Saturday, June 30, 2012
Potamiana was a Christian in Alexandria, Egypt, in the year 205 A.D. But Potamiana's faith amounted to far more than conviction and tolerated practice. No, faith for Potamiana was a likely death sentence. After all, the prefects and rulers of Roman Alexandria were more than willing to execute Rome's harshest forms of punishment upon those that Rome had declared enemies of the State--such as Christians who refused to make sacrifices to the Roman gods and values. So, Potamiana was condemned to suffer and die for her faith when she continued to abstain from the commanded idolatry of Rome. The prefect wanted Potamiana to be boiled to death in pitch slowly but he first wanted the woman to be raped by some gladiators because of her continued insistence that she was consecrated to celibacy by her faith in a foreign power: her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So, she was placed into the hands and care of one of the Roman soldiers, one that the prefect trusted and who had become known as something of a loyal official within the court, named Basilides. Basilides was willing to make sacrifice before the idols and values of Rome and was given his charge over Potamiana so that she might suffer and die for her refusal.
Basilides took her from the court of the prefect and knew that she was first to go and be raped before being taken to the place of her public and gory execution. On the way, though, Basilides began to have second thoughts about the brutality of his orders. She had kept her virginity as a type of offering before the Christian God she worshiped and although Basilides didn't have the same reverence for her God he respected the tenacity she held. She showed unexpected bravery for a woman facing certain, gruesome death. So, Basilides did something very surprising--perhaps because he was ashamed at the idea of having the woman raped in addition to executed, perhaps because he wanted to get the whole thing over with sooner rather than later, or perhaps because he wanted to show Potamiana mercy--he bypassed the gladiators and took her directly to the spot of her death. Potamiana thanked Basilides and returned to her prayers as they walked to Rome's bloody altar where she would be turned over to death in the name of the Roman values and convictions. The crowds screamed at her and insulted this traitor to Rome as she walked the last few hundred yards. Basilides commanded the worst of them to stop and they did, for the most part. When they tried to throw stones and garbage at her he stepped in between her and the crowd knowing that none of these crowd would have the courage to throw such things at an emissary of the Empire. Once Potamiana was handed over for execution she was slowly lowered into a cauldron of burning pitch but she thanked Basilides for his kindness and mercy and promised that she would pray for him and for his conversion.
Potamiana died a martyr and Basilides went home shaken by her words and bravery. She had faced death without a tremor of fear and with a confidence that he wasn't certain he and others could have mustered in a similar situation. The love and forgiveness she had offered to those around her even as she was shown nothing but brutality and hatred haunted his thoughts. She had called his actions merciful even though Basilides was still leading her to her death in chains. A few nights after her death he a dream wherein Potamiana appeared and assured him that she was still praying for him and that she would gladly welcome him when he followed after her. Basilides knew what she meant and in the morning he sought out a priest and was converted to the faith of Potamiana and away from the faith of the empire. He knew intimately that there was a cost associated with such an audacious act but he paid it willingly. After his baptism, he went to his fellow soldiers and proclaimed his new found faith to them. At first they thought he was joking but their laughter turned to amazement when he insisted that he was telling the truth. Being loyal to the gods and values of Rome they turned him over to their rulers so that they might not incur Rome's condemnation themselves. Basilides was beheaded for being convinced of the faith of the one he had escorted to death--a faith that offered mercy even for the greatest of sinners and forgiveness and love even for enemies.
Friday, June 29, 2012
"Simon Peter, listen to me," Jesus spoke earnestly, "The Adversary hungers for a chance to destroy you along with all of your brothers and sisters so that there will be nobody left to pick up the pieces. But, I've been praying that your faith will not ultimately fail you." Peter was perplexed by the sudden change in Jesus' attention and insistence. It almost sounded like Jesus was saying that Peter's faith would fail him soon and Jesus was hoping it wouldn't be forever. Jesus continued, "Once you have turned your back on me I pray you will regain your faith and use it to give comfort and courage to the other disciples--your brothers and sisters."
Peter was awestruck that Jesus was assuming some imminent abandonment. He was offended that Jesus would suggest such a thing when, from what Peter could tell, he had been a good follower and disciple. In fact, he must have assumed that he was clearly one of the leaders among the group. Though Jesus' words confirmed this they also insisted that failure was stalking him in the fog of the unknown that always lies ahead of us. Peter insisted, "Lord! Even if it means going to prison or, God forbid, dying, then I will never turn my back on you."
Jesus shook his head sadly, held Peter's over-confident gaze for a moment and said softly, "I assure you Peter that, three times even before the sun comes up, you'll deny only only our bond and connection but even that you ever met me." Having made this unpleasant pronouncement, Jesus moved on to other teachings. Later that night he was arrested and even though Peter had tried to defend him with his own sword, Jesus had insisted that this was the way things were supposed to be. Peter must have burned with rage at Judas as the man walked away from the whole incident richer for having sold out his supposedLord. Perhaps he vowed that he would not do the same as Judas and so he followed Jesus by stealth so that he could keep his eye on Jesus and wait for the signal to fight back and overcome Jesus' accusers and captors.
While he waited for that moment he began to feel the cold of the night and so he gathered around a nearby fire that some of the interested members of the crowd had built for warmth. He must have seemed distracted as he constantly looked to the face of Jesus among his captors as they tried and abused him. Perhaps while his attention was on the face of his Lord--who seemed intent on refusing to defend himself before their ridiculous charges--a servant girl was staring at him as if she knew him. She whispered to the small crowd, "I saw this man traveling with the one they're going to crucify."
Peter heard it and a little fear crept up his spine and encouraged him to defend himself before her not-quite-accusation. "Him?" he began, "I've never even met the guy." He said it because he must have known that attracting attention to himself would keep him from keeping his eyes on Jesus in anticipation of the revolution Jesus would indubitably start any moment. So, Peter told a lie in pursuit of what he deemed the "greater good" or being able to devote his fullattention to what he expected Jesus would soon be doing. After all, it could happen at any moment and he didn't want to miss the signal.
But, then, another member of the crowd who had heard the servant girl took a more interested look at Peter. The man said, "You know, I think you're right. I think he's one of the disciples of that man. I'm sure I've seen him in that crowd." Now, Peter knew that the crowd was honing in on him and would soon label him a friend of Jesus. Peter knew that he couldn't help Jesus if he, too, ended up in the same dangerous position on trial before the powerful and influential. So, he decided again to tell a lie to protect himself and, in his own estimation, to protect Jesus' plan. He denied knowing Jesus louder and more forcefully. This seemed to work and so they left Peter alone because he seemed angry and unapproachable. Peter continued to watch and wait for a signal from Jesus but Jesus continued to walk the path that Peter was confident would end in his death.
After another hour of light conversation and discussion one of the men in the crowd finally came to a decision. He had agreed that Peter looked like one of the disciples of Jesus but wanted to hear Peter talk more to see if he could place his accent. Finally, the man yelled his accusation, "You guys are right! Listen to him talk...he's clearly from Galilee and you know that the man they're going to crucify spent a lot of time there. They say his disciples were from there."
Peter was furious that the crowd would not simply leave him alone so that he could do the will of God and wait for Jesus to tell him what to do. Instead, they wanted to make these accusations and get in the way. In his anger he spat out at the crowd, "You don't know what you're talking about! I don't know the man." As the last word left his lips, though, he heard the crow of a rooster and realized with a sudden and damnable certainty that Jesus' prediction had come true even as Peter had tried to remain loyal and wait for Jesus' signal. He gasped and turned to look upon the face of Jesus--who was now staring at him with a strange mixture of grief and hope. Peter realized what he had done and ran from the place weeping as he had never before--and would never again. In the pursuit of his will disguised as God's will he had betrayed the one he had vowed never to abandon.
After Jesus was crucified, Peter remembered the second part of what he had said. Even as the hour of his death approached, Jesus had held out the opportunity for mercy and forgiveness. Peter knew that there was healing even for a soul as sick with sin as he was. After the resurrection of God all things were made clear to Peter and the disciples he now led and comforted. He was brought back into the fold of discipleship with two commands that stand now for all Christians (who are, even now, both deniers and confessors of Christ): "feed my sheep" and "follow me." Peter would follow his Lord for the rest of his life until his martyrdom where he was crucified upside down at his own request so that his death could not be compared to that of Jesus.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Irenaeus was not the typical bishop in the early Christian Church. He had been born in the early second century in what they knew as Asian Minor and what we call Turkey. Specifically, he was born in Smyrna to Greek parents. Yet the oddity in his pedigree was that he was the son of Christian parents in a time when most of the Church's leaders were adult converts. Irenaeus was raised in the Faith in which he became a spiritual leader and teacher and was able to take that which had been passed onto him by his parents and teachers and give it to others. Irenaeus was the study of Polycarp in Smyrna. In fact, Irenaeus was considered one of Polycarp's prize students. Polycarp,himself, had been the student of John the Apostle. Thus, Irenaeus understood his faith to be founded directly in the teachings of Jesus though his teacher and his teacher's teacher. The education he received from his teachers, his family, and his congregation was a gift that he treasured and handled carefully. But Irenaeus knew that the gift of truth could not simply be kept for himself but belonged in the hands of those who had ears to hear and eyes to see.
Irenaeus was an opponent of heresy but a lover of heretics. The particular heresy that Irenaeus resisted so avidly was that of the gnostics. They insist that the material nature of humanity and creation is by its very definition corrupt and evil. They go so far as to assert that Jesus only appeared to be human because the physical and the spiritual could have no union if the being was to be called "good." But, Irenaeus insisted that there was no salvation if Jesus was not fully human because the power of Jesus' blood-bought redemption was in the incarnation and theincredible physicality of the event. About the heretics he opposed he wrote:
"Such are the adversaries with whom we have to deal, my very dear friend, endeavouring like slippery serpents to escape at all points. Where-fore they must be opposed at all points, if per-chance, 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."So, Irenaeus opposed the heretics in an attempt to bring the Truth alongside their errors so that they might escape the way of death and destruction and begin the journey of conversion that Irenaeus walked with the help of his teachers.
Irenaeus lived in a period of time when being Christian had a steep cost. Martyrs were being made among those who professed faith in Jesus and the ministers of the early Church were constantly working to avoid detection and execution. He was sent from Smyrna to Lyons where he was made a bishop and leader in the Church. He was relatively safe in Lyons in the late second century but he was still forced to deal with both severe persecution and public distrust. He wrote prolifically and intelligently so that others could benefit from his teachings and reasoning but he did not value philosophy over the teaching of the Holy Spirit. In fact, he often insisted that, though philosophy had its place, there was no faith without the movement of the Spirit. Therefore, even though he was a contemporary of Justin Martyr he was not, necessarily, in total agreement with him. About the Kingdom to which he aspired and which the world misunderstood he wrote:
"And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid."Irenaeus didn't need to say anything more about the Kingdom they sought to a world that so easily misunderstood it, its teachings, and its values--a Kingdom growing quickly by the teachings of those intimately connected to Jesus through a line of teachers and leaders.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Sampson's parents were wealthy Christians in Rome after the Edict of Milan. It was the fifth century when Sampson was born and when he received his education.Like many children of wealthy and influential parents in Rome, Sampson received a broad and diverse education in the natural sciences, humanities, and other secular disciplines. At home he was educated and brought up in the faith of his parents and the martyrs who had passed from this world with courage and perseverance. The discipline that Sampson most loved was that of medicine and though it was not as sophisticated as what we might call medicine today it was still a challenging and rewarding field of study for any who dared to pursue it. In his study Sampson found that he had a talent for medicine and a passion to help and heal people. Just as he was starting to ply his new trade his parents died and their many possessions and servants were left to him. Sensing God's call Sampson decided to give away his new found wealth and release his parents' servants from their service. He entered willingly into a kind of poverty that was profound and entirely unexpected. Furthermore, his decision was largely unexplainable for the people who knew Sampson and his medical gifts--they must have wondered if he had lost his mind to give away so much to take upon himself the yoke of poverty.
Having been freed from the hooks of the world that bound him to a perpetual race to consume and produce, he set out from Rome for the East. As he traveled, he offered healing and comfort to the sick and dying he met along the way. God provided for his needs both from among those he healed and from other Christian congregations along his path. While he journeyed, though, he began to feel God calling him to a specific location. When he had set out he simply felt God's will leading him eastward but as he drew close to Constantinople he felt an irresistible pull toward the confines of that great city and its teeming masses of sick and homeless. He continued healing and taking care of the sick and homeless in Constantinople for some time until he obtained a home through the charity of others. Once given a home he turned it into a shelter for those without homes or places to live. Each wanderer and sick person was welcome in the home of Sampson as he endeavored to treat each person that came to his home as he would treat Jesus himself. Eventually, the church in Constantinople ordained Sampson--the itinerant worker of healing and wonders--as a priest of the Church.
Shortly thereafter, the emperor Justinian the Great himself had a dream. Justinian was very sick and could find no relief from his illness. In Justinian's dream he was directed by God to find the man they were calling Sampson the Hospitable. Justinian was assured that if Sampson would simply lay his hand upon the infected area of Justinian then he would be healed from it. Justinian went out the next day looking for Sampson among the medical community but could not find him in any of the places he expected to find physicians.Eventually, he overheard a homeless man talking of healing and Justinian was able to determine he was speaking of Sampson. He was perplexed that a great physician would heal without charge but asked the man where he could find Sampson. When he found him he was healed nearly immediately and without charge. Justinian offered him a fortune in compensation but Sampson refused it--he worked for free and by the will of God. Instead, Sampson asked Justinian to build a hospice for the poor, the sick, and the dying in Constantinople. Justinian did it gladly and Sampson became its first resident healer and caretaker. Every day its doors were open to those who needed healing and treatment but had no money to offer in payment. Money was not the motivation in Sampson's hospice but, rather, it was the will of God for humans to care for humans and in doing so, to find redemption through love.Sampson died peacefully years later but his hospice would continue to operate for over 600 more years.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
At the sound of the church bell Germaine knew that she should hurry. It was a long way from the field where she was tending sheep to the church where she would receive the Eucharist and worship the God who had been born, murdered, and raised from the dead. With her deformed hand and the sores and marks upon her neck from her scrofula Germaine knew she would attract attention from the crowds--as she usually did--but Germaine was undeterred from their confused and disgusted looks because she knew that Jesus welcomed her into his presence and waited patiently for all his sheep to return home. What mostly amazed the crowds, though, was that such a woman as Germain--who had clearly suffered and had reason to doubt the existence of grace and goodness--seemed so eager to extol the abounding love of God. So, Germaine took her staff in hand and planted it firmly into the soft soil of the pasture. Looking around at the many sheep in her care Germaine offered a prayer to God confidently asking for God's protection over those placed in hers.Though there were wolves in the nearby forest who would gladly consume the sheep she had no fear of them because God had always protected the animals under her care at her request. Having handed their lives over to God Germaine made haste to get to the church before the service started.
That night after finishing her work in the field and having returned the sheep to their owner Germaine made her way back home to her father's farm.Germaine's mother had died when she was only an infant but her father had remarried and as sheapproached she could tell that her stepbrothers and stepsisters were just then sitting down to their nightly meal with her father and stepmother. She didn't bother to go into the home, though, because she knew she would be unwelcome. From the first day that her stepmother had arrived in her father's home she had outcast Germaine partly for fear that her deformity and disease--a form of tuberculosis that attacked the lymph nodes in her neck--might be passed on to her own children and partly because she was the daughter of her new husband's first wife and represented a love and life beyond her domination. Germaine's father caved to his new wife's insistence and Germaine was forced to sleep in the farm's stable or in a nearby tree. If she was exceptionally lucky and it was exceptionally cold she was occasionally allowed to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs of the home. She was fed a meager allowance of bread and water and often punished severely with scalding water by her stepmother for perceived slights and imagined wrongs. She accepted her stepmother's abuse and prayed that she might be healed from the illness of soul that produced such evil within her.
Each day Germaine went out to live the lonely life of a shepherdess and bring home what little money she made to her father and stepmother. The small amount of bread and water afforded to her was often far less than she needed but she was still quick to give it away to those she met who were hungry. On more than one occasion Germaine prayed over the bread and multiplied it so that the many children who had come to learn the Faith from her--as they often did without the fear and disgust of their parents--might eat with her, as well. She never missed a service of worship at the church and was thankful for the little kindnesses she occasionally received from passersby and from the clergy.Germaine prayed simply ("Dear God, please don't let me be too hungry or too thirsty. Help me to please my mother. And help me to please you.") but had a faith in God's goodness and providence that was both unexpected and unshakable. One night her father finally came to his senses and decided to go and bring his daughter--now twenty-two years old--in from the cold to sleep in a bed in his and her own home. He tried for a while but Germaine resisted her father's mercy because she knew her stepmother still refused. One morning he went to rouse her from her sleep in the tree because she had not awakened at her usual time. He found her dead from a combination of abuse and exposure. Germaine died without the comfort of her family but within the embrace of her Lord and Savior.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Peter was the second son of Yuri Vladimirovich the prince of Murom in what we might now call Russia. Eventually he became the prince of Murom himself. He had been raised in the Christian faith by his family and friends and this provided him some comfort but it did not immediately address Peter's most pressing issue: the leprosy he had contracted shortly before taking the throne. Each day presented fantastic opportunities for a prince like Peter and his faith instructed him to use his power to take care of those who had been outcast. He had a calling and was equipped to do God's will for his life but he struggled daily under the burden of his disease. Likewise he prayed daily for either healing from or understanding of this burden. One night after many days in God's service as prince of Murom he received an answer to his prayers that offered both healing and understanding. He was told that there was a woman who was the daughter of a beekeeper and a peasant named Febronia. If he would go to her, then she would work a wonder over him and heal him. Peter went to find her the next day.
When Peter saw Febronia he gasped at her beauty. As prince had been surrounded by pretty women who were both alluring and flirtatious.Yet in Febronia he saw something different--she was only a peasant but there was a beauty within her that seemed to shine only for Peter.For a moment he forgot all about anticipated healing and sought only to talk to this woman who so thoroughly captivated him. Each day he would return to her home only to rest in her presence and learn more and more of who she was and what she believed.He was encouraged to learn she was a Christian but was even more encouraged by the fact that she held no disgust for his leprous appearance and, in fact, seemed to see some beauty within him that had been made only for her. Peter told Febronia about his vision and she seemed humbled by the very thought that God would use her to heal a prince. She agreed to pray over him and to serve God's will by fulfilling God's promise of healing. But before she could pray, Peter asked her to marry him after she was done working God's wonder over him. She agreed to his proposal and then prayed for his healing as his beloved fiance. Peter was healed at the request of his beloved--made whole by the love of another and the will of God--and soon the two were married.
There was one very big problem with this fairytale romance, however. The Russian nobles detested the very thought that a noble prince would marry a peasant. Even worse was Peter's clear infatuation and devotion to Febronia who they viewed as an unworthy commoner. They came to Peter and they urged him to cast his peasant wife aside. They appealed to his sense of tradition and nobility but this proved unsuccessful.They encouraged him to be thankful to Febronia for the healing--perhaps even pay her handsomely--but not to persist in marriage to a woman unable to attain nobility by their standards. Peter stoutly refused and remained committed not only to his beloved wife but also to their common faith which taught them the value of devotion and vows. So, Peter and Febronia were forced out of Murom and they traveled by boat away from the city. In their travels and wanderings they knew that they were "home" as long as they were with each other. They performed miracles and wonders as they traveled and their reputation not only as wonder-workers but, also, as devoted husband and wife spread. They died as they had lived--together and within the same hour. They were buried in the same grave for they shared one life.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Perhaps nobody in the history of Christianity has so clearly understood the power of humor and wit to indicate truth as Gilbert Keith Chesterton did. G.K., as he was known, was a writer who was also dubbed the "prince of paradox" because of his uncanny ability to formulate short but insightful sentences that seemed, at first, to smack of wrongness only to give way to sublime truth. He was educated in both art and literature but never received a degree in either subject. Instead, he became associated with publishing houses and freelance journalism. He had been raised a nominal Christian but found himself fascinated by religious and philosophical subjects from a relatively young age. Consequently, he "drifted" closer and closer to the Church as the years wore on and his writings led him closer and closer to Truth. He was an apologist of a sort that was difficult to confront. His humility and compassion in the presence of his opponents presented them with ample opportunities to demonstrate their own conceit or ruthlessness if any was present in them. It wasn't enough for G.K. to win arguments and debate--he truly wanted to love people even as he contradicted them.
G.K. wrote many books--both fiction and non-fiction--which are still reprinted and read today. Once he was asked by the writers of the British newspaper The Times to add his voice to a chorus of highly regarded thinkers and speakers on the subject: "What's wrong with the world?" The great minds of the day were given room to make their arguments for inherent flaws of the world as they saw it. G.K., however, took a different approach and tendered the briefest of all responses when he wrote:
"Dear Sirs,Though it was clearly a humorous and witty response, it was also a statement of G.K.'s deeply held Christian convictions. In this witty response, G.K. was able to insist upon the fallen nature of humanity and its own need for redemption from some outside source. The humor of the letter enabled its message to slip by the intellectual defenses of the readers and lodge a particularly potent paradox within their minds.
G.K. can only truly be understood by reading his work and contributions to the faith. Accordingly, I will close with a selection of some of my favorite quotes:
"By a curious confusion, many modern critics have passed from the proposition that a masterpiece may be unpopular to the other proposition that unless it is unpopular it cannot be a masterpiece."
“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”
“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.”
“You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.”
“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”
“The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”
“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”
“There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”
“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”
“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”
“It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Ferdinand--for this was the name Anthony of Padua was known by for many of his years--had turned his back on the life appointed for him by his noble and wealthy parents in favor of a life of monastic discipline and devotion. He received a competent education in the Augustinian school but in doing so turned down the excellent education offered by his family's connections and influence. Regardless of the opportunities offered to him, though, Ferdinand was only willing to live the life that God had called him to live. In pursuit of his calling, he became the monk in charge of hospitality at the Augustinian abbey of Saint Vincent outside the city walls of Lisbon, Portugal. One night he gave rest and comfort to five Franciscan monks who were traveling for Morocco to preach to the Muslim inhabitants there. Ferdinand was energized by their clearly passionate obedience to the calling God had placed upon their lives even in the face of probable death. He was not surprised when he soon hosted them again--though this time it was their corpses he cared for--at the abbey as they were sent home from the mission field as martyrs. Each of the men had died for a Kingdom that places demands on its citizens and a Lord who promised life through death. Impressed as he was by their bravery and commitment, he asked for and received permission to leave the Augustinian abbey and become a Franciscan monk. Upon this occasion, he took the name Anthony.
Anthony had become a Franciscan so that he might follow in the footsteps of the men whose callings had been so clear and sacrifices so definitive. He soon set out to travel to Morocco to take up the calling of the men who had been martyred. Anthony made this decision knowing that his own martyrdom was the likely outcome of such a calling but he went willingly and eagerly. While traveling, however, he became severely ill and was forced to turn around and return to Portugal to seek medical attention and time to recover. Anthony was heartbroken that he would be turned back fromMorocco and what he perceived to be his calling but he did so knowing that God's will could not be frustrated and that if it was God's will for him to go to Morocco then he would find his way there. Yet again, though, circumstances changed for Anthony when his ship was wrecked on the coast of Sicily. Anthony had no connection to Sicily but it seemed as nice a place as any for him to recover and continue his life of monastic service and devotion. He had the opportunity to go to Assisi and after the occasion of his presence passed he remained there as a servant of God who seemed lost in his calling. Anthony must have felt adrift in God's plan to be so far from home and so far from anywhere he had ever imagined God guiding him. In Italy Anthony was an unknown and of no consequence. Yet, Anthony continued to wait for God to do God's will and allow him to join into the work of the Kingdom in the world--he was content to wait on God's guidance because he trusted that God's calling upon him was true and complete.
Anthony ended up in San Paolo because of his illness and his relative obscurity among Italian Franciscans. One day a group of Dominicans and Franciscans gathered together for the purposes of an ordination. The Franciscans had assumed that surely the Dominicans would be prepared to preach--after all, the Dominicans were the Order of Preachers. The Dominicans had assumed the Franciscans would have a preacher since they were hosting the day. Consequently, nobody was prepared to preach on the occasion of the ordination. The monks decided that humble Anthony would preach and he objected to their insistence. They overruled him, though, and he was compelled by his obedience to his brothers and his Lord to do as they asked. He ascended to the pulpit and swallowed nervously. Finally, he began preaching whatever it was that the Holy Spirit directed him to say. At first, it was halting and hesitant but as the Spirit gripped Anthony the words came clearly and powerfully through him to the attentive audience. They were astonished at the clarity of the words he brought forth on that day and he gained a reputation of spirited preacher in the small community. His reputation began to spread from that day and soon he was not only preaching sermons to the many who were desperate to hear words of hope, faith, and love but he was also working wonders in the crowds that came to see him. The man who feared he had missed God's calling found it seemingly by accident when called upon to preach the Word of God. For the rest of his life he preached and worked wonders and lived into the wondrous calling God had known from before his birth and Anthony only found out a day at a time.
Friday, June 22, 2012
It's hard to guess why Alban had agreed to shelter Amphibalus. Maybe he didn't know whyAmphibalus needed a place to live or maybe he did and thought that he might be compensated for his charity.Perhaps, he wanted to be kind to a man who was obviously in need. Regardless, though he was a Roman soldier and loyal to the Roman gods and values, Alban invited the Christian priest Amphibalus into his home and gave him both a place to sleep and meals to eat. As is the case for those who demonstrate love through hospitality, he began to genuinely question Amphibalus on matters both mundane and essential. Soon, Amphibalus made it clear to Alban that he was a Christian priest and he carried with him a story greater than any Rome could offer. Alban was intrigued by the simultaneous confidence and humility of the priest and he listened attentively as Amphibalus both prayed and explained the Faith that was so dear to him. He learned that Amphibalus was on the run from the emperor and the terrible imperial decree of death and destruction for those who dared to swear their allegiance to any Kingdom besides Rome. Alban knew that his lords had labeled this man a traitor and criminal but the life giving story he told suggested that perhaps it was Rome that had it all wrong. Soon, Alban was converted to the faith of the priest and baptized. He had made a decision to condemn himself in the eyes of Rome for the hope of mercy and life more abundant.
The next morning Roman soldiers arrived at the place where Amphibalus had been hiding and they knocked on the door of Alban's home with orders from the emperor. Before he opened the door, Alban made an important decision. He had heard the story of Amphibalus and the Lord Jesus and knew well that there is no greater love than to lay yourself down for another. So, he took the cloak and hood of Amphibalus while he slept and opened the door silently to greet the representatives of Rome on his threshold. They threw him to the ground and tied his hands behind his back. Alban offered no word to them and, instead, prayed that he might have courage enough to see his plan through to the bloody end. They brought him before the governor and he was beaten severely. As he was beaten his hood fell back from his face and his true identity was revealed. Not only was he not the accused priest but he was, also, a Roman soldier who had apparently allowed himself to be turned over into the hands of the Roman empire to protect a Christian priest. The governor was furious at being fooled and at the audacity of Alban to perpetrate such a scheme. He ordered Alban to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods so that, perhaps, he might have mercy on this fallen soldier. Alban shook his head and uttered the words that signed his death warrant: "I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things." With his profession of faith he had sealed his fate.
He was beaten severely again and then forced to walk to the top of a hill where he would be executed. Being a Roman citizen he was condemned to decapitation at the hands of an executioner. As they walked to that lonely place of death his crimes were intoned to the crowds who watched questioningly. Each step deepened the conviction and shame in the heart of the executioner and he began to ask questions of Alban as to why he was going to give up his life instead of make the same sacrifice he had made so many times before. Alban told the executioner of his own faith and the fundamental conviction that gripped his heart:Jesus who had been executed had been the True God and had died so that sinners might find grace and true life in this world. The executioner was astonished at not only the words of Alban but, also, the confidence with which he walked to his certain death. When they arrived at the place of Alban's death the executioner confessed Jesus as his Lord and refused to be a party to Rome's imperial death sentence. He was arrested by the soldiers and held there to watch as a second executioner finished the task and made a martyr of Alban. Soon thereafter, the executioner joined him in martyrdom. Eventually, Amphibalus was caught, as well, and he suffered the same death in the same place for the same crime of allegiance to the same Lord.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Ephrem was the child of Christian parents who were active in their congregational family in Nisbis. This was a mark in the favor of Ephrem's potential spiritual growth. From birth he was raised hearing the stories of life through death and the redeeming power of pure, unblemished love. We cannot and should not underestimate this for a single moment. Further, the congregation that Ephrem was a part of--and into which he was eventually baptized--was led and cared for by Jacob of Nisbis. Jacob was one of the men who signed the documents of the First Council of Nicea in 325 when Ephrem was almost twenty years old. This meant that Ephrem was learning from one of the pillars of the Church how best to likewise become a great leader of the Church and devoted follower of the Church's bridegroom. He was baptized by Jacob and eventually appointed both deacon and teacher. But Ephrem took an interesting approach to his educational vocation. He did not ask his students to memorize and he did not teach them in the lecturing didactic style so common at the time. Instead, he wrote poetry and hymns. Ephrem was convinced that the great mysteries of God could not be handled with the calculating hands of academia and must be carefully cradled by the hands of the arts. With poetry and music the mysteries of the Faith could flourish and not be "solved" but, instead, be entertained, experienced, and appreciated.
Constantine died in 337 and the Persian ruler Shapur II began to raid the northern portions ofRoman Mesopotamia. These attacks were repelled, according to Ephrem's hymns and poetry, by the mighty prayers of Jacob of Nisbis. But some twenty years later they were picked up again and the Roman empire was willing to make a deal because of the chaos ripping through its power structure in the wake of the death of Julian the Apostate in battle. Since Constantius II was not willing to attend to the needs of the cities of norther Mesopotamia and the new ruler Jovian was willing to sacrifice the cities to save his army, the city of Nisbis was turned over to Shapur with the understanding that its Christian population would be banished. Ephrem led the community in its exile and they eventually landed in Edessa. In Edessa, Ephrem helped to rebuild the congregation and continued to teach them through the wonders of poetry and hymnody.Even as rival teachers tried to engage him in formulaic debate he refused to abandon the world of the arts for the world of academic discourse. He wasn't concerned with winning arguments and solving intellectual puzzles, he was concerned with taking care of the mysteries and proclaiming what amounted to nothing more than foolishness to most.
In the year 373 famine hit Edessa and tore through its occupants with ferocity. A plague resulted from the widespread starvation and death. Ephrem led his congregation to care for the sick, hungry, and dying and did so by example. Eventually, he succumbed to the plague that afflicted those he loved and cared for. Through the years, we still have four-hundred of Ephrem's hymns so we can trust that there were thousands of hymns and poems at his death. He left a legacy of love and mysterious providence behind him to the Church he loved and served. This legacy was inspired in him by the Lord he loved and of whom he wrote:
Your Bread kills the Devourer who had made us his bread,
your Cup destroys death which was swallowing us up.
We have eaten you, Lord, we have drunk you,
not to exhaust you, but to live by you.
See, Lord, my arms are filled with the crumbs from your table;
there is not room left in my lap.
As I kneel before you, hold back your Gift;
Keep it in your storehouse to give us again!
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Sometimes when you have something you feel you must say, it burns in your heart and demands to be loosed. This feeling goes beyond an urge or an inclination and seems to take on a life of its own.It rises from your heart to your throat and rests on your vocal chords just waiting for your will to give it life--if you won't agree to say it then it will eventually recede but leave you with the pervasive feeling that an opportunity was missed. These are the moments when the Holy Spirit seems to rest upon our shoulders and speak every word into our ears--as if God is only using us as a mouthpiece to proclaim the Kingdom of God to a world desperate for liberation. These moments speak powerfully to us, not only in the moment but, also, in the aftermath, and should not be ignored. William Carey had one such moment when he felt a passion for the lost and dying burning within his heart. He knew that Jesus was calling him to speak out at the minister's meeting but he also knew that he was only a young man in his mid-twenties. He didn't want to be taken for a fool among his more senior colleagues who were both respectable and influential.
But, that passion--a question of whether or not the assembled ministers were taking Christ's Great Commission seriously--refused to recede and only burned stronger within him. Soon, William was pinned between two painful options: he could retain the respect and acceptance of his colleagues but quench the movement of the Holy Spirit, or he could speak the words he felt he was called to say and sacrifice his own ambition upon the altar of God's calling.This was a colossal struggle waged within the confines of William's mind and heart as the business of the meeting proceeded. He knew that the assembled ministers were known as "hyper Calvinists" and that they felt that mission work and evangelism was of no use or profit--after all, God would save whoever God wanted to save regardless of what people did. But, William couldn't shake the feeling that Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations was still binding upon Christians even in the eighteenth century. He had become Baptist because of his willingness to dissent from the official State Church but this dissent seemed even more painful and costly. Finally, William cleared his throat and asked the question he had been led to ask: "Gentlemen, is it not our duty--the duty of all Christians--to spread the Gospel to all the world?" Silence flooded into those brief moments after his question as each mind stopped to consider what he had said and formulate a response. In that moment, William felt relief but one of the elder leaders in the group interrupted that cathartic moment with his response, "Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid and mine." This resistance characterized the rest of William's ministry.
William gathered missionaries around himself and though he was resisted from seemingly every angle he formed a missionary society and moved to India to spread the Gospel to those with ears to hear and eyes to see.The British East India Company opposed their arrival in India and so they found it hard to sail there but, eventually, a Danish ship gave them passage to Calcutta. They struggled to reach out to a people who didn't seem interested all the while suffering disease, fatigue, and depression. They honored the cultural distinctions of India and the Hindu religion but vehemently repudiated the caste distinctions that dehumanized some while privileging others.This group began printing the Bible in the language of the people and preaching a message that became increasingly well received as they continued to oppose the dehumanizing forces of the society. Offering both liberation and salvation, they became proponents of a new creation and a Kingdom "not of this world." More and more missionaries were coming to join this foothold of the Kingdom in India but this presented yet another terrible point of resistance. Many of the new missionaries were unwilling to suffer the same rigors as William and his friends and were soon demanding both a separate house (unlike the communal house that William and friends had lived in) and servants to attend to them. Eventually, William broke away from the society he had founded and continued preaching and teaching on his own. He died in 1834--still preaching and teaching to the day he died. Though he faced resistance throughout his life, he had chosen the path of the Spirit and renounced the path of comfort--in doing so, he gained the Kingdom.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Jude was born into a world of oppression and nationalism. He was the son of Cleophas and Mary; born in Palestine and raised up under the thumb of the Roman empire. Though he was taught by Rome to keep to himself and make no trouble, he had a remarkable spiritual pedigree that directed him to live otherwise. His father would go on to become a martyr who refused to stop preaching the good news that God had not only become human and died for our sins but, furthermore, had risen from the dead and conquered both sin and death. For daring to speak of a power supreme to Rome and refusing to submit himself first to the empire, he was executed and made a martyr. His mother was the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and was present at the crucifixion to take the body of her blood relative and give it over to burial. He himself was called by Jesus to become a disciple and he laid down anything that prevented him from taking up this call. Soon, he was one of the twelve closest disciples of Jesus--his second cousin--and received a practical education in radical love and ministry. Then, Jesus was arrested, beaten, tortured, and executed for daring to speak of a Kingdom other than Rome that was worthy of allegiance--a Kingdom not of this world. Jude wasn't there for the crucifixion even as his mother wept for their Lord and Savior.
After the resurrection, Jude anticipated that the Kingdom of God would soon take its place in the world in a powerful and obvious way that compelled all who heard of and saw the wonders to pledge their allegiance to the Kingdom of God and forsake the powers of this world. But Jude, like the others, had overestimated the ability of people to turn their backs on the masters who held them in bondage.In essence, he underestimated the power of sin and brokenness to perpetuate slavery in the souls of the people. Finally given a chance to trade the broken systems of the world for the glorious Kingdom, Jude was distressed to find people remaining in their sin simply because it was comfortable and familiar. At Pentecost, Jude was among the group of people who were anointed by the Holy Spirit and given a charge to go forth and take the Gospel to all peoples. Jude traveled with Simon the Zealot and visited Mesopotamia, Libya, and Persia among other places. Everywhere they stopped they preached, healed, and performed miracles. Of particular interest was Jude's tendency to perform exorcisms upon the stone and wooden gods of the people he found. When confronted with an idol that wordlessly laid claim to many souls, he would pray quietly and then dramatically point at the idol. With a scream, a demon would flee the idol at the command of God and the idol would crumble or splinter in the presence of the people.
The things that Jude did could not and would not go unnoticed for long. While in Lebanon and preaching they finally attracted enough ire through their words, healings, and exorcisms that they were set upon by an angry crowd. Every time Jude freed another soul from slavery to some power of this world, somebody stood to lose something whether it was Rome or the priests of the gods he defied. They took him from his makeshift pulpit in Beirut and they beat him savagely with a club. Taking turns so that his agony would be ever fresh, they tried to find new ways to make an old means of torture shut him up. Instead, he continued to use the breath he had left to preach a message of love for enemies and forgiveness for all people regardless of sin. He continued to proclaim release from captivity even as he suffered for daring to believe in it. Finally, they beat him to death and cut off his head as a trophy. Though they thought they were eliminating the presence of the Christians among them by executing their leader, they only exacerbated the sincerity of the message. In essence, they had finally given Jude an opportunity to demonstrate his genuine trust that love was enough and forgiveness was the right of all people. With that bloody club his accusers set him free from a world of oppression even as he spoke of a Kingdom not of this world but open to all.
Monday, June 18, 2012
By the order of the emperor Vespasian, the Roman senator Adrian was declared governor of Phonecia. Adrian was given the charge of discovering and punishing the rapidly growing contingent of Christians in the area. Further, Adrian knew the ways of death and punishment that Rome taught to be used on those who resisted the imperial way. Knowing that Tripoli was the cornerstone of any potential control of Phonecia, he gathered intelligence on the Christians of Tripoli while he journeyed there from Rome. What he learned was that there was one Christian in particular who was practicing and encouraging the practice of hospitality in Christian homes throughout the city and the larger region. This kind of radical hospitality revealed a void at the base of the imperial values of self-obsession and angered an empire that had no time for the naive love of the Christians.Especially maddening was Leontius' occupation: Roman soldier and military chief. So, Adrian sent one of his prized tribunes, Hypatius, along with a contingent of soldiers ahead of him to arrest and hold Leontius so that when Adrian arrived, he could try and execute a leader among the Christians as an example to the others on his first day in Phonecia. Adrian wanted to set a precedent for Rome's way of death and punishment.
Hypatius knew his orders very well and so he led his group of soldiers--including his dear friend Theodulus--in executing the governor's will in Tripoli. But, as they approached Tripoli, Hypatius became very ill. The soldiers stopped and set up camp to care for their dying leader. Voices were hushed as Hypatius languished alone in his tent and drew nearer and nearer to death by the second. Though the empire claimed to control death, they could do nothing to protect themselves from its power when disease and tragedy crept through their camps and homes. As Hypatius drifted between fitful sleep and awakened agony he had a vision of an angel standing before him. The angel said to Hypatius: "If you wish to be healed, you and your soldiers should say three times: 'God of Leontius, help me.'" Hypatius refused to do so but told his dear friend Theodulus what he had seen. The soldiers were eager to save the life of their commander and so they prayed what the angel had taught and Hypatius was miraculously healed. The soldiers were astounded and Theodulus himself was converted to the faith of Leontius in the wake of such a miracle. Hypatius was left with questions but he still had his duties and so he and his soldiers continued on to Tripoli. When they arrived, they were hungry and tired and a hospitable person took them in for the night. Unbeknownst to the soldiers, their host was Leontius and, though they were unaware of the identity of their host, Leontius knew who they were and why they had come.
In the morning he revealed his identity to the men and they were awestruck that he knew theyhad come to arrest him so that he might be executed for his faith. His audacious hospitality purchased their attention and they listened to him explain the Christian faith and the way of love and redemption. Theodulus had already converted and so he not only professed his faith in front of his friends and peers but, also, preached the same gospel to them that Leontius confessed. Hypatius soon became a Christian, as well, and the three men prepared for the arrival of Adrian.They knew that Adrian's arrival likely meant their deaths and so they prayed one with another and tried to ready their minds and hearts for the challenge of their martyrdom.The converts among them were baptized shortly before Adrian arrived and sent yet more soldiers to arrest them when he found out what had happened to his tribune and soldiers. Leontius was forced to watch as both Hypatius and Theodulus first refused to renounce their newfound faith and then were beaten and executed. He was returned to his cell and left to think about the brutality he had witnessed but when Adrian brought him out again Leontius was still unwilling to renounce his faith. So Adrian had Leontius hung upside down by his feet and a heavy weight tied around his neck. This did not kill him at first but it slowly stretched him to death. While he suffered, he was beaten on the chest, stomach, and back with wooden rods. Eventually, they beat him to death and tossed his body outside of the city along with the bodies of Hypatius and Theodulus. The local Christians who had learned hospitality from Leontius sneaked out to the bodies that night and buried them with a Christian funeral.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
On the ninth day of October, in the year 1958, pope Pius XII died from complete heart failure brought about by overworking and taxing himself in service to the Church. The death of Pius XII was entirely unexpected among the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church but soon they were meeting in conclave to select the next pope. Any Roman Catholic man was eligible for selection but there was one man in particular who was considered the likely successor to Pius XII: Giovanni Montini, the archbishop of Milan. The diocese of Milan was the largest Italian diocese and Pius XII had appointed Montini to serve as its archbishop because of a great trust he held for him. But, Montini was not a cardinal and was not present for the conclave. This made the potential selection of Montini uncomfortable for some of the cardinals.Though any Roman Catholic man was eligible-- regardless of vocation, calling, or appointment--it was the usual practice of the conclave at the time to select a cardinal to become the next pope. Wanting to select Montini but unable to do so easily, they selected an older cardinal--Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli--to serve as pope. They expected that he would be a nice buffer between the nearly twenty year papacy of Pius XII and the very likely eventual papacy of Montini. Though Roncalli was selected as something of a stop-gap pope (Montini was selected to succeed Roncalli and took the name Paul VI) he understood it to be a powerful calling with important duties nevertheless.
Roncalli selected the regnal name of John even though it hadn't been used in over 500 years. The last pope to use the name John had divorced himself from the other cardinals and from the pope to select their own pope and establish a different route of apostolic succession. This meant that the previous pope John was better known as antipope John XXII. By choosing the name John, and the number XXIII, Roncalli affirmed the antipapal status of the previous John while redeeming the name for use among future popes. John reasoned that the history and tradition of the name John was greater than that of one antipope who had strayed from the path. In doing so, John insisted that the Church's work was comprised of both confession of sins and redemption. One of his first acts was a surprising one for any pope--let alone a pope who was 77 years old. He made visits to the local prison and children's hospital to provide pastoral care for both the sick and the incarcerated. He laid his hands upon children with polio and lifted them up in his prayers and visited prisoners, insisting, "You could not come to me, so I came to you." From the outset, John established his papacy as one concerned with others and the great commandment of loving others.
In his short tenure as pope--a little less than five years--he also began the process of renewal and reformation within the Church he loved and served. It was at John's insistence that the Second Vatican Council was convened and conversations were begun about how best to reach out ecumenically and how best to approach and address a rapidly changing world. John was unwilling to see his beloved Church fall behind in its calling to love the world and so he sought to renew and reform it. Under John's leadership, the Church began to accept that some things might have been done wrong in the past and that stoic refusal of change was neither Christian nor acceptable. John himself would not live to see the end of the Second Vatican Council but it would be finished under the guidance of his successor pope Paul VI (Montini--made a cardinal by John's efforts). John died on the third of June in the year 1963 having served the Church he loved with devotion and great pride even though he was thought of as little more than a "place holder" at first. Even now he is remembered for his ecumenical efforts and his insistence of the primacy of love and compassion when interacting with the world and those in need.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
Tikhon was born in the city of Amathus on the island of Cyprus. He was born into a Christian family and was brought up in the faith of his parents.They taught him to read at a young age and they did so by teaching him to read the scriptures so near and dear to their hearts. That way, at least, if he didn't learn to read well and benefit from the rare skill, then he would at least hear the life changing stories contained therein. He had the opportunity to receive education--a relative luxury at the time--because his father owned and operated a fairly successful family business: a bakery. Growing up in a family with a business meant that Tikhon received regular opportunities to help the family prosper economically. When his father needed to leave the shop, Tikhon would mind the wares and make the sales necessary. As he got older, Tikhon was able to begin baking while running the shop in his father's occasional absence. Eventually, as is the way of family businesses, Tikhon was essentially a coworker with his father when he was not busy with some other more pressing matter.
So, it was no surprise when Tikhon was left in charge of the bakery once again but it was surprising to his father what he did when hungry people came begging. Tikhon took a loaf of bread, broke it, and gave it into the hands of the hungry people on the doorstep. He invited them in for a little while so that they might find some momentary shelter and eat in peace. He broke another expensive loaf of bread and began baking yet more for them. He did it all, of course, because he felt that the faith he had learned at the knee of his mother and father commanded him to do so. When he was presented with the opportunity to do what Jesus had taught Tikhon didn't know that most would avoid this command and, instead, followed the words of Jesus.Specifically, he gave food to the hungry because Jesus had said that those who feed the hungry are, in actuality, feeding God. So, he treated those hungry people in the shop with the love and attention that he desired to lavish upon God in the flesh. In a very real way, he was able to draw closely into the presence of God by handing over hot bread into the hands of one unable ever to pay for a slice--let alone a whole loaf. Then, Tikhon's father came home just as Tikhon was handing over yet another expensive loaf--it seems that generosity truly is an addiction--and saw what was happening to the valuable bread meant to be sold to support the family.
He rushed Tikhon's beloved guests out of the shop and asked Tikhon what he thought he was doing. He began to lecture Tikhon about the need of the family to support itself and how giving away bread robbed his own family. He mentioned that the granary where they kept the wheat was nearly empty because he had made bread in anticipation for some festival or feast. Now, that bread was in the stomachs of the hungry. He assented that it was good to feed the hungry as Jesus had commanded but not to do so so radically and lavishly. After all, wouldn't the crusts be enough for the hungry? Tikhon, however, with honest and sincere faith asked his father if he had forgotten what God had promised. "I wasn't feeding the hungry. I was feeding God. Didn't God tell us that we would receive again one-hundred-fold for what we have given away in love?" His father agreed that this was the command but refused to accept such naive idealism--having been thoroughly indoctrinated by the world's gospel. So, Tikhon led his father to the granary where, miraculously, it was filled to overflowing with wheat. At the sight of such a promise miraculously fulfilled, Tikhon's father repented and insisted that they must continue to bake and break bread for the poor and the hungry--and so they did for many years even after Tikhon's path led him away from Amathus and elsewhere into God's service.
Friday, June 15, 2012
Amos had a message that was unwelcome but needed. Since he was called to speak for God to a people who had grown fat on success given by God's grace, he knew he wouldn't be heard. But sometimes--perhaps always--the job of a prophet is to speak truth even in the face of ignorance and resistance. So, Amos spoke as God directed him:
"Hear what God had to say to us, Israel, and know that it doesn't make me happy to say it for it is a sad word for me, as well:
Sweet, lady Israel is falling and will not rise from the dust.
She will be abandoned by all
and will have none to pick her up in her hour of need.
For thus says the Lord God:
only one of every ten soldiers who leaves the city shall return.
This is what God has to say to us:
Seek God and live
but don't chase after Bethel,
place no confidence in Gilgal,
and don't entrust yourselves to Beer-sheba;
for Gilgal shall be cast away and Bethel shall fade from the earth
Take time now to seek God and to find life in theseeking
or know that God's wrath--which we deserve--will consume us like fire
it will devour our sin and we will catch fire with it.
Oh, you who turn justice to vanity!
You who bring the stain of sin to righteousness!
Remember the one who made the stars that others kneel before
who brings light into the deepest darkness
who brings the dark of night to even the brightest day
who commands the chaotic waters of the seas,
who bends their wills to serve His
Remember this one! The Lord is His name
who displays even greater power still against the strong
so that even the strongest of us are nothing before Him.
Those strong ones among us hate those who correct them,
they loathe the one who has the audacity to speak truth.
So, listen up, strong people and know that because you trample the poor whom God loves
and tax the have-nots to increase your wealth
You may have built a beautiful house like none other
but you shall not live in it;
You may have planted a gorgeous vineyard, but you will not enjoys its wine.
For God knows your many sins
and knows just how grievous they are--
Yes, God knows that you afflict the righteous and are bought by bribery.
God knows you push the needy aside in public and have no patience with God's beloved.
If you know what's good for you then you'll shut your mouth;
because there is plenty of punishment to go around.
Why not try seeking God and rejecting evil?
In doing so, you might live,
and the Lord God Almighty will walk alongside you,
just as you have already claimed--it's not too late!
Despise evil and love goodness,
and reclaim the healing power of justice performed in public;
If so, it's possible that the Lord God Almighty
might offer undeserved grace to the remnant left after God's judgment.
This is what the Lord God Almighty has to say:
The cities will be filled with wailing
and in the streets the word on everybody's lips will be 'Alas!'
Farmers will turn from their hard work to the harder work of mourning,
and those whose lips are skilled in lamentation will give themselves over to wordless grief.
The vineyards will be filled with the cries of the people
for God will pass through the people in judgment.
But, woe to those who anxiously await the day of theLord's judgment!
Who would want the day of the Lord's judgment?
It is a dark day--not a bright one;
it will be as if someone fled for their life from a lion,
and ran into the arms of a bloodthirsty bear.
or went into his home--a place of safety--and rested his hand on his wall,
only to be bitten by a snake.
Is there some joy in God's coming judgment that we might look forward to it?
Is there some silver lining to that dark cloud?
Don't you get it?
God hates--despises--the festivals of our people
God takes no delight in our solemn assemblies--in all our self-obsessed pomp!
Even though we lift up offerings and sacrifices in the name of ritual
God will not receive them.
We offer our best in mechanical repetition of past ritual
but God will not even look upon the heartless offering.
God won't listen to the noise we call songs of praise if our hearts are not in the right place
God has no time to hear beautiful melodies from darkened hearts.
You want to please God?
Then, let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Elisha wasn't expecting to become a prophet on the day he set out from his home--not too far from the home of his father Shaphat--to plow the land that would once again bring forth food for the whole family. No, he had been planning on doing the work demanded of him by his station in life--he knew that farmers had to work to live. So, he had taken all twenty-four of his oxen and yoked them together in pairs. Then he had lined the twelve yoke of oxen ahead of the plow and set the blade of the plow into the earth. At his command, the oxen surged forward and pulled the plow through the rocky soil. The land wasn't rich with nutrients or especially flat but it was all Elisha had and so he took care of it as best he could. After all, his life depended on his ability to deliver sustenance from hard and rocky soil. As they plowed, a prophet walked by and Elisha stopped to watch him. He knew this man to be Elijah and he took a moment to think of what Elijah's life must have been like. As Elisha stood behind the oxen thinking, Elijah took off his mantle and threw it over Elisha's neck. Elisha instantly knew what this meant--he knew what Elijah was wordlessly asking.
He left the oxen in the field and ran after Elijah to catch him since Elijah had not stopped walking since he threw the mantle. He caught up to him and said, "Elijah, if you'll wait a bit, then I'll go and kiss my mother and father goodbye and follow you." Elisha knew that the mantle had been Elijah's invitation for Elisha to become his student and follower. He also knew that following after Elijah would be the biggest change his life could ever know and likely meant he would never again see the face of his mother and father. Sometimes, callings make high demands and expect more than we are often comfortable giving--but that doesn't make them any less important or valuable.
Elijah responded, "Go on then, if you're going to follow me then it's going to be with a clean heart and conscience." Then, Elijah sat down in the road and prayed before his God--the same God whom Elisha prayed before every day and every night. Elisha drove the oxen back home and left them in their yokes once they reached his house. He ran to the home of his mother and father and excitedly told them what had happened by the road only moments ago. They were excited for him, as any good father and mother would be, but they, too, knew what it meant: a calling was taking their son away from them and they would never see him again. So, through tears and laughter, parents and son kissed and told their love and devotion. Then, Elisha ran back to his oxen with only one more plan in mind.
He took all twenty-four of his oxen and slaughtered them one by one. He had something in mind and couldn't leave the place of his birth and most of his life without doing one last thing. He broke down the plow that had been entrusted to him to farm the soil and set it ablaze. Slowly and purposefully, he began to roast the slaughtered oxen. The smell began to attract visitors and when they came they were given large portions of meat. Meat was a rarity at the time and this was a feast. It was some type of celebration and the crowds appreciated it but it was also lunacy for a man to slaughter his own oxen to feed onlookers. Sometimes a calling is lunacy not only in the eyes of the world but also in the eyes of the called.It must have been hard for Elisha to break those years of tradition but in roasting those oxen he further committed himself to a new tradition: the life and ways of a prophet.
Having fed the people the meat from his two dozen oxen, Elisha bid them farewell and returned to Elijah who was still praying on the road. "Ready to go?" Elijah asked.
"More than ever," Elisha replied.