Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 31 - The Resurrection


Early on the first day of the week--when it was still dark and the sun had not yet risen--Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and discovered that the stone they had rolled over the tomb to seal it had been rolled away. It was a big stone so she was convinced that some treacherous conspiracy was afoot. She ran and found Peter and John and said to them, "Somebody has taken the Lord's body out of the tomb and I have no idea where they've gone with it!" Peter and John left immediately and ran to the tomb to see for themselves. John ran faster and go there first to see that the linen burial wrappings were still there but he didn't go in until Peter arrived and they could go in together. They examined the cloth wrappings--how they had been carefully rolled up and placed on the burial pallet. Though they didn't quite understand yet, the seeds of faith and redemption had further been sown within their hearts in that dark tomb. So, they returned to their homes because they didn't know what to do next.

Mary, however, stayed at the tomb and wept because of her sadness. As she wept she slumped down in grief but when she looked up she saw two angels in the tomb who were dressed in white. They were sitting on the place where Jesus had been laid. They said to her, "Why do you weep?"

She responded, "Somebody has taken the Lord's body out of the tomb and I have no idea where they've gone with it!" As soon as the words left her mouth she felt compelled to turn around--almost like she felt somebody watching her--and when she did she saw Jesus standing there but she was unaware that it was him.

Jesus said to her, "Why do you weep? What did you expect to find here?"

Still not recognizing him Mary assumed he must be the garden keeper and so she said to him, "Sir, if you're the one who has moved him then just tell me where he is and I'll go and get him."

Jesus said one--and only one--word: "Mary."

As the word left his mouth she suddenly recognized him and cried out in a mixture of surprise and joy. She cried out to him, "Teacher!" and embraced him.

"Don't hold on to me just now, Mary, because there's still work to be done" he began, "but, instead, go to my brothers and say to them, "Jesus is ascending to the Father--our Father. He is ascending to God--our God." So, Mary went and told the disciples all that had happened and what Jesus had said to her.
That evening the disciples--except Thomas--had all gathered together in one place to be with each other and to talk about what had happened not only the last few days but also earlier that morning. They had locked the doors because tensions were still high with the crucifixion of Jesus and they knew that their names were being mentioned by the powerful as trouble-makers and potential problems. Jesus came into the room--without opening the door--and said to them, "Peace be with you." Having said this, he showed them the wounds in his hands and in his side. The disciples burst out in joyful noise and tried to wrap their minds around the great thing that God had worked out of tragedy and despair.

Jesus continued, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." Then he did something amazing. He breathed out onto them and as his breath settled on them he said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Know that if you forgive the sins of anybody then they are truly forgiven but if you choose to retain them, then they are retained." Having given them this powerful responsibility and obligation, he left them for a little while.

The other disciples went and told Thomas all about what they had seen and what Jesus had said to them but he found it hard to believe that Jesus could have risen from the dead. He insisted that he would only believe it when he could feel the wounds on his body and place his hands upon them. The one who had said, "Come, let us go with him that we might die as well" now found it hard to believe in a gospel of resurrected life. So it was a week later when the disciples gathered and Thomas joined them. Although the door was shut, Jesus came in and stood among them repeating, "Peace be with you." He knew what Thomas claimed he needed and so he said to Thomas, "Here. Put your finger where the nails scarred my hands and put your hand where the spear pierced my side. You don't need to doubt. Trust me."

Thomas fell to his knees and exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!"

Jesus smiled and, with love in his words, he asked, "Do you trust me because you have seen me with your own eyes?" Then, continuing, he said, "Surely those who have not seen me and yet trust me are blessed."

Saturday, March 30, 2013

March 30 - Holy Saturday


Jesus had died. The Creator had willingly submitted to death at the hands of the creation. But, since it was the day of preparation for the Passover--the time that remembered great liberation--they knew that time was running short to bury the bodies. They could not do it on such a great Sabbath time but they were unwilling to let the bodies hang. So, they decided to ask Pilate to shorten the crucifixion process by breaking the legs of the condemned. If their legs were broken then they would be unable to continued to push themselves up for breath and would die from suffocation much quicker. Pilate consented to the request and, so, the soldiers first broke the legs of the two bandits that had been crucified with Jesus. Then, they came to Jesus and noticed that he no longer appeared to be breathing at all. As the two bandits screamed their agony, one of the soldiers fetched a spear. To determine whether or not he was dead they jabbed the spear into his side and blood and water came out but Jesus uttered no cry for he was truly dead. So, they didn't break his bones but instead pierced his side so that they might unknowingly fulfill the scripture which says, "None of his bones shall be broken" but, also, 'They will look on the one whom they have pierced."
After all this, one of Jesus' disciples by the name of Joseph of Arimathea came to Pilate and asked permission to take the body of Jesus for burial. Joseph's devotion had been a secret because of his fear of the consequences. But, he was willing to expose his allegiance for the cause of burying his Lord. Pilate consented to this request, as well, and so Joseph went and removed the body with Pilate's blessing. Another secret follower of Jesus made his allegiance known that day when he came to help bringing nearly a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes to prepare the body--this disciple was Nicodemus who had come to him by night to ask questions of him. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in fine linen cloth using the spices and fragrances as directed by the burial customs of the Jews. There was a nearby garden that contained a newly-dug tomb. Jesus was the first body ever to rest in the tomb when they laid him there because of their concern for time.

And so the Creator died at the hands of creation and was buried within the bosom of creation. Having died to redeem creation,the one who never sinned was made to know sin intimately and be punished for all of the brokenness of creation.

Friday, March 29, 2013

March 29 - Good Friday


In the morning--after a long night of deliberation--the chief priests, elders, scribes and the whole council decided to hand Jesus over to Pontius Pilate. They bound him and gave him over to Roman hands for his fate to be decided by another. Pilate questioned him, "Are you the King of the Jews?"

Jesus responded, "You're the one who says it."

The people who had brought Jesus in chains--as if he were some dangerous criminal--began to accuse him of many and sundry things before Pilate but Pilate waved them off and asked him, again, "Are you the King of the Jews? Don't you have an answer for me?" He asked because this is what Rome really wanted to know deep down at the heart of the question: was Jesus proclaiming himself King over a Kingdom that Rome didn't endorse? He continued, "Won't you defend yourself? Do you not understand the gravity of what they're accusing you of?" Jesus didn't offer any reply and Pilate couldn't believe that he'd simply sit there and take it.

Rome had a custom in Jerusalem of releasing one prisoner from captivity every Passover. This wasn't because of any innate mercy but, rather, because they recognized that the Jews hated them and dreamed of liberation. With the release of a prisoner, they could lessen the potential for revolution. Some in the crowd began asking Pilate for the release of a prisoner in accordance with the custom. Pilate devised a plan to pass the buck and so he had Barabbas brought out of prison in chains. Barabbas had committed murder in a recent rebellion and was considered a danger to the people. He asked the people if they wouldn't rather have Jesus released because he was aware that there was something suspicious about how Jesus ended up in his hands. But the crowd was stirred up to demand the release of Barabbas. Shocked, Pilate asked them, "Then what shall I do with your King?" They demanded that he should be crucified. "Why?" Pilate asked. "What has he done?" he questioned. There was no answer to his question but only more demands for Jesus to be crucified. So, Pilate caved to their demands in order to lessen the tension--he didn't want a revolution on his imperial record. He released Barabbas and had Jesus beaten before being handed over to be crucified.

After Jesus had been whipped and beaten the soldiers in charge of him led him into the courtyard of Pilate's headquarters and called together the whole cohort of Roman soldiers. Feeling full of imperial pride, they mocked him mercilessly. They put a purple cloak on him and called him "King" bowing before him in mock submission. If only they had known that sincerity could have brought redemption, they would have thought twice. The cloak became stuck to his body as the blood dried. They twisted some thorns into a crown and had a mock coronation of Jesus as a type of Caesar. Once they had had their fill of cruelty, they stripped the clothes from him--reopening his many wounds--and led him out to crucify him between two other revolutionaries.

After some time, they became aware that their beating and torture of Jesus had weakened him before his monumental task of carrying his own cross to the place of his death. So, they compelled Simon of Cyrene--the father of Alexander and Rufus--to carry the cross for him. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha--meaning "place of skulls"--and offered him wine mixed with myrrh as was their custom. This drink would likely have numbed Jesus somewhat but he refused it They didn't care whether he suffered more so they didn't offer it again to him. They held him down--though he didn't resist--and drove spiked through his wrists.Then, they rose the cross up and with a thud it fell into its place in the ground. As he felt the first excruciating moments they gambled for his meager possessions and clothing.

Over his head they hung a placard with the charge that merited his death. It read, "The King of the Jews." The crowd that gathered heaped mockery and scorn upon him. One cried out, "Wait! Aren't you the one who said you could destroy the temple and build it in three days? If you're so great, why not come down and save yourself?"

The chief priests and scribes who attended his crucifixion joked with one another, "He saved others but he can't save himself? Let this Messiah--the King of All Israel, right?--come down so that we might see it and believe it." They laughed with each other at the ridiculous thought that God or God's Messiah would ever consent to die on a Roman cross. About three hours after all this started, darkness descended as far as the eye could see. This darkness lasted another three hours while Jesus died. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice quoting the twenty-second psalm, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" (meaning "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Some of the bystanders misunderstood him and thought he was crying out for Elijah so as one of them ran to give him a drink from a sponge of sour wine they stopped him saying, "Wait a minute. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down." Then, Jesus cried out and took his last pained breath. At that moment, an earthquake ripped the land and the veil in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest was torn in two from top to bottom even though it was very thick and the building was unharmed. At that moment, God died.

At this, the Roman centurion was amazed and remarked to those nearby, "Surely this man really was God's son."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 28 - Maundy Thursday


The chief priests and elders of the people were meeting together in the courtyard of the home of Caiaphas to talk about how they might put an end to the Jesus problem. They decided it was best not to do it during the festival because Jesus was popular among the people.Meanwhile, Jesus was with his disciples and he said to them, "You should know by now that the Passover is coming soon and I will be handed over to be crucified during that time."

Jesus was Bethany in the house of Simon the leper when a woman came when he was meeting with the disciples and broke open a jar of expensive ointment and poured it over his head as he sat there. The disciples were shocked and a little embarrassed so they wanted to know why she had--in their opinion--wasted the ointment when it could have been sold for much money and the money given to the poor. They were confident that Jesus would agree with them. As the disciples so often were, they were wrong again. Jesus said,"Why bother woman who has performed this beautiful act? You will always have the poor--this is a broken world that produces poverty and lack--but I am leaving you very soon. She has prepared me for burial--she gets what's happening now and is going to happen very soon--and let me assure you that this story will be told about her whenever somebody tells the story of these days.

Shortly thereafter, the disciple named Judas went to the chief priests and powerful people in Jerusalem and asked them, "I'm willing to betray Jesus to you for the right price." They gave him thirty pieces of silver--the approximate cost of a slave--and bought Judas' loyalty. From that moment onward, Judas began looking for his chance to betray Jesus.
That evening he sat down to the meal with his twelve closest disciples. While they were eating, he said, "I'm telling you the truth: one of you twelve who have grown so close to me will betray me." The disciples were shocked at how quickly their meal had turned sour. There was an immediate uproar as the twelve began verbalizing their surprise and then their questions. Not a one of them was so confident that they didn't ask who it was. They couldn't believe it was them but they couldn't deny the possibility that one of them had turned from their fellowship.Jesus insisted that it was one of them and that the one who did betray him would be better off having never been born.

Judas must have been nervous as the silver clinked in his pocket but he mustered up the courage to say, "Surely it's not me, Jesus."

Jesus turned to face Judas and said, "You're the one who says so."

As their meal continued Jesus raised a loaf of bread and after blessing it he broke it and passed it around the table. "Take this and eat it," he said, "because this is my body." Then he took the cup of wine and after praising God and giving thanks he passed it around. "Every one of you should drink from it," he said, "because this is my blood--the blood of the covenant--which is being poured our for many for the forgiveness of sins." As the twelve considered what had just happened he continued, "This is my last drink of wine until the day when I drink it again with you in my Father's Kingdom." They sang a song they had learned as children and then they went out to the Mount of Olives.

As they walked, Jesus said to them, "Each of you will desert me because of what happens tonight. Don't forget that it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'But don't worry--I will be raised up and will meet you in Galilee."

Peter found it hard to believe what Jesus was saying and so he said, "Teacher, even if everybody else does desert you I will never desert you."

Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth--even before the cock crows with dawn you will deny me three times." Peter insisted that Jesus was wrong and the other disciples joined with Peter in assuring Jesus that they would never desert him. Jesus kept walking and said nothing else on the matter because he knew that he didn't need to convince them because the next twenty-four hours would be convincing enough.

They arrived at a place known as Gethsemane and he had the disciples wait for him while he went a little further to pray. He took Peter, James, and John further and revealed to them that he was distressed and agitated. He said to them, "I am deeply grieved--even to death--so please remain here and stay awake with me while I pray. I don't want to be alone." He went a little further and began to pray concerning his impending betrayal and death. He prayed, "Abba, Father, if it's possible for this cup to pass from me then let it pass. But it's not about what I want but what you want." After much time in prayer he returned to Peter, James, and John and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, "You could not stay awake with me a single hour? Please stay awake. Pray that you might not come into the time of trial because the spirit may indeed be willing but the flesh is oh so weak." He went away again to pray and said, "Abba, Father, if the only way for this cup to pass is for me to drink then so be it." He returned to Peter, James, and John and found them sleeping again. He left and went back to pray a third time with the same words. Finally, he came back to his disciples and said, "Still sleeping? Wake up because it's all starting now. Watch, now, as I am betrayed into the hands of sinners. Look! Here comes my betrayer."
Judas led a crowd of soldiers and guards who brought clubs and swords with them into Gethsemane--as if they expected a fight. Judas approached Jesus with familiar and pleasant words. He kissed him and the guards and soldiers rushed forward because this had been the signal they had agreed upon. "Arrest the one whom I kiss," Judas had told them. They seized Jesus and Peter drew his sword to start the revolution that he had been dreaming about. He struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Jesus stopped the fight with his words, healed the man--reattaching the ear--and told Peter to put the sword away because the way of the sword was the way of death.
Turning his attention to the disciples, he asked, "Don't you know that I could call twelve legions of angels to me with only a word or the will to do so? But, then how am I to drink the cup that lies before me?How is the scripture to be fulfilled?" Turning to the crowd he asked, "Am I some kind of bandit that you come out at night with weapons to arrest me?" He continued, "I sat in the temple teaching for many days and you didn't arrest me, then. Why not? Why do you fear me when I teach peace and love?" They feared because in their hearts they knew the tragedy they were beginning. As he was led away by the crowd--to fulfill the scriptures--the disciples deserted him and fled.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March 27 - Eckhart von Hochheim, Theologian, Dominican, Mystic


Eckhart von Hochheim--more commonly known now as Meister Eckhart--was unusual for his time but this isn't apparent from his childhood or his education. He was born in Germany in the year 1260. His family was wealthy and considered to be of "noble" blood. Yet, we know very little else about his family. He attended the University of Paris and was raised as a Christian. After receiving some of his extensive education he joined the Dominican Order and committed himself to a life of preaching and teaching. He continued to study and receive academic validation and support from his brothers and sisters in the Faith. Eventually, he was named as a lecturer and teacher of theology in more than one institution. As far as this goes, it seems that he was absolutely typical for an educated man with an affluent background in the 13th and 14th centuries. But, as his name got around and more people were exposed to what he had to say, the commentary became focused on how unusual his sermons were.

Though he wrote in the ecclesial Latin of the day when functioning as a minister, he preached in the native German language of the people. He was unafraid to use their dialect and their words to make his preaching especially relevant to his audience. By casting his words in familiar tones and phrases, he was able to pierce through the silent indifference of many in his audiences. As for the subject of his sermons he seemed to be almost specifically concerned with one particular topic. He wrote, "When I preach, I usually speak of detachment and say that a man should be empty of self and all things; and secondly, that he should be reconstructed in the simple good that God is..." This kind of mystical theology made some of his contemporaries nervous. It was a turbulent time in the life of the Church with the Pope living in France and the continued skirmishes between the Dominicans and Franciscans.So, when his preaching stood out it gathered attention from people who were already on edge and looking for heretics and schismatists.

Eckhart once wrote that "if the only prayer you ever prayed was 'thank you,' it would suffice." This upset people who stood to gain by dictating prayers and processes for encountering God. To boil Faith down to gratitude was unacceptable for Eckhart's opponents. He is reported as insisting: "All God wants of man is a peaceful heart." For those who wanted more than simply peaceful hearts, this was outright heresy even if they wouldn't take the time to consider what Eckhart really meant. He once advised people to "Do exactly what you would do if you felt most secure" because of the power of God's grace and mercy but this made those in power--and those who had bought into the idea of earning grace--uncomfortably. He further drew his opponents' wrath with his contention: "The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won't let go of your life."

Eventually, he was accused of heresy and no matter how many people continued to vouch for him he eventually had to face his accusers. They accused him of heresy and he denied it but finally he agreed to make a conditional statement that disproves all allegations of heresy. He insisted that he didn't think he was wrong but that if he was then he enthusiastically renounced anything he might have erred on in speech or written word. This open and eager admission means that he was not a heretic even if he erred because heresy is an act of the will and not the intellect. He had only about a month after his trial to continue in ministry before dying but he did so as a teacher and preacher of unusual truths in unusual ways. He died secure in the grace that had been given to him by God and died preaching unusual grace to a people trained not to believe it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March 26 - Larissa and Companions, Martyrs, Victims of Gothic Persecution, Burned Alive


The Gothic king Athanaric despised the Christians within the territories that he called his own.This was at the same time that Christians were despised and persecuted in Roman territories, as well. In this case, the enemy of Athanaric's enemy was not his friend. He was admittedly surprised with the incredible speed at which Christianity grew within his people--it seemed that the faith the Christians professed was infectious and subtle in its transmission. The Christian faith was able to grip hearts and bring peace when Athanaric found he could only command and threaten.Further, Athanaric was well aware that his military goals could be compromised by split loyalties among his people. So, he devised a plan to eliminate these split loyalties and draw his people together around a god he could easily control and manipulate.

The Gothic Christians met for their worship in tents in the countryside. They weren't meeting in secret but they were meeting far enough away from those with power to make an attack relatively implausible.Yet, they were gathering attention from non-Christians and conversions were happening at a quicker and quicker pace. As they met in their tents they would tell stories of brothers and sisters who had been arrested under some pretense and executed without a trial or with only the illusion of a trial. They spoke to each other prophetically about how it seemed that Athanaric and his people were less concerned with justice than they were with the execution of power and control. Yet, even as their numbers were being thinned by Imperial calculation, they continued to meet and converts continued to stream to the tents and ask how they, too, might becomes a disciple of the Risen Lord.

Under Athanaric's command a stone statue of one of his preferred deities--an idol--was loaded onto a chariot and accompanied to the meetings of the Christians with a compliment of soldiers. When they arrived at each tent--each place of worship--they drew their swords and interrupted the Christian worship. They demanded that the Christians come out and worship what the Goths deemed worthy of adoration. Some would indubitably come out and prostrate themselves before Gothic power but others remained in the tent--even going so far as to continue worshiping and ignoring the demands of their oppressors. The soldiers lit their torches and gave the Christians one more chance. When they were at Larissa's tent she continued to ignore their demands because her allegiance was to a Kingdom not of this world.So, the soldiers lit the tents on fire and refused to let anybody escape who would not worship the Gothic powers. Larissa led her brothers and sisters in singing a hymn as the fire consumed them and made them martyrs. As they were dying, a non-Christian man shrieked out his confession of faith while sprinting to the tent. Before any of the soldiers could stop him, he leaped into the flames and joined the smoky worship service. He had become a Christian only moments before his death but he was numbered with the 308 faithful Christian brothers and sisters who died because of Athanaric's calculated evil.

Monday, March 25, 2013

March 25 - Dismas, Guilty Criminal, Victim of Capital Punishment, Good


When Jesus was crucified he was not crucified alone. In fact, he received Rome's great humiliation between two people that Rome esteemed equally well: Dismas and Gestas. Dismas and Gestas had committed an offense against Rome that Rome refused to tolerate--they had suggested that Rome was less than holy and may have even gone so far as to try to incite rebellion. When they all came to the place that is called "the Skull", they crucified Jesus there with Dismas and Gestas--Gestas on his left side and Dismas on his right. Rome had lifted the three men up and "exalted" them so that they might mock them even in death. Crucifixion was Rome's cruel way of punishing those who "got above their station." In Rome's eyes what they were doing was poetically appropriate: they were lifting up people who had tried to lift themselves up above Rome.

After the soldiers had finished the task of abusing and stripping the men they took their clothing and cast lots for it. Jesus had offered forgiveness for those who were present for this atrocity but it seems that few understood how a crucified man could offer forgiveness to his captors--they didn't get it. A great crowd watched the men as they slowly died and one of the more vocal members of the crowd had the gall to cry out, "He's done so much for other people, right? Well, let him save himself if he really is the Messiah!" Jesus offered no response except silent love and yet more forgiveness. All the while, Dismas and Gestas looked on and began to realize they were playing minor parts in this spectacle but that their parts would be sufficient enough to result in their own deaths, as well. Over Jesus' head was a piece of wood inscribed with a sentence: "This one is the King of the Jews!" Oh how they must have laughed at that clever joke to see a naked and bleeding man proclaimed king even as he died at the hands of Rome.

Finally, Gestas could take no more and turned to Jesus and cried, "So they say you're the Messiah, right? So save yourself and us! Do something besides forgive these Roman pigs." At Gestas' words, though, Dismas could put up with the mockery and abuse no longer.

He yelled back, "What's the matter with you? Don't you fear God? Or have you forgotten that you're part of this crucifixion, too? We deserve what we're getting--we've earned every bit of it. But, this man doesn't deserve it. He doesn't deserve any of this but he handles it better than either of us." He shook his head at how much Gestas was missing the point. "Jesus," he cried, "remember me when your Kingdom finally comes." In that moment, redemption was born in the heart of Dismas as he recognized his own brokenness and the imminent advent of Jesus' kingdom. Whereas the powers had missed it and even his fellow criminal Gestas had missed it,Dismas got it. In that moment, he placed his entire trust and faith in a fellow victim of Rome's method of winning hearts and souls.

Jesus turned to him and pronounced sweet words when he said, "I tell you the truth when i say today you will be with me in Paradise." Soon, all three of the men became victims of coldly calculated death. Jesus would rise again having overcome both sin and death and Dismas would find rest in God through Christ.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

March 24 - Palm Sunday


Jesus and the disciples were on what Jesus knew--and his disciples didn't know--was their last trip to Jerusalem together this side of the cross. They had stopped near the Mount of Olives and Jesus sent two of the disciples ahead to a village with instructions: "Go into this village. When you get there--as soon as you enter it--you'll find an animal tied near the gate. It will be a colt that nobody has ever ridden. Untie the colt and bring it here." Perhaps sensing their hesitation he continued, "If anybody wants to know what you're up to just tell them 'The Lord needs it' and they'll let you go."

So, the two of them went ahead to the village and as soon as they entered the village they began looking around. It was just where Jesus had told them it would be and it was just like Jesus told them it would be. So, they began untying it when its owners stopped them asked, "Just what do you think you're doing? That's my colt!" Having seen Jesus proven right they decided to say what he had told them to say: "The Lord needs it." The owner consented and so they led it out of the village to Jesus. The disciples laid their cloaks on the back of the colt as Jesus stroked its nose. Finally, Jesus climbed aboard the colt and headed to Jerusalem with his disciples following behind him.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Pilate and a legion of soldiers were entering into the city on great white horses with standards and flags waving. Pilate would have been dressed as finely as possible to demonstrate the great pomp and royalty of the Roman Empire while thousands of Jews looked on with a mixture of awe and fear. This was their holy day but Rome was more than willing to insert themselves into it--after all, it was their kingdom and they could do as they pleased. So, here we have an image of Rome in all its glory and power riding into Jerusalem to proclaim its kingdom and Jesus riding toward Jerusalem on the back of a borrowed colt and surrounded by fishermen, tax collectors, and whores as he proclaimed a Kingdom entirely unlike Rome in every way--including its capacity to save the people.

As he rode toward the town the people kept spreading their cloaks and garments on the road so that Jesus' borrowed colt would not touch the dirt. His disciples--many more than the twelve nearest to him--began singing songs of praise and joy as they followed after him. They sang, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord God Almighty. Peace in the heavens! Glory in the highest heavens!"

As always, there was some of Jesus' detractors among the crowd and they were opposing him at every turn--they didn't like Rome's kingdom and they couldn't see Jesus' kingdom. Some of the pharisees said to him, "Teacher! Order your followers to stop that nonsense! Not only are they blaspheming but they'll anger Rome."

Jesus responded simply, "It doesn't matter. If every one of them were suddenly to become silent, then the stones would take up the chorus--this praise is fitting and right." The pharisees were furious but they realized they could do little to stop what was going on.

As they crested the last hill on their way to Jerusalem Jesus was looking forward with great expectancy. When Jerusalem's towers and walls came to his eyes, he began to weep and cry out to the city, "Oh Jerusalem! If only you had taken some time--even this morning--to understand the pathways that lead to healing and peace! But, now those ways are hidden from your eyes. Oh, yes, the day is coming when your enemy will besiege those gates and tear down those walls. That enemy you welcome in will close you in and crush you to the ground--you and all of yours. No stone will be left in its place. Destruction is coming and you didn't even recognize your salvation. Despair is making its nest among you and you have passed by hope without a second glance."

Saturday, March 23, 2013

March 23 - Peter O'Higgins, Martyr, Lifesaver, Thought Criminal


William Pilsworth was the vicar of the Church of Ireland in Donadea and had given room and board to Roman Catholic friars even though they disagreed on some theological matters. In 1641, there was a rebellion on Ireland and many fled the countryside to find refuge in Dublin. William was one of the last to do so and was detained by the rebel army outside of Dublin. When they searched his things they found a letter from a brother-in-law who asked William to kill a rebel and bring the head with him so that their family might purchase security from the powerful by spilling the blood of the hated. Though William had done no such thing and had no plans to do so, he was given a political choice: attend a Roman Catholic mass as an ally or die as an enemy.He refused to be manipulated and so he was marched to the gallows. Before the trapdoor released and William could plunge to his death, a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Peter O'Higgins intervened. Peter had never met William and knew nothing of him but gave a detailed and impassioned speech insisting that this execution would be an unholy and reprehensible act. Having been chastised by Peter O'Higgins, William's captors released him.

The protestant government soon cracked down on the rebellion and moved into the area with speed and vicious efficiency. Peter remained in his parish even though he had been advised to flee the expected vengeance against Roman Catholics in the area. He was arrested and turned over to the military powers. The commander of the force, a man by the name of Ormonde, handed him on down the line to a lesser officer but expected that the Peter--a Dominican priest--would find mercy from those in whose hands he found himself.Almost twenty protestant clergymen wrote letters begging mercy and leniency for Peter but these appear to be ignored. He was beaten, abused, tortured, and finally marched to the gallows to die. He was accused of trying to convinced protestants to give up their protest but could only be found guilty of simply being Roman Catholic.When he stood on the gallows, he was presented with two pieces of paper: one was a warrant for his execution and the other was a pardon to be given to him on the condition that he recanted his faith.He had requested that the pardon be printed up for him to consider upon the gallows and his accusers had complied.

The assembled crowd looked on as Peter considered both documents. They couldn't decide what they wanted more: to see the priest die or to see the priest sacrifice his faith for his life. They had long ago left behind devotion to the one who was the Bread of Life. He picked up the pardon and some in the crowd were excited as they imagined he would now recant his position and join with the protestants. Instead, he spoke loudly and for all to hear: "For some time I was in doubt as t the charge on which they would ground my condemnation; but, thanks to heaven, it is no longer so; and I am about to die for my attachment to the catholic faith. See you here the condition on which I might save my life? Apostasy is all they require; but, before high heaven, I spurn their offers, and with my last breath will glorify God for the honor he has done me, in allowing me thus to suffer for his name." With these words, he threw the pardon to the dirt below the gallows. The trapdoor was released and he was hung for refusing to give up on his faith--the faith that this accusers claimed but had long ago forgotten. This was not a protestant or Roman Catholic faith alone; it was a faith that transcended political labels and rested solely in devotion to Jesus. As he slowly died at the end of the rope--and even as they were preparing to kill Peter--William Pilsworth stood at his feet repeatedly yelling: "This man is innocent! He saved my life!” Peter O'Higgins died on the 23rd day of March in the year 1642.

Friday, March 22, 2013

March 22 - Jonathan Edwards, Preacher, Theologian, Leader in the Great Awakening


Jonathan Edwards had seen something and in the seeing he had lost the happy ability to avoid its truth for the rest of his life. While serving as a minister, he had become aware of a startling truth that rattled his soul and demanded proclamation. At first, he struggled with the idea and the calling and described the idea as "horrible." Jonathan had realized that the people he interacted with on a day to day basis were walking in the valley of the shadow of death. They couldn't see it but there was a sword hanging over each and every one of their heads. Jonathan became overwhelmed by the ease of the path of sin and destruction but had been startled to find out that even he himself was regularly choosing the path of sin and death. Of course, this was not often a conscious or informed decision. Instead, it was found in the everyday, little decisions. In each little decision was the seed of redemption or the choice of destruction. Once he had seen this reality, he couldn't believe that others were failing to see it. So, he decided he would spend the rest of his life trying to wake people up.

On the 8th day of July, in the year 1741, Jonathan preached a sermon that would become linked with his name through the ages. It was in Connecticut that he preached this sermon entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Though the modern reader is likely to recoil at the shocking imagery that Jonathan selects it must be remembered that this was Jonathan's goal--not to persuade people to give the Christian faith a chance but to wake them up to the state of their soul and the impact that all the little things had on their lives. Though this sermon is often portrayed as nothing but "fire and brimstone" it's not entirely fair to focus on the hellish imagery when Jonathan's express purpose was to highlight God's mercy in the face of our continued practice of choosing the things that were and are destroying us. Again and again he repeated "There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God." Jonathan wanted to highlight that our condemnation was not something heaped upon us but, rather, something that we've freely chosen and definitively deserve. Justice decreed consequences for choices and yet we seemed to miss that point. He preached, "The sword of divine justice if every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God's mere will, that holds it back."

In response to Jonathan's (and others') work and preaching, people in the colonies began experiencing a revival that would later be termed the "Great Awakening." Further, he endeavored to challenge the people of the colonies not simply to be Christian in name but Christian in thought and deed, as well. Though many fainted, swooned, and had emotional reactions to his sermons, he did not let this go to his head. Instead, he wrote at length about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church.He concluded that the movement of the Holy Spirit was often occasioned by emotional reactions but that these reactions themselves were not sufficient evidence to confirm the presence of the Holy Spirit in the meeting. Near the end of his life, he struggled with the politics of a local congregation and eventually his position was terminated by the congregation he served. In 1757, he went on to become the acting President of the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). As part of his position there he was inoculated against smallpox. He did not survive the inoculation and died on the 22nd day of March in the year 1758.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

March 21 - Nicodemus, Pharisee, Member of the Sanhedrin, Convert


There was a man named Nicodemus. He was a pharisee and a leader among the Jews in Jerusalem. Under the cover of night--and with his face concealed--he approached Jesus to have a conversation but he did it at night so that he might not be accused of associating with the man that had become such a controversy. He started by speaking well of Jesus and saying, "Teacher, we know that you have come from God and you seem to get it. After all, nobody could do the wonders you do apart from God."

Jesus responded quickly in a way that perplexed Nicodemus. He said, "You're right. Further, let me assure you that nobody can see the Kingdom of God without spiritual birth."

Nicodemus balked at this saying and decided to test Jesus a little further and so he said, "How can an old man be born? Do you expect people to return to their mother and be born again?" By asking this, Nicodemus was attempting to clarify the process that Jesus was talking about.

Jesus answered, "Let me assure you that nobody enters the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. Like comes from like. The flesh gives birth to flesh. The spirit gives birth to spirit. Don't pretend that you're surprised that I said, 'You must be spiritually born.' After all, the wind blows wherever it wants without your input, right? You hear it blowing but you don't know where it's coming from or where it's going. It's the same way with everybody who has experienced spiritual birth."

Perhaps Nicodemus was confused because he asked, "How can this be?"

Jesus chided Nicodemus and asked, "Are you a great teacher and yet you don't get it?" He continued to teach Nicodemus by saying, "So, people talk about what they know and tell stories about what they've seen, right? Yet, you don't accept what we know and have seen. So, if you're not, at least, going to do that then how do you expect me to teach you about spiritual things? After all, nobody has rested fully in the presence of God except the one who came from there--that is to say, except me. And remember how Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness so that those who looked upon it might be healed? Well, I must be lifted up so that whoever believes in me may me healed even more fundamentally--may be healed from death and have eternal life."

While this sank in, Jesus continued, "God loved the world--the same world that has rejected him--so much that God gave God's son so that everybody who trusts in him might not destroy themselves but might have eternal life. Surely, God didn't send the Son into God's beloved creation to punish but so that the whole thing might be fixed. Those who put their trust in the Son won't be punished but--now, pay attention here--those who don't trust are already condemned because they have no room for trust or faith."

While Nicodemus was still reeling from Jesus' insistent statements and wondering where he himself might be in Jesus' dichotomy, Jesus continued, "This is what judgment looks like: light has come into the world but people preferred darkness because it was easier--even if it wasn't good for them. After all, accepting the healing and light means confession of sin and admission of guilt. So, instead of accepting life that begins with pain, they've chosen to continue walking in death. Those who do right and have faith step into the light and they and their actions are clearly seen by God." As Jesus finished saying this, Nicodemus couldn't help but notice how he had come under cover of night and in secret to talk. He had much to think about.

---

Shortly before Jesus' crucifixion, the temple police were sent to arrest Jesus. The temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you arrest him?"

The police answered, "This is a first! Nobody talks like this guy."

Then the Pharisees replied, "Don't tell me that you have been deceived, too! Has any one with any power believed in him? Any one that matters? But this rabble--these common people who do not know the law--doesn't matter. Now what kind of people are you?"

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, "Does our law judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing? Surely not!"

So there was a trial at Nicodemus' insistence but Jesus was found guilty in a clever and tricky way. Eventually, he was crucified--lifted up so that everybody might look upon him and have a chance at spiritual rebirth--and died.

---

Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, came with Joseph of Arimathea. He brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes that weighed about a hundred pounds. Nicodemus and Joseph took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths. They wrapped him according to the burial custom of the Jewish people. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. So, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and the tomb was nearby they laid Jesus there.

Some time later, after Jesus was resurrected, Nicodemus was willing to come out into the light a little more and accept the truth that was spoken silently in his heart for some time: this Jesus was God and represented the hope of all creation. He placed his faith and trust in the Risen One and in doing so he became a Christian. He would die as a martyr--unable to stop preaching the good news first given to him under the cover of night--a little while later.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March 20 - Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Monk, Bishop, Hospitable


When Cuthbert was a boy in Northumbria he didn't have a father (since his father had died when Cuthbert was very young) but he did have many friends to spend countless hours with in the countryside. As was and is the case with boys of that age, they spent much of their time competing against each other in games and silly contests. They had footraces and wrestling matches. They goaded each other into doing foolish and silly things. In short, they did the things that boys do in their youth and tell increasingly fantastical stories of for the rest of their lives. One day, however, a boy barely old enough to be out with them and nowhere near old enough to compete or keep up with them approached the boys as Cuthbert held one of his friends down on the ground. The group of boys were excited to watch the wrestling match and were not surprised to see Cuthbert win since he was the best wrestler and most athletic among them. The boy--barely older than a toddler--started crying as he watched Cuthbert wrestle. The other boys were shocked--and to be honest a little embarrassed--at the little one's tears. The boy said, "Cuthbert, stop being so silly and quit goofing around like this." The crowd of boys jeered and laughed at him hoping that this would convince the little one to leave but he continued weeping. Cuthbert's soft heart was stung by this and so he took the boy to the side and tried to soothe him. The boy said, "Cuthbert, showing off like that isn't right for a holy bishop and priest like yourself." As Cuthbert walked home that night, he reflected on the boy's words and wondered if there was a hint of prophecy in them--was he really destined to be a priest and bishop?

Many years later, he was shepherding the flocks of his employer at night. It was the 31st day of August in the year 651 and Cuthbert was resting beneath a tree and looking up at the starry sky in wonder. Again his mind was drifting to questions of "calling" and "destiny" as his colleagues and friends told jokes and stories nearby under another tree. Suddenly, Cuthbert was amazed to see a bright orb descend to earth with piercing clarity. A moment later it rose more slowly while seeming to accompany another flaming orb back to the heavens before disappearing. Immediately, Cuthbert's mind went to angelic visitation and the faith that his widowed mother had given to him. He rushed to ask his friends if they had seen it. He insisted that some great man or woman must have just died and their soul was taken up to heaven by one of God's angels. When he entered the town the next day he asked around and found out that the revered Aidan of Lindisfarne had passed the night before and immediately Cuthbert knew what he had seen--the retrieval of the soul of Aidan. He dropped his shepherd's crook and went to a nearby monastery. Soon thereafter he took vows and became a monk.

As Cuthbert served in the Church he became known for being gentle and hospitable even in the face of strong opposition. When the Synod of Whitby finally concluded that the Celtic churches must come into agreement with the Roman way of things it was Cuthbert that helped broker reconciliation by insisting that unity was more important than marginal disagreement. Through hospitality and furious love, Cuthbert was able to mend the wounds of the Church. Eventually, he became prior of his monastery and he served the Church well by taking care of the monks that he had been entrusted with. At one point he even became a hermit. He lived on an island by himself but was rarely alone due to the constant stream of visitors who came to seek his counsel, blessing, or healing prayers. Cuthbert accepted his visitors with a kind and welcoming heart even as he hoped for a little solitude in which he might worship the God who had called him from a young age to be a servant. Finally, he was called from his island to become bishop and serve the Church by overseeing its monks and ministers. He was reluctant but willing to accept this calling and served in the position capably for many years. At the end of his life a group of monks were sent to the island where he was living to take care of him in his final days. Having known that they were coming, the severely ill Cuthbert had dragged himself down to the beach to greet the men. When asked why he had come so far to greet them he had insisted that he wanted to save them the time and hassle of searching him out since they had never before visited Cuthbert's little island. He finally died after being bishop--a ministry he had been called to from his youth--for only two years. In those years he distributed alms, prayed for the sick and worked many wonders in the surrounding countryside of Lindisfarne. He died on the 20th day of March in the year 687.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March 19 - Joseph, Descendant of David, Husband of Mary, Father of Jesus


Listen closely because the birth of Jesus--the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah--happened just like this: His mother Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph. This was in the period before they lived together as part of their betrothal. Miraculously--and scandalously--she discovered that she was pregnant. Of course, you'll remember that this was a miracle that God had accomplished to effect the incarnation of God into creation. Now, Joseph was a good man and he paid attention to the laws and traditions of his people and his family so he decided not to publicly shame her for her mysterious pregnancy. He could have made it public knowledge and cast her out and broken the bonds of their engagement in a humiliating way--in fact, this was what was expected and typical. Instead, he decided to annul the engagement quietly and in private.

The night after he had made that decision but before he had followed through with it God sent an angel in a dream to him. The angel said to him, "Joseph, descendant of David the king, do not follow through with your plan. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife because the child that she has conceived is the Son of God and she has conceived this child by God's miraculous intervention. This child will be a son that you should name Jesus--which means God is saving--because he will save people fromtheir sins." Now, make sure you notice that all of this took place to fulfill what God had spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel", which means, "God is with us."

When Joseph woke up he did exactly as the angel had commanded him because he believed it to be true. He completed the betrothal process and took the pregnant Mary as his wife but he didn't consummate their marriage until after the birth of God into this world. They named the baby boy Jesus just as Joseph had been told.

...

After the magi had left, an angel of the Lord came again to Joseph in a dream and said, "Hurry, take the boy and his mother and get out of town. Go to Egypt and remain there until I call you out of it. Herod is about to do a terrible thing and slaughter many innocent children in an attempt to kill your son." So, Joseph got up under the cover of night, woke his wife and dressed his child while his mind imagined cruelty to come. They went to Egypt and remained there until after the death of Herod. Again, notice that this was to fulfill what God had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt, I have called my son."

...

As is the way of all men given enough time, eventually Herod died. After the death of this terrible man, an angel suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph while he lived in Egypt. The angel said, ‘Now is the time, take your son and his mother, and return to Israel. Those who were hoping to destroy the son you are guarding and taking care of have died and it is safe again to be in the land of your fathers." So, Joseph gathered his family and prepared his son while his mind imagined redemption and salvation to come.They returned to Israel but when Joseph heard that Archelaus--Herod's son--was ruling over Judea he hesitated to return there. So, after receiving another dream confirming his hesitation he settled in Galilee. Specifically, he settled in Nazareth and another prophecy was fulfilled which read, "He will be called a Nazorean."

Monday, March 18, 2013

March 18 - Cyril of Jerusalem, Theologian, Bishop, Church Father


Cyril of Jerusalem was raised within the Christian community in the early fourth century. As a result he was well versed in the theological disputes of his day. At the age of twenty-two he was ordained as a deacon of the Church by Macarius of Jerusalem. This is an important event because it represents the trust that the Church was willing to place in Cyril. As a deacon he was expected to further devote himself to God in ways that would strengthen and further the Kingdom of God as it was born into the world. Under Cyril's circumstances this meant a theological battle with those members of the Church who had fallen under the heretical spell of Arianism. Perhaps with good intentions--and at times with nefarious aims--members of the Church had begun professing views that ran counter to the accepted Christian teaching. In this case, the Arians insisted that Jesus Christ was not fully divine. Rather, they suggested that Jesus had been created by God to be an emissary of God. This was an unacceptable departure from Christian teaching because it undermined what Jesus had taught and also the efficacy of the resurrection. When those professing this view were approached with their error they chose to persist in the belief even if it ran counter to the established and orthodox position. In doing so, they became heretics but they didn't necessarily lose their influence in the Church. A battle raged and Cyril was asked to become one of the champions of orthodoxy. He accepted the calling.

Eight years later he was ordained a priest by Maximus--a bishop. This ordination further entrenched him in the struggle for orthodoxy. As a priest he was called to care for the people of God and look after them. He could not simply proclaim the heretic to be wrong--he had to worry for their soul, as well. All the while, he was tasked with taking care of the flock that gathered around him in Jerusalem. After seven years of struggling under this calling he was appointed to take the place of Maximus and become the bishop in Jerusalem. With this ordination came the calling to tend also to the priests who served the Church daily. He shouldered this burden with as much grace and mercy as he could muster and spent the majority of his time trying to broker peace and reconciliation between the two factions. Meanwhile, he continued to meet the needs of the poor and even sold some of the Church's property to feed some local poor people. Seeing their chance, the Arians had him deposed from his position using their newly acquired ecclesial power to cast him out of the ministry. He refused to deny his ordination as they had requested of him and became a wandering minister.

As was often the case at the time, Cyril did not stop ministering to the people of God simply because he had been defrocked and deposed. Instead, he continued to minister and eventually was reinstated when the orthodox faction regained control of the necessary power positions. Shortly thereafter he was again deposed by the Arians. After yet another little while he was again reinstated.Whether he was officially labeled a minister or not he continued to seek peace and reconciliation while comforting and teaching the people entrusted to his care.Though he had been resistant to compromise he was eventually worn down and agreed upon theological terminology and language (homooussios) that he had originally rejected for the sake of peace and healing. Cyril died on March 18, 386, having spent his life and his time holding a hemorrhaging Church together through love, peace, and the sacramental mysteries he bore with him wherever he went.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

March 17 - Patrick of Ireland, Slave, Bishop, Missionary


Patrick's father was a leader in his community and was named Calpornius. He was a deacon in the congregation they attended in Wales. Calpornius' father--Patrick's grandfather--was named Potitus and he was a priest in the area where they grew up. He offered the sacraments and mysteries of the Church to those who had ears to hear and eyes to see. Patrick had roots within the Church and found himself drawn to the ministry that his father and grandfather had likewise felt themselves called to. He was receiving an education that would likely end up with him becoming yet another member of his family in service to the Church when one day he was kidnapped by Celtic bandits and slavers on the Western coast of Wales. They forced him into chains and carried him back aboard their ship so that they might force young Patrick--only sixteen years old--to work for the highest bidder. In this case, he was bought by a man who made him a shepherd by trade. Patrick ended up on some lonely hillside--a stranger in a strange land--watching over sheep that were not his own.

For his six years as a slave to Celtic leaders he was mostly in isolation on some verdant Irish hillside. Since he was alone as he worked he began praying to himself. He began with the prayers he had learned as a child and these expanded into his own spontaneous prayers. He sang songs and hymns to sustain himself as he spent many lonely night with only sheep and goats for company. Finally, he began to hear God speak of liberation and escape. He heard a voice saying he would soon be free. A few days later a voice told him his ship was waiting for him and so he fled from his master that very day. He travelled for some time and through harsh conditions until he arrived at a port in eastern Ireland (200 miles from the place of his captivity). He boarded the ship and finally returned to his home in Wales. They greeted him with joy and gladness and toasted his return but after the parties had faded Patrick came to the stunning realization that he had missed six years of his life. All of his peers were well into their professions and careers and he had fallen woefully far behind in his education. His dreams of becoming a minister like all of the others had been shattered aboard the slaver ship that had stolen him away.Patrick ended up in the home of family--a stranger in a familiar land--watching his friends go on without him.

He didn't know what to do with his life but he couldn't shake the strong calling he felt upon his life. As he was adrift in his life and uncertain how he should continue he had a vision. In the vision a man named Victoricus came striding across the Irish Sea toward Patrick. In Victoricus' hands were many scrolls. Each scrolls was a letter--written to a certain person--and he was handing them out to those God had called to serve. Patrick waited eagerly in his vision and received a scroll titled "The Voice of the Irish." In it he heard the laments of the Irish people who begged the former slave to come back and bring the Gospel that taught love for enemies and forgiveness from all sins. He must have wondered if this wasn't a mistake to be sent back to the people who had enslaved him as a missionary. Yet, as he reflected upon the vision he became more and more certain that God was calling him to be a missionary to the Irish. So, he went--one of the first Christian missionaries to leave the Roman Empire. Patrick ended up in some foreign boat on his way back to Ireland--a stranger crossing the Irish Sea--following after a calling that God had given him.

Patrick baptized thousands of people in Ireland as he brought his own particular style of preaching and teaching to them. He did not have the same education as his many peers and colleagues but he knew well the people he had been called to serve. He confronted Celtic warlords with bravery and courage knowing that they would respect him for it and want to know what faith he held that gave him such courage. He brought the faith to the Irish in a way that mediated the sacraments and mysteries of the Church to a people unfamiliar with the history and symbols of the Body of Christ. Patrick became the vehicle by which the grace of God was translated into Irish hearts. He ordained thousands and became a bishop missionary welcome in countless homes throughout the hills of Ireland. Patrick ended up in the land of his enslavement--a hero in a beloved land--watching over sheep that had become his own.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

March 16 - Sebastian Castellio, Preacher, Theologian, Champion of Religious Liberty


Sebastian Castellio received such a comprehensive education that he was fluent in French, Italian, German, Latin, Hebrew, and Greek when he had finished. Other writers, including Voltaire, wrote and spoke about his magnificent intelligence and keenly trained mind.Though John Calvin was better known perhaps it was considered evident that Sebastian was, at the very least, his intellectual equal if not his superior. He was a faithful Roman Catholic with a vibrant faith and it was because of this faith that he had received his education in the first place--he felt called to use his intellectual gifts in the service of God through the Church. Yet, when he was only twenty-four years old he was in Lyon when the French Inquisition was punishing heretics. They tied the reformers and the heretics to posts and incinerated them for disagreeing. Sebastian was sickened by this and was aware that he could no longer deny that there was something wrong in the Church. If leaders in the Church could consciously destroy others who disagreed with them--could wield a sword made of steel instead of love--then there was something horribly wrong in the Church. Sebastian resolved to be a part of the solution and joined with the reformers.

He traveled to Strasbourg where he met John Calvin. John and his wife were so impressed with Sebastian that their relationship bloomed quickly. In 1542 Sebastian was asked to become rector at the College de Geneve and was licensed to preach the Gospel in that area.His theological work was looked upon with charity and esteem not only because of his noted intellect but also because of his friendship with John Calvin. But things began to turn sour as time went on. Perhaps Sebastian's first inkling that things weren't okay was when a great illness swept through Geneva claiming victims. Sebastian went about the work of the Church and offered pastoral care and the last rites to the sick and dying in Geneva. While he was doing this he was informed that this was unusual. When he asked why he was told that Calvin and the other ministers had labeled themselves too important to risk dying to comfort a small part of the Church. In other words, they had decided that their death was more costly than the deaths of unknown Christians. Later Sebastian went to John to received his endorsement for a translation of the New Testament into French that Sebastian had penned. John denied Sebastian's request because John's cousin had recently asked for the same thing. The pain was not in the denial or rejection but the stinging and mocking words that John offered to Sebastian.

Perhaps the last blow to John and Sebastian's relationship came when Sebastian rose to his feet in a public meeting of ministers to insist that ministers should not persecute or slander those whom they disagreed with. At the heart, Sebastian's suggestion was that lay people be considered as important as the clergy and that clergy not abuse power simply because it was within their grasp. This idea--not persecuting those whom you disagreed with--was deep seated with Sebastian and would become a point of contention with many throughout his life. When Sebastian saw John and his friends mock and deride somebody they disagreed with he could smell the smoke in Lyon all over again. For this insistence he was charged with "undermining the prestige of the clergy" and removed from his position. His license was cancelled and he was turned out of his home. He and his family were abandoned by a group of religious leaders who had given up reformation for a new power structure with themselves at the top. Sebastian and his family struggled for years until he eventually found work again as professor at the University of Basel.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, a doctor and theologian by the name of Michael Servetus was being tried for heresy and blasphemy by John Calvin's power structure. Michael had denied the trinity among other teachings and was ordered to change his mind to agree with John. John Calvin even inserted himself among the judges at work in Michael's convictionWhen Michael refused to recant he was burned at the stake in Geneva. When Sebastian heard of this he began writing articles and letters to alert the general population of the blood that dripped off of John Calvin's hands--the blood of Michael Servetus. Though he never claimed Michael to be orthodox in his theology he did insist that his heresy should have been rebuffed by reason and rhetoric and not shackles and flames. Further, he disagreed with John's definition of heresy as "anybody who disagrees with me on a theological point." Rather, he insisted that there was room for liberty within the bonds of the Church--or at the very least there was room if there was any hope for reformation. Sebastian was successful in convincing some but yet more remained in support of John Calvin's ruthless theological efficiency. Before he died (and his enemies dug up his body and burned it), he wrote: "We can live together peacefully only when we control our intolerance. Even though there will always be differences of opinion from time to time, we can at any rate come to general understandings, can love one another, and can enter the bonds of peace, pending the day when we shall attain unity of faith."

Friday, March 15, 2013

March 15 - Louise de Marillac, Motherless Daughter, Widow, Founder of the Daughters of Charity


Louis de Marillac was an important man with influence that spread across national boundaries and obtained power and control for him by wooing others to do his will. His place within the Parisian courts was firm even though he had conceived a child with a woman he wasn't married to--this child was a daughter who would be named Louise. Louise's mother died during childbirth but Louise survived the ordeal. Though she was a child of a recently deceased mother and had been born outside of the bonds of wedlock she was exceedingly well cared for by her father and the people her father appointed to care for her. She received an excellent education in a nearby monastery and felt the beginnings of a growing and vibrant spiritual life. Yet, she lacked a stable home life and often lamented this lack. Her well-appointed and pleasant life had no strong foundation, though, and this left her feeling adrift in a world that only became more and more confusing and perplexing as she grew up as a motherless daughter among Parisian nobility.

Louise sought the order and simplicity of the monastic order "the Daughters of Passion" in Paris but was rejected. She was crushed because she had begun to think of monastic vows as an escape from the chaos that marked her life. She was not informed as to why her application was rejected and this left her questioning most of her life and all of her calling. She was advised that God had "something else" planned for her. She was once again set adrift in an increasingly tumultuous world and went to what remained of her family for advice on how to proceed from her place of rejection. Her family suggested that she marry and so she consented because of the possibility that it would finally offer a family life like she had been coveting all these years. She was married and she had one child within the first year of marriage but soon thereafter her husband grew very sick. She cared for him very well but she could not quell the doubts that this marriage had been a mistake. She had vowed to remain with him and so she did but she wondered if this was what she had been called to do. In a service of worship near Pentecost she received stunning and sudden certainty. She wrote, "I was advised that I should remain with my husband and that the time would come when I would be in the position to make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and that I would be in a small community where others would do the same." She took care of her husband for two more years before he died.

Having fulfilled her previous vows she sought out a spiritual director to provide direction and guidance to her rudderless life. She found Vincent de Paul and he spent his time with her by guiding her to a life of spiritual moderation and calm.Her tendencies had always been toward chaos and directionless action but under the direction of Vincent she became increasingly comfortable and peaceful. Together the two of them founded a group known as the Daughters of Charity. This group focused on remembering two essential principles: (1) in any situation they should act as Jesus would act, and (2) they must remember to "Love the poor and honor them as you would honor Christ Himself." Under the guidance of Louise and Vincent they formed a group of women who endeavored to become family one to another and provide the calm and moderate direction to individuals that only a loving community can truly offer. Louise's direction expanded their charity and teaching to include hospitals, orphanages, institutions for the elderly and mentally ill, prisons, schools and the battlefield. Louise died on March 15, 1660, after having devoted her life to developing loving communities among those set adrift by life and circumstances.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

March 14 - Fannie Lou Hamer, Civil Rights Activist, "the lady who sings the hymns," "that illiterate woman"


Reverend James Bevel had preached several sermons just like the one he had just preached. In it he proclaimed the liberation and healing that Jesus promised to those who would take up the yoke of discipleship. He fearlessly identified the racism inherent in the system and the use of it by those in power to oppress and repress black Americans. James Bevel was a part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was a friend and colleague of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was well aware that there were costs associated with activism because he had been involved in the activist life that led to pain and punishment at the hands of those who opposed them all. Yet at the end of his sermon he went ahead and asked if any of those who had heard it would volunteer to be a part of the solution--to register to vote even though it might cost them something significant. Fannie stood up and volunteered nearly immediately. She had already suffered at the hands of the powerful when she had been unknowingly sterilized a year before. The powers had decided that black citizens in Southern Mississippi could be controlled if they weren't allowed to reproduce--so they took it upon themselves to perpetrate atrocities. Fannie volunteered to become a voter and have her voice heard.

Fannie lost her job as soon as her employer found out she had registered. She would later say of that night: "I guess if I'd had any sense, I'd have been a little scared - but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they [white people] could do was kill me, and it seemed they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember." Fannie's faith lent her a prophetic awareness of what was happening in the United States--people were giving up their lives piece by piece so that they might not lose it all at once. They were purchasing a degree of security by selling any hope of future security or equality. Given the lynchings and abuse suffered by those who did not agree to this Faustian bargain it is understandable but tragic. Fannie boarded a bus that was loaded with people like herself who were going to register. As they traveled and anticipated the vicious resistance that would meet them there, Fannie began singing hymns and inviting others to join her. As they sang "This Little Light of Mine," Fannie must have considered how this bus ride represented a painful commitment not to "hider [her light] under a bushel." Fannie's use of the hymns underscored to those who joined her that this was a spiritual struggle and not simply a matter of politics and influence.
In the summer of 1963 she and others on a bus returning from a literacy class were arrested on a trumped up charge by police officers looking to punish black people for being unsatisfied with the status quo. They were taken to prison and were offered the opportunity to leave by the police officers. Though they were tempted to do so they refused because they knew what was down that path--the police officers would shoot them in the backs and later claimed that "those savage blacks" had attacked them and tried to escape. Instead, they were incarcerated, beaten savagely, and left unfed in their cells to defecate and urinate on themselves. Some nearly died from these abuses. They were eventually released when it was determined that their nonviolence could not be manipulated to defame or kill them.

A year later she became a leader in a new political group known as the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. These "Freedom Democrats" insisted that Mississippi was unfairly represented at the Democratic National Convention--all of the delegates were white and there were active black voters in Mississippi. They insisted that changes be made and that Mississippi democrats needed to send black delegates. Lyndon Johnson became upset with this group because they represented a thorny political issue that would eliminate his southern support. Fannie was an easy story to cover for the news outlets because of her hymn-singing and soon Johnson was wondering what it would take to shut up "that illiterate woman." He sent a delegation to negotiate a compromise that might leave him politically powerful but Fannie was unpersuaded by their attempts to buy off their support and play political games. Her faith guided her and she rejected their compromise. She said she would "pray to Jesus" for them. She did but it cost her her seat on the negotiation committee. Eventually, a compromise was struck that stipulated that one of those delegates could not be Fannie Lou Hamer because she could not be trusted to play the political game.

Fannie Lou Hamer died in 1977 and was buried under a grave marker that read: "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."