and of his abundant willingness to receive all that come to him, in whatever plight they may be. I cannot regard this act of grace as a solitary instance, any more than the salvation of Zacchaeus, the restoration of Peter, or the call of Saul, the persecutor. Every conversion is, in a sense, singular: no two are exactly alike, and yet any one conversion is a type of others. The case of the dying thief is much more similar to our conversion than it is dissimilar; in point of fact, his case may be regarded as typical, rather than as an extraordinary incident. So I shall use it at this time. May the Holy Spirit speak through it to the encouragement of those who are ready to despair!
Remember, beloved friends, that our Lord Jesus, at the time he saved this malefactor, was at his lowest. His glory had been ebbing out in Gethsemane, and before Caiaphas, and Herod, and Pilate; but it had now reached the utmost low-water mark.
Stripped of his garments, and nailed to the cross, our Lord was mocked by a ribald crowd, and was dying in agony: then was he “numbered with the transgressors,” and made as the offscouring of all things. Yet, while in that condition, he achieved this marvellous deed of grace. Behold the wonder wrought by the Saviour when emptied of all his glory, and hanged up a spectacle of shame upon the brink of death! How certain is it it that he can do great wonders of mercy now, seeing that he has returned unto his glory, and sitteth upon the throne of light! “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” If a dying Saviour saved the thief, my argument is, that he can do even more now that he liveth and reigneth. All power is given unto him in heaven and in earth; can anything at this present time surpass the power of his grace?
It is not only the weakness of our Lord which makes the salvation of the penitent thief memorable; it is the fact that the dying malefactor saw it before his very eyes. Can you put yourself into his place, and suppose yourself to be looking upon one who hangs in agony upon a cross? Could you readily believe him to be the Lord of glory, who would soon come to his kingdom? That was no mean faith which, at such a moment, could believe in Jesus as Lord and King. If the apostle Paul were here, and wanted to add a New Testament chapter to the eleventh of Hebrews, he might certainly commence his instances of remarkable faith with this thief, who believed in a crucified, derided, and dying Christ, and cried to him as to one whose kingdom would surely come. The thief’s faith was the more remarkable because he was himself in great pain, and bound to die. It is not easy to exercise confidence when you are tortured with deadly anguish. Our own rest of mind has at times been greatly hindered by pain of body. When we are the subjects of acute suffering it is not easy to exhibit that faith which we fancy we possess at other times. This man, suffering as he did, and seeing the Saviour in so sad a state, nevertheless believed unto life eternal. Herein was such faith as is seldom seen.
Recollect, also, that he was surrounded by scoffers. It is easy to swim with the current, and hard to go against the stream. This man heard the priests, in their pride, ridicule the Lord, and the great multitude of the common people, with one consent, joined in the scorning; his comrade caught the spirit of the hour, and mocked also, and perhaps he did the same for a while; but through the grace of God he was changed, and believed in the Lord Jesus in the teeth of all the scorn. His faith was not affected by his surroundings; but he, dying thief as he was, made sure his confidence. Like a jutting rock, standing out in the midst of a torrent, he declared the innocence of the Christ whom others blasphemed. His faith is worthy of our imitation in its fruits. He had no member that was free except his tongue, and he used that member wisely to rebuke his brother malefactor, and defend his Lord. His faith brought forth a brave testimony and a bold confession. I am not going to praise the thief, or his faith, but to extol the glory of that grace divine which gave the thief such faith, and then freely saved him by its means. I am anxious to show how glorious is the Saviour—that Saviour to the uttermost, who, at such a time, could save such a man, and give him so great a faith, and so perfectly and speedily prepare him for eternal bliss. Behold the power of that divine Spirit who could produce such faith on soil so unlikely, and in a climate so unpropitious.
–From a sermon of C.H. Spurgeon preached on April 7, 1889
[Shusaku] Endo locates the point of contact between Japanese life and the Gospel in what he observes, and has experienced personally, to be the essence of Japanese religious awareness. This he sees as the sense of failure in life and the subsequent shame and guilt that leave a lasting impact upon a person's life. Such theological notions as love, grace, trust, and truth are intelligible only in the experience of their opposites. Endo sees them incarnate in the person of Jesus through his own experience of failure, rejection, and, most of all, ineffectualness. Only rarely has modern Christianity presented the story of Jesus as the one to whom those who had failed, were rejected, lonely, and alienated could turn and find understanding and compassion. Endo argues that it is our universal human experience of failure in life that provides us with an understanding of Christian faith in its depth.
--Fumitaka Matsuoka, The Christology of Shusaku Endo, Theology Today (October 1982) [emphasis mine]
In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopp'd my wild career:
I saw One hanging on a Tree
In agonies and blood,
Who fix'd His languid eyes on me.
As near His Cross I stood.
Sure never till my latest breath,
Can I forget that look:
It seem'd to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke:
My conscience felt and own'd the guilt,
And plunged me in despair:
I saw my sins His Blood had spilt,
And help'd to nail Him there.
Alas! I knew not what I did!
But now my tears are vain:
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain!
A second look He gave, which said,
"I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou may'st live."
Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.
With pleasing grief, and mournful joy,
My spirit now if fill'd,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I kill'd!
--John Newton (1725-1807)
In recent years Luther's teaching on the atonement has been a subject of strong dispute. Some (mostly the Swedish interpreters) have stressed the ideas of "conflict" and "victory" in Luther's discussions of atonement, arguing for a discontinuity between the Reformer's own thinking and the "substitutionary" theory of later Protestant orthodoxy. Others have insisted that at this point Luther's teaching differs in no essentials from that of his successors. One is well advised to tread carefully on entering the field of controversy; nevertheless, I make bold to submit that the interpretation of atonement in both Luther and Calvin can be understood as turning on the central and pivotal conception of a "happy exchange," in which the believer's sins are laid upon Christ and Christ's own innocence is communicated to the believer. From this center, we may say, the Reformers' thinking moves outwards to the various other soteriological concepts, including the two about which modern opinion is chiefly divided, namely, "victory" and "substitution." First and foremost, the Christian is one who has been united with Christ so intimately that an exchange of qualities has somehow taken place.
Of course, this understanding of Luther's thought would not settle present-day controversies, for it is not incompatible with either of the two main rival theories, nor even with a combination of both. Neither is it incompatible with Calvin's threefold scheme of "Prophet, Priest, and King" (a scheme of which, in any case, he makes very little use), since Christ does not exercise these offices in any "private capacity," but rather communicates their benefits to believers. Perhaps we may say that the notion of "exchange" belongs to the presuppositions of atonement, as the Reformers understood it, whilst the detailed outworking of the doctrine demands the use of further categories.
That the notion is indeed fundamental to the Reformers' thinking could be demonstrated by many passages from the works of both.
Luther speaks explicitly of this "happy exchange" (fröhlich Wechsel) in the German version of the Treatise on Christian Liberty. The soul and Christ are united like bride and bridegroom. They become one flesh, and everything they possess is shared in common. "What Christ has is the property of the believing soul, what the soul has becomes the property of Christ." A similar passage occurs in the Larger Commentary on Galatians (though worded differently in Rörer's MS.): "So, making a happy exchange with us (feliciter commutans nobiscum) he [Christ] took upon him our sinful person, and gave us his own innocent and victorious person." These passages can readily be matched in Calvin's Institutes: "Who could do this [i.e., win salvation for men], unless the Son of God should become also the Son of Man, and so receive what is ours as to transfer to us what is his?" And again: "He was not unwilling to take upon him what was properly ours, that he might in turn (vicissim) extend to us what was properly his." The same pattern of thought recurs in both the Reformers when they speak of the Lord's Supper; as, for instance, in Luther's Treatise on the Blessed Sacrament, and the fourth book of Calvin's Institutes. What exactly it is that is "exchanged" is made perfectly clear in each of these passages: namely, Christ's righteousness is exchanged for the believer's sin.
--Brian A. Gerrish
St. Bernard was so terror-stricken by Christ’s sufferings that he said: I imagined I was secure and I knew nothing of the eternal judgment passed upon me in heaven, until I saw the eternal Son of God took mercy upon me, stepped forward and offered himself on my behalf in the same judgment. Ah, it does not become me still to play and remain secure when such earnestness is behind those sufferings. Hence he commanded the women: “Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.” Lk 23, 28; and gives in the 31st verse the reason: “For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” As if to say: Learn from my martyrdom what you have merited and how you should be rewarded. For here it is true that a little dog was slain in order to terrorize a big one. Likewise the prophet also said: “All generations shall lament and bewail themselves more than him”; it is not said they shall lament him, but themselves rather than him. Likewise were also the apostles terror-stricken in Acts 2, 37, as mentioned before, so that they said to the apostles: “0, brethren, what shall we do?” So the church also sings: I will diligently meditate thereon, and thus my soul in me will exhaust itself.
–Martin Luther (1483-1536)
Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathomed the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walked with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things
The which to measure it doth more behoove:
Yet few there are that sound them: Sin and Love.
Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains that all his hair,
His skin, his garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, that forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.
Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.
--George Herbert (1593-1633)
And so we come to Good Friday, day of the Passion and crucifixion of the Lord. Every year, placing ourselves in silence before Jesus nailed to the wood of the cross, we realize how full of love were the words he pronounced on the eve, in the course of the Last Supper. "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mark 14:24). Jesus willed to offer his life in sacrifice for the remission of humanity's sins. Just as before the Eucharist, so before the Passion and Death of Jesus on the cross the mystery is unfathomable to reason. We are placed before something that humanly might seem absurd: a God who not only is made man, with all man's needs, not only suffers to save man, burdening himself with all the tragedy of humanity, but dies for man.
Christ's death recalls the accumulation of sorrows and evils that beset humanity of all times: the crushing weight of our dying, the hatred and violence that again today bloody the earth. The Lord's Passion continues in the suffering of men. As Blaise Pascal correctly writes, "Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world; one must not sleep during this time" (Pensées, 553). If Good Friday is a day full of sadness, and hence at the same time, all the more propitious a day to reawaken our faith, to strengthen our hope and courage so that each one of us will carry his cross with humility, trust and abandonment in God, certain of his support and victory. The liturgy of this day sings: "O Crux, ave, spes unica" (Hail, O cross, our only hope)."
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI * Theology Christology
Watch and listen to it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week Liturgy, Music, Worship * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Christology
O all ye, who pass by, whose eyes and mind
To worldly things are sharp, but to me blind;
To me, who took eyes that I might you find:
Was ever grief like mine?
The Princes of my people make a head
Against their Maker: they do wish me dead,
Who cannot wish, except I give them bread:
Was ever grief like mine?
Without me each one, who doth now me brave,
Had to this day been an Egyptian slave.
They use that power against me, which I gave:
Was ever grief like mine?
Take the time for careful prayer, rumination and meditation over it all.
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey ;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl’d by it.
Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul’s form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die ;
What a death were it then to see God die ?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes ?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us ? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul’s, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg’d and torn ?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God’s partner here, and furnish’d thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom’d us ?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They’re present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them ; and Thou look’st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang’st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity ;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I’ll turn my face.
–John Donne (1572-1631)
Listen to it all.
The ancient and saintly fathers and theologians have contrasted the living wood with dead and have allegorized that contrast this way: From the living wood came sin and death; from the dead wood, righteousness and life. They conclude: do not eat from that living tree, or you will die, but eat of the dead tree; otherwise you will remain in death.
You do indeed desire to eat and enjoy [the fruit] of some tree. I will direct you to a tree so full you can never eat it bare. But just as it was difficult to stay away from that living tree, so it is difficult to enjoy eating from the dead tree. The first was the image of life, delight, and goodness, while the other is the image of death, suffering and sorrow because one tree is living, the other dead. There is in man's heart the deeply rooted desire to seek life where there is certain death and to flee from death where one has the sure source of life.
--Martin Luther, "That a Christian Should Bear his Cross With Patience," 1530
Through Mary he received his humanity, and in receiving his humanity received humanity itself. Which is to say, through Mary he received us. In response to the angel’s strange announcement, Mary said yes. But only God knew that it would end up here at Golgotha, that it had to end up here. For here, in darkness and in death, were to be found the prodigal children who had said no, the prodigal children whom Jesus came to take home to the Father.
Read it all.
When one asks the most influential thinkers in the modern evangelical church are, one might find names such as Jim Packer, John Stott, and Don Carson.
I would like to suggest, however, that there is one whose influence is perhaps much greater than we are aware of, yet whose thinking all but pervades the modern evangelical church: Marcion.
He's the man who gets my vote for most profound influence on evangelicalism, from canon to theology to worship practices. You never see his books on the shelves in your high street Christian bookshop; you never see him advertised as preaching in your local church; but, rest assured, his spirit stalks those bookshops and pulpits.
Marcion is - or, rather, was - a somewhat shadowy figure, with most of what we know about him coming from the hostile pen of Tertullian. Apparently, he was a native of Pontus (in modern times, the area by the Black Sea), who flourished in the middle of the second century, dying circa 160. His major distinctive was his insistence on the Christian gospel as exclusively one of love to the extent that he came to a complete rejection of the Old Testament and only a qualified acceptance of those parts of the New Testament which he considered to be consistent with his central thesis (i.e. ten letters of Paul and a recension of the Gospel of Luke).
So how does Marcion influence modern evangelicalism? Well, I think evangelicalism has become practically Marcionite at a number of levels.
First, the emphasis upon God's love to the utter exclusion of everything else has become something of a commonplace....
Read it all.
About 280 people gathered at the eighth and largest annual Mere Anglicanism conference Jan. 24-26 in Charleston, South Carolina. Two scholarly bishops — the Rt. Rev. Paul Barnett, retired Bishop of North Sydney, Australia, and the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, retired Bishop of Rochester, England — addressed the gathering’s theme of “Behold the Man!: The Person and Work of Jesus Christ.”
“I could not reject the historical reliability of the New Testament, even if I wanted to,” said Bishop Barnett, author of Is the New Testament Reliable? (IVP Academic) and several other books.
In his eucharistic sermon, Bishop Barnett challenged the congregation: “Let us learn from Judas, who loved money more than God; from Peter, who loved man’s approval and praise more than God’s; and from Caiaphas and Annas, who loved power more than justice. The sins of them live on in us; the same foibles beset us.”
Read it all.
In this way leadership is a myth, a story we tell ourselves over and over again in an attempt to make sense of the world around us. We look for leadership, because we expect leadership, because we look for leadership....
This is the plot of Shane, Triumph of the Will, Saving Private Ryan and practically every western every made. It is the founding myth of our politics and our society. It tells us that violence works, and that leadership only comes from the imposition of a superman's will upon the masses, and preferably those masses "out there", not us. Williams recognised this: "When people say, 'We want you to give a lead', what they mean is, 'We want you to tell them, not us. We don't want to be led.'" In the end, leadership means doing beastly things, to other people.
The need for "leadership'" in our society is fatally flawed by its roots. Instead, the Christian faith has a better word for the ministry to which he, and every Christian, is called: disciple. It doesn't matter how many hyphens we tack on to the front of it ("servant-leadership", "compassionate-leadership", "collaborative-leadership"), it is still leadership, and therefore antithetical to the model, ministry and challenge of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. I don't want Justin Welby to be a leader. I'd hope that the new archbishop could be a disciple, and one who can help others to become disciples as well.
Read it all.
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Thank you so much for your welcome. Acts 22 and 2 Corinthians 5 are going to be the focus of our attention tonight.
One man standing on the steps of an impressive building in the capital city of his own nation, one man addressing a crowd, and delivering a speech which will effectively set the course of his life for the next four years - these might be references to Monday’s inaugural event at Capitol Hill, but they in fact describe the event described in our first lesson. Paul the Apostle, standing on the steps of the Antonia Fortress, the Roman army barracks overlooking the Temple in Jerusalem. I can’t find many other points of comparison between Monday’s speech and that delivered here by St Paul, but I thought at least that it would grab your attention, if only perhaps to help us to detect and to see afresh the incredible significance of what Paul is doing here. He is indeed on his final visit to the capital city of his own Jewish nation, Jerusalem. And he has just been arrested and will as a result spend at least the next four years as a prisoner, both in Caesarea and then in Rome.
And what he does here is extraordinarily brave. The angry mob is baying for his blood but Paul rather than gratefully being ushered into the safety of the Antonia Fortress, turns and asks permission to address the crowd. Why? What made him do it? Why did he risk it?
The answer however also has to do with the significance of the geographical place in which Paul uniquely found himself at just that moment. In his speech as you look down it, summarised here by Luke in Acts 22, Paul makes several intriguing references to events in his own life which had taken place within five hundred yards of those steps on which he was now standing. His education in Jerusalem’s torah academy under professor Gamaliel, his consultations with the High Priest and the Sanhedrin in the Temple enclosure; procuring extradition warrants on those blaspheming messianic believers in Jesus; his own part with assisting in the stoning of Stephen probably two hundred yards to his right, just outside the city’s Northern Gate; and then his time of prayer some four or five years later after conversion to Christ, when he was back from a brief visit to Jerusalem meeting the apostles and was praying in the Temple just two hundred yards to his left, when the risen Jesus warned him to leave the city.
Paul is back amongst his old haunts. Jerusalem university was his alma mater, and this was the place where he knew he was persona non grata. This was the place where he deeply wanted to speak of Jesus, risking all, so that his own countrymen, caught up as he had once been in Jerusalem’s mad religious and political agendas might hear of God’s will for them in Messiah Jesus.
But there is another event in Jerusalem’s recent past which also took place nearby. I was in Jerusalem over New Year and standing overlooking the model of ancient Jerusalem in the Israel Museum, and I got my students there to look at these steps of the Antonia Fortress which face West and I asked them the question: ‘As Paul stood there, what was directly in front of him, just two hundred yards away, albeit on the other side of the city wall?’ And the answer – Golgotha, the place where twenty seven years earlier his Lord Jesus had died for him, so maybe as Paul turned and faced the crowd he was also looking beyond them and seeing the cross of Jesus in his mind’s eye. And maybe that is precisely why he turned and faced them and faced their hostility, even his own death, because he knew that just over there his Lord Jesus had risked everything for him. Jesus had died in Jerusalem. Stephen had died in Jerusalem, and now Paul had to risk the same fate himself. He could do no less. In fact we know this pattern of thought was indeed in Paul’s mind, because when others are trying to dissuade him from going up to Jerusalem, he rebuts them quite plainly Acts 21 verse 13 ‘Why are you breaking my heart, I am willing not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the sake of the name of the Lord Jesus’.
Well what would make Paul say such a thing? Indeed, how does anyone brace themselves for suffering? What makes anyone take a stand in the face of severe opposition? What causes anyone, rather than fleeing the enemy, to turn and face them willing to take the consequences?
Now I may be a British academic, and therefore prone to being a bit out of touch with realities here on the ground in the United States, but even I cannot miss the fact that Mere Anglicanism this year, meets at a critical time in the history of the life of the Diocese of South Carolina, where clergy and people are having to make tough decisions about how to turn and face those who are opposed to them; and about precisely where to take their stand. And when faced with tough decisions, we all need in the words of Psalm 77 which I was reading myself this morning to seek the Lord and for our spirits to make a diligent search, to be asking hard questions even of God himself; but then going back to find a bedrock of conviction on which we can take a firm stand, going back to God’s clear actions in redemption history in the past.
Well that hard bedrock of conviction I suggest for all of us can be found by looking together at our other New Testament reading from 2 Corinthians 5 where we see deep truths which Paul had been relying on during his earlier period of very fierce opposition in Ephesus, finishing in the Autumn of AD 55. These words were therefore written by Paul perhaps eighteen months or so before he was arrested in Jerusalem during that Pentecost May AD 57. They show us the convictions which had burned into him during that crucible of suffering in Ephesus and they explain why Paul decided to turn and face the hostile crowd in Jerusalem two years later, and they can inspire and strengthen us for any stands which we may too need to make in our own day. And to summarise what we shall find we will look briefly at Paul’s convictions about the person and work of Jesus from which we will see that Paul draws out two further related conclusions.
So then what were Paul’s convictions about the person and the work of Christ? I hope again that you have this in front of you, 2 Corinthians 5 and you can see where I am drawing these points.
Concerning the person of Christ – well this is the passage where expressly in verse 16 Paul says we are not to regard Christ according to the flesh. Descriptions of Jesus in merely human categories are not sufficient and need to be abandoned. Jesus was an undeniable figure of recent history, but he is for more than just a figure of history, even a so-called ‘historical Jesus’. He is the Christ, that is the Messiah of Israel, but boldly and amazingly this Christ is closely associated with two things which properly belonged uniquely to Yahweh, the God of Israel: he is involved with Creation verse 17 ‘if anyone is in Christ, new creation’ and also with final judgement verse 10 just before our passage ‘we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ’. Above all Paul makes clear that what Christ did and achieved can be seen straightforwardly and completely as the work and activity of God, verse 18 ‘All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us’; verse 19 ‘In Christ God was reconciling the world’, verse 20 ‘On behalf of Christ be reconciled to God’.
In these three verses Paul repeatedly brackets Christ and God together, deliberately, so that the work and the activity of the one is the work and the activity of the other, not 75% but 100%. There is no distinction; there is no hair’s breadth between them. This is Paul’s conviction about Jesus Christ. He is to be identified with the God of Israel. Yes, this is in some mysterious way which will take theologians several hundred years to hammer out into the Creeds, but here is the raw data for that later theological elucidation. God was working through Christ - in Christ, God.
Now this is normative New Testament Christology. By the way I always tell my students never to use that word Christology in their sermons but perhaps I can be forgiven for using it here as it is the theme of Mere Anglicanism. High Christology, an ugly word to describe a beautiful thing, does not appear only in a few places in the New Testament, perhaps in documents that are thought to be rather late in the first century after about 60 years during which Jesus’ status has gradually been elevated somewhere into the divine. No, it is there consistently and from the very beginning.
I was speaking at the bishop’s house last night with your keynote speakers, Paul Barnett and David Wenham and I quickly checked with these Pauline scholars whether they thought that Galatians was Paul’s first letter. Happily we all agreed, a rare event amongst scholars – it must have been something to do with the Bishop’s food and drink I suppose - and if so, Galatians Chapter 1 verse 1 is the opening verse of the New Testament, written within twenty years of the Resurrection, and it categorically refers to Jesus as divine and not merely human. I quote: ‘Paul, an apostle not through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father’. They are the opening words of the New Testament and do it straight away; Jesus is not on the human side of the line, he is on the divine side of the line. Paul is convinced about the divinity, the deity, the God-ness of Jesus: ‘in Christ, God’.
Paul also has convictions about the work of Christ. He is convinced about Jesus’ resurrection, verse 15 ‘who for their sake died and was raised’. Paul is actually counting on this personally as the basis for his own hope of resurrection in the future. Earlier in Chapter 5 he has been trusting that when he dies and puts away his tent God will provide a building for him, a place where he will be at home with the Lord – isn’t that a lovely phrase ‘at home with the Lord’? But Paul in the verses of our second reading is focussed more especially on the cross, on Jesus’ death and crucifixion. Verse 14: ‘we have concluded this’ he writes, so here we are going to hear one of those settled Pauline convictions. What is it? ‘That one has died for all, therefore all have died’. ‘He died for all,’ he repeats.
Paul is convinced that Jesus’ death was a dramatic and intentional act designed to benefit all people in the world. But it is more than just for the benefit of all. Many people in church today perhaps would subscribe to some such fuzzy notion as that: ‘oh Jesus died for all’, they might say – ‘his death was an example of supreme love and it now means that God loves everybody regardless of whether they know it or want it’. That’s not how Paul finishes his sentence: ‘One died for all, therefore all have died’. Jesus’ death reveals that every human being is effectively in God’s estimation in a state of death. Jesus’ death reveals God’s judgement, his verdict on sinful human beings, a verdict of death, one died for all that therefore we now know that in God’s sight, all have died.
And if this is only implicit in Verse 14, Paul makes this conviction quite explicit in verse 21: ‘for our sake God made Christ to be sin’ – his death was therefore a dying caused by God’s verdict on human sin. It was substitutionary – Christ himself knew no sin but bore our sins, so that we [oh sweet exchange] might experience forgiveness and justification; that we might become the righteousness of God.
Here is Paul’s settled conviction about the work of Christ. Through his death and resurrection God has done the work of great salvation and redemption. He has dealt with the issue of human sin, 'not counting our trespasses against us [verse 19]. One way of saying this is to say that God through Christ brought righteousness and forgiveness in the place of sin and judgement. Another way of saying the same thing: God in Christ brought life out of death, in the place of death.
Now, please note that those two different ways of my summarising that just now use two different background metaphors. One was using more legal terms, the language of the law court. God has brought righteousness and forgiveness in the place of sin and judgement – that is legal, forensic terminology. The second one was using the language of the hospital, perhaps the maternity ward, or perhaps the morgue, the place where dead bodies are put. God has brought life in the place of death. These are Paul’s two parallel ways of summarising or concluding his convictions. His key word for the first one is reconciliation, or we might say re-conciliation; and his key word for the second is new creation, or we might say re-creation.
His use of the first term is clear and repeated several times. Verse 18 ‘God reconciled us to himself’, God again ‘was reconciling the world to himself’. Twice he speaks of Christians now being given a ministry or message of reconciliation, and so he appeals to us ‘be reconciled to God’. Reconciliation for Paul has been accomplished and now it must be announced. The barriers between the holy God and sinful humanity have been bulldozed away by the sin-bearing death of Jesus Christ, and we must now invite people to avail themselves of that death, of that pathway which has been blown open for them, so that they can walk into God’s presence. The judge in the law court turns out to be a heavenly father. The sentence of judgement has been replaced by sentences of tender love.
And Paul’s use of the second term comes only once but it is powerful and pithy: ‘If anyone in Christ, new creation.’ Yes the death of Jesus reveals that all have died, all are dead, but that is not the last word on the subject, because the crucifixion was decidedly not God’s last word about Jesus. Jesus was gloriously raised by God, dramatically and objectively, as a sure sign of God’s purposes, restoring his broken world in an eventual act of new creation. And that new creation can come and kick back into reality here and now, when men and women join themselves by faith to the death of Christ and so share in his resurrection. As Paul will develop this, perhaps about a year later, when writing Romans 6 verse 5: ‘If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in his resurrection.’
So there – reconciliation, re-creation – two great words, two Gospel truths that Paul presents to us in 2 Corinthians 5.
And as we close we inevitably should be asking these kinds of questions both to ourselves and to our churches as communities: ‘How much do we really believe these things? Are these the bedrock on which we are willing to make our stand?’ As individuals it is easy for our hearts to wander, we know it well, for familiarity to weaken our grasp of these truths, for the trials and busyness of life to take us elsewhere. Fifteen months ago I was reading through 2 Corinthians, it was a particularly dark time in my life, one of those times when the lights just seemed to have gone out and God was, as it were, leading me through a dark underwater tunnel. And I was reading through this dark and painful text, 2 Corinthians, for it to be light in my darkness, on my own there in a hotel room in Sicily. And I found myself having to confront all my buried doubts about Christ, about death, about my hope of resurrection. And I had to simply recite these words of 2 Corinthians 5 out loud to myself on my own to get my heart to trust these words as true for me.
Is that something which you need to do this day in this conference of Mere Anglicanism or in this dark season in the life of the Diocese – just to read these words to your own heart, to re-kindle the flame of your own personal faith and to trust in their truth? Jesus said to Martha: ‘do you believe?’ – and she found herself saying: ‘yes Lord, I do believe.’ [John 11:25-27]
As for our communities and wider church life we could spend ages asking whether these great Gospel truths of God’s reconciliation and recreation in Christ are really at the center of what we do and proclaim in that community called the church. How often are there sermons on the atoning death of Jesus or on the resurrection power of God? How seriously are we beseeching people to be reconciled to God as they surely need to be? How clearly are we proclaiming to people that through the Gospel, God can unleash his resurrection power, in making them to be new creations, re-oriented now to live not for themselves but for the God who loves them? To often these messages get silenced and the Gospel truths get abandoned and other agendas so easily take center stage in the life of the church.
I have the joy each morning of travelling to work at Trinity Ambridge in the same car as your chaplain here, Leander Harding, chaplain at Mere Anglicanism, and on this Tuesday morning as we navigated through the Arctic conditions of West Pennsylvania, my senior colleague Leander came out with this telling phrase: ‘some people are in the church for the purposes of faith in religion while others are there because the church is a useful place to pursue other agendas. Justin Terry and I just laughed and laughed until our lungs froze, but it is not a laughing matter. What are the other agendas which are sweeping through our church and effectively replacing the Gospel driven agenda set here by Paul?
So, are we willing to take our stand on these Gospel truths of divine reconciliation and divine recreation accomplished in Jesus Christ? Are these the convictions which are truly at the bedrock of our lives? On the eve of the conversion of St Paul we could do no better than to learn again these convictions held by Paul and to note how they strengthened him, they steadied him that day a few years later on that day in Jerusalem and caused him not to flee for cover but to turn and face the life-threatening opponents, as he was looking straight ahead of him to the very place where Jesus had died for him.
You know, we can almost imagine saying under his breath as he braces himself to speak: ‘I have concluded that one has died for all, and therefore all have died. And he died for me, so that I who am alive today should not live for myself, but if need be, die – for him who died for me – and was raised.’ Amen.
The Reverend Dr Peter Walker is Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge, Pennsylvania
Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech thee that, as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Thanks to Kevin Kallsen at Anglican TV for these videos from the Mere Anglicanism Conference 2013 which you may watch below in the order they were given in together with text where available. We will be rotating them so that one shows above the fold. Also here are the Speaker Biographies and the Conference Schedule
Thursday, January 24
 ST PAUL: PASSIONATE FOR CHRIST - DR PETER WALKER - SERMON AT EVENSONG [Acts 22 and 2 Corinthians 5]
"even I cannot miss the fact that Mere Anglicanism this year, meets at a critical time in the history of the life of the Diocese of South Carolina, where clergy and people are having to make tough decisions about how to turn and face those who are opposed to them; and about precisely where to take their stand. And when faced with tough decisions, we all need in the words of Psalm 77 which I was reading myself this morning to seek the Lord and for our spirits to make a diligent search, to be asking hard questions even of God himself; but then going back to find a bedrock of conviction on which we can take a firm stand, going back to God’s clear actions in redemption history in the past.
Well that hard bedrock of conviction I suggest for all of us can be found by looking together at our other New Testament reading from 2 Corinthians 5 where we see deep truths which Paul had been relying on......"
Transcript may be found here.
Friday, January 25
 EPIPHANY - FIVE EUREKA MOMENTS - BISHOP PAUL BARNETT
"... I do not intend to dwell on the negatives but the positives and to do so in terms of my personal discoveries over the 55 years of my Christian journey. ‘Discovery’ is not the right word because it puts the emphasis on me. ‘Epiphany’, or ‘epiphanies’ would be better because these discoveries are really ‘revelations’ from God, God-given insights. ‘Flesh and blood’ does not discover truth about God; God must reveal it...."
Text from which talk is taken
 BEHOLD THE MAN, WHOSE NAME IS BRANCH - DR ALLEN ROSS
 THE UNIQUE AND UNIVERSAL CHRIST - BISHOP MICHAEL NAZIR-ALI
 JESUS IS THE KING - FESTIVE EUCHARIST SERMON - BISHOP PAUL BARNETT [John 19:1-16]
Saturday, January 26
 PAUL'S WITNESS TO TO JESUS THE SON OF GOD - DR DAVID WENHAM
 THE WITNESS OF DIETRICH BONHOEFFER - ERIC METAXAS
Last week, orthodox Christians convened at the historical St. Philip’s Church to participate in theological discussions at the Mere Anglicanism Conference. Most of the attendees expressed support for the Diocese of South Carolina under Bishop Mark Lawrence, which has been forced out of the Episcopal Church through heavy-handed persecution against traditional Christians within the denomination. Ironically, revisionist Episcopalians met only eight blocks away to reorganize the rump diocese loyal to the national Episcopal Church, USA under Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori.
Mere Anglicanism started off on January 24th with a traditional evensong from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer with the Rev. Dr. Leander Harding of Trinity School of Ministry acting as officiant. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Paul Barnett lectured the next morning on five epiphanies that convinced him of the historicity of Christ. The former Anglican Bishop of North Sydney emphasized the powerful manuscript evidence, the archaeological-geographical credibility of the Biblical record, the multiple attestation to miracles, and the existence of external hostile sources. He likewise excoriated the textual skepticism and deconstructionism that dominates many seminaries today. “The health in the seminary influences the health of the ministers, and the health in the ministers influences the health in the churches,” he surmised.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal - Anglican: Analysis Episcopal Church (TEC) Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori TEC Conflicts TEC Conflicts: South Carolina * South Carolina * Theology Christology
“The Diocese of South Carolina created this annual conference eight years ago as a way to bring together Anglicans from around the world to explore ways to keep our faith vibrant,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Miller, chairman of this year’s conference and Rector of the Parish Church of St. Helena in Beaufort. “We provide world-renowned scholars who help attendees become informed, sound believers who are capable of thinking and acting biblically.”
Read it all.
"On one occasion I was travelling with the late lamented Bishop Weeks, then a simple minister. I went with him on a visit to a friend in the country. While I was in the railway carriage with him, a gentleman attacked him, knowing that he was a friend of missions. The gentleman said, 'What are the missionaries doing abroad? We don't know anything about their movements. We pay them well, but we don't hear anything about them. I suppose they are sitting down quietly and making themselves comfortable.' Mr. Weeks did not say anything in reply, I having made a sign to him not to do so. After the gentleman had exhausted what he had to say, I said to him, 'Well, sir, I beg to present myself to you as a result of the labours of the missionaries which you have just been depreciating;' and I pointed to Mr. Weeks as the means of my having become a Christian, and having been brought to this country as a Christian minister. The gentleman was so startled that he had nothing more to say in the way of objection, and the subsequent conversation between him and Mr. Weeks turned upon missionary topics. On the banks of the Niger, where we have not been privileged to be ushered in by European missionaries, native teachers have maintained their footing among their own people. Their countrymen look upon them as very much superior to themselves in knowledge and in every other respect, and listen to them with very great attention when they preach to them the Gospel of our salvation."
On St. Peter's Day, 1864, perhaps the most important event of his life took place, when in Canterbury Cathedral Samuel Crowther was consecrated as the first Bishop of the Niger. The scene was a memorable one, and is not likely to be forgotten by those who stood in the vast crowd which filled every aisle of the grand cathedral that day. The license of Her Majesty had been duly promulgated in these terms:--
"We do by this our license under our royal signet and sign manual authorise and empower you the said Reverend Samuel Adjai Crowther to be Bishop of the United Church of England and Ireland in the said countries in Western Africa beyond the limits of our dominions."
When the service began it was an impressive sight to see the Archbishop of Canterbury, attended by live other Bishops, enter the choir; and following them the three Bishops to receive the solemn rite of consecration, viz: the new Bishop of Peterborough, the new Bishop of Tasmania, and the new Bishop of the Niger. Remembering, as doubtless many did, the touching history of his childhood and early struggles as a slave, not a, few in that vast building were moved to tears as [118/119] the African clergyman humbly knelt in God's glorious house to receive the seals of the high office of Shepherd in His earthly fold. Most of all must one heart have been affected, that of Airs. Weeks, the missionary's wife, at whose knee he received his first lessons in the way of the Lord.
No one could fail to see how God had called forth this native from the degradation of a boyhood of slavery, to become a chosen vessel in His service. He had proved himself as a true-hearted standard-bearer of the Cross in much toil and patient endurance, and it was meet that to him should be committed the spiritual interests of the district in which he had spent hitherto nearly the whole of his life since he became a Christian.
On his immediate return to the Niger, the work began afresh with renewed energy. Special attention was given to the Delta, for King Pepple, having been on a visit to England, made an application to the Bishop of London to send missionaries to his dominions. A more degraded district was not to be found in Africa. Although its trade was very flourishing, being one of the chief markets for palm oil, the people were sunk in the lowest vices and superstitions. At the time of which we speak, when Bishop Crowther was forming the Christian Church there, the shocking practice of cannibalism was not yet wholly given up, and the people were entirely under the power of the priests of the Juju or fetish worship. As in Dahomey, no regard for human life seems to have existed; men were sacrificed at every high festival, and at the burial of any of their chief men a number of poor creatures would be slaughtered. The ghastly spectacle of their temple, paved and elaborately decorated with human bones, showed the ferocity of their religion.
In the midst of this awful darkness came Bishop Crowther and his fellow-helpers, bearing the light of the Gospel, and in due time many believed and were saved. It was as in the early Church of the first centuries, the adherents of the new religion were mostly slaves, and to escape their persecutors had to meet for worship and counsel in retired places.
--Jesse Page, Samuel Crowther: The Slave Boy Who Became Bishop of the Niger (London, 1892), Chapter Ten (emphasis mine)
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) CoE Bishops Church of Nigeria * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Missions Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology Theology: Scripture
It's interesting that our culture is rarely scandalized by this preaching of the Cross. That's probably because it is a rare theme of Christian preaching these days. Instead we have been smitten with practical preaching that helps people become successful in life and business, and with ethical preaching that tells people how to live better. This is done for the noblest of reasons—to show the gospel relevant to people's daily needs, but one can see where this has gotten us. When the Cross is preached, it is often preached in a way that falls on deaf ears. It's seen as a theme for theologians to wax eloquent about with strange words like propitiation and justification, or something comforting to guilt-ridden religious types—but meaningless to regular human beings.
Need-driven preaching—even of the highest order, that is, our search for significance—communicates that Jesus is just another way to solve our problems. It is no wonder that the culture looks at us, pats us on the head, and says, "But we've found other, equally valid ways to solve our problems, thank you." We tend to think that postmoderns have brought relativism down upon us, but it seems, we Christians have been the culprits the more we make our message about meeting people's needs.
The most needful and difficult task of the church today is to again preach the message of the Cross, and to do so in a way that alarms, surprises, scandalizes, challenges, invigorates, and inspires a 21st century world. What that would look like exactly is hard to say; our theologians and pastors need to help us here. In the most general terms, it has to be about Christ first and last. It has to be about the Christ who came into the world not to improve generally good people, but to resurrect the dead, not to bolster our self-esteem but to forgive us, not to make people successful but to make them loving, not to win the culture but to establish a kingdom without end.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Preaching / Homiletics * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Sexuality * Economics, Politics Politics in General Office of the President President Barack Obama * Theology Christology Soteriology
Mormons consider it ironic that they believe in such core Christian beliefs as the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, and the Resurrection and yet are not considered Christian by some of their fellow believers, whereas many mainline Christians who no longer hold such beliefs are considered so.--Bob Rees in an RNS opinion piece last year responding to the NY Times Op-ed from David Mason entitled "I'm a Mormon, Not a Christian"
You can find the speakers and agenda here and there. You all know enough about a conference like this to know that there is much more to it than simply the presentations. Please pray for the speakers travel and ministry here (a number are serving in Sunday worship after the conference locally), the time to develop new friendships and renew old ones, for the Bishop and his wife Allison in their hosting capacity, and especially for the the Rev. Jeffrey Miller of Beaufort, who has the huge responsibility of coordinating it all--KSH.
But see, how unkindly he turns away the humble request of his mother who addresses him with such great confidence. Now observe the nature of faith. What has it to rely on? Absolutely nothing, all is darkness. It feels its need and sees help nowhere; in addition, God turns against it like a stranger and does not recognize it, so that absolutely nothing is left. It is the same way with our conscience when we feel our sin and the lack of righteousness; or in the agony of death when we feel the lack of life; or in the dread of hell when eternal salvation seems to have left us. Then indeed there is humble longing and knocking, prayer and search, in order to be rid of sin, death and dread. And then he acts as if he had only begun to show us our sins, as if death were to continue, and hell never to cease. Just as he here treats his mother, by his refusal making the need greater and more distressing than it was before she came to him with her request; for now it seems everything is lost, since the one support on which she relied in her need is also gone.
This is where faith stands in the heat of battle. Now observe how his mother acts and here becomes our teacher. However harsh his words sound, however unkind he appears, she does not in her heart interpret this as anger, or as the opposite of kindness, but adheres firmly to the conviction that he is kind, refusing to give up this opinion because of the thrust she received, and unwilling to dishonor him in her heart by thinking him to be otherwise than kind and gracious--as they do who are without faith, who fall back at the first shock and think of God merely according to what they feel, like the horse and the mule, Ps 32, 9. For if Christ's mother had allowed those harsh words to frighten her she would have gone away silently and displeased; but in ordering the servants to do what he might tell them she proves that she has overcome the rebuff and still expects of him nothing but kindness.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * International News & Commentary Europe Germany * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Lutheran * Theology Christology Theology: Scripture
[Tony] Campolo said he has noted a shift over the decades away from a faith composed primarily of beliefs about Jesus toward taking Christ’s teachings both literally and seriously.
“I grew up at a time when the church was organized around the theologies of the Apostle Paul,” Campolo said. “Every Bible study I ever went to growing up was on Paul. We studied Ephesians and Philippians and Romans, and we went through Paul verse by verse.”
“Being solid theologically was of crucial significance,” he continued. “It still is. The shift that has taken place, however, is a shift away from the Pauline epistles to the Gospels.”
Read it all.
We were having lunch together and I was praying like mad. My friend had been in a committed same-sex relationship for about 15 years. He was interested in Jesus; attracted to his teaching and message. But he wanted to know what implications becoming a Christian might have on his practicing gay lifestyle.
I had explained, as carefully and graciously as I could, that Jesus upheld and expanded the wider biblical stance on sexuality: that the only context for sexual activity was heterosexual marriage. Following Jesus would mean seeking to live under his word, in this area as in any other.
He had been quiet for a moment, and then looked me in the eye and asked the billion-dollar question: ‘What could possibly be worth giving up my partner for?’
I held his gaze for a moment while my brain raced for the answer. There was eternity, of course. There was heaven and hell. But I was conscious that these realities would seem other-worldly and intangible to him. In any case, surely following Jesus is worth it even for this life. He was asking about life here-and-now, so I prayed for a here-and-now Bible verse to point to. I wanted him to know that following Jesus really is worth it – worth it in the life to come, but also worth it in this life now, no less so for those who have homosexual feelings. Yes, there would be a host of hardships and difficulties: unfulfilled longings, the distress of unwanted temptation, the struggles of long-term singleness.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Laity Ministry of the Ordained * Theology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology)
Someone told me recently, “I just don’t get all caught up in theological dogma.” As the days of our lives slip by, it is possible that a person might not get all caught up in the true theology behind this “most wonderful time of the year.” And with eggnog in hand still want his or her Christmas to be a time for proclaiming peace and good will (not peace because of the birth of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away our sin giving us peace with God; not that, just “peace and good will”, a kind of mantra for postmodern America.)
So it is possible, at least for a while, to ignore the real meaning of Christmas. That is, as long as the internal and external events of my life proceed according to my plans; as long as I can keep at bay all forms of guilt from years of things done and left undone; as long as I can gloss over the world’s darkness to which the prophet Isaiah has alluded; as long as I can fend off the awareness that one day I too will die. For that long I can get by in this world without concerning myself with the truest meaning of Christmas.
But as soon as anything breaks through my delusional reality; as soon as guilt robs me of my peace, as soon as death threatens me, then absolutely nothing will matter more than the theological truth behind the Nativity.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Soteriology
Now think with me about how, on that first Christmas Eve, Jesus beganhis life journey…as an outsider.
Jesus was an outsider politically. He had to flee from Herod. Within a year of his birth, he was a refugee in Egypt.
Jesus was an outsider to his own family. Despite his mother’s devotion, his brothers and sisters never seemed to have understood him. At times during his ministry they even thought he had gone mad.
Jesus was an outsider to his townsfolk. The people of Nazareth accepted him – yes, when he was the carpenter’s son. But when his ministry began, they all but threw him off the cliff for his “pretentious” messianic airs.
Jesus was an outsider to the religious leaders. He had no formal theological training, nor did he have a proper school of educated disciples. His band of followers was riff raff from the boondocks up in Galilee.
And Jesus was an outsider to the Romans. They saw him as a menace to the peace they had brokered with the Sanhedrin. For all they knew Jesus was a zealot, secretly plotting a revolt against them.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * South Carolina * Theology Christology
Listen to it all if you so desire.
Filed under: * By Kendall Sermons & Teachings * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology
It may seem strange to suggest that part of leading well is helping people see the connection between Christmas and Easter. But it is. For without this connection, Christians have no reason for their joy. Our commercialization of Christmas tries to isolate Christmas, to make it stand on its own apart from Easter. This is a recipe only for sadness.
Of course, practically speaking, it is hard to lead when morose, and it may be even harder to follow a morose leader. More deeply, however, joy is the final response Christians can have to the world in which we live, and especially during Advent and Christmas, leaders need to understand why we can rejoice and why our institutions can be places of joy.
Read it all.
The plain meaning therefore is, that the Speech begotten by God before all ages, and who always dwelt with the Father, was made man. On this article there are two things chiefly to be observed. The first is, that two natures were so united in one Person in Christ, that one and the same Christ is true God and true man. The second is, that the unity of person does not hinder the two natures from remaining distinct, so that his Divinity retains all that is peculiar to itself, and his humanity holds separately whatever belongs to it. And, therefore, as Satan has made a variety of foolish attempts to overturn sound doctrine by heretics, he has always brought forward one or another of these two errors; either that he was the Son of God and the Son of man in so confused a manner, that neither his Divinity remained entire, nor did he wear the true nature of man; or that he was clothed with flesh, so as to be as it were double, and to have two separate persons.
--John Calvin (1509-1564)
Out of the thousand things which follow directly from this reading of John, I choose three as particularly urgent.
First, John’s view of the incarnation, of the Word becoming flesh, strikes at the very root of that liberal denial which characterised mainstream theology thirty years ago and whose long-term effects are with us still. I grew up hearing lectures and sermons which declared that the idea of God becoming human was a category mistake. No human being could actually be divine; Jesus must therefore have been simply a human being, albeit no doubt (the wonderful patronizing pat on the head of the headmaster to the little boy) a very brilliant one. Phew; that’s all right then; he points to God but he isn’t actually God. And a generation later, but growing straight out of that school of thought, I have had a clergyman writing to me this week to say that the church doesn’t know anything for certain, so what’s all the fuss about? Remove the enfleshed and speaking Word from the centre of your theology, and gradually the whole thing will unravel until all you’re left with is the theological equivalent of the grin on the Cheshire Cat, a relativism whose only moral principle is that there are no moral principles; no words of judgment because nothing is really wrong except saying that things are wrong, no words of mercy because, if you’re all right as you are, you don’t need mercy, merely ‘affirmation’.
That’s where we are right now; and John’s Christmas message issues a sharp and timely reminder to re-learn the difference between mercy and affirmation, between a Jesus who both embodies and speaks God’s word of judgment and grace and a home-made Jesus (a Da Vinci Code Jesus, if you like) who gives us good advice about discovering who we really are. No wonder John’s gospel has been so unfashionable in many circles. There is a fashion in some quarters for speaking about a ‘theology of incarnation’ and meaning that our task is to discern what God is doing in the world and do it with him. But that is only half the truth, and the wrong half to start with. John’s theology of the incarnation is about God’s word coming as light into darkness, as a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces, as the fresh word of judgment and mercy. You might as well say that an incarnational missiology is all about discovering what God is saying No to today, and finding out how to say it with him. That was the lesson Barth and Bonhoeffer had to teach in Germany in the 1930s, and it’s all too relevant as today’s world becomes simultaneously, and at the same points, more liberal and more totalitarian. This Christmas, let’s get real, let’s get Johannine, and let’s listen again to the strange words spoken by the Word made flesh.
Read it all.
Do consider coming--the schedule is there.
For those who think the idea of the Crusade is one that spoils the idea of the Cross, we can only say that for them the idea of the Cross is spoiled; the idea of the cross is spoiled quite literally in the cradle. It is not here to the purpose to argue with them on the abstract ethics of fighting; the purpose in this place is merely to sum up the combination of ideas that make up the Christian and Catholic idea, and to note that all of them are already crystallised in the first Christmas story. They are three distinct and commonly contrasted things which are nevertheless one thing; but this is the only thing which can make them one.
The first is the human instinct for a heaven that shall be as literal and almost as local as a home. It is the idea pursued by all poets and pagans making myths; that a particular place must be the shrine of the god or the abode of the blest; that fairyland is a land; or that the return of the ghost must be the resurrection of the body. I do not here reason about the refusal of rationalism to satisfy this need. I only say that if the rationalists refuse to satisfy it, the pagans will not be satisfied. This is present in the story of Bethlehem and Jerusalem as it is present in the story of Delos and Delphi; and as it is not present in the whole universe of Lucretius or the whole universe of Herbert Spencer.
The second element is a philosophy larger than other philosophies; larger than that of Lucretius and infinitely larger than that of Herbert Spencer. It looks at the world through a hundred windows where the ancient stoic or the modern agnostic only looks through one. It sees life with thousands of eyes belonging to thousands of different sorts of people, where the other is only the individual standpoint of a stoic or an agnostic. It has something for all moods of man, it finds work for all kinds of men, it understands secrets of psychology, it is aware of depths of evil, it is able to distinguish between ideal and unreal marvels and miraculous exceptions, it trains itself in tact about hard cases, all with a multiplicity and subtlety and imagination about the varieties of life which is far beyond the bald or breezy platitudes of most ancient or modern moral philosophy. In a word, there is more in it; it finds more in existence to think about; it gets more out of life. Masses of this material about our many-sided life have been added since the time of St. Thomas Aquinas. But St. Thomas Aquinas alone would have found himself limited in the world of Confucius or of Comte.
And the third point is this; that while it is local enough for poetry and larger than any other philosophy, it is also a challenge and a fight. While it is deliberately broadened to embrace every aspect of truth, it is still stiffly embattled against every mode of error. It gets every kind of man to fight for it, it gets every kind of weapon to fight with, it widens its knowledge of the things that are fought for and against with every art of curiosity or sympathy; but it never forgets that it is fighting. It proclaims peace on earth and never forgets why there was war in heaven.
This is the trinity of truths symbolised here by the three types in the old Christmas story; the shepherds and the kings and that other king who warred upon the children. It is simply not true to say that other religions and philosophies are in this respect its rivals. It is not true to say that any one of them combines these characters; it is not true to say that any one of them pretends to combine them. Buddhism may profess to be equally mystical; it does not even profess to be equally military. Islam may profess to be equally military; it does not even profess to be equally metaphysical and subtle. Confucianism may profess to satisfy the need of the philosophers for order and reason; it does not even profess to satisfy the need of the mystics for miracle and sacrament and the consecration of concrete things.
There are many evidences of this presence of a spirit at once universal and unique. One will serve here which is the symbol of the subject of this chapter; that no other story, no pagan legend or philosophical anecdote or historical event, does in fact affect any of us with that peculiar and even poignant impression produced on us by the word Bethlehem. No other birth of a god or childhood of a sage seems to us to be Christmas or anything like Christmas. It is either too cold or too frivolous, or too formal and classical, or too simple and savage, or too occult and complicated. Not one of us, whatever his opinions, would ever go to such a scene with the sense that he was going home. He might admire it because it was poetical, or because it was philosophical, or any number of other things in separation; but not because it was itself. The truth is that there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man. It does not exactly in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest sort of hero-worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventurously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can some times take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never suspected; and seen a light from within. It is as if he found something at the back of his own heart that betrayed him into good. It is not made of what the world would call strong materials; or rather it is made of materials whose strength is in that winged levity with which they brush us and pass. It is all that is in us but a brief tenderness that is there made eternal; all that means no more than a momentary softening that is in some strange fashion become a strengthening and a repose; it is the broken speech and the lost word that are made positive and suspended unbroken; as the strange kings fade into a far country and the mountains resound no more with the feet of the shepherds; and only the night and the cavern lie in fold upon fold over something more human than humanity.
--–The Everlasting Man (Radford, Virginia: Wilder Publications, 2008 paperback ed. of the 1925 original), pp. 114-116
While acknowledging that there are many contemporary scholars who reject the two chapters of infancy narratives in the Gospel of St Matthew as historical fact, Benedict nonetheless concludes that the chapters are "not a meditation presented under the guise of stories, but the converse: Matthew is recounting real history, theologically thought through and interpreted." Thus, for Pope Benedict, the Magi represent the inner dynamic of the human person and of science towards self-transcendence, "which involves a search for truth, a search for the true God, and hence philosophy in the original sense of the word."
In a pre-papal work, Co-Workers of the Truth, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:
"The Magi of the Gospel are but the first in a vast pilgrimage in which the beauty of this earth is laid at the feet of Christ: the gold of the ancient Christian mosaics, the multi-coloured light from the windows of our great cathedrals, the praise of their stone, the Christmas songs of the trees of the forest are all inspired by him, and human voices like musical instruments have found their most beautiful melodies when they cast themselves at his feet. The suffering of the world too - its misery - comes to him in order, for a moment, to find security and understanding in the presence of the God who is poor."The paradox is that while the Magi lay tokens of earthly beauty at the feet of Christ in one of the first human acts of adoration, at the birth of Christ divinity was laying at the feet of humanity the gift of "indestructible truth and eternal beauty." As Benedict writes, "the Glory of God is real" and "this is truly a reason for joy: there is truth, there is goodness, there is beauty. It is there - in God - indestructibly".
Read it all.
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(It is very difficult to set the stage for this scene, but some background will be helpful. Rayber is one of the novel's central characters and is strongly anti-Christian. He is looking as hard as he can for his nephew, Francis Tarwater, who has run away. This has led him to a small church service, likely a revival meeting, and he is watching what is occurring through a window. Rayber is unable to hear in one ear and in the other he wears a hearing device which sometimes vexes him. The "old man" is a reference to another key character in the novel, Mason Tarwater, whose death and desired burial form an important early part of the book. There is also a mention of Bishop who is Rayber's son and who appears to have Down's syndrome).
. . . A little girl hobbled into the spotlight.
Rayber cringed. Simply by the sight of her he could tell that she was not a fraud, that she was only exploited. She was eleven or twelve with a small delicate face and a head of black hair that looked too thick and heavy for a frail child to support. A cape like her mother's was turned back over one shoulder and her skirt was short as if better to reveal the thin legs twisted from the knees. She held her arms over her head for a moment. "I want to tell you people the story of the world," she said in a loud high child's voice. "I want to tell you why Jesus came and what happened to Him. I want to tell you how He'll come again. I want to tell you to be ready. Most of all," she said, "I want to tell you to be ready so that on the last day you'll rise in the glory of the Lord."
Rayber's fury encompassed the parents, the preacher, all the idiots he could not see who were sitting in front of the child, parties to her degradation. She believed it, she was locked tight in it, chained hand and foot, exactly as he had been, exactly as only a child could be. He felt the taste of his own childhood pain laid again on his tongue like a bitter wafer.
"Do you know who Jesus is?" she cried. "Jesus is the word of God and Jesus is love. The Word of God is love and do you know what love is, you people? If you don't know what love is you won't know Jesus when He comes. You won't be ready. I want to tell you people the story of the world, how it never known when love come, so when love comes again, you'll be ready."
She moved back and forth across the stage, frowning as if she were trying to see the people through the fierce circle of light that followed her. "Listen to me, you people," she said, "God was angry with the world because it always wanted more. It wanted as much as God had and it didn't know what God had but it wanted it and more. It wanted God's own breath, it wanted His very Word and God said, 'I'll make my Word Jesus, I'll give them my Word for a king, I'll give them my very breath for theirs.'
"Listen, you people," she said and flung her arms wide, "God told the world He was going to send it a king and the world waited. The world thought, a golden fleece will do for His bed. Silver and gold and peacock tails, a thousand suns in a peacock's tail will do for His sash. His mother will ride on a four-horned white beast and use the sunset for a cape. She'll trail it behind her over the ground and let the world pull it to pieces, a new one every evening."
To Rayber she was like one of those birds blinded to make it sing more sweetly. Her voice had the tone of a glass bell. His pity encompassed all exploited children--himself when he was a child, Tarwater exploited by the old man, this child exploited by parents, Bishop exploited by the very fact that he was alive.
"The world said, 'How long, Lord, do we have to wait for this?' And the Lord said, 'My Word is coming, my Word is coming from the house of David, the king.'" She paused and turned her head to the side, away from the fierce light. Her dark gaze moved slowly until it rested on Rayber's head in the window. He stared back at her. Her eyes remained on his face for a moment. A deep shock went through him. He was certain that the child had looked directly into his heart and seen his pity. He felt that some mysterious connection was established between them.
"'My Word is coming,'" she said, turning back to face the glare, "'my Word is coming from the house of David, the king.'"
She began again in a dirge-like tone. "Jesus came on cold straw. Jesus was warmed by the breath of an ox. 'Who is this?' the world said, 'who is this blue-cold child and this woman, plain as the winter? Is this the Word of God, this blue-cold child? Is this His will, this plain winter-woman?'
"Listen you people!" she cried, "the world knew in its heart, the same as you know in your hearts and I know in my heart. The world said, 'Love cuts like the cold wind and the will of God is plain as the winter. Where is the summer will of God? Where are the green seasons of God's will? Where is the spring and summer of God's will?'
"They had to flee into Egypt," she said in a low voice and turned her head again and this time her eyes moved directly to Rayber's face in the window and he knew they sought it. He felt himself caught up in her look, held there before the judgment seat of her eyes.
"You and I know," she said turning again, "what the world hoped then. The world hoped old Herod would slay the right child, the world hoped old Herod wouldn't waste those children, but he wasted them. He didn't get the right one. Jesus grew up and raised the dead."
Rayber felt his spirit borne aloft. But not those dead! he cried, not the innocent children, not you, not me when I was a child, not Bishop, not Frank! and he had a vision of himself moving like an avenging angel through the world, gathering up all the children that the Lord, not Herod, had slain.
"Jesus grew up and raised the dead," she cried, "and the world shouted, 'Leave the dead lie. The dead are dead and can stay that way. What do we want with the dead alive?' Oh you people!" she shouted, "they nailed Him to a cross and run a spear through His side and then they said, 'Now we can have some peace, now we can ease our minds.' And they hadn't but only said it when they wanted Him to come again. Their eyes were opened and they saw the glory they had killed.
"Listen world," she cried, flinging up her arms so that the cape flew out behind her, "Jesus is coming again! The mountains are going to lie down like hounds at His feet, the stars are going to perch on His shoulder and when He calls it, the sun is going to fall like a goose for His feast. Will you know the Lord Jesus then? The mountains will know Him and bound forward, the stars will light on His head, the sun will drop down at His feet, but will you know the Lord Jesus then?"
Rayber saw himself fleeing with the child to some enclosed garden where he would teach her the truth, where he would gather all the exploited children of the world and let the sunshine flood their minds.
"If you don't know Him now, you won't know Him then. Listen to me, world, listen to this warning. The Holy Word is in my mouth!
"The Holy Word is in my mouth!" she cried and turned her eyes again on his face in the window. This time there was a lowering concentration in her gaze. He had drawn her attention entirely away from the congregation.
Come away with me! he silently implored, and I'll teach you the truth, I'll save you, beautiful child!
Her eyes still fixed on him, she cried, "I've seen the Lord in a tree of fire! The Word of God is a burning Word to burn you clean!" She was moving in his direction, the people in front of her forgotten. Rayber's heart began to race. He felt some miraculous communication between them. The child alone in the world was meant to understand him. "Burns the whole world, man and child," she cried, her eye on him, "none can escape." She stopped a little distance from the end of the stage and stood silent, her whole attention directed across the small room to his face on the ledge. Her eyes were large and dark and fierce. He felt that in the space between them, their spirits had broken the bonds of age and ignorance and were mingling in some unheard of knowledge of each other. He was transfixed by the child's silence. Suddenly she raised her arm and pointed toward his face. "Listen you people," she shrieked, "I see a damned soul before my eyes! I see a dead man Jesus hasn't raised. His head is in the window but his ear is deaf to the Holy Word!"
Rayber's head, as if it had been struck by an invisible bolt, dropped from the ledge. He crouched on the ground, his furious spectacled eyes glittering behind the shrubbery. Inside she continued to shriek, "Are you deaf to the Lord's Word? The Word of God is a burning Word to burn you clean, burns man and child, man and child the same, you people! Be saved in the Lord's fire or perish in your own! Be saved in . . ."
He was groping fiercely about him, slapping at his coat pockets, his head, his chest, not able to find the switch that would cut off the voice. Then his hand touched the button and he snapped it. A silent dark relief enclosed him like shelter after a tormenting wind.
--The Violent Bear It Away (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1960), pp.129-132 [my emphasis]
....one could learn a great deal from the question, “What do you hope to get for Christmas?” For if you know our hopes, you fairly well know us. If you want to know who a person really is, and plans to be, inquire into what that person is hoping for.
What are you hoping for?
I expect that is what most of us think religion is about, the fulfillment of our hopes. We hope to find peace in our anxious lives. So we come to church on Sunday morning hoping that the music of the hymns, the words of scripture and preaching may fill us with a sense of peace.
We hope for thoughtful, reflective lives. So we come to church on Sunday morning hoping for an interesting sermon, something that will help us to use our minds, something that will test our intellects, make us think about things in a way we haven’t thought before.....
The trouble is that the Gospels seem to engage in a continual debate with people’s hopes and expectations. Jesus came, light into our darkness. But the problem with Jesus was he was not the sort of light that we expected. That is where the trouble started. Jesus was the hope of the world. But he was not the hope for which the world was hoping!
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Eschatology Soteriology
Whatever the coming of the kingdom means, it cannot mean that the healing, reconciling, non-combative Christ we know was an imposter, just biding his time until he could beat down his enemies under his feet. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence. If we seek the kingdom by violence, then the violent will bear it away.
I don’t know why we would be disappointed to discover that Christ comes again as he came the first time—working through small things, not big things, among little people, not powerful people, with local effect, not cosmic effect—except that we find great armies on thundering horses a more adequate display of power. I don’t know why we would be disappointed to discover that the kingdom of heaven operates under the sign of the cross just as the Coming One did, except that we have always been disappointed by God’s reluctance to give us the kind of world, the kind of life, the kind of savior we want.
“And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me,” he said, knowing better than anyone the disappointing, redemptive ways in which God works--sending a human child into the world instead of a mighty king, sending servants instead of troops--sending people like you and me instead of real disciples to do the work of the Coming One until he comes, for in just this way the kingdom of heaven draws very, very near.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Advent Christmas Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Eschatology
The regular suggestion that baling out countries will lead them to misbehave again won’t work, either. That might be true of some banks and businesses. It isn’t true of countries like Tanzania, who, after debt remission, have experienced the joy of developing education, medicine and other essentials – in fact, of building a new home.
We don’t just need, in other words, to ‘turn the economy round’, and get it back to where it was before. We need to turn it inside out. The Christmas message suggests that it’s time for a major, global rethink about the multiple, interlocking problems we can no longer ignore. And about the many-sided, but essentially coherent, proposals that flow directly from the Baby at Bethlehem, demanding to be worked out at street level.
The God who became homeless at Christmas longs to transform this muddled old world into a place where all can be at home at last. That’s what Jesus taught us to pray for.
Read it all.
Although fully divine, Jesus was fully human as well. Had he not been, his life and death would have no redemptive value whatsoever. That God himself passed the death sentence on our sin and disobedience, then came to suffer that sentence himself, after having lived a perfect, sinless life, trading his reward for our punishment is the Gospel in its most concise form. For his sinless life to matter, and be sufficient to earn God’s favor, he had to do it as a man, not a divine being for whom nothing was very difficult.
This is not easy to comprehend, and yet it is the heart of the mystery of salvation. It is no wonder that the early Church worked hard to protect this truth from variants that would have tilted the nature of Christ into one of two heresies: Nestorianism (and several other related heresies) taught that Jesus was fully human, and though certainly specially anointed by God, was not fully God as well. On the other hand Docetism (and several other similar teachings) taught that Jesus was fully God, but only masquerading as human, not really subject to the sorrows, temptations, and trials of human beings.
Docetism seems to have run its course—we don’t hear many people today insisting that Jesus was God and only appeared to be human. But the family of Nestorian views is another matter. It is the preferred stance of the modern world—Jesus was a fully human being, and although given special gifts and grace by God, he was still just human, a first century Semitic man of his time, limited and even (some assert) flawed.
Read it all.
In an essay in The Times’ Sunday Book Review this week the writer Paul Elie asks the intriguing question: Has fiction lost its faith? As we are gathered here today, let us consider one of the most oddly faithful of all fiction writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky. More specifically, I’d like focus pretty intensely on what some consider to be the key moment in his greatest novel — arguably one of the greatest of all time — “The Brothers Karamazov.” (Elie himself notes the 1880 masterpiece as an example of the truly faith-engaged fiction of yore.) I speak in particular of the “Grand Inquisitor” scene, a sort of fiction within a fiction that draws on something powerful from the New Testament — Jesus’s refusal of Satan’s three temptations — and in doing so digs at the meaning of faith, freedom, happiness and the diabolic satisfaction of our desires.
Read it all. Be warned--this is not short and it is not light bed-time reading; it is, however, well worth the time--KSH.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Philosophy Poetry & Literature Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary Europe Russia * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology Theodicy
Carl F. H. Henry, the dean of evangelical theologians, argues that the Virgin Birth is the “essential, historical indication of the Incarnation, bearing not only an analogy to the divine and human natures of the Incarnate, but also bringing out the nature, purpose, and bearing of this work of God to salvation.” Well said, and well believed.
Nicholas Kristof and his secularist friends may find belief in the Virgin Birth to be evidence of intellectual backwardness among American Christians. But this is the faith of the Church, established in God’s perfect Word, and cherished by the true Church throughout the ages. Kristof’s grandfather, we are told, believed that the Virgin Birth is a “pious legend.” The fact that he could hold such beliefs and serve as an elder in his church is evidence of that church’s doctrinal and spiritual laxity — or worse. Those who deny the Virgin Birth affirm other doctrines only by force of whim, for they have already surrendered the authority of Scripture. They have undermined Christ’s nature and nullified the incarnation.
This much we know: All those who find salvation will be saved by the atoning work of Jesus the Christ — the virgin-born Savior. Anything less than this is just not Christianity, whatever it may call itself. A true Christian will not deny the Virgin Birth.
Read it all.
It’s tough to be on the receiving end of love, God’s or anybody else’s. It requires that we see our lives not as our possessions, but as gifts. "Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace," wrote John Wesley a long time ago.
Among the most familiar Christmas texts is the one in Isaiah: "The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (7:14) Less familiar is its context: Isaiah has been pleading with King Ahaz to put his trust in God’s promise to Israel rather than in alliances with strong military powers like Syria. "If you will not believe, you shall not be established," Isaiah warns Ahaz (7:9). Then the prophet tells the fearful king that God is going to give him a baby as a sign. A baby. Isn’t that just like God, Ahaz must have thought. What Ahaz needed, with Assyria breathing down his neck, was a good army, not a baby.
This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be. With our advanced degrees, armies, government programs, material comforts and self-fulfillment techniques, we assume that religion is about giving a little, of our power in order to confirm to ourselves that we are indeed as self-sufficient as we claim.
Read it all.
...[Jesus of Nazareth] was not a kind of demon pretending to be human; he was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be “like God”—he was God.
Now, this is not just a pious commonplace: it is not a commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things: that for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—he [God] had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.
--Creed or Chaos? (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company,1949), page 4 (with special thanks to blog reader and friend WW)
..the [New Testament] birth stories have become a test case in various controversies. If you believe in miracles, you believe in Jesus' miraculous birth; if you don't, you don't. Both sides turn the question into a shibboleth, not for its own sake but to find out who's in and who's out.
The problem is that "miracle," as used in these controversies, is not a biblical category. The God of the Bible is not a normally absent God who sometimes "intervenes." This God is always present and active, often surprisingly so.
Read it all.
But the object of divine action in the Incarnation is man. God’s free decision is and remains a gracious decision; God becomes man, the Word becomes flesh. The Incarnation means no apparent reserved, but a real and complete descent of God. God actually became what we are, in order actually to exist with us, actually to exist for us, in thus becoming and being human, not to do what we do-sin; and to do what we fail to do–God’s, His own, will; and so actually, in our place, in our situation and position to be the new man. It is not in His eternal majesty–in which He is and remains hidden from us–but as this new man and therefore the Word in the flesh, that God’s Son is God’s revelation to us and our reconciliation with God. Just for that reason faith cannot look past His humanity, the cradle of Bethlelhem and the cross of Golgotha in order to see Him in His divinity, Faith in the eternal Word of the Father is faith in Jesus of Nazereth or it is not the Christian faith.
--Karl Barth (1886-1968)
This mediator must represent God to humankind, and humankind to God. He must have points of contact with both God and humanity, and yet be distinguishable from them both….the central Christian idea of the incarnation, which expresses the belief that Jesus is both God and man, divine and human, portrays Jesus as the perfect mediator between God and human beings. He, and he alone, is able to redeem us and reconcile us to God.
--"I Believe": Exploring the Apostles' Creed ( Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p.48
I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd's song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.
The Angels sing!
The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!
The Seraphim exalt His glory!
All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.
Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice.
And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.
This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.
And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.
Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead.
Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;
Soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;
Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy;
Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;
Infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise;
Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;
Men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;
Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;
Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;
Servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;
Fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;
Publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;
Sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant;
And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.
Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ.
For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing:
Glory to God in the Highest; and with the shepherds:
and on earth peace to men of good will
--From Antioch in 386 A.D.
The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.
--Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Now the man to whom I'm going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn't believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn't make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn't swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man. "I'm truly sorry to distress you," he told his wife, "but I'm not going with you to church this Christmas Eve." He said he'd feel like a hypocrite. That he'd much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They'd been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.
Well, he couldn't let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.
And then, he realized, that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me. That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him. "If only I could be a bird," he thought to himself, "and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safety ... to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand."
At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells - Adeste Fidelis - listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.
According to a knowledgeable blog commenter in the past, "This was written by the author, Louis Cassels. According to enotes.com, he was a "correspondent for United Press International. He was a feature writer and author of the popular column "Religion in America" from 1955 to 1974. He was also a recipient of the prestigious Faith and Freedom Award from the Religious Heritage of America."
The message of Christmas for you from Christ this morning is that what is good and precious in your life need never be lost, and what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed. The coming of the eternal Son of God into the world as the God-Man, Jesus Christ, is a fact of history. But thousands of Americans fill out Gallup Poll religious surveys that they believe this fact but then live just like everybody else. They have the same anxieties that good things will be lost and the same frustrations that crummy things can't be changed. Evidently there is not much power in giving right answers on religious surveys about historical facts.
That's because the coming of the Son of God into the world is so much more than a historical fact. It was a message of hope sent by God to teenagers and single parents and crabby husbands and sullen wives and overweight women and impotent men and retarded neighbors, and homosexuals and preachers and lovers and you. And since the Son of God lived, died, rose, reigns and is coming again, God's message through him is more than a historical fact. It is a Christmas gift to you this morning, December 25, 1983, from the voice of the living God. Thus says the Lord: the meaning of Christmas is that what is good and precious in your life need never be lost, and what is evil and undesirable in your life can be changed. The fears that the few good things that make you happy are slipping through your fingers, and the frustrations that the bad things you hate about yourself or your situation can't be changed -- these fears and these frustrations are what Christmas came to destroy. It is God's message of hope this morning that what is good need never be lost and what is bad can be changed.
There are many in our church family who because of age or sickness will inevitably ask themselves the question today: "Is this my last Christmas?" Life is good and precious and we don't want to lose it. We can talk all we want about the good things of life, but if we don't have life we don't have anything. "What does it profit if you gain the whole world and lose your life?" O, how precious is our life. If you don't feel it now, wait 'till you get very sick. Then you will know why Hezekiah wept bitterly with his terminal illness and pled for added years (2 Kings. 20:1-7). The message of Christmas to you who see your death on the horizon is that you need never lose your life. It is good to live. Your life is precious and can be saved.
Read it carefully and read it all.
Let’s apply the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world — but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.
Christmas is so familiar that we sometimes wonder whether anything fresh and true can be said about it.
But there is a way to explore its meaning that may seem new to us today, yet is in fact quite traditional, dating back to the Middle Ages and the ancient Fathers of the Church.
Modern interpreters often argue about whether a given Scripture passage should be interpreted literally or symbolically. Medieval writers would question the “either/or” approach. They thought a passage could have as many as four “right” interpretations, one literal and three symbolic.
These were: (1) the historical or literal, which is the primary sense on which the others all depend; (2) the prophetic sense when an Old Testament event foreshadows its New Testament fulfillment; (3) the moral or spiritual sense, when events and characters in a story correspond to elements in our own lives; and (4) the eschatological sense, when a scene on earth foreshadows something of heavenly glory.
This symbolism is legitimate because it doesn’t detract from the historical, literal sense, but builds on and expands it. It’s based on the theologically sound premise that history too symbolizes, or points beyond itself, for God wrote three books, not just one: nature and history as well as Scripture. The story of history is composed not only of “events,” but of words, signs and symbols. This is unfamiliar to us only because we have lost a sense of depth and exchanged it for a flat, one-dimensional, “bottom-line” mentality in which everything means only one thing.
Let’s try to recapture the riches of this lost worldview by applying the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world — but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.
Read it all.
I can bring it so neare; but onely the worthy hearer, and the worthy receiver, can call this Lord this Jesus, this Christ, Immanuel God with us; onely that virgin soule, devirginated in the blood of Adam but restored in the blood of the Lambe hath this Ecce, this testimony, this assurance, that God is with him; they that have this Ecce, this testimony, in a rectified conscience, are Godfathers to this child Jesus and may call him Immanuel God with us for as no man can deceive God, so God can deceive no man; God cannot live in the darke himself neither can he leave those who are his in the darke: If he be with thee he will make thee see that he is with thee and never goe out of thy sight, till he have brought thee, where thou canst never goe out of his.
--John Donne (1572-1631), Preached at St. Pauls, upon Christmas Day, in the Evening, 1624
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology
One is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who asked it say, 'freed' from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or, at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would be no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they are only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian. Conversely, once you have accepted that, then you will see that all other well-established Christian miracles--because, of course, there are ill-established Christian miracles; there are Christian legends just as much as there are heathen legends, or modern journalistic legends--you will see that all the well-established Christian miracles are part of it, that they all either prepare for, or exhibit, or result from the Incarnation. Just as every natural event exhibits the total character of the natural universe at a particular point and space of time; so every miracle exhibits the character of the Incarnation. Now, if one asks whether that central grand miracle in Christianity is itself probable or improbable, of course, quite clearly you cannot be applying Hume's kind of probability. You cannot mean a probability based on statistics according to which the more often a thing has happened, the more likely it is to happen again (the more often you get indigestion from eating a certain food, the more probable it is, if you eat it again, that you again have indigestion). Certainly the Incarnation cannot be probable in that sense. It is of its very nature to have happened only once. But then it is of the very nature of the history of this world to have happened only once; and if the Incarnation happened at all, it is the central chapter of that history. It is improbable in the same way in which the whole of nature is improbable, because it is only there once, and will happen only once.
----C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, howbeit he was not far from us Acts 17:27 before. For no part of Creation is left void of Him: He has filled all things everywhere, remaining present with His own Father. But He comes in condescension to show loving-kindness upon us, and to visit us. And seeing the race of rational creatures in the way to perish, and death reigning over them by corruption; seeing, too, that the threat against transgression gave a firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, and that it was monstrous that before the law was fulfilled it should fall through: seeing, once more, the unseemliness of what was come to pass: that the things whereof He Himself was Artificer were passing away: seeing, further, the exceeding wickedness of men, and how by little and little they had increased it to an intolerable pitch against themselves: and seeing, lastly, how all men were under penalty of death: He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the mastery—lest the creature should perish, and His Father's handiwork in men be spent for nought—He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours. For He did not simply will to become embodied, or will merely to appear. For if He willed merely to appear, He was able to effect His divine appearance by some other and higher means as well. But He takes a body of our kind, and not merely so, but from a spotless and stainless virgin, knowing not a man, a body clean and in very truth pure from intercourse of men. For being Himself mighty, and Artificer of everything, He prepares the body in the Virgin as a temple unto Himself, and makes it His very own as an instrument, in it manifested, and in it dwelling. And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death He gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Father—doing this, moreover, of His loving-kindness, to the end that, firstly, all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone (inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord's body, and had no longer holding-ground against men, his peers), and that, secondly, whereas men had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like straw from the fire.
--Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word
It's a slightly strange way to start a Gospel you might think. We expect something a bit more like the beginning of the other Gospels: the story of Jesus's birth perhaps or his ancestry, or the story of Jesus's arrival on the public scene. But at the beginning of St John's Gospel what St John does is to frame his whole story against an eternal background. And what he's saying there is this: as you read this Gospel, as you read the stories about what Jesus does, be aware that whatever he does in the stories you're about to read is something that's going on eternally, not just something that happens to be going on in Palestine at a particular date. So when Jesus brings an overflow of joy at a wedding, when Jesus reaches out to a foreign woman to speak words of forgiveness and reconciliation to her, when Jesus opens the eyes of a blind man or raises the dead, all of this is part of something that is going on forever. The welcome of God, the joy of God, the light of God, the life of God - all of this is eternal. What Jesus is showing on Earth is somehow mysteriously part of what is always true about God....
Read it all or watch the video.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury --Rowan Williams * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas * Theology Christology Theology: Scripture
...if we put aside the necessity of the Virgin Birth, can we not see the congruity of it? In other words, does the Virgin Birth not fit into a kind of biblical logic once you accept the Bible’s overall Trinitarian framework?
Since God was in the business of re-starting creation in the sending of his Son, might we not expect him to create “out of nothing” the second time, just as he did the first? Karl Barth, the greatest theologian of the 20th Century, thought so. Just as the Spirit brooded over creation the first time, so again in the birth of Jesus the Spirit “brooded” over the virgin Mary. Also, just as creation was totally initiated by God the first time, so creation (the second time, in Jesus) gets to be totally initiated by God. The Virgin Birth tells us that Jesus was not born “of the will of man”, but wholly of the Father’s initiative. God chose to by-pass the normal male role in the work of redemption, in part, so the logic goes, to signal his own headship. “Man as a creating, controlling, self-assertive, self-glorifying being was set aside in favor of a woman who listened, received, and served.” (From, A Step Further, by the author)
We honor the Virgin Birth, of course, because Scripture teaches it. But we can also see the logic behind it. God’s sovereign action is a challenge to the human psychological need to contribute to our own salvation, to be co-creators with God. Mary is a witness against the drive, push, and self-assertion that men especially (though not exclusively) associate with a healthy self-image and by which men often mask their own impotence.
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We don’t need to abandon wholesale the tinsel and bells and mistletoe like Frank, but we do need to be particularly vigilant to keep ourselves, and those we love, from being occupied with everything that has become Christmas, save Jesus.
For the Christian, the best answer to the Christmas mess isn’t Festivus — entertaining as the idea of “playful consumer resistance” made for a beloved sitcom. Our best response is clarity and explicitness about the true miracle of Christmas, that God himself, in the person of Jesus, took a true human body and a reasonable human soul (as the ancient creed puts it) that, fully God and fully man, he might bring us humans from our mess to himself.
In the midst of layer after layer of holiday common graces that quickly become distraction after distraction of the celebration’s true essence, it is a beautiful thing, when for a memorable, unhurried moment, everything stops and Linus reads from chapter two of the Gospel of Luke.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Advent Christmas * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Theology Christology
What has caused the rust? The easy answer: the church lost the gospel. Waves of pragmatism, liberalism, and "Anglo-Catholicism" (a blend of Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism) have swept through the church, leaving wreckage in their wake.
But the actual cause is slightly more subtle. Anglicans still talk about the gospel, a lot. And mission. And even about being evangelical---the new archbishop self-identifies as an evangelical, though he certainly wouldn't recognize the definition of the term Don Carson and Tim Keller give in TGC's Gospel-Centered Ministry booklet.
The denomination never lost the words. But it lost the biblical content. In order to keep unity among people who differ over essentials, Anglicanism has increasingly emptied key concepts of their content. So you can sit in a room with 10 Anglican ministers and talk for half an hour about "the gospel" without ever defining the term and always knowing there are probably ten (or eleven!) different views.
Read it all.
Everyone seems to be amazed that the Pope is tweeting – and there was a news story the other day about bishops in England using Twitter for their Christmas messages. The surprise reminds me of the way people pretend to be astonished when clergy admit to having heard the occasional rude word (never mind clergy actually using them…) or having watched a soap. It’s taken for granted that we’re far too unworldly for all this.
Even speaking as someone who struggles with any kind of technology, I don’t think it should be assumed that all my fellow clergy are or ought to be as dim as I am in this area. And I don’t buy into the panic that sometimes gets stirred up about social media and electronic communication. OK, we all know it can be poisonous and destructive at times. But there’s another side to it.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury --Rowan Williams * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas * Culture-Watch Blogging & the Internet --Social Networking Religion & Culture Science & Technology * International News & Commentary England / UK * Theology Christology
Listen to it all if you so desire.
(In the 16th chapter of this book Nathaniel Wyeth (who goes by Nat), engineer and inventor, responds to the interviewer and tells a story about on his brother, artist Andrew Wyeth--KSH)
Andy once did a picture. This is sort of an extension of what we've been talking about, but it's indicative of the kind of training I'm talking about....Andy did a picture of Lafayette's headquarters which is down here on Route One near Chadds Ford [a town in Pennsylvania]. It's a beautiful, old building, built before the Revolutionary War, and in his picture was a huge sycamore tree coming up from behind the building with all its beautiful branches. You could see part of the trunk coming up over the roofline.--Kenneth A. Brown, Inventors at Work: Interviews with 16 Notable American Inventors (Redmond, Wash.: Tempus Books, 1988), pp. 374-375, quoted by yours truly in yesterday's sermon
When I first saw the painting, he wasn't quite finished with it. He showed me a lot of drawings of the trunk and the gnarled roots going into the ground, and and I said, "gee whiz, where's that in the picture?" "It's not in the picture, " he said. And I looked at him.
“Nat," he said, “for me to get the feeling that I want in that tree, the part of the tree that's showing, I've got tounderstand and know very thoroughly how that tree is anchored to the ground in back of the house." It never showed in the picture. But he could draw the part of the tree above the house with a lot more authenticity because he knew exactly the way that thing was anchored in the ground. Isn’t that remarkable?
To me, this was all very indicative of what my father [the illustrator N.C. Wyeth] trained into us in whatever we were doing: to understand what we were doing.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Advent * Culture-Watch Art History Science & Technology * Theology Anthropology Christology Pastoral Theology Soteriology
This Free Church has a work to do. All around us are men for whom Christ died, and yet many only use that name to swear by. In sorrow and sickness, in pollution and sin, there are men who live as though they thought they could die like oxen in the stall. Our Master's work is our work. "The poor ye have always with you, and when ye will ye may do them good." Will the day ever come when our eyes shall be opened to believe with all our hearts in the brotherhood of Jesus? when we shall see the name of the Lamb written on the poor man's forehead? Beloved, it is not alms alone that he needs; he needs a brother's hand and a brother's heart—cheerful words to make him braver in his sorrow—wise planning to lift him out of trouble—a God speed—a welcome; these, with alms, are blessed: without this, alms to-day needs alms to-morrow, and the poor sink deeper in poverty and woe. This city has thousands of young men: a stranger notices this as he walks the street. The clear eye and commanding step, the young man hopeful of the future, are with us. They have no homes. To many the Sunday comes without a thought of God. If they were sought after, this would be their home; for, beloved, there are few young men who do not remember a mother, and when at unlooked-for times they catch the tones of that mother's voice, they feel that they ought to go where that voice would lead them, and become Christian men. This city is full of craftsmen, those workers in wood and iron, men of strong frames and busy brains—they are the very life of the nation. On every railway, in every shop, on our inland seas—they meet us everywhere. They have warm hearts, and are generous to a fault; they are men of the very best intellects; they belong to the thinkers of the age—quick to grasp a truth and ready to fulfill. Why are they not the Sons of the Church? The fault is not in the invitation. Read the sentence on these walls: "The Spirit and the Bride," which is the Church of Christ, "say come; and let him that heareth, say come; and let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him come and drink of the water of life freely." The fault is ours. There is only one place to learn how to do this work. It is at the foot of the Cross.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Soteriology
Canterbury Cathedral is a huge, unmistakeable physical fact: it simply stands there, quietly letting us know how deeply these issues mattered to people not so unlike us. It reminds us that there were some who thought them a matter of life and death – like Thomas Becket, who died as a result of protesting against the king’s absolute claims. Less dramatically, it reminds us of those generations of monks who fervently believed that the best thing they could do for the world was to hold it steadily in prayer, in a daily rhythm of simple living and concentrated quietness.
You can’t fail to recognise that at the very least it’s a great open space for us to come into and discover new things about our human life and possibilities. And Christmas itself is about the arrival of a person whose words and actions and sufferings make that sort of space for us all. It isn’t about the arrival of a new philosophy – or even just a new religion. The compassion that is shown by Jesus is something that takes us as we are and gives us freedom to ask the hardest questions; freedom to grow up, confident that at every stage of our lives we are welcomed and understood and affirmed. Freedom to face our shadows and betrayals as well, because we know that love can always make a fresh start with us.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury --Rowan Williams Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Liturgy, Music, Worship Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary England / UK * Theology Christology
Right in the middle of all these things [in the first century ancient Near East] stands up an enormous exception. It is quite unlike anything else. It is a thing final like the trump of doom, though it is also a piece of good news; or news that seems too good to be true. It is nothing less than the loud assertion that this mysterious maker of the world has visited his world in person.....
It came on the world with a wind and rush of running messengers proclaiming that apocalyptic portent, and it is not unduly fanciful to say that they are running still. What puzzles the world, and its wise philosophers and fanciful pagan poets, about the priests and people of the Catholic Church is that they still behave as if they were messengers. A messenger does not dream about what his message might be, or argue about what it probably would be; he delivers it as it is. It is not a theory or a fancy but a fact. It is not relevant to this intentionally rudimentary outline to prove in detail that it is a fact; but merely to point out that these messengers do deal with it as men deal with a fact. All that is condemned in Catholic tradition, authority, and dogmatism and the refusal to retract and modify, are but the natural human attributes of a man with a message relating to a fact. I desire to avoid in this last summary all the controversial complexities that may once more cloud the simple lines of that strange story; which I have already called, in words that are much too weak, the strangest story in the world. I desire merely to mark those main lines and specially to mark where the great line is really to be drawn. The religion of the world, in its right proportions, is not divided into fine shades of mysticism or more or less rational forms of mythology. It is divided by the line between the men who are bringing that message and the men who have not yet heard it, or cannot yet believe it.
--G.K. Chesterton The Everlasting Man (Radford, Va.; Wilder Publications, 2008 edition of the 1925 original), pp.173-174
[Irish author Colm Toibin]'s novella [The Testament of Mary] offers a deeply, if at times painfully, human portrait of Mary, tearing asunder the robes of red and blue that envelop her in paintings and sculptures, pointing to her unique role as Theotokos, mother of God. Instead she is cast as a character more akin to Becca, the protagonist from the film Rabbit Hole, a good but broken woman whose son dies tragically, and as a result, is unable to cope with life in ways that would seem normal to those who haven’t suffered through such a liminal experience....
For some, Toibin’s work might be scandalous. Those like my preaching instructor might think Catholic reverence for Mary would compel us to dismiss this story outright. But for many Catholics, while The Testament of Mary might be challenging, it shouldn’t be upsetting. Our saints are indeed holy, but they must always remain fully human. That is how they have value for us, serving as models for our own journeys. That we might be compelled by Toibin to recall and reflect on Mary’s humanity rather than her seemingly quasi-divinity is a welcomed challenge.
I finished reading this short book just as news of Dorothy Day’s possible canonization hit the papers. Day’s path to sainthood, should she attain it, is not typical. Her story is a reminder of the beautifully messy tableau created by life’s many experiences. There is saintliness in all of it, and Mary’s life, a fully human experience encompassing joys and pains, extremes many of us will not be asked to endure, is worth considering in full.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Advent * Culture-Watch Books * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic * Theology Anthropology Christology Theology: Scripture
John the evangelist, who repeatedly raises the question of Jesus' provenance, does not present a genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel, but in the Prologue he grandly and emphatically proposes an answer to that question. At the same time he expands his answer to the question into a definition of Christian life: on the basis of Jesus' provenance he sheds light upon the identity of his followers.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt [pitched his tent] among us" ( Jn 1:1-14). The man Jesus is the dwelling-place of the Word, the eternal divine Word, in this world. Jesus' "flesh," his human existence, is the "dwelling" or "tent" of the Word: the reference to the sacred tent of Israel in the wilderness is unmistakable. Jesus is, so to speak, the tent of meeting-he is the reality for which the tent and the later Temple could only serve as signs. Jesus' origin, his provenance, is the true "beginning"-the primordial source from which all things come, the "light" that makes the world into the cosmos. He comes from God. He is God. This "beginning" that has come to us opens up-as a beginning-a new manner of human existence. "For to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" ( Jn 1:12f.).
Read it all.
"The entire mission of Jesus and the content of His message consists in proclaiming the Kingdom of God and establishing it among men through signs and wonders", the Pope said. "But, as Vatican Council II observes, 'the Kingdom is first manifested in the very person of Christ', a kingdom He founded through His death on the cross and resurrection, by which He is revealed as the eternal Lord, Messiah and Priest. This Kingdom of Christ has been entrusted to the Church, which is the 'seed' and 'beginning' and has the task of proclaiming it and spreading it among all the nations with the power of the Holy Spirit. At the end of the determined time the Lord will hand over the Kingdom to God the Father and present to Him all those who have lived according to the commandment of love. ... We are all called to extend the salvific work of God, converting to the Gospel and committing ourselves to serving the King Who came not to be served but to serve and give testimony to the truth".
Read it all.
The holiday season is officially upon us. There are gifts to buy, recipes to perfect, and cards to be addressed. And while we may all spend the next frenzied weeks trying really, really hard not to let what’s important get lost in the shuffle, sometimes things slip through the cracks.
We intend to give back. We intend to get involved. But there are many options to choose from — and before we know it, we’re celebrating the New Year.
I want to make it easy for you. I want to show you how a holiday gift through World Vision can transform lives
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