Sunday, April 23, 2017
Geronzio had been a servant of Diocletian before Diocletian had risen to the status and rank of emperor in Rome. He had served Diocletian loyally and had gained his respect and admiration. He was, however, a Christian and though Diocletian knew this he did not expect Geronzio to change his allegiance as long as Geronzio did not openly betray him. Geronzio was also married to a woman named Policronia. The two of them had used their connections and influence to elevate themselves to a noble status and to shore up possessions and wealth. They used this wealth and status to provide comfort and aid to their brothers and sisters in the Faith and to prepare their newborn son--whom they named George, meaning "worker of the land"--for his life and whatever it might hold. As George grew in age and education he also grew into the faith of his parents and his many new brothers and sisters that came to his family's home for services of worship and communion.Tragically, Geronzio died when George was fourteen and within three years Policronia had taken that fateful step beyond mortality and into life more ideal and true. George was among many who were like family to him and he was the inheritor of his family's considerable wealth but he was without direction and no longer had his father as his mentor. So, George went to the man who had so loved and favored his father: Diocletian.
George became a soldier under Dicoletian's watchful care and guidance. Diocletian was heartbroken when he heard of Geronzio's death but was overjoyed at the prospect of guiding George's career and continued service to Rome. He was aware that George was a Christian but underestimated George's allegiance to his faith. Eventually, George was promoted to the rank of Tribunus and set upon a career that would likely end up with him in a powerful political position within the Roman empire. Further, he served as one of the Emperor's personal guards and soldiers--living into Geronzio's favor with Diocletian. While in this position he had many opportunities to use his wealth and influence to better the lives of those with whom he came into contact. At one point he arrived in a village of non-Christians who had taken to a bloodthirsty ritual of human sacrifice. They would cast lots and the young woman who was indicated by the lots would be sacrificed to appease the dark god they feared. When George arrived he was stricken at the ruthlessness of such a ritual and stopped them in the midst of their ceremony of slaughter. He spoke at length with not only the leaders but the assembled crowds and told a story of a God who did not demand blood and death but had, instead, given blood and died so that we might be forgiven. At his words, their hearts turned and they abandoned their ways of death and many came within the fold of the Christian faith. They gave over their allegiance to a slaughtered and risen Lord and gave up faith and hope in slaughter and domination. For this he was labeled a hero because he had slain the dark beast that dwelt within them and brought them into the way of life more abundant and free.
Tragically for both George and Diocletian, Diocletian began to be swayed by Galerius and his own fear of a loss in power. Having heard so many lies about the Christians, Diocletian issued a command throughout the army. All soldiers were to give a sacrifice to the roman gods and values to demonstrate their allegiance and deny any faith in the Christian God. Those who refused were to be executed as Christians and traitors to the Roman army. Diocletian was stuck deciding between his beloved friend George whom he knew as a Christian and the power he hoped to consolidate with this bloody edict. He begged George to renounce his faith and offered him great gifts of land, money, and slaves if he would give his greatest allegiance to Diocletian and Rome. George refused and still Diocletian begged. Diocletian still offered him his most persuasive gifts but George did the incredible by giving away all that he already owned to the poor and to the Church that he had served so eagerly and willingly. He was tortured and finally he was beheaded so that Rome might make a statement about power. Eventually, George was turned over to the executioners with many other Christians for torture and death.However, Rome and Diocletian also made an unintentional statement about the faith of the Christians of whom they made martyrs. George died in good company and died so that others might know there was more to death than a grave and more to life than comfort.
Saturday, April 22, 2017
April 22 - Corrie ten Boom and Family, Friends of Refugees, Opponents of the Nazis, Righteous Among the Nations
When Corrie ten Boom heard the knocking at the door she checked to make sure that the family was ready for her to open it. This was a habit--and a good one--because they never knew who might be standing outside their door in Haarlem, Holland, in the year 1942. The Nazis and their brutal gestapo were always keen on surprise searches and raids. So, a family like Corrie's knew that they should tie down any loose ends--or visible refugees--before they opened the door. The challenge was, of course, making sure that there wasn't much hesitation in answering the door, however, because the Nazis were always looking for an excuse to rationalize their violating searches. Casting glances around her--while her family did the same--she decided that they were ready for whoever might be on the other side of the door. As the door swung open and obscured her view she readied herself to be courageous and to stand by her faith regardless of who waited for her on the threshold. As her expectation turned to vision, she was glad to see a finely dressed woman in traveling clothes with a briefcase. She didn't need the woman to tell her what she was there for but she knew it was important to the woman to say. The woman told Corrie that she was a Jew--quietly so that any nearby informants might not have cause to run to the Nazis--and that her husband had been arrested by the Nazis. After finding a hiding place for their son she had left the watchful eye of her city's predators and arrived at the house of Corrie and her family seeking refuge and a sanctuary. Corrie led her inside without a moment's hesitation.
Corrie and her family were committed to offering a haven of protection for those that the State despised and abused. They had given refuge to Jews and members of the Dutch resistance for over two years by the point that the young woman arrived on their doorstep. They had a special place in their home--a small room accessed in Corrie's closet--where those that the Nazis pursued could hide when they inevitably came looking. Otherwise, they were the honored guests of Corrie and her family. They observed the Sabbath with their guests and kept their kitchen kosher so that they might not present any problem to those the world called refugees and they called brothers and sisters. Their Christian convictions led them to understand the Jews as their kin and family--the chosen people of God to whom they had been joined by their faith. However, as this heroic work continued they were presented with a challenge. The members of Corrie's family each had a ration card but none of the Jews were ever given ration cards. This meant that they had a limited amount of food for an increasing number of people. They shared what they had but it wasn't enough.
Corrie, who was known to say not only "Let God's promises shine on your problems" but, also,"Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God" went at night to a man who was a government employee and was connected to the ration cards. Corrie had once cared for this man's mentally handicapped daughter and had even run a special Church service for the girl and others like her. She had shown love and kindness to another of those whom the world avoids and fears and in doing had shown God to the girl and her mother and father. She knocked on his door and began to tell her story but eventually he cut her off because he knew what she must be preparing to ask him for. He asked her how many cards she needed. She had been planning on asking for five because that would have made the situation at home much easier. But, then when she went to say how many she needed she realized that she had an opportunity to expand her family's ability to protect those they loved.She asked for one hundred and received the man's help with some hesitation.
Eventually, their goodness became public knowledge and shortly thereafter a Dutch informant sold them out to the Nazis. The Nazis raided the house and took the family captive along with all their beloved guests. Corrie and her family were sent to Scheveningen prison for their efforts and her already ailing father died only ten days into his captivity. Corrie's nephew, brother, and younger sister were all released after some time in prison but Corrie and her older sister were transferred first to Vught concentration camp and finally to Ravensbruck. Corrie's older sister died at Ravensbruck but, perhaps sensing Corrie's growing desperation, she told her: "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still." Inspired by her sister's faith, she continued offering comfort and solace to those she was captive with until she was released--because of a clerical error--on Christmas Day in the year 1944. They had not meant to release her but they did and so she was spared the death that was scheduled for her in a week's time.
Perhaps the most shocking moment, though, came two years later when she was in Germany and brought face to face with one of the guards from Ravensbruck. She was immediately furious with him but this would not last. Instead, she reminded herself of her call to love and forgive even her enemies and that "Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart." She forgave the man and held his hands and prayed for him. She would look back at this event for the remainder of her career as a speaker and storyteller as the one moment when she most felt the love of God surging through her. In that moment, she had slipped the bonds of broken sinfulness and attained to the great calling that Jesus had placed upon her life: to redeem a broken and sinful world by laying down herself and loving others.
Friday, April 21, 2017
Anselm's home life was troubled when he was a little boy. His mother--Ermenberga--took the role of educator and spiritual director for Anselm and guided him on the path that led to being a disciple of her Lord Jesus. From his mother, Anselm learned the power of obedience and the high calling that God has placed upon his life. Consequently, Anselm also learned the gravity of his own sin and the frustration of his own brokenness from his dear mother. However, his father--Gundulph--owned much property and felt the weight and burden of noble birth and blood. Much had been given to Gundulph by the powers of this world and so much more was expected of him. Gundulph expected his son Anselm to help him bear these burdens of affluence and become more like himself and less like the heroes of the faith his wife taught. Anselm was less impressed by his father's view of things but he was captivated by a vision born to him from his mother: serving God as a monk. When he expressed this desire to his father, Gundulph was adamant that this could not be the place where his son would end up. He forbade his son to go and Anselm was heartbroken at his father's refusal.
He felt a distinct calling to go and to be what it was that God willed but he also felt obligated to honor his father even when his father didn't have his best interests in mind. Perhaps he still held out hope for a change in his father's mind or perhaps his mother advised him to continue growing spiritually where he was until God opened a door for him to go elsewhere and serve God. Regardless, he gave up his studies and became a man of leisure. This must have simultaneously comforted and frustrated Gundulph who was happy still to have his son nearby to work and be groomed for his own burdens but distressed that his son seemed given to either a monastic life or a life of nothing of consequence. Gundulph had got what he wanted but it tasted bitter once he had it. Some years later--years full of Anselm's uninterested participation in Gundulph's dreams--Ermenberga died and both father and son were cut deeply by the loss. Without Ermenberga, Anselm found it hard to continue to relate to his father and Gundulph could find no way back to reconciliation with his son. Gundulph became more unbearable at home and began lashing out at Anselm. Eventually, Anselm left home and traveled West through the Alps before arriving at a monastery in France. He became a monk over a decade after his first calling and attempt.
Eventually, he would become abbot of his community and begin to take positions of leadership within the Church. His highest position would be becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury and regularly wrestling the English authorities for control of the Church. Wherever he served and worked became a place of education and spiritual formation. Many of his writings have survived to this day and are read widely by those interested in what became known as Scholastic theology. Anselm's writings possessed a character of a hopeful seeker of truth who found that understanding and knowledge could only be found through the lens and filter of faith. In his writings he advanced many theological positions including a detailed understanding of the doctrines of substitutionary atonement in his work entitled Cur Deus Homo ("Why God Became Human"). Though he is best known as an author, theologian, and archbishop it should not be forgotten that he was also one of the earliest opponents of the atrocities that would be called "The Crusades." He took criticism for this stance but he maintained anyway. He died on this day 900 years ago and has been considered a "Doctor of the Church" for nearly 289 years.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Justin Martyr was born in a place known as Flavia Neapolis some 70 miles away from Jerusalem. But he was thoroughly influenced by the Greeks and Romans in his birth, childhood, and upbringing. Evidently his family was of some influence and considerable wealth because he had the relative luxury of an education in a time when education was a nice thing largely available only to the wealthy and powerful. He excelled in his studies and moved on to study philosophy in an anxious pursuit of wisdom and truth. He professed to be a lover of wisdom but at times it must have been easier to believe he was a lover of the comfort and security that money and education afforded him. Justin sought truth but found it nowhere that he looked until a Christian--one of those that Rome abhorred and detested--began to speak with him about the faith that he or she professed. Justin asked his questions and wondered openly if it might not be the case that this Jesus was right when he claimed to be "The Truth." As he studied the faith of the Christians more and more he found himself falling further and further into the grips of a faith that enlivened and comforted him in ways that influence, money, and acclaim could not. Soon, he became a convert and made it well known to his colleagues, peers, and students that he was no longer on a philosophical quest to find truth because he had met "The Truth."
He identified himself in his numerous writings as a Samaritan even though he was most definitely a Roman citizen and he had been raised to serve and follow the gods of his father and his father's father. Perhaps he identified himself as a Samaritan because he knew that in his faith he was the unlikely heir of the covenant promised to Abraham and others. He knew that he had been grafted into a story that was not his own but was, in fact, a story that ended in redemption and resurrection. Thus, he was an outsider who had been loved and cared for by Jesus and and he was an outsider that was on the route that led to salvation and healing. Or, perhaps, he identified himself as a Samaritan because he longed to live into the role of the Good Samaritan that Jesus had talked about. Perhaps Justin hoped to go where others refused to go to be with those the world rejected so that he might find Christ among the stranger and refugee. Regardless, he continued living a life of a philosopher and rhetorician but his speech turned to a testimony of what God had done in Jesus and what God wanted to do in the lives of those who heard Justin's words.
Given the incredible position that Justin had within Roman society he began to deliver the Gospel to ears that might never have heard it. He argued that while Rome was killing Christians it was missing the point and pronouncing Christians evil while being seduced to do so by evil itself. He insisted that Christians were not evil and were, in fact, following after "The Truth" even while others failed to see it. Eventually he was arrested for having the audacity to say such things as: "We pray for our enemies; we seek to persuade those who hate us without cause to live conformably to the goodly precepts of Christ, that they may become partakers with us of the joyful hope of blessings from God, the Lord of all." and "Wherein is it possible for us, wicked and impious creatures, to be justified, except in the only Son of God? O sweet reconciliation! O untraceable ministry! O unlooked-for blessing! that the wickedness of many should be hidden in one godly and righteous man, and the righteousness of one justify a host of sinners!"
Finally, those whom he preached to brought him to trial with other soon-to-be martyrs. The prefect said to them, "Sacrifice to the gods or you will be mercilessly tortured."
Justin replied, "Nobody in their right mind would give up faith for apostasy and your merciless torture is what we desire because it leads to our salvation and gives us confidence to face a greater trial--the judgment to which all men will come before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Then he joined with the others to be martyrs and invited the Romans to do whatever it was that they desired since they professed the Christian faith and refused to become apostates and sacrifice to the idols. So, they were tortured mercilessly and finally beheaded as an example to the Roman citizens of how evil the Christians were and how good the Romans were.