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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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Shock and disbelief were the two immediate reactions Rev. Jim Lewis told the court he felt upon receiving an email in November 2012, under the name and seal of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, calling for a convocation of Episcopal Clergy in Charleston.
That’s because as Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of South Carolina, he knew the Diocese did not send it, he said.
After receiving another email under the same name and seal changing the venue, Lewis said he decided to attend the meeting.
“I decided to attend the meeting as an observer,” Lewis said. “Given the prior use of our seal, I felt there was reason to believe there would be further attempts by this group to assert itself as the Diocese of South Carolina.”
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Conflicts TEC Conflicts: South Carolina * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues * South Carolina * Theology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Soteriology Theology: Scripture
Once again, that’s pretty good. But, “in recent years?”
Why not note that an earlier bishop of South Carolina — the very diocese at the heart of this local, regional and national (with global links, too) story — had taken the radical act of breaking liturgical Communion with the national church in 1992, at that time privately, and then publicly in 1999? And what was the issue then? The worship of other gods, literally, at some Episcopal altars.
In other words, the timeline is long and complicated. There are stories in there, especially for a newspaper in Charleston, S.C.
Read it all.
Update: James Gibson has more to say on this Get Religion/SC coverage piece there.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Bishops TEC Conflicts TEC Conflicts: South Carolina * Christian Life / Church Life Liturgy, Music, Worship * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Religion & Culture * South Carolina * Theology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Theology: Scripture
This example is where we best see the truth in the relationship argument for personal devotions. In his excellent book Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves writes, “The Christian life is one of being brought to share the delight the Father, Son, and Spirit have for each other.”
Jesus has a perfect love for the Father and the Spirit and perfect union with them. If anyone could have practiced a relationship with the Father while simply acknowledging him throughout the day, it would be Jesus. But how did he, the God-man, outwardly demonstrate his love for the persons of the Godhead and his desire for Trinitarian relationship while living on the earth?
He prayed, and he read the Bible.
Jesus’ withdrawal from the crowd for private prayer is explicit throughout the Gospels (Matthew 26:36, Mark 1:35, Luke 9:18). And it is evident from Jesus’ preaching and teaching (Luke 4:16-27) that he was knowledgeable in the whole Scriptures in a way that could only have come from dedicated study.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Spirituality/Prayer * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals * Theology Anthropology Christology The Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Like many divorces, this one began with small tiffs that escalated.
After years of arguing over theology and administrative control, disputes among Episcopalians boiled over in 2012 when the local bishop and a majority of parishes left the national church.
The aftermath flows Tuesday into the courtroom of a circuit judge in St. George who will decide the future of more than $500 million in church property - although her ruling is likely to be appealed.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Bishops TEC Conflicts * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Stewardship * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues * South Carolina * Theology Anthropology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Theology: Scripture
[Bryan Giemza] recommends her recently released Prayer Journal and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” as good starting points for students. Her journal allows him to “point out the various prayer traditions she canvasses and how she shared in the aspirations and worries of someone their age, albeit someone with an incredible depth of field, spiritually speaking. She commands respect that way.” I like Giemza’s method in teaching her popular story. He tells students “things tend towards their ends, that we are creatures of habit, and that virtue has to be practiced. I give them a series of statements to respond to, like ‘I’m basically a good person.’ A majority of my students agree with that position, and aren’t aware that it flies in the face of orthodoxy, and certainly goes against Flannery O’Connor’s belief. They’re usually stunned to learn that no less an authority than Christ said that no man is good. And those who condemn the grandmother have to be shown their own warts, just like those who despise the mother in ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge,’ (pdf) with her patronizing coin, need to be reminded of the story of the widow’s mite.”
O’Connor is one of the best at peeling back our public covers and showing those warts. Like so many writers chided for their disturbing content, criticisms of her work are often less about the texts themselves, and more about our refusals as readers, students, and teachers to examine our own lives. Perhaps even more than her odd characters, it is the “stark racism” of O’Connor’s world that pushes away some of Giemza’s students. But Giemza doesn’t want them to blink; “the danger . . . is that students who (think they) live in a post-racial age must still contend with the sins of the fathers, and I am surprised by how many can blithely accept that those sins have been expiated. Perhaps they don’t see its urgency, but here in the region that helped the nation understand its first fall (i.e. the legacies of our foundation in slavery), we have a duty to try to come to grips with it. It remains the essence of the fallen-ness in her work, and its insistence that God is no respecter of persons or the hierarchies of the temporal order, which can be inverted at a stroke.”
Read it all (my emphasis).
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Education History Poetry & Literature Race/Race Relations Religion & Culture Teens / Youth Women Young Adults * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology
I would guess that most blog readers know little about this remarkable Anglican. Please avail yourselves of the many resources here to learn more.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) Church of Nigeria * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Missions Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Culture-Watch Race/Race Relations Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary Africa Nigeria * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology
Crowther was the apostle of Nigeria and the inspiration of much more. He worked all over but especially in the South South (for the Nigerians here) or Niger Delta, in places like Nembe (which I have been to), Brass, Bonny. It is a hard place now, one can scarcely imagine what travel and health were like then. He was a linguist, a scholar, a translator of scripture, a person of prayer. Above all he loved Jesus Christ and held nothing back in his devotion and discipleship.
Those who opposed him were caught up in their own world. British society of the nineteenth century was overwhelmingly racist, deeply hierarchical. It resisted all sense that God saw things differently. In the India of the time the East India Company, ruling the land, forbade the singing of the Magnificat at evensong, lest phrases about putting down the mighty from their seats and exalting the humble and meek might be understood too well by the populations they ruled. The idea that an African was their equal was literally, unimaginable. Of course they forgot the list of Deacons in Acts 5, including Simeon Niger in Acts 13, or Augustine from North Africa, or the Ethiopian eunuch whom Philip baptised. They lived in an age of certainty in their own superiority. In their eyes not only the gospel, but even the Empire would be at risk if they conceded.
The issue was one of power, and it is power and its handling that so often deceives us into wickedness. Whether as politicians or Bishops, in business or in the family, the aim to dominate is sin. Our model is Christ, who washed feet when he could have ruled. Crowther's consecration reading was do not dominate, and it means just what it says. Each of us must lead by humility.
Read it all.
1. When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, “But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world.”And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth; so that, according to their idea, the truth properly resides at one time in Valentinus, at another in Marcion, at another in Cerinthus, then afterwards in Basilides, or has even been indifferently in any other opponent,who could speak nothing pertaining to salvation. For every one of these men, being altogether of a perverse disposition, depraving the system of truth, is not ashamed to preach himself.
2. But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.
3. Such are the adversaries with whom we have to deal, my very dear friend, endeavouring like slippery serpents to escape at all points. Wherefore they must be opposed at all points, if perchance, by cutting off their retreat, we may succeed in turning them back to the truth. For, though it is not an easy thing for a soul under the influence of error to repent, yet, on the other hand, it is not altogether impossible to escape from error when the truth is brought alongside it.
--Against Heresies: Book III, Chapter 2.
Her spunky personality and Hollywood success laced eulogies at her private funeral Friday morning at her home parish, St. Helena's Episcopal Church in Boerne, Texas.
Yet, the gathering focused memories on what the speakers called Davis' exemplary devotion to her faith, especially her decision in mid-career to leave Tinseltown and join an Episcopal community in Denver....
"The media had a field day" recalling her acting career, said William Frey, 84, a close friend and retired Episcopal bishop, during the homily. "But most of them have missed out on the one thing that has driven her for the last 40 years, and that is her faith."
Read it all from the San Antonio Express-News.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Bishops * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Movies & Television * Theology Christology Eschatology
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
A bird flew out at the break of day
From the nest where it had curled,
And ere the eve the bird had set
Fear on the kings of the world.
The first tree it lit upon
Was green with leaves unshed;
The second tree it lit upon
Was red with apples red;
The third tree it lit upon
Was barren and was brown,
Save for a dead man nailed thereon
On a hill above a town.
That night the kings of the earth were gay
And filled the cup and can;
Last night the kings of the earth were chill
For dread of a naked man.
‘If he speak two more words,’ they said,
‘The slave is more than the free;
If he speak three more words,’ they said,
‘The stars are under the sea.’
Said the King of the East to the King of the West,
I wot his frown was set,
‘Lo, let us slay him and make him as dung,
It is well that the world forget.’
Said the King of the West to the King of the East,
I wot his smile was dread,
‘Nay, let us slay him and make him a god,
It is well that our god be dead.’
They set the young man on a hill,
They nailed him to a rod;
And there in darkness and in blood
They made themselves a god.
And the mightiest word was left unsaid,
And the world had never a mark,
And the strongest man of the sons of men
Went dumb into the dark.
Then hymns and harps of praise they brought,
Incense and gold and myrrh,
And they thronged above the seraphim,
The poor dead carpenter.
‘Thou art the prince of all,’ they sang,
‘Ocean and earth and air.’
Then the bird flew on to the cruel cross,
And hid in the dead man’s hair.
‘Thou art the son of the world.’ they cried, `
‘Speak if our prayers be heard.’
And the brown bird stirred in the dead man’s hair
And it seemed that the dead man stirred.
Then a shriek went up like the world’s last cry
From all nations under heaven,
And a master fell before a slave
And begged to be forgiven.
They cowered, for dread in his wakened eyes
The ancient wrath to see;
And a bird flew out of the dead Christ’s hair,
And lit on a lemon tree.
--G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
It is difficult to imagine a more brutal way for a teenager to be confronted by the reality of life and death.
But as an 18-year-old gap year student, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, found himself having to cut down the body of a fellow teenager who had hanged himself.
A new biography of the Archbishop singles out the moment in the early summer of 1974, while he was volunteering as a teacher at a boys’ school in Kenya, as marking the beginning of an unlikely journey to becoming one of the world’s most influential spiritual leaders.
Within days of the tragedy, about which he is not believed to have spoken previously in public, the future leader of the 80 million-strong worldwide Anglican Church told a close friend how he had begun to find faith in God.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury --Justin Welby * Culture-Watch Children Marriage & Family Psychology Suicide Religion & Culture Young Adults * International News & Commentary Africa Kenya * Theology Christology Eschatology Soteriology
Our attitude to our fallen nature should be one of ruthless repudiation. For ‘those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires’ (Gal. 5:24). That is, we have taken this evil, slimy, slippery thing called ‘the flesh’ and nailed it to the cross. This was our initial repentance. Crucifixion is dramatic imagery for our uncompromising rejection of all known evil. Crucifixion does not lead to a quick or easy death; it is an execution of lingering pain. Yet it is decisive; there is no possibility of escaping from it.
Our attitude to the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is to be one of unconditional surrender. Paul uses several expressions for this. We are to ‘live by the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:16, 18. 25). That is, we are to allow him his rightful sovereignty over us, and follow his righteous promptings.
Thus both our repudiation of the flesh and our surrender to the Spirit need to be repeated daily, however decisive our original repudiation and surrender may have been. In Jesus’ words, we are to ‘take up (our) cross daily’ and follow him (Lk 9:23). We are also to go on being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), as we open our personality to him daily. Both our repudiation and our surrender are also to be worked out in disciplined habits of life. It is those who ‘sow to the Spirit’ (Gal. 6:8) who reap the fruit of the Spirit. And to ‘sow to the Spirit’ means to cultivate the things of the Spirit, for example, by our wise use of the Lord’s Day, the discipline of our daily prayer and Bible reading, our regular worship and attendance at the Lord’s Supper, our Christian friendships and our involvement in Christian service. An inflexible principle of all God’s dealings, both in the material and in the moral realm, is that we reap what we sow. The rule is invariable. It cannot be changed, for ‘God cannot be mocked’ (Gal. 6:7). We must not therefore be surprised if we do not reap the fruit of the Spirit when all the time we are sowing to the flesh. Did we think we could cheat or fool God?
--Authentic Christianity (Nottingham, IVP, 1995)
The chief error in Wills’s attempt at primitivist reformation is the mistaken assumption that first-century people must be just like 21st-century people. The picture we get of the early Church in Why Priests? is a demythologized reversal of a fanciful Catholic Last Supper, with Jesus wearing a fiddleback chasuble, stole, and maniple. Rather than take pains to show why early Christians must have really meant and implied everything that the Council of Trent taught, Wills takes pains to show why early Christians must have really denied and abhorred everything that the Council of Trent taught.
Wills might consider the possibility that first-century people did not think and keep records like 21st-century people do. Not only was their culture more deeply oral; compared to ours, it was so saturated in ritual and cult that the unbloody “oblation” of Christians to their one God would have seemed utterly atheistic and anti-religious.
Pagans had trouble recognizing Christianity as a religion not, as Wills suggests, because it had absolutely no sacrifice and no priests, but because its sacrifice bore little resemblance to anything that they called sacrifice, its priests differed markedly from their own cultic leaders, and its God seemed unrecognizably divine.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic * Theology Anthropology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology
RNS: Fair enough. Then how does your view of scripture inform the sexuality debates today? Would your approach to the Bible allow, for example, the blessing of monogamous, lifelong same-sex relationships?
NTW: Monogamous, lifelong same-sex relationships were known in the ancient world as well as in the modern—there is plenty of evidence, despite what people sometimes say. When Jesus reaffirms the traditional Jewish standards of sexual behavior (he was talking in a Jews-only context where people would know what his shorthand sayings meant), and when Paul, speaking in a largely Gentile context, spells out a bit more clearly what is and what isn’t part of the new-creation lifestyle for those “in Christ,” this way of life was always counter-intuitive in that world, as it is again today.
But it’s important that we do not reduce the Bible to a collection of true doctrines and right ethics. There are plenty of true doctrines and right ethics there, of course, but they come within the larger thing, which is the story of how the Creator is rescuing and restoring the whole creation, with his rescue and restoration of humans at the heart of it. In other words, it isn’t about “do we allow this or that?” To ask the question that way is already to admit defeat, to think in terms of behavior as a set of quasi-arbitrary, and hence negotiable, rules.
We must ask, with Paul, “This new creation God has launched in Jesus—what does it look like, and how can we live well as genuine humans, as both a sign and a means of that renewal?” We need to remind ourselves that the entire biblical sexual ethic is deeply counter-intuitive. All human beings some of the time, and some human beings most of the time, have deep heartfelt longings for kinds of sexual intimacy or gratification (multiple partners, pornography, whatever) which do not reflect the creator’s best intentions for his human creatures, intentions through which new wisdom and flourishing will come to birth. Sexual restraint is mandatory for all, difficult for most, extremely challenging for some. God is gracious and merciful but this never means “so his creational standards don’t really matter after all.”
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) CoE Bishops * Culture-Watch Books Religion & Culture Science & Technology Sexuality * Theology Anthropology Apologetics Christology Pastoral Theology Theology: Scripture
Listen to it all should you wish to and also note that there is an option to download it there (using the button which says "download" underneath the link which says "listen").
In response to almost the last of Cole [Moreton]’s questions I remembered Simpson’s experience and reflected that mine had been the reverse: facing my own mortality and possible death I discovered just how deep the well of hope is within me. Whether I lived or died that hope could not be disappointed.
If the gospel is truly the good news we proclaim it to be, then it is during times of adversity that it will be especially true. Our hope in Christ does not confer immunity from suffering, grief and loss but has the capacity to transform our experience of them. Going through difficult times – financially, relationally, or on the health front – effectively act as a refining process reminding us, sometimes painfully, where our security and confidence ultimately lie.
No one in their right mind would wish themselves to have cancer yet paradoxically I have found my journey with lymphoma to be a season of blessing and spiritual growth.
Becoming aware of my own mortality has proved to be a gift and caused me to perceive life through a more richly coloured lens
- See more at: http://www.bristol.anglican.org/2014/being-an-evangelist-when-the-going-gets-tough/#sthash.tXwM9BGg.dpufRead it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) CoE Bishops * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals Evangelism and Church Growth * Culture-Watch Health & Medicine * Theology Christology Eschatology
If the Ascension means the departure of the Lord Jesus, why celebrate it? Who rejoices over the loss of a loved one? Clearly this is not a day to remember what was lost. We celebrate what was gained.
For the first time, our humanity, the nature assumed by Christ, has been taken into the Godhead. This is a coming of age for the human race, something akin to the removal of training wheels.
Here, the sainted scholars of the Church diverge a bit. It’s not clear whether we were created to enjoy the very life of God, or if this is the gladsome result of the Incarnation. Put another way, we don’t know whether the Incarnation, and the resultant glorification of our humanity, happened because of sin, or despite it. Either way, as it did happen, Christ took on our humanity so that we might share his divinity. Today, in him, our humanity is first raised to that height.
Read it all.
Additionally, early Christians were not, as is commonly assumed, bound to a three-tier vision of the universe, i.e., heaven, hell, and earth.
[W]hen the Bible speaks of heaven and earth it is not talking about two localities related to each other within the same space-time continuum or about a nonphysical world contrasted with a physical one but about two different kinds of what we call space, two different kinds of what we call matter, and also quite possibly (though this does not necessarily follow from the other two) two different kinds of what we call time.
So heaven and earth, understood in this way, are two dimensions of the same reality. They “interlock and intersect in a whole variety of ways even while they retain, for the moment at least, their separate identities and roles.” Combine this with the doctrine of the ascension and we do not have a Jesus who floats up into a heaven “up there” but disappears into a reality we cannot yet see. Because heaven and earth are not yet joined Jesus is physically absent from us. At the same time he is present with us through the Holy Spirit and the sacraments, linkages where the two realities meet in the present age.
Read it all.
Listen to it all (It begins with the reading of the gospel) [It is an MP3 file]. It occurred on the occasion of the Bishop's confirmation visit to Saint Paul's in Summerville, South Carolina in times past.
He speaks of a memory from 1960 and later there comes this quote to whet your appetite:
"What is astonishing to me I suppose is that we in the church make so little of the Ascension of our Lord."
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Ascension Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Theology: Scripture
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
[Dallas] Willard's most central idea, perhaps, is this: God's existence and God's nature are central to all being, to all creation. Everything derives from God, and everything is sustained by God—and that's the only way any life exists. Jesus' kingdom theology reveals this reality. Kingdom, then, is the possibility of spiritual relationship to God.
Less typically, Willard contends that each of us "is" a kingdom, and we choose which kingdom we will serve: God's kingdom, where God rules, or our own kingdom, where we rule. That is, kingdom is about the range of a person's will. Willard's understanding of God's plan (making us Christlike) governs his understanding of Christ: Jesus as Master, as Physicist (he has mastery over the physical world), as Moralist (he tells us how to live righteously), as Teacher, and as Guide.
The same understanding of God's purpose in us governs Willard's understanding of the church: We are being transformed into Christlikeness, and the church is the hospital for those who are on this transformative journey.
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To be clear, I am not saying that any of these ideas are wrong, or inappropriate, or unhelpful. I am simply noting that these great statements of faith, which the church has treated as foundational for its life ever since, manage not to talk about what the gospels primarily talk about, and to talk about something else instead.
The problem, as I see it, is that a great gulf is opening up between the canon and the creeds. The canonical gospels give us a Jesus whose public career radically mattered as part of his overall accomplishment, which was to do with the kingdom of God. The creeds give us a Jesus whose miraculous birth, saving death and resurrection and ascension are all we need to know. We have thus assumed some kind of a creedal framework for the Christian faith, and the gospels don't fit it. The gospels were all about God becoming king; but the creeds are focussed on Jesus being God. It would be truly remarkable if one great truth of early Christian faith and life were actually to displace another, to displace it indeed so thoroughly that people forgot it even existed. But that's what I think has happened....
The point is that John, along with the other three gospels, urge us to see Jesus's death as explicitly royal, explicitly messianic - in other words, explicitly to do with the coming of the "kingdom." Jesus has, all along, been announcing that God's kingdom was coming. His followers might well have expected that this announcement would lead to a march on Jerusalem, where Jesus would do whatever it took to complete what he had begun. And they were right - but not at all in the sense they expected or wanted. That is what the evangelists are saying through this particular moment in the story. This is how the kingdom is to come, the kingdom of God which Jesus has been announcing and, as Messiah, inaugurating.
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Dear young people, I ask you to join me in praying for peace. You can do this by offering your daily efforts and struggles to God; in this way your prayer will become particularly precious and effective. I also encourage you to assist, through your generosity and sensitivity, in building a society which is respectful of the vulnerable, the sick, children and the elderly. Despite your difficulties in life, you are a sign of hope. You have a place in God’s heart and in my prayers. I am grateful that so many of you are here, and for your warmth and enthusiasm.
As our meeting concludes, I pray once more that reason and restraint will prevail and that, with the help of the international community, Syria will rediscover the path of peace. May God change the hearts of the violent and those who seek war. And may he strengthen the hearts and minds of peacemakers and grant them every blessing.
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I have read numerous books on Bonhoeffer. I have also seen documentaries and dramatizations and visited commemorative sites in Germany. For me, one of Marsh's greatest contributions is putting on display the quirky humanity of his subject. If you are used to accounts that emphasize the mythic Bonhoeffer of faith, this one will help you grapple with the eccentric Bonhoeffer of history.
To take a trivial example, Bonhoeffer was endearingly preoccupied with dressing well. You could illustrate almost every momentous turning point in his life with sartorial commentary. When he takes a pastoral internship in Spain, he bombards the senior minister with written inquiries regarding the proper formal wear for dinner parties. The poor, overworked man eventually remarked sarcastically that the new intern should bring his preaching robe.
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Did Jesus die for us and if he did, did he die in our stead? This is called substitutionary atonement and has been one of the main ways of understanding the death of Jesus. It is echoed in many of our hymns: ‘There is a green hill far away’’… He died that we might be forgiven, he died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by his precious blood’.
But many scholars have considered this immoral. God is not a God of wrath who needs appeasement. How could he demand the death of his only begotten son? The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement has therefore been regarded with suspicion and rejected by many. But it strong biblical support in Paul’s writings: ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me’.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God’
He himself bore our sins on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness’. 1 Peter.
The only way to avoid the suggestion that Jesus on the cross appeased an angry God is to realize that the work of atonement was not Christ’s alone but that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself’. If we see God suffering for us in Christ, the harshness of penal substitution is avoided.
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Over the years, there have been many attempts to assess the impact of Dr Graham's ministry - particularly that first crusade of 1954 - on the British Church and people. There is no doubt about its immediate effect.
A former Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Michael Baughen, was a theology student in 1954, and fondly remembers Underground trains crowded with hymn-singing passengers. He spoke for many when he recalled: "It was like divine adrenalin for a jaded Church."
As far as the nation was concerned, if the national press is to be any guide, initial hostility - "Yankee spellbinder", and "hot-gospeller" were two of the milder epithets, while one columnist suggested that the Home Secretary should refuse him entry - gave way to grudging, and in some cases warm-hearted, approval. For example, a Sunday Graphic columnist, whose initial reaction was "This Billy Graham line just won't do," 11 weeks later expressed thanks to Graham, saying: "You've done us a power of good."
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Hard experience should have taught us by now that there is an iron law built into the relationship between Christianity and modernity. Christian communities that know and defend their doctrinal and moral boundaries (while extending the compassion of Christ when we fail to live within those boundaries, as we all do) survive in modernity; some actually flourish and become robustly evangelical. Conversely, Christian communities whose doctrinal and moral boundaries are eroded by the new orthodoxy of political correctness, and become so porous that it becomes impossible to know if one is “in” or “out,” wither and die.
That is the sad state of Anglicanism in the North Atlantic world today: even splendid liturgical smells-and-bells can’t save an Anglicanism hollowed out by the shibboleths of secular modernity. Why British Catholics like Lavinia Byrne can’t see this is one of the mysteries of the 21st-century Church.
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Father Michael Amaladoss, one of the most respected theologians in India, is said by some to be under suspicion from the Vatican’s watchdog on doctrinal orthodoxy, the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). He was summoned to Rome for a series of “conversations" with the CDF, although reports differ over how cordial these conversations were.
The scrutiny of Amaladoss stems from a book he wrote, The Asian Jesus, which grapples with an issue that has bedeviled Christians in Asia for centuries: how to present Jesus Christ as a genuine fellow Asian to the millions of our countrymen, who often see him as a white European import.
This is not just a matter of visual iconography, but of theology as well: What has Jesus Christ to say to the world religions of India? This is what Amaladoss tries to answer.
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We expect a certain level of theological sophistication from our preaching pastors. They must at least know church history, systematic theology, and hopefully some Greek and Hebrew so they can properly interpret and apply the biblical text. We're confident that when we approach them with questions about the canonization of Scripture, the implications of the incarnation, and the doctrine of the body and sexuality, their learning will aid us in responding faithfully to such pressing questions in our culture. If anything the world bears down with even greater ferocity on the fledging faith of Christian youth. So why should we expect less theological rigor from our youth pastors who serve them through teaching, counseling, and more? Every youth minister needs to be a theologian, whether formally or informally equipped to handle God's Word with integrity and care. This new 10-minute video feature insights from David Plant, director of youth ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City; Cameron Cole, director of youth ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama; and Liz Edrington, who is pursuing her master's degree in counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.
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There is no doubt that the Bible teaches that faithful people who are wealthy have an important role in God’s plan. Some exemplary people in the Bible, like Abraham (Gen 13:2), Barzillai (2 Sam. 19:32), the Shunemite woman who helped Elisha (2 Kings 4:8), and Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57), were specifically described as being wealthy. After saying that the rich must not be haughty, Paul says that “God . . . richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Enjoying the things that money can buy is not necessarily wrong. At the same time it is significant that each of these four godly wealthy people mentioned were commended for their generosity.
Wealthy Christians can honor Christ especially by being humble, generous, and godly while being wealthy. Poor Christians can honor him especially by being contented, full of faith, generous, and godly while being poor. It is clear that in the Bible wealth is far less important than contentment, joy, peace, holiness, love, and generosity. People with these characteristics are, according to the Bible, truly prosperous whether they are economically rich or poor.
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I know that if she could, my mother would grab that pail and toss it out the window. She would forgive me; in fact, I believe she has forgiven me. But in a way, that makes it harder. Knowing of her unfailing love and grace makes me feel worse about my own failure. Of course, I am envisioning her at her very best, now in heaven knowing as she is known and seeing me with the eyes of God, and I am remembering myself at one of my lowest moments. What about God’s forgiveness? God is always in a best moment and ever aware of our worst. Does that divine forgiveness erase our regret or increase it?
Jesus’ first word to the disciples on the other side of the locked doors is peace. I imagine myself in that room, staring at his wounds and accepting the resurrection miracle. I imagine embracing the improbable, exciting mission commended to me in the words that follow. But peace? Peace is another story.
After Jesus called Peter to feed his sheep, did Peter ever think back on that day around the charcoal fire when he denied the one he dearly loved? Did Peter remember when Jesus yelled at him and called him a terrible name? When Peter stood to preach on Pentecost and 3,000 were baptized in one day, did he go home and lie awake wishing he could take back his actions on another day? According to the psalm, our transgressions are removed “as far as the east is from the west.” If we accept that as true, then it seems that regret should not linger. But in my experience, forgiveness has not erased regret. Not yet anyway.
These post-Easter days, I am thinking that if my mind and heart are not yet in sync with what should be—with sin removed to a distance beyond my reach—perhaps mere inches matter.
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'Despair, or folly?' said Gandalf. 'It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope. Well, let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the Enemy!--J.R.R. Tolkien The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings (Mariner Books 2012 reissue of the 1954 original), p. 302 (emphasis mine)
The ubiquitous blue COEXIST bumper sticker incorporates symbols of Islam, pacifism, male and female, Judaism, Wicca, Taoism, and Christianity. Piotr Młodozeniec, a Polish graphic artist, created the original COEXIST image. Various companies sell merchandise with some form of the image, and — o a note of inevitable conflict — some have threatened legal action to protect their control of profits. At it core the image represents a belief that spiritual harmony can be wished into existence.
What is not to admire in this goal? Why would a Christian hesitate to display this sticker during a daily commute? We may begin with how philosophy — that supposedly esoteric pursuit — matters in our everyday lives. A fundamental rule of logic is the “law of noncontradiction”: a statement cannot be both true and untrue.
Consider how the Abrahamic faiths understand Jesus Christ. At John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.” Judaism considers Jesus a prophet but not the Messiah. In Islam, Isa (Jesus) is a messenger of God. Islam makes the specific claim that revelation did not end with “the people of the book” (the Jews) or with the prophet Isa, but with Muhammad.
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The Christian life involves not just believing something about Christ, but also believing something about ourselves. The something we are to believe about ourselves is that we are now in Christ, part of his new Creation and in a very real sense new creatures....Our faith in Christ must include believing that we are exactly what the Bible says we are.--The Christian Looks at Himself (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973) , pp. 55-56
The glory is also evident in the graciousness of this event, as the prologue has prepared us to notice (1:14). In response to a humble request Jesus provides wine in abundance, over 100 gallons. Here is a free, full, extravagant outpouring, and it is precisely the Son of God's gratuitous, gracious generosity that is the glory revealed in this sign. Throughout the Gospel the signs will provide windows into the ultimate realities at work in Jesus' revelation of God's glory, in deed as well as word....--From his IVP Commentary on John's Gospel, quoted in this morning's Adult Sunday School class
In response to this sign it is said that his disciples put their faith in him (2:11). For John this means that they see what Jesus is doing and understand it, however dimly, in the context of God's revelation of himself in the Old Testament. They see in Jesus the very acts of power and graciousness that are like his Father's. Their understanding is very limited, but they see something of the Father in the Son and accept him as one come from God and align themselves with him. This effect of this sign on the disciples is in contrast to the experience of those who most directly reap the benefits—the master of the banquet and the bridegroom. Jesus keeps a very low profile throughout the story with the result that only the servants realize what has happened. How often something similar happens in our lives! God's grace constantly surrounds us; his love is constantly active in our lives. Yet often we fail to discern his love, seeing only the hands of those who give us the wine and not realizing where it comes from and the grace it represents.
...I hadn't been ready...Until the summer I was 12. One night, after a miserable, strange day spent wandering the grounds, wondering what it would mean if no God existed at all, I made my decision. A simple solo prayer on the steps of my cabin sealed the deal. My counselor gave me her NIV Student Study Bible, her name scrawled in pink and dotted with hearts inside the front flap. I use it to this day.
For the next dozen years, my faith rose and fell. Some years I felt close and connected to God. Other years I went through the motions.
Leaving Berkeley to complete my undergraduate and graduate degrees at Stanford University (less than an hour away, in Palo Alto), I was amazed at how the atmosphere of faith could feel so different so close to home. I found more fellowship in my early 20s, both in and out of church, than I had in my teenage years. Over the next few years, I continued my Christian walk, going to church, attending a small group Bible study, and teaching Sunday school.
But I still wasn't all in....
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When someone asked the Rev. Canon Andrew White why members are so happy at St. George’s Church in war-torn Baghdad, the response came from Lina, whom White considers his adopted Iraqi daughter: “When you’ve lost everything, Jesus is all you have left.”
The question was not a theoretical one for Canon White (more popularly known as the “Vicar of Baghdad”), his loved ones, or his parishioners. St. George’s Church is a cathedral that has suffered the loss of 1,276 congregants during the last decade. And yet he declares with joy and a tinge of wonder in his voice, “I have one of the most wonderful congregations you can imagine.”
Visiting Washington, D.C., to receive the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview’s William Wilberforce Award, White spoke on “Reconciliation and Peacemaking in the World, Church, and the Anglican Communion” at Truro Anglican Church on May 1. He is the author of several books, including Father, Forgive: Reflections on Peacemaking (Monarch, 2013).
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Even in a church full of surrendered believers, human frailty alone will lead to problems. But many problems in the church are caused by sin. And we are never told to stay put in our sinfulness. Paul expected the Corinthian church to change and grow. God expects the same progress in our churches today.
Yes, the church is holy because God, on the basis of Christ's imputed righteousness, proclaims it so. But if we desire to move beyond being called holy—if we desire to be holy—then we must cooperate with such grace. In this sense, the holiness of the church is dependent on the holiness of its people. But always and forever, the holiness of its people is dependent on the sanctifying grace of God, who is in essence holy love.
We are God's people. The church is God's church. God, help us to become who we are.
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...last week the story began to crumble faster than an ancient papyrus exposed in the windy Sudan. Mr. Askeland found, among the online links that Harvard used as part of its publicity push, images of another fragment, of the Gospel of John, that turned out to share many similarities—including the handwriting, ink and writing instrument used—with the "wife" fragment. The Gospel of John text, he discovered, had been directly copied from a 1924 publication.
"Two factors immediately indicated that this was a forgery," Mr. Askeland tells me. "First, the fragment shared the same line breaks as the 1924 publication. Second, the fragment contained a peculiar dialect of Coptic called Lycopolitan, which fell out of use during or before the sixth century." Ms. King had done two radiometric tests, he noted, and "concluded that the papyrus plants used for this fragment had been harvested in the seventh to ninth centuries." In other words, the fragment that came from the same material as the "Jesus' wife" fragment was written in a dialect that didn't exist when the papyrus it appears on was made.
Mark Goodacre, a New Testament professor and Coptic expert at Duke University, wrote on his NT Blog on April 25 about the Gospel of John discovery: "It is beyond reasonable doubt that this is a fake, and this conclusion means that the Jesus' Wife Fragment is a fake too." Alin Suciu, a research associate at the University of Hamburg and a Coptic manuscript specialist, wrote online on April 26: "Given that the evidence of the forgery is now overwhelming, I consider the polemic surrounding the Gospel of Jesus' Wife papyrus over."
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Uphold thy Church, O God of truth, as thou didst uphold thy servant Athanasius, to maintain and proclaim boldly the catholic faith against all opposition, trusting solely in the grace of thine eternal Word, who took upon himself our humanity that we might share his divinity; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Clearly, United Theological Seminary not only emphasizes renewal, they model it. In striving for renewal in local churches or the broader denomination, several take-aways can be lifted from the United story.
• United is saturated by prayer.
• United is committed to the historic, orthodox faith and understanding of the scriptures.
• United honors the faith of the saints who have gone before.
• United was desperate for God to do something supernatural. This seems like an essential characteristic in the study of genuine revivals of the past and present.
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The Clapham Sect’s commitment to personal spiritual formation helped to fuel the social activism that is commonly associated with Wilberforce and his contemporaries. The Clapham Sect is understandably most famous for its role in ending slavery, but it is important to understand that their anti-slavery motivations were grounded in their faith. Slavery was an abomination because every human being is created in God’s image. Aside from treating fellow humans as property, slavery promoted the worst sorts of vices: physical abuse, rape, separating families, malnourishment, etc. The crusade against slavery was a moral crusade born out of Clapham Spirituality.
In addition to combating slavery, the Clapham Sect was committed to pushing back against other social evils. The Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor was an effort by wealthy Anglican evangelicals to alleviate poverty among the lower classes. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which Wilberforce and other Clapham Sect members joined, championed animal rights two centuries before the cause became politically correct. The Society for the Discharge and Relief of Persons Imprisoned for Small Debt, originally an evangelical initiative, sought to reform the oppressive practice of placing debtors in prison, effectively ending their wage-earning potential. Clapham Sect members also championed prison reform, education reform, healthcare reform and (in the case of some members) the abolition of capital punishment. Clapham Spirituality recognized that, for evangelicals, cultural influence was a matter of moral stewardship.
Clapham Spirituality was not only committed to what we might today call matters of social justice; it was also zealous for the spread the gospel to all people.
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For the early church, Jerusalem was a place of opposition and persecution. Galilee was where Jesus had preached his reckless and extravagant morality, a scandal to insurers and a stumbling block to estate agents:
‘forgive your enemies’,
‘give away your cloak as well as your coat’,
‘turn the other cheek’,
‘love those who insult you’,
‘walk the extra mile’ and ‘take no thought for tomorrow’.
Perhaps Galilee was a place where the hungry were fed, immigrants were welcomed, the sick were visited and the poor were protected from the violence of the rich.
Mark is saying to us, his audience, that if we are looking for the Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, this is the Galilee to which we must direct our lives. Or to put it another way, if we are looking for this kind of society, Daniel is right. The God in whom he put his hope has provided a way of salvation, but we cannot bypass the tomb in which the mangled corpse of Jesus was laid. There will be a crucifixion before there is a resurrection.
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These two books by Kevin Giles and Romano Guardini offer rich reflections on the person of Jesus Christ. Both authors accept the classic Chalcedonian formulation of Christology, that Jesus was truly God and truly man, and offer meditations on what this means for our spiritual lives (Guardini) or for other theological commitments (Giles).
Guardini was a Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher from Italy who was mentor to Pope Benedict XVI. He wrote Jesus Christus, first published in Germany in 1957, while working on his masterpiece, The Lord (1937). It offers meditations on the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.
Every chapter offers fresh perspectives on familiar biblical texts that are communicated with admirable simplicity. This is scholarship in service of the Church at its best.
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By now I am sure that most savvy Christians are long since inured to the drivel that Time and Newsweek foist upon us every Easter and Christmas. It was not always thus. David van Biema (formerly of Time) and Kenneth Woodward (formerly of Newsweek) were knowledgeable, conscientious religion editors and took great care with their reporting (not to mention the estimable Peter Steinfels, late of The New York Times).
It's very different today. Case in point: the cover story on heaven in...[2012's] Time. Who's the author? None other than Jon Meacham, Sewanee graduate, author of several highly praised historical works (Franklin and Winston, American Gospel, and American Lion) and former editor of Newsweek. In addition, he has been on the vestry at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue.
Unfortunately, Meacham does not know when to back off gracefully from subjects he does not understand--which includes theology....
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Heaven Is for Real is more than just a field guide to the marvels of heaven. It's the story of how God comforted a frightened child. It's the story of God's faithfulness to a grieving father.
What exactly happened to Colton Burpo—whether he actually experienced the glory of heaven or had a mere hallucination—will remain a mystery. But we live in a mysterious world, and we shouldn't be surprised when we encounter the miraculous and the supernatural. We should approach tales like this with critical discernment. We can't immediately accept them, but neither should we reject them haphazardly. We should test them under the light of Scripture, and we should celebrate the fact that God, who reveals himself through his Word, is faithfully active in our world, meeting us in ways that can't (and sometimes shouldn't) be explained.
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The Christian claim from the beginning was that the question of Jesus's resurrection was a question, not of the internal mental and spiritual states of his followers a few days after his crucifixion, but about something that had happened in the real, public world.
This "something" left, not just an empty tomb, but a broken loaf at Emmaus and footprints in the sand by the lake among its physical mementoes. It also left his followers with a lot of explaining to do, but with a transformed worldview which is only explicable on the assumption that something really did happen, even though it stretched their existing worldviews to breaking point.
What I want to do here is to examine this early Christian claim, to ask what can be said about it historically, and to enquire, more particularly, what sort of "believing" we are talking about when we ask whether we - whether "we" be scientists or historians or mathematicians or theologians - can "believe" that which "the resurrection" actually refers to.
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The Christian truth that the crucifixion reveals the heart of God is a scandal to those who imagine God as an aloof and implacable Creator, who lacks compassion for our frailty and is hostile towards our disobedience – instead of being merciful.
As for those whose god is an impersonal intelligence, the cross is meaningless – if not absurd.
Terry Eagleton’s book Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate is a penetrating critique of the reasoning of Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. In passing he considers the incongruity of a Saviour who is crucified: “Messiahs are not born in stables. They are high-born, heroic warriors who will lead the nation in battle against its enemies. They do not reject weapons of destruction, enter the national capital riding on donkeys, or get themselves strung up.”
Thankfully Terry Eagleton offers reasons why believing in a Christlike God is not a delusion – unlike some commentators who have heaped personal insults on Richard Dawkins and demonised him.
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The text for the sermon is "He has risen! He is not here" (Mark 16:6). The sermon begins with an introduction of Rico Tice by Richard Meryon at about 50:50 of the video, after which Rico Tice prays and the sermon proper begins at about 53:00--KSH.
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The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) today wrapped up its Leadership Summit about human sexuality. The atmosphere at the summit was frank and unsettling at times, occasionally punctuated with slightly nervous laughter.
Summit attendees heard sermons, panel discussions, speeches, and academic presentations, including a data-driven talk Tuesday by Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas. Regnerus reported younger Americans at large have rejected biblical sexual ethics, but all is not lost.
“Among the 18- to 39-year-old pack, you thought you were losing them all on the culture-wars issues,” Regnerus said. “I don’t think you really are.”
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The very existence of the calendar reminds Christians that, as Robert Louis Wilken put it, “Christianity is a culture-forming religion.” Mission unfolds as nothing less than the re-making of human patterns of life and existence around a new story with cosmic implications. Wilken goes on to suggest that Christianity facilitated the making of more than one new civilization in part because it has no sacred tongue, no particular language or cultural system that it seeks to advance. Christianity advances culture through the ongoing formation of cultures, which occurs in the dance between retrieving the past, celebrating the local, and moving toward the global.
Indeed, the movement toward the global in Christian terms is simply a movement toward the End. However else one construes catholicity, its complete emergence, like the perfection of the saints, resides in that final ascent when the local fully expresses the global as all tribes and tongues gather around the throne of God. With its culmination in the celebration of Christ as King, the Christian calendar most crucially reminds believers that catholicity and culture formation go together as eschatological achievements.
Read it all.
Listen to it all from Saint Helena's, Beaufort (it begins with the Gospel reading followed by some music, the sermon itself starts at about 3:05)
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Listen to it all should you wish to and also note that there is an option to download it there (using the button which says "download" underneath the link which says "listen").
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...we must learn, not only how to die, but how to turn and turn again, as Mary Magdalene did twice before she saw that it was Jesus right in front of her in the garden. Have you ever wondered about the fact that the first witnesses to the resurrection, supremely here Mary, did not recognize Jesus at all in the first instance, and some - according to the gospel of Matthew - even continued to "doubt" when they were in his risen presence? This is another very strange thought: that the risen Christ, being God's Son, is here all the time but that we have to "turn" and keep "turning" towards his gaze, until our senses and mind and soul and heart are so attuned and magnetized to his presence that we too can say Rabbouni - not to grasp and hold him, not to constrain him within our restricted human categories, but to worship and adore him.
St. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the thirteenth century, rather ruefully acknowledges that the women in the gospels understood this better and first because, as he puts it, of their "greater capacity for love," their resoluteness in not abandoning Christ on the cross and in following him even to his place of burial. To "turn" is to keep longing for and loving him, even in despair, as these women did - to keep discerning the wind of Christ's Spirit and leaning into it, until love and knowledge and sensuality all align and we can know as we are known in him.
Thirdly, and finally, only thus shall we learn to "see the Lord," as Mary saw Him, through tears to be sure, but with absolute conviction and certainty. Many think that this doesn't happen anymore, but let me tell you (as one who was once a hospital chaplain, ministering to the dying) it does
Read it all (emphasis hers).
...particularly when we look at the disciples, the watered-down resurrection doesn’t seem credible at all. Remember that the Gospel of John (whose author had little to gain by making the disciples, future leaders of the early church, look bad) notes that the disciples were so frightened that they barricaded themselves behind locked doors after Jesus’s death. They had good reason to be. “If the authorities dealt that way with Jesus, who had so many people supporting him,” they must have thought, “what will they do to us?” Even before the crucifixion Peter shrank in fear from being identified as a follower of Jesus. Imagine how their fear would have intensified after witnessing the Romans’ brutal execution of their master.
With one exception, all of Jesus’s male followers were so terrified that they shrank from standing at the foot of the cross, unable to accompany Jesus during his final hours. Their reluctance may have stemmed from an inability to watch the agonizing death of their friend, but much was out of fear of being identified as a follower of an enemy of Rome. (The women, showed no such fear, though the situation may have posed less danger for them.)
The disciples were terrified. So does it seem credible that something as simple as sitting around and remembering Jesus would snap them out of their abject fear? Not to me. Something incontrovertible, something undeniable, something visible, something tangible, was necessary to transform them from fearful to fearless.
This is one of the most compelling “proofs” of the Resurrection.
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I believe the story. With my head, looking at the evidence and thinking logically as a person who was a research physicist for twenty-five years, I believe it. And after listening to the testimony of people – from beggars to kings -- through all the ages who had concluded that the story is true, I believe it. And at the innermost levels of my heart, where the deepest truths reside but are not easily put into words, I believe it is true.
And that is why I know that I will see my mother again someday. It’s not just wishful thinking, some little tale I’ve fooled myself with because I can’t face the cold hard facts of life. Yes, I will see Della Mae, and I am convinced that it will be a day of great victory and joy. St. Paul says that it will be like putting on a crown, and St. John says that it will be a time when every tear will be wiped away from my eyes. That’s what will happen someday to me. But what Jesus did affects me right here today also -- I know that this Jesus who overcame death and the grave has promised not to leave me here twisting in the wind. He is with me every day, through his Spirit, to guide me, comfort me, embolden me, and use me for his glory and to serve his people, right here, right now.
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As Easter approaches, many Christians struggle with how to understand the Resurrection. How literally must one take the Gospel story of Jesus’ triumph to be called a Christian? Can one understand the Resurrection as a metaphor — perhaps not even believe it happened at all — and still claim to be a follower of Christ?
The struggle keeps some Christians from fully embracing the holiday. A 2010 Barna poll showed that only 42 percent of Americans said the meaning of Easter was Jesus’ resurrection; just 2 percent identified it as the most important holiday of their faith.
“More people have problems with Easter because it requires believing that Jesus rose from the dead,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of the new book, “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.”
“But believing in the Resurrection is essential. It shows that nothing is impossible with God. In fact, Easter without the Resurrection is utterly meaningless. And the Christian faith without Easter is no faith at all.”
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Read it all (page 8).
What difference does it make that Christ is risen? I’m not asking what difference we would like it to make: I guess we want resurrection to be the answer to our questions, the happy ending to all our doubts and fears. I’ve spoken about ‘before’ and ‘after’, but I don’t mean that Easter is closure. Far from it: it pulls us into new journeys whose end we can never predict. So how does Easter change everything?
What it doesn’t do is to wind back the clock, as if this wilting daffodil could somehow regain its freshness and vitality. It’s the opposite. Easter winds the clock forward to the time where there will be a new heaven and a new earth, where everything we know is transformed. The Easter garden where Jesus comes to Mary and calls her by name – this is the paradise that an ageing, hurting world has looked forward to since time began. She thinks he is the gardener, and of course he is, exactly that, the divine Gardener who by rising on the first day of the week has begun to re-make creation and bring beauty out of ashes. And this new Eden is our destiny as human beings caught up in the renewal of creation that is Easter. Our first reading said: ‘when Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory’. It is coming, yet it has already begun: with Mary in the garden, with the disciples Jesus greets, with those who have not seen yet believed, with all who worship and love and follow him on this Easter Day.
For Easter takes our fear away, and gives us back our lives.
Read it all.
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Question 45: What does the "resurrection" of Christ profit us?
Answer: First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, that he might make us partakers of that righteousness which he had purchased for us by his death; secondly, we are also by his power raised up to a new life; and lastly, the resurrection of Christ is a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.
Footnotes: [For "first"] 1 Cor.15:16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: Rom.4:25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. 1 Pet.1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [for "secondly'] Rom.6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Col.3:1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Col.3:3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. Eph.2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) Eph.2:6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: [for "lastly"] 1 Cor.15:12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? 1 Cor.15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 1 Cor.15:21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. Rom.8:11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
If I had a Son in Court, or married a daughter into a plentifull Fortune, I were satisfied for that son or that daughter. Shall I not be so, when the King of Heaven hath taken that sone to himselfe, and married himselfe to that daughter, for ever? I spend none of my Faith, I exercise none of my Hope, in this, that I shall have my dead raised to life againe. This is the faith that sustains me, when I lose by the death of others, and we, are now all in one Church, and at the resurrection, shall be all in one Quire.
–John Donne (1572-1631) [my emphasis]
As a parish priest I remember telling parishioners, on more than one occasion, "When death comes into your home he brings a lot of unwanted relatives with him." I do not mean relatives or in-laws who may come from out of town for the funeral. The relatives of death to which I refer are grief, fear, loneliness, guilt, shame, anger, depression, even anxiety. Once these come under the roof of your house it is difficult to show them the door. They tend to take up residence, over staying their welcome. Just this morning I read the story of Clint Hill, the secret service agent assigned to Jackie Kennedy during the days some refer to as Camelot. With poignant grief he recalled her words that day almost fifty years ago as the President's wounded head lay in her lap like a modern Pieta, "They shot his head off. Oh Jack, what have they done?"
I've been listening to Dr. Billy Graham's recent book Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well. He is no stranger to moments of national grief, like the one Clint Hill witnessed so painfully. At age 93 he has seen firsthand more than a little of our country's sorrow. Yet grief when it is personal strikes even deeper. In recounting the death of his beloved wife and best friend for almost sixty-four years, Ruth Bell Graham, he writes, "Although I rejoice that her struggles with weakness and pain have all come to an end, I still feel as if a part of me has been ripped out, and I miss her far more than I ever could have imagined." "Death", he goes on to say, quite accurately, "is always an intruder even when it is expected." Frankly, if there is no answer to death there is no answer to our most abiding enemy and all those blood relatives he brings with him. This, as you might imagine, brings me to Easter. I am happy to recall it. The apostle affirms, "Our Saviour Jesus Christ has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel." (2 Timothy 1:10 NEB)
Easter unflinchingly confronts our enemies, death and sin that would lock us in a self-justifying bondage, and plague our lives from start to finish. Christ's death, however, is God's No to sin. In the cross God reveals his hatred of sin as Christ dies to destroy it; and shows his love for sinners as he dies to free us of it. In Christ's resurrection God speaks his Yes to life and human freedom, breaking the power of death. Donald Coggan, a former Archbishop of Canterbury put it well: "You may not like it. You may ignore it. You may deny it. But this is it. Take away the Cross and Resurrection from Christianity and you have a poor lifeless and maimed thing left..." And we must also say a dead religion dreadfully inadequate for our needs. Archbishop Coggan was right. We need to keep the Cross and Resurrection central. They tell us of God's No, to death, and the fear that is death's power; No, to sin and its tyranny of our lives; No, to fear that cripples us from living the dance of life freely; No, to the shame we don't deserve and grace for the shame we do; No, to the loneliness that dogs our steps for the Risen One is with us always. Let me say again. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Great Yes of God. It has left us an empty tomb and an open door. It will in God's good time and grace sweep our lives clean of death and the unwanted relatives it brings into our homes. Even this Sunday as we say the words, "Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia." the joy of Easter may escort some these out the door. We can then live our lives in Christ, with Christ and for Christ freely, and for his sake for a hurting and broken world.
May the Peace of the Risen Christ be always with you,
--(The Rt Rev.) Mark Lawrence is Bishop of South Carolina
Listen to it all.
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Going through the barrier with a colleague to board my train in a busy station in London, suddenly a loud alarm sounded. A voice came over the public address system advising, no instructing, every person in the station to leave the building immediately. The majority of passers-by stopped, stood still and looked at each other. Visitors to London were already making their way to the exits, Londoners were hurrying their way to their destinations. The message only came once. I looked at the person I was with, we shrugged our shoulders, and went through the barrier to catch our train.
We have, collectively, quite a bit of disbelief and fatigue when we are told that we really must respond, or do something, or change our behaviour or direction.
Mary Magdalene was exhausted by grief. With Jesus everything had died. Who knows why she thought she was going to the garden in which the tomb they had borrowed for him was situated, but who knows why we do lots of things when we are worn out by life? Mary’s emotion represents the emotion of the whole world in the presence of the overwhelming cruelty and irreparable nature of death.
With Mary there are so many that weep. In Syria mothers cry for their children and husbands. In the Ukraine neighbours cry because the future is precarious and dangerous. In Rwanda tears are still shed each day as the horror of genocide is remembered. In this country, even as the economy improves there is weeping in broken families, in people ashamed to seek help from food banks, or frightened by debt. Asylum seekers weep with loneliness and missing far away families. Mary continues to weep across the world.
This is the world we live in, a world which each of us has had a hand in creating. A world of crosses. We can comfort one another and treat the dying with dignity. We can make gardens and graves, we can move stones and wipe away tears. But we can do nothing to defeat death.
But listen, hear the announcement. . . The one who was dead, is now alive! The one whose body had been a corpse, lying motionless in the grave, inert, lifeless, lying flat on the stone ledge of the borrowed tomb – he now stands before Mary, speaking her name. This day he speaks everybody’s name to engage them with the news that he is alive.
When Mary hears her name spoken, we are told, she turns towards him. A moment before and she is in the deepest despair, a second after, her life has changed. For death has more than met its match. It has been defeated. Everything changes.
We cannot expel God, nor the life of God, from his world. In fact this new life insists that there is nowhere God is absent, powerless or irrelevant. There is no situation in the universe in the face of which God is at a loss. The one that was dead is now alive. Where there was weeping there is now joy.
Someone wrote recently ‘Joy might be a greater scandal than evil, suffering or death’. [David Ford]. This is what I have been moved by in Christian communities around the world who face the most devastating of conditions. Their certainty that Jesus is alive enables them to face all horrors with joy. Not happiness, but joy. Joy can exist alongside mental illness, depression, bereavement, fear, because the joy of Christ comes from knowing that nothing and no one less than God has the last word. I remember sitting in a room with the Bishop who had come over from Pakistan soon after the attack in September on a church in Peshawar. I asked how Christians were coping with the fear that such attacks brought, and wondered if there had been anyone in church the week following the attack. ‘Oh yes’ the bishop replied, ‘ there were three times as many people the next week’. Such action is made possible only by the resurrection. The persecuted church flourishes because of the resurrection. I think of women who I met earlier this year who have survived unspeakable sexual violence, yet who lift their arms in prayer and praise to God. I think of teenagers I met in Luton who have hope and joy, in lives that were dominated by self hatred and harm. This has only been made possible because Jesus is alive.
The announcement that Jesus is alive changes everything; not simplistically or even instantly do circumstances and situations change. But it changes us. It gives us hope where we were in despair, faith where we were lost, light where we were in darkness, joy where we were entirely in sorrow. That joy in huge life of Jesus is present in the food banks, the credit unions, the practical down to earth living that the churches are demonstrating across this country.
But Jesus hasn’t finished with Mary yet. It isn’t simply a personal thing for her. She must now become a witness. So Jesus sends her to the ‘brothers’ to tell them. Please notice, in all four gospels the first witness of the resurrection is a woman. So Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles.
Jesus comes to find us all. In all the gospels when anyone meets Jesus they are given a task. The task is to join the announcement. The meaning of our whole existence is to be witnesses to the new life that is offered by Jesus Christ. The persecuted church bears witness in its joy overcoming fear, in worship in the midst of war, of refugee camps. In an IDP camp in Goma in January, the reminder that Jesus is alive was worth more than many sentences of comfort, for he brings joy.
The new life of Jesus is given to us. We witness to it as we insist that money isn’t our ruler, that self- promotion isn’t King, that pleasure isn’t a fulfilling aim, and that the survival of the fittest simply means some die later than others. The new life of Christ has broken into our world, it cannot be contained, nor restricted, nor managed. The church exists to show by its life and work the transforming power that has been set free in the world. All that we need to do is respond in faith and receive the gift of that life.
To fail to respond is like hearing someone crying ‘fire’ and continuing to walk into the building. Or have someone whisper ‘will you marry me?’ and turn the channel to find something interesting to watch. This is an announcement that calls our attention, catches our lives, heals our brokenness, and send us out with a purpose, a hope and a joy. It is news that the world cannot ignore, that we cannot neglect, it is the news of joy immeasurable.
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The resurrection was as inconceivable for the first disciples, as impossible for them to believe, as it is for many of us today. Granted, their reasons would have been different from ours. The Greeks did not believe in resurrection; in the Greek worldview, the afterlife was liberation of the soul from the body. For them, resurrection would never be part of life after death. As for the Jews, some of them believed in a future general resurrection when the entire world would be renewed, but they had no concept of an individual rising from the dead. The people of Jesus’ day were not predisposed to believe in resurrection any more than we are.
Celsus, a Greek philosopher who lived in the second century A.D., was highly antagonistic to Christianity and wrote a number of works listing arguments against it. One of the arguments he believed most telling went like this: Christianity can’t be true, because the written accounts of the resurrection are based on the testimony of women—and we all know women are hysterical. And many of Celsus’ readers agreed: For them, that was a major problem. In ancient societies, as you know, women were marginalized, and the testimony of women was never given much credence.
Do you see what that means? If Mark and the Christians were making up these stories to get their movement off the ground, they would never have written women into the story as the first eyewitnesses to Jesus’ empty tomb. The only possible reason for the presence of women in these accounts is that they really were present and reported what they saw. The stone has been rolled away, the tomb is empty and an angel declares that Jesus is risen.
Read it all.
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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.
This is the real meaning of Easter...
No tabloid will ever print the startling news that the mummified body of Jesus of Nazareth has been discovered in old Jerusalem. Christians have no carefully embalmed body enclosed in a glass case to worship. Thank God, we have an empty tomb.
The glorious fact that the empty tomb proclaims to us is that life for us does not stop when death comes. Death is not a wall, but a door. And eternal life which may be ours now, by faith in Christ, is not interrupted when the soul leaves the body, for we live on...and on.
There is no death to those who have entered into fellowship with him who emerged from the tomb. Because the resurrection is true it is the most significant thing in our world today. Bringing the resurrected Christ into our lives, individual and national, is the only hope we have for making a better world.
"Because I live ye shall live also."
That is the real meaning of Easter.
--Peter Marshall (1902-1949), The First Easter
Take the time to listen to it all from the Oxford Philomusica.
All night had shout of men, and cry
Of woeful women filled His way;
Until that noon of sombre sky
On Friday, clamour and display
Smote Him; no solitude had He,
No silence, since Gethsemane.
Public was Death; but Power, but Might,
But Life again, but Victory,
Were hushed within the dead of night,
The shutter’d dark, the secrecy.
And all alone, alone, alone,
He rose again behind the stone.
--Alice Meynell (1847-1922)
In the silence of this night, in the silence which envelopes Holy Saturday, touched by the limitless love of God, we live in the hope of the dawn of the third day, the dawn of the victory of God’s love, the luminous daybreak which allows the eyes of our heart to see afresh our life, its difficulties, its suffering. Our failures, our disappointments, our bitterness, which seem to signal that all is lost, are instead illumined by hope. The act of love upon the Cross is confirmed by the Father and the dazzling light of the resurrection enfolds and transforms everything: friendship can be born from betrayal, pardon from denial, love from hate.
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On Holy Saturday we enter into the mystery. Today we contemplate Jesus, there in the tomb, dead. In that tomb, he is dead, exactly the way each of us will be dead. We don't easily contemplate dying, but we rarely contemplate being dead. I have had the blessed experience of being with a number of people who have died, of arriving at a hospital shortly after someone has died, of attending an autopsy, and of praying with health sciences students over donated bodies in gross anatomy class. These were powerful experiences because they all brought me face-to-face with the mystery of death itself. With death, life ends. Breathing stops, and in an instant, the life of this person has ended. And, in a matter of hours, the body becomes quite cold and life-less - dramatic evidence, to our senses, that this person no longer exists. All that is left is this decaying shell that once held his or her life.
Death is our ultimate fear. Everything else we fear, every struggle we have, is some taste of, some chilling approach to, the experience of losing our life. This fear is responsible for so much of our lust and greed, so much of our denial and arrogance, so much of our silly clinging to power, so much of our hectic and anxiety-driven activity. It is the one, inevitable reality we all will face. There is not enough time, money, joy, fulfillment, success. Our physical beauty and strength, our mental competency and agility, all that we have and use to define ourselves, slip away from us with time. Our lives are limited. Our existence, in every way we can comprehand it, comes to an end. We will all die. In a matter of time, all that will be left of any of us is a decomposing body.
Today is a day to soberly put aside the blinders we have about the mystery of death and our fear of it. Death is very real and its approach holds great power in our lives. The "good news" we are about to celebrate has no real power in our lives unless we have faced the reality of death. To contemplate Jesus' body, there in that tomb, is to look our death in the face, and it is preparation for hearing the Gospel with incredible joy. That we are saved from the ultimate power of sin and of death itself comes to us as a great relief, as a tremendous liberation. If Jesus lives, you and I will live! The mystery of death, which we contemplate today, will be overcome - we will live forever!
This Holy Saturday we watch and wait.
What comes will surely be his surprise-
He’s working on it right now-
And we must wait for it,
There is nothing else to do.
On Holy Saturday we realize, as at no other time,
We simply have to wait.
And then it happens!
Jesus dies. His lifeless body is taken down from the cross. Painters and sculptors have strained their every nerve to portray the sorrow of Mary holding her lifeless son in her arms, as mothers today in Baghdad hold with the same anguish the bodies of their children. On Holy Saturday, or Easter Eve, God is dead, entering into the nothingness of human dying. The source of all being, the One who framed the vastness and the microscopic patterning of the Universe, the delicacy of petals and the scent of thyme, the musician’s melodies and the lover’s heart, is one with us in our mortality. In Jesus, God knows our dying from the inside.
--–The Rt. Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Rowell, (recently retired) Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe
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“[Hans Urs von] Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday is probably one of his most intriguing contributions since he interprets it as moving beyond the active self-surrender of Good Friday into the absolute helplessness of sin and the abandonment and lostness of death.
In the Old Testament one of the greatest threats of God’s wrath was His threat of abandonment, to leave His people desolate, to be utterly rejected of God. It is this that Jesus experienced upon the Cross and in His descent into the lifeless passivity and God-forsakenness of the grave. By His free entrance into the helplessness of sin, Christ was reduced to what Balthasar calls a “cadaver-obedience” revealing and experience the full horror of sin.
As Peter himself preached at Pentecost (Acts 2:23-24; 32-33):
‘[Jesus] being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you, by lawless hands, have crucified and put to death; who God raised up, having abolished the birth pangs of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it…This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He pour out this which you now see and hear.’
We ought to pause and note the passivity that is expressed here. Christ experienced what God was doing through Him by His purpose and foreknowledge. Jesus was truly dead and fully encompassed within and held by the pains of death and needed God to abolish them. He was freed from death by God, not simply by God’s whim, but because for God it was impossible that death should hold Christ. Christ Himself receives the Holy Spirit from the Father in order that He might pour out that Spirit. Balthasar writes:
‘Jesus was truly dead, because he really became a man as we are, a son of Adam, and therefore, despite what one can sometimes read in certain theological works, he did not use the so-called “brief” time of his death for all manner of “activities” in the world beyond. In the same way that, upon earth, he was in solidarity with the living, so, in the tomb, he is in solidarity with the dead…Each human being lies in his own tomb. And with this condition Jesus is in complete solidarity.’
According to Balthasar, this death was also the experience, for a time, of utter God-forsakenness—that is hell. Hell, then, is a Christological concept which is defined in terms of Christ’s experience on the Cross. This is also the assurance that we never need fear rejection by the Father if we are in Christ, since Christ has experienced hell in our place.”
–S. Joel Garver on Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) [emphasis mine]
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Tragically neglected, Holy Saturday remains a central part of the three most Holy Days of the Christian year. It is called the Triduum...
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In the centuries after Christianity emerged from the catacombs, the Church of Rome made an annual Lenten pilgrimage to a series of “station churches” at which the Bishop of Rome led his flock in prayer over the remains of one or another of the early martyrs. On the morning of Holy Saturday, however, the Church of the first millennium kept “station” not at a particular basilica made holy by the relics of martyrs and the prayers of those who have venerated them, but in her religious imagination. There was no Mass during the day, as there was no Mass on Good Friday. In the evening, as the sun set, the Roman Church would gather at the papal cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran (“mother and head of all the churches in the city and the world”) to await the dawn of Resurrection. But Holy Saturday itself was a moment to enter reflectively into the divine rest.
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HOW life and death in Thee
Thou hadst a virgin womb
A Joseph did betroth
–Richard Crashaw (1613-1649)
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Recently an elderly friend of our family passed away after a period of grueling discomfort. At one point she blurted out to my mother, “Why must I endure this? Jesus only suffered for three hours!”
Of course, most Christians know that Jesus suffered longer than three hours, including the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging and the long climb up Golgotha. He was also, it may be argued, carrying all sin, which burdened him with a weight that is unimaginable to us.
Yet did Christ’s suffering end when he announced, “It is finished”? Holy Saturday is the time between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and it is one of the most dramatic, if cloudy, episodes in Christian theology….
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Yet, there was one large omission that set all other truth dangerously at risk: the omission of holy rest. The refusal to be silent. The obsessive avoidance of emptiness. The denial of any experience and any people in the least bit suggestive of godforsakenness.
It was far more than an annual ignorance on Holy Saturday; it was religiously fueled, weekly arrogance. Not only was the Good Friday crucifixion bridged to the Easter resurrection by this day furious with energy and lucrative with reward, but all the gospel truths were likewise set as either introductions or conclusions to the human action that displayed our prowess and our virtue every week of the year. God was background to our business. Every gospel truth was maintained intact and all the human energy was wholly admirable, but the rhythms were all wrong, the proportions wildly skewed. Desolation—and with it companionship with the desolate, from first-century Semites to twentieth-century Indians—was all but wiped from consciousness.
But there came a point at which I was convinced that it was critically important to pay more attention to what God does than what I do; to find daily, weekly, yearly rhythms that would get that awareness into my bones. Holy Saturday for a start. And then, times to visit people in despair, and learn their names, and wait for resurrection.
Embedded in my memory now is this most poignant irony: those seven or eight Indians, with the Thunderbird empties lying around, drunk in the alley behind the Pastime Baron Saturday afternoon, while we Scandinavian Christians worked diligently late into the night, oblivious to the holiness of the day. The Indians were in despair, religious despair, something very much like the Holy Saturday despair narrated in the Gospels. Their way of life had come to nothing, the only buffalo left to them engraved on nickels, a couple of which one of their squaws had paid out that morning for four bony ham hocks. The early sacredness of their lives was a wasteland; and they, godforsaken as they supposed, drugged their despair with Thunderbird and buried their dead visions and dreams in the alley behind the Pastime, ignorant of the God at work beneath their emptiness.
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By the grace of God" Jesus tasted death "for every one". In his plan of salvation, God ordained that his Son should not only "die for our sins" but should also "taste death", experience the condition of death, the separation of his soul from his body, between the time he expired on the cross and the time he was raised from the dead. The state of the dead Christ is the mystery of the tomb and the descent into hell. It is the mystery of Holy Saturday, when Christ, lying in the tomb, reveals God's great sabbath rest after the fulfillment of man's salvation, which brings peace to the whole universe.
--The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, para. 624
"The single argument in its favor seems to be that it has been around so long," [Wayne] Grudem, a professor at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona, writes in his Systematic Theology, a popular textbook in evangelical colleges. "But an old mistake is still a mistake."
Grudem, like [John] Piper, has said that he skips the phrase about Jesus' descent when reciting the Apostles' Creed.
But the harrowing of hell remains a central tenet of Eastern Orthodox Christians, who place an icon depicting the descent at the front of their churches as Saturday night becomes Easter Sunday. It remains there, venerated and often kissed, for 40 days.
"The icon that represents Easter for us is not the empty cross or tomb," said Peter Bouteneff, a theology professor at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y. "It's Christ's descent into Hades."
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Holy Saturday is a neglected day in parish life. Few people attend the Services. Popular piety usually reduces Holy Week to one day — Holy Friday. This day is quickly replaced by another — Easter Sunday. Christ is dead and then suddenly alive. Great sorrow is suddenly replaced by great joy. In such a scheme Holy Saturday is lost.
In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death the Christ continues to effect triumph.
–Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983)
This ultimate solidarity is the final point and the goal of that first 'descent,' so clearly described in the Scriptures, into a 'lower world' which, with Augustine, can already be characterised, by way of contrast with heaven, as infernum. Thomas Aquinas will echo Augustine here. For him, the necessity whereby Christ had to go down to Hades lies not in some insufficiency of the suffering endured on the Cross but in the fact that Christ has assumed all the defectus of sinners...Now the penalty which the sin of man brought on was not only the death of the body. It was also a penalty affected the soul, for sinning was also the soul's work, and the soul paid the price in being deprived of the vision of God. As yet unexpiated, it followed that all human beings who lived before the coming of Christ, even the holy ancestors, descended into the infernum. And so, in order to assume the entire penalty imposed upon sinners, Christ willed not only to die, but to go down, in his soul, ad infernum. As early as the Fathers of the second century, this act of sharing constituted the term and aim of the Incarnation. The 'terrors of death' into which Jesus himself falls are only dispelled when the Father raises him again...He insists on his own grounding principle, namely, that only what has been endured is healed and saved.
That the Redeemer is solidarity with the dead, or, better, with this death which makes of the dead, for the first time, dead human beings in all reality- this is the final consequence of the redemptive mission he has received from the Father. His being with the dead is an existence at the utmost pitch of obedience, and because the One thus obedient is the dead Christ, it constitutes the 'obedience of a corpse' (the phrase is Francis of Assisi's) of a theologically unique kind. By it Christ takes the existential measure of everything that is sheerly contrary to God, of the entire object of the divine eschatological judgment, which here is grasped in that event in which it is 'cast down' (hormemati blethesetai, Apocalypse 18, 21; John 12; Matthew 22, 13). But at the same time, this happening gives the measure of the Father's mission in all its amplitude: the 'exploration' of Hell is an event of the (economic) Trinity...This vision of chaos by the God-man has become for us the condition of our vision of Divinity. His exploration of the ultimate depths has transformed what was a prison into a way.
--Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter [emphasis mine]
…Suddenly all of them standing around the gallows know it: he is gone. Immeasurable emptiness (not solitude) streams forth from the hanging body. Nothing but this fantastic emptiness is any longer at work here. The world with its shape has perished; it tore like a curtain from top to bottom, without making a sound. It fainted away, turned to dust, burst like a bubble. There is nothing more but nothingness itself.
The world is dead.
Love is dead.
God is dead.
Everything that was, was a dream dreamt by no one. The present is all past. The future is nothing. The hand has disappeared from the clock’s face. No more struggle between love and hate, between life and death. Both have been equalized, and love’s emptying out has become the emptiness of hell. One has penetrated the other perfectly. The nadir has reached the zenith: nirvana.
Was that lightning?
Was the form of a Heart visible in the boundless void for a flash as the sky was rent, drifting in the whirlwind through the worldless chaos, driven like a leaf?
Or was it winged, propelled and directed by its own invisible wings, standing as lone survivor between the soulless heavens and the perished earth?
Chaos. Beyond heaven and hell. Shapeless nothingness behind the bounds of creation.
Is that God?
God died on the Cross.
Is that death?
No dead are to be seen.
Is it the end?
Nothing that ends is any longer there.
Is it the beginning?
The beginning of what? In the beginning was the Word. What kind of word? What incomprehensible, formless, meaningless word? But look: What is this light glimmer that wavers and begins to take form in the endless void? It has neither content nor contour.
A nameless thing, more solitary than God, it emerges out of pure emptiness. It is no one. It is anterior to everything. Is it the beginning? It is small and undefined as a drop. Perhaps it is water. But it does not flow. It is not water. It is thicker, more opaque, more viscous than water. It is also not blood, for blood is red, blood is alive, blood has a loud human speech. This is neither water nor blood. It is older than both, a chaotic drop.
Slowly, slowly, unbelievably slowly the drop begins to quicken. We do not know whether this movement is infinite fatigue at death’s extremity or the first beginning - of what?
Quiet, quiet! Hold the breath of your thoughts! It’s still much too early in the day to think of hope. The seed is still much too weak to start whispering about love. But look there: it is indeed moving, a weak, viscous flow. It’s still much too early to speak of a wellspring.
It trickles, lost in the chaos, directionless, without gravity. But more copiously now. A wellspring in the chaos. It leaps out of pure nothingness, it leaps out of itself.
It is not the beginning of God, who eternally and mightily brings himself into existence as Life and Love and triune Bliss.
It is not the beginning of creation, which gently and in slumber slips out of the Creator’s hands.
It is a beginning without parallel, as if Life were arising from Death, as if weariness (already such weariness as no amount of sleep could ever dispel) and the uttermost decay of power were melting at creation’s outer edge, were beginning to flow, because flowing is perhaps a sign and a likeness of weariness which can no longer contain itself, because everything that is strong and solid must in the end dissolve into water. But hadn’t it - in the beginning - also been born from water? And is this wellspring in the chaos, this trickling weariness, not the beginning of a new creation?
The magic of Holy Saturday.
The chaotic fountain remains directionless. Could this be the residue of the Son’s love which, poured out to the last when every vessel cracked and the old world perished, is now making a path for itself to the Father through the glooms of nought?
Or, in spite of it all, is this love trickling on in impotence, unconsciously, laboriously, towards a new creation that does not yet even exist, a creation which is still to be lifted up and given shape? Is it a protoplasm producing itself in the beginning, the first seed of the New Heaven and the New Earth?
The spring leaps up even more plenteously. To be sure, it flows out of a wound and is like the blossom and fruit of a wound; like a tree it sprouts up from this wound. But the wound no longer causes pain. The suffering has been left far behind as the past origin and previous source of today’s wellspring.
What is poured out here is no longer a present suffering, but a suffering that has been concluded–no longer now a sacrificing love, but a love sacrificed.
Only the wound is there: gaping, the great open gate, the chaos, the nothingness out of which the wellspring leaps forth. Never again will this gate be shut. Just as the first creation arose ever anew out of sheer nothingness, so, too, this second world - still unborn, still caught up in its first rising - will have its sole origin in this wound, which is never to close again.
In the future, all shape must arise out of this gaping void, all wholeness must draw its strength from the creating wound.
High-vaulted triumphal Gate of Life! Armored in gold, armies of graces stream out of you with fiery lances. Deep-dug Fountain of Life! Wave upon wave gushes out of you inexhaustible, ever-flowing, billows of water and blood baptizing the heathen hearts, comforting the yearning souls, rushing over the deserts of guilt, enriching over-abundantly, overflowing every heart that receives it, far surpassing every desire.
–Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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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)
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
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(This story appears in the sermon by yours truly posted below--KSH).
"So you think I'm courageous?" she asked.
"Yes, I do."
"Perhaps I am. But that's because I've had some inspiring teachers. I'll tell you about one of them....
Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at Stanford Hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liza who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her five-year-old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, 'Yes, I'll do it if it will save Liza.'
"As the transfusion progressed, he lay in a bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and
asked with a trembling voice, 'Will I start to die right away?'
"Being young, the boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give her all his blood.
"Yes, I've learned courage," she added, "because I've had inspiring teachers."
--Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen Chicken Soup for the Soul (Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, 1993), pp.26-27
[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]
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Think of Jesus. His words are few. He is exhausted and in pain. Two words however remain: a word of mercy to the criminal who repents; a word of fidelity, handing himself to his Father, his mission completed.
Lord we live in a world filled with words. Perhaps never in history have there been so many words: spoken, printed, electronically stored or moving invisibly. Help us to realise that few words are necessary. Empty words foster empty hearts. There are realities which do not need words. Give us Lord the words to ask for forgiveness, the words which touch those things in our hearts we would not want anyone to hear, but things that keep us entrapped in sinfulness and isolation. Give us words to forgive, to be generous and loving.Open our heart in mercy to those who long for freedom. Keep us faithful like Jesus to what we are called to, to what is most noble and good in our lives.
In a world where everything has a shelf-life and what we dislike can be quickly discarded, help us to learn that singular characteristic of God: being faithful. The events of Good Friday realise something that has been spoken of throughout the history of God’s encounter with his people. God remains faithful to his people, even when his people generation after generation fail him and fail him and betray him and betray him[.]
True goodness is not a passing emotion. It is not about feeling good. It is about being faithful to goodness when it is easy, when it is challenging, and even when it leads to our annihilation in the eyes of those who seek their only own interest.
Jesus dies. He breathes his last and that last is the same as the first words recorded about Jesus: “I must be about my Father’s business”; “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”.
Jesus humbles himself, he empties himself, and his love is so great that he empties himself even unto death, death on the Cross. But the Cross triumphs. His self-giving love is so complete that it brings new life, true live.
Lord help us to reject everything that is trivial and superficial. Give us the love that Jesus showed on the Cross: love that endures and that saves.
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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
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)
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)
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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.
It so happened that in this man Jesus God himself came into the world, which he had created and against all odds still loved. He took human nature upon himself and became man, like the rest of us, in order to put an end to the world's fight against him and also against itself, and to replace man's disorder by God's design. In Jesus God hallowed his name, made his kingdom come, his will done on earth as it is in heaven, as we say in the Lord's Prayer. In him he made manifest his glory and, amazingly enough, he made it manifest for our salvation. To accomplish this, he not only bandaged, but healed the wounds of the world he helped mankind not only in part and temporarily but radically and for good in the person of his beloved Son; he delivered us from evil and took us to his heart as his children Thereby we are all permitted to live, and to live eternally.
It happened through this man on the cross that God cancelled out and swept away all our human wickedness, our pride, our anxiety, our greed and our false pretences, whereby we had continually offended him and made life difficult, if not impossible, for ourselves and for others. He crossed out what had made our life fundamentally terrifying, dark and distressing - the life of health and of sickness, of happiness and of unhappiness, of the highborn and of the lowborn, of the rich and of the poor, of the free and of the captive. He did away with it. It is no longer part of us, it is behind us. In Jesus God made the day break after the long night and spring come after the long winter.
All these things happened in that one man. In Jesus, God took upon himself the full load of evil; he made our wickedness his own; he gave himself in his dear Son to be defamed as a criminal, to be accused, condemned, delivered from life unto death, as though he himself, the Holy God, had done all the evil we human beings did and do. In giving himself in Jesus Christ, he reconciled the world unto himself; he saved us and made us free to live in his everlasting kingdom; he removed the burden and took it upon himself He the innocent took the place of us the guilty. He the mighty took the place of us the weak. He the living One took the place of us the dying.
This, my dear friends, is the invisible event that took place in the suffering and death of the man hanging on the middle cross on Golgotha. This is reconciliation: his damnation our liberation, his defeat our victory, his mortal pain the beginning of our joy, his death the birth of our life. We do well to remember that this is what those who put him to death really accomplished. They did not know what they did. These deluded men and women accomplished by their evil will and deed that good which God had willed and done with the world and for the world, including the crowd of Jerusalem.
--Karl Barth (1886-1968) from a sermon in 1957
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.
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