Monthly Archives: January 2013

Do not fear

But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5)

Mark is an exceptionally skilled storyteller, weaving two stories together here in a cinematic way.

In the press of the crowds, in front of everyone, a proud religious leader suddenly throws himself onto the dusty ground, begging Jesus to help him, heedless of the stares. His daughter is near death, and he will do anything for her sake.

Jesus helps him to stand, and with a gesture says, “Lead the way.”

Unnoticed in the crowd, just as she is paid no mind by anyone, a woman furtively follows Jesus, taking advantage of the distraction. “If I can just touch his robe,” she says, “I will finally get better.”

And then everything stops. Freeze frame. The religious leader’s hands cover his face; the woman’s fingers reach toward Jesus.

JairusHe feels her. “Who touched me?” She panics and falls to the ground. He lifts her up and reassures her, “Your faith has made you well.”

In the same moment, word comes to the religious leader. “Your daughter is dead. Stop crying now, don’t trouble the teacher.”

Jesus stands with him, meeting his slack, tear-stained gaze. “Do not fear.”

Do not fear.

Do not worry what other people think.

Do not hesitate to reach out to Jesus.

He will reassure you.

He will stand with you.

Do not fear.

Coda: In all of the images I looked through I could not find a single one where Jairus was actually kneeling before Jesus, with the exception of one cartoon. Apparently, pictures (by their silence) tell a thousand words. Men’s shame at appearing weak or in need persists.

Do not fear.

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No armor needed on the Way of the Cross

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He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
(Isaiah 53:7)

It took less than 50 years after the crucifixion of Jesus — the Prince of Peace, the sacrificial Lamb foretold by Isaiah — for the martial language to creep back into the church’s vocabulary.

By the time of the letter to the Ephesians, written somewhere between 62-95 AD, we have this exhortation to believers to “put on the whole armor of God.” Now granted, this is spiritual armor we’re talking about — the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:14-17). As a metaphor, the image works beautifully to depict discipline and confidence in the spiritual life.

But do you hear the difference?

Jesus went to his death unprotesting, silent before the slaughter. His followers in Ephesus, less than 50 years later, are being urged into an aggressive posture, armed to wage war “not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

How much longer, though, until this spiritual aggression is turned against “enemies of blood and flesh”?

Church history tells the story; just 300 more years. In 385, Priscillian, the bishop of Avila, became the first Christian to be executed for heresy by the (Christian) Roman authorities — the church finally had the power of the state behind it to enforce its will.

By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
(Isaiah 53:8)

I hear such anger in our religious discourse today that it worries me.

Religious leaders and believers alike denounce other Christians with such violence, and are so heated in their demands that society conform to their desires, that I wonder if our lust for the heat and noise of battle has made us lose our taste for “that peace which the world cannot give” (BCP 123).

I wonder if we have become totally deaf to the silent voice of the crucified Christ urging us to follow him in the way of the cross, which is “none other than the way of life and peace” (BCP 99).

 

I want to know Christ

Who can tell how often he offends?
cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me;
then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.
(Psalm 19:12-14)

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings” (Phil. 3:11).

Paul is in many ways the model for us modern Christians who “want to know Christ.”

Like him, we rely on the testimony of others rather than having met the living Jesus in person.

Like him, we may have an experience of conversion (though perhaps not as dramatic as his Damascus Road experience), and we may have to spend time figuring out what it means and how we should live in response.

In the daily email “Brother, Give Us a Word” from the SSJE community, Br. David Vryhof writes: “Paul lived for God. His new life was born out of a deep desire to love and serve the God who had claimed him as his own.”

How has God claimed you? What do you desire in your relationship with God? What part of your life might need to be made new?

I have come to know Christ better as I spend time in prayer and the reading of Scripture, particularly as I practice the Daily Office. How do you know Christ in your life? Where do you feel his power and share his sufferings?

I have called you by name

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
(Isaiah 43:1)

For my ordination to the diaconate 17 years ago, my Lovely Wife made a stole with cross-stitched images of birds and flowers taken from The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. It’s a glorious Easter stole, bursting with life.

January birds

At the top of the stole, just below my shoulder, is a golden cross with the same words from Isaiah stitched beneath it: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

In this week following the Baptism of our Lord, we have prayed in the Collect of the Day that “all who are baptized in his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior” (BCP 214).

We can be bold in our confession because God has acted first, and we are his. The whole sweep of salvation history teaches this lesson — God continually reaches out toward us and makes us his people. He redeems us, he calls us, we are his.

Because we do not need to fear, we can embrace new life in Christ and follow his lead, no matter where it takes us. Just as the Son is intimately known by the Father, we too are intimately known by the Son. “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).

Through baptism, Christ calls each of us by name. What fear might you need to lay aside so you can hear his call more clearly? Where might your friendship with Christ lead you?

The Rock of our salvation

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Come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving
and raise a loud shout to him with psalms. (BCP 82)

We open Morning Prayer with these words from the Venite (Psalm 95) most every day.

On this particular day, the Church commemorates the Confession of St. Peter, and a week from now we will celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul. Because these two apostles represent the preaching of the Gospel to Israel and to the Gentiles, this week is commonly observed as a “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.”

Many people will be talking about unity in terms of the Church, and many will talk about Peter as “the rock” upon whom Christ built his Church, quoting Jesus’ pun as recorded by Matthew (16:18).

Truth is, though, Peter is not the foundation for our faith. He is not the Rock of our salvation — Jesus is.

Peter (and Paul) are examples of the firm and unshakeable faith that can be ours, however, when we build our spiritual homes on the Rock which is Jesus Christ. The Church, as the community of Christ’s followers, is meant to help us build on those strong foundations. We can learn from the Church’s 2,000 years of experience and apply it to our daily life and work.

Sometimes the Church is a rock; other times, we have to set our faces like flint against it “because they are not willing to listen to me” (Ezekiel 3:7). At all times, though, we are to “shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation and come before his presence with thanksgiving.”

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 100)

The hostility between us

But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us …. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:13-14, 17-18)

At a recent Commission on Ministry meeting in my diocese, we talked about the importance of reconciliation as a key element in any definition of Christian ministry.

Our Book of Common Prayer, in the Catechism, has this to say (BCP 855):

Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

“To restore all people to unity … to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation.”

The hostility between us puts the lie to our name of “Christian.” Where we allow hostility to grow, or worse, promote it by our words and actions, we are not “bearing witness” to Christ.

It’s important, especially in this age of social media, not to confuse disagreement with hostility. Breaking down the hostility between us does not mean squelching disagreement — but it is important to be clear when we do disagree that we still honor the other person.

Reconciliation is hard work, but the heavy lifting has already been done. Jesus has broken down the dividing wall; it’s up to us not to keep putting the bricks back where they came from.

Instead, as Paul goes on to say, we are to place those bricks next to “Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (Eph. 2:20-22).

This is my commandment

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I officiated at a wedding yesterday evening, where the couple chose John 15:9-12 as the Gospel reading.

“This is my commandment,” Jesus says to his disciples after the Last Supper, “that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

This morning, with Katherine and Jack still on my mind, I began Morning Prayer and started to read Psalm 119, which is appointed for today. Psalm 119, as you may know, is a sort of acrostic where each section of the psalm begins with a different letter of the (Hebrew) alphabet and where every verse contains a play on the word “commandment.”

I couldn’t help mentally reframing the Psalm in the light of Jesus’ commandment:

Happy are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the love of the Lord.

Happy are they who observe his love,
and seek him with all their heart.

Who never do any wrong,
but always walk in his love.

You laid down your love,
that we should fully keep it.

Oh, that my ways were made so direct
that I might keep your love! (Psalm 119:1-5 ed.)

I think this kind of love is what the former Pharisee Paul may have had in his mind as he wrote to the Ephesians.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:4-8)

Through baptism, we share in the life that Christ lives in the world, and it is through us that the good news of the free gift of God’s love is communicated to the world. In marriage, we see the couple’s life together as a sign of Christ’s love, and we pray that their mutual affection will overflow in love and concern for others (BCP 429).

May it be so for all of us.