Thursday, April 27, 2017

April 27 - Toyohiko Kagawa, Poet, Pacifist, Friend of the Poor

When Toyohiko Kagawa was asked to come and speak to the seminarians at Princeton--one of his alma maters--he went willingly and eagerly. Toyohiko had been displeased with much of his own seminary experience because he found that the students there were far more interested in arguments, rhetoric, persuasion, and the fine points of doctrine and textual study. He repeatedly begged them simply to live out what Jesus had taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He knew he was asking for much of the seminarians but he hoped that they would--as far as people go--be the most likely to answer a call to genuinely and sincerely practiced allegiance to Jesus as Lord and Savior. When he finished speaking to the assembled Princetonians he accepted some questions and then dismissed them quietly and gathered his things from the podium. As he was doing so, two of the seminarians turned to each other in their seats and discussed his lecture.

One insisted that it had not been quite what they had expected from a man who was so well respected around the seminary. Turning to his friend, he quipped, "He didn't have much to say, did he?"They shared their own little laugh knowing that they were better educated than Toyohiko but not knowing that they were still fools. Both of them had heard of his background and how he had been the illegitimate child of a powerful Japanese man and a geisha. He was hated by his mother and liked by his father but soon both his mother and father had died and he was orphaned. He was given over as the ward of the widowed wife of his father. She and her mother struggled not to resent little Toyohiko because it had not been his decision to be a child of infidelity but they failed in their struggle and Toyohiko knew he was hated by them. They sent him away to a boarding school. He began attending a bible study given by a Christian minister so that he could learn and practice his English. Yet while he was learning the language, he was hearing and considering the truths and teachings of the Faith of the minister. When he was a teenager, he converted to the Christian Faith that had gripped him by the heart over a long time of reflection and meditation. Soon after this conversion he knew clearly that he would be a minister of the Gospel that had spoken to him when he had walked in darkness, desperation, and death.

Though they didn't seem to prize it, those two young seminarians knew that after receiving more education in preparation for the calling he was already living into, Toyohiko had stepped out in faith and moved into the Shinkawa district of Kobe. These slums were some of the worst--if not the absolute worst--in all of Japan. He lived in a three-walled dwelling so filthy and small (only six feet wide by six feet long) that it would be an overstatement to call it a shack. For nearly fifteen years he tended to the sick, suffering, hungry, poor, and dying in Shinkawa. Toyohiko was able to make a little money (not nearly as much as he would have been able to if he had moved out of Shinkawa, though) but he spent it all on medicine, food, and clothing for those who came to him asking for it. He was regularly abused and beaten for his love and compassion. At one point, a band of thugs accosted him knowing him as an "easy mark" who would give over anything to them not out of fear but out of love. They demanded his clothing and mentioned that they knew he was a Christian. He took off his clothing and handed it over to the criminals and they walked away with filthy rags and an increasing awareness of the goodness of Toyohiko's God and their own inherent sinfulness shown by their willingness to beat and strip a poor and loving man in the slums.


Those two young seminarians probably had no idea that Toyohiko had spent nearly every night for nearly fifteen years tending for the sick and homeless in his own meager dwelling. He gave over his bed to the sick and filthy people he loved and slept in the cold with little to protect himself from the elements. He gave over his food and drink with such regularity that he was regularly ill from hunger. He did not have intense theological debates but he regularly lived out the teachings of Jesus in a way that granted him an inherent understanding of the Gospel that Jesus brought into this world. Every night for four years he held the hand of a murderer as that murderer drifted off into a fitful sleep in Toyohiko's own bed. The murderer could not bear what he had done any longer but Toyohiko still spoke of forgiveness to and refused to abandon the poor man who feared isolation and judgment. He organized workers in the slums and shipyards all while fighting for increased voting rights in Japan. Eventually, he was arrested and held in prison for two particular crimes: 1) he organized the voiceless so that they might speak in unison to those with power and be heard, and 2) he apologized to the Chinese for the Japanese occupation of portions of China. Toyohiko's commitment to peace--one he felt compulsory for all who hoped to follow Jesus even if it cost them their lives--made him a dangerous criminal in the eyes of Japan.

Perhaps the two young seminarians knew that a terrible earthquake hit Tokyo and Yokohama in 1923. The ruins of those cities were flooded with the sick, suffering, hungry, poor, and dying. The government was overwhelmed by the need and was uninitiated into taking care of its citizens since it had been so long practicing power and control and forsaking compassion and mercy. So they came to Toyohiko in prison and released him. They knew he had made a difference in the lives of those needing help and they also knew that it was Toyohiko who would be able to do it again. They made him Chief of Social Welfare and offered him a home and a sizable salary. He rejected them and insisted that he could neither help the poor from a position of comfort nor allow his Christian duty to be purchased. He slowly helped rebuild cities devastated by earthquake, neglect, and need. For this he was lauded and honored even as he insisted that he was only doing the bare minimum of what God had called him to do.


As the two seminarians continued to share their own criticism of Toyohiko they ignored that Toyohiko was struggling to see the steps he was trying to descend. He had acquired a serious eye disease because of his practices of offering hospitality even in the slums. Those he lived with were sick and soon so was Toyohiko. As the two men missed the point of all they had heard and continued to pass the drug of intelligent pride back and forth an elderly lady overheard them and interrupted them. She leaned forward to interject one simple sentence into their conversation while pointing at Toyohiko as he carefully descended the stairs: "You don't need to say much when you're hanging on a cross."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

April 26 - Basil of Amasea and Glaphyra, Martyr and Near-Martyr, Bishop and Refugee

Glaphyra was the servant of the empress--Constantia--who was married to the emperor named Licinius. Licinius lusted for Glaphyra in such an obvious way that it was apparent even to his wife whom he hoped to hide it from. To be honest, this was surely not the first time that Constantia was faced with her husband's infidelity since he seemed to be accustomed to getting what he wanted from women whether they liked it or not. Glaphyra, however, was a Christian and had taken a vow of celibacy so that she might focus on devoting herself to service and her calling as a woman of God. Constantia knew that soon her husband would force Glaphyra to transgress her vow and ruin yet another young woman. So, she dressed Glaphyra in the clothing of one of her male servants and undertook careful measures to disguise Glaphyra in a way that would not attract Licinius' attention. Then, she gave her a large sum of money and sent her to Amasea where she might refuge with the Church there. Once Glaphyra was away Constantia conspired with her servants to deceive Licinius and tell him that Glaphyra was insane and on her deathbed.

Glaphyra was very frugal with the gift that Constantia had given her. In fact, she still possessed nearly all of it when she arrived in Amasea and was taken in by the bishop there. His name was Basil and he was committed to taking care of the people of God and those that God willed to pass through his life. He took Glaphyra in and found a home for her within the congregation. She found comfort and spiritual solace in Amasea under Basil's leadership. Eventually, she donated all of the gift she had received to build a meeting building for the congregation that had welcomed her as a refugee and exile. It wasn't nearly enough and so she sent a letter back to Constantia by secretive means asking for more support. Constantia was very willing to support the Church in Amasea and so she sent along the money and the building was finished. But as it was being finished Licinius stumbled upon the letter and was outraged. He was not furious because he could not have Glaphyra's body but because he had been deceived and outwitted. He was embarrassed and allowed his embarrassment to fuel a rage. He ordered the governor of Amasea to send Glaphyra and Basil to him so that he might punish them for their audacity. He complied because of his allegiance to Licinius but Glaphyra died before the journey could be made and was buried among the bones of the congregation she had been grafted into. She had found a home and a calling and rested peacefully knowing her life's journey was over.


Basil, however, was sent to Licinius--brought in chains--to pay for the heinous crime of taking in a lonely, refugee woman. Basil was found guilty of the charge of subverting the empire and being an enemy of the state. For the treason of loving those the emperor raged against he was beaten and tortured. Licinius thought that a promise of money and power would win Basil over and so he offered to make brave Basil into a pagan priest of his own personal religion. Licinius must have been even more enraged when Basil laughed at the idea and insisted that it was foolishness to trade faith for life. So, he was carried to the place where he would be made a martyr and he stopped to pray with some of the Christians who had come from Amasea to be with him. They were worried he wouldn't hold up to the emperor's worst intentions but they were comforted to watch him follow through in his commitment and mount the platform where his life would be stolen from him. He knelt down and looked up to his executioner. "Do what he wants you to do," Basil said, "it's alright." Having forgiven his killers, he died a martyr and an example of what it means to follow Jesus regardless of the cost.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April 25 - John Mark, Martyr, Disciple, Missionary


John Mark, better known now simply as Mark, was there that day in Cana when a wedding became not only a happy celebration of love and devotion but also the inauguration of an entirely new ministry by God almighty incarnate in one single, mortal, human being. Mark was among the servants who were tending the celebration and keeping its embers of joy stoked and glowing. But there was a problem--they were out of wine. Maybe there had been a miscalculation or maybe the servants had overestimated how much wine they had left as they freely poured it out into the cups of the guests. Maybe the guests were so jubilant that they were simply drinking more than had been expected. Regardless, the servants knew this was a big problem and they were hastily conferring over it in the kind of whispered voices that do the exact opposite of what a whisper is supposed to do. Mary overheard their frenzy and smiled serenely because she knew what to do. She brought her son Jesus--Mark had heard quite a bit about this one already and much of it was hard to believe--and conferred to him quietly about the problem. At first he seemed distressed by her request but then he seemed to acquiesce to his dear mother's pleas. She turned to Mark and the other servants and said, "Trust him and do whatever he tells you to do. No matter what."

Mark watched as Jesus pointed at six stone water-jars and asked them quietly to fill the jars with water. This was some task because each jar held nearly thirty gallons of water. But Mark wanted to trust the man and so he did as he was asked. When they had secretly filled the jars they returned to Jesus to hear what next he would ask of them. Was it possible he knew something about those jars and their problemthey they didn't? Surely, Mark must have thought this was a crazy idea but he had heard some startling rumors about Jesus and he had nothing to lose so he went with it. Jesus nodded when they returned to him and said, "Now draw some and take it to your boss to taste." Some must have scoffed at this. Sure, after the good wine had been served and the guests had lost some of their ability to appreciate the quality of the wine they might be able to pass off worse wine as good but not water as wine. That's when Mark drew a cupful and saw it was red and smelled of wine. He took it to his boss and was surprised to hear it described as better than the first. He looked over his shoulder at Jesus and as he locked eyes with this man Mary's words ran through his head again: "Trust him and do whatever he tells you to do. No matter what." That day he became a follower and disciple.

Mark was not one of "the Twelve" but he was surely one of those who regularly traveled around listening to him preach and teach. He was sent out among the seventy to preach the Kingdom that Jesus could see coming and was anticipating eagerly. He did it not because he felt especially gifted or skilled but because Jesus had told him to do so and he was willing to trust Jesus and do whatever he instructed. Of course, this didn't always hold because--like everybody else--he abandoned Jesus on the night of his crucifixion. But, he was quick to return and further commit himself to trusting Jesus--God incarnate--who had died and been resurrected. Then, on that beautiful day when Jesus ascended again to the Father he gave a parting message to those who were assembled with him. Mark heard him command his followers to go into the world and take the Gospel that Jesus had taught and lived to anybody and everybody. Mark took this calling and commissioning very seriously and set out among the early Christians to share the faith at great cost to himself. He traveled with Paul and Barnabas for some time. He went far from his home in North Africa to the Church at Colossae at Paul's leading and teaching. He even went so far as Rome to help Paul in his missionary journeys.



When Paul was executed, Mark traveled back to near where he was born and raised. He ended up in Alexandria and he openly preached the Gospel message he had received: that God had loved us so dearly and furiously that God became human to show us the way back to God and died at our hands so that our sins might be placed upon God as a burden previously unknown and forever incalculable.But that wasn't the end because death and sin had been unable to hold God down in all of God's glory and God had broken them even as they worked their dark magic to destroy and dissolve the Creator and Lord of All Things. Having risen from the dead, God told us that this was only the first of many resurrections since God had broken and conquered death so that we might be forgiven and healed. This resurrection was an earnest promise of the future reconciliation and healing of all creation. For preaching this message, Mark was hated and despised by many Alexandrians. They wished to continue worshiping their Egyptian gods regardless of Mark's continued compassion and love for them. In the face of the forgiveness and love he offered them they could not continue to abide his presence and his message of hope and faith. So, in the year 68, they tied him to the back of some horses and dragged him through the streets until he was beaten to death by the rocks and people that awaited him on his route leading to death.In the end, he still heard the words of Mary: "Trust him and do whatever he tells you to do. No matter what." So, he had trusted him and done what he had taught without regard to cost.

Monday, April 24, 2017

April 24 - Max Josef Metzger, Martyr, Priest, Pacifist


Max Josef Metzger had followed the calling that spoke to him inwardly and demanded his greatest allegiance and devotion. It had led him to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic church. When World War I began to rampage through Europe he became a chaplain for the Imperial Army of Germany. He served his country while he served his Lord and calling but the war left an increasingly bitter taste in his mouth. With each funeral he officiated and each atrocity he witnessed he became more and more convinced of the world's great and desperate need for peace. At one point he wrote that “future wars have lost their meaning, since they no longer give anybody the prospect of winning more than he loses.”Max was receiving a quick and painful education in the futility of violence and domination. With each act of violence they found themselves only further away from the peace they were hoping for. In this desperation, Max began earnestly to hope for the peace that he knew God could bring and for which the world hungered and thirsted.

After the end of World War I, Max became committed not only to personal pacifism and renunciation of violence but, also, the spread of nonviolent thought among other people. Furthermore, Max feared that there was no hope for peace in the world if there was no hope for unity in the Church. If the people who were called to be the Body of Christ could not be reconciled one with another then it seemed that there was no hope for the fallen systems of the world to be raised from the ashes of death, violence, and war. He started a pacifist organization in Germany and tried to unite his group with international groups. He became active in peace demonstrations and in works to reunite the various broken portions of the Church. He drew heavy criticism for this but was allowed to do his work for many years. But as Adolf Hitler rose to power, Max found his influence and capacity for free speech and thought curtailed. Soon, it was a regular occurrence for the Gestapo to arrest Max on some trumped up charges. He went with them but he continued to resist them in his writings and sermons.


In 1943--during the heart of World War II--Max attempted to promote the cause of peace even while war was consuming the hearts and minds of the people of Germany and other countries. He did not agree with the Nazi policies and was considered by them to be an enemy and traitor. He sent a letter to the Archbishop of Sweden that looked forward to the fall of the Nazis and planned for a future of peace and reconciliation that might rise from the death of World War II and the great seduction and confusion of the German people. His letter was intercepted and turned over to the Gestapo.They interpreted his hope for peace in the future as treason in the present and he was arrested. For daring to dream of a world that might escape the need for domination, manipulation, and death he was condemned as a criminal and enemy. He was tried for this crime and found guilty. The man who was the judge at the trial pronounced his sentence--death--by noting that people like Max should be eradicated. In a world of acceptable civilian casualties and security by destruction, Max's hope for peace and reconciliation was an oddity worthy of death. He was executed on the seventeenth day of April in the year 1944.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

April 23 - George of Nicomedia, Martyr, Beloved of Diocletian, Hero


Geronzio had been a servant of Diocletian before Diocletian had risen to the status and rank of emperor in Rome. He had served Diocletian loyally and had gained his respect and admiration. He was, however, a Christian and though Diocletian knew this he did not expect Geronzio to change his allegiance as long as Geronzio did not openly betray him. Geronzio was also married to a woman named Policronia. The two of them had used their connections and influence to elevate themselves to a noble status and to shore up possessions and wealth. They used this wealth and status to provide comfort and aid to their brothers and sisters in the Faith and to prepare their newborn son--whom they named George, meaning "worker of the land"--for his life and whatever it might hold. As George grew in age and education he also grew into the faith of his parents and his many new brothers and sisters that came to his family's home for services of worship and communion.Tragically, Geronzio died when George was fourteen and within three years Policronia had taken that fateful step beyond mortality and into life more ideal and true. George was among many who were like family to him and he was the inheritor of his family's considerable wealth but he was without direction and no longer had his father as his mentor. So, George went to the man who had so loved and favored his father: Diocletian.

George became a soldier under Dicoletian's watchful care and guidance. Diocletian was heartbroken when he heard of Geronzio's death but was overjoyed at the prospect of guiding George's career and continued service to Rome. He was aware that George was a Christian but underestimated George's allegiance to his faith. Eventually, George was promoted to the rank of Tribunus and set upon a career that would likely end up with him in a powerful political position within the Roman empire. Further, he served as one of the Emperor's personal guards and soldiers--living into Geronzio's favor with Diocletian. While in this position he had many opportunities to use his wealth and influence to better the lives of those with whom he came into contact. At one point he arrived in a village of non-Christians who had taken to a bloodthirsty ritual of human sacrifice. They would cast lots and the young woman who was indicated by the lots would be sacrificed to appease the dark god they feared. When George arrived he was stricken at the ruthlessness of such a ritual and stopped them in the midst of their ceremony of slaughter. He spoke at length with not only the leaders but the assembled crowds and told a story of a God who did not demand blood and death but had, instead, given blood and died so that we might be forgiven. At his words, their hearts turned and they abandoned their ways of death and many came within the fold of the Christian faith. They gave over their allegiance to a slaughtered and risen Lord and gave up faith and hope in slaughter and domination. For this he was labeled a hero because he had slain the dark beast that dwelt within them and brought them into the way of life more abundant and free.


Tragically for both George and Diocletian, Diocletian began to be swayed by Galerius and his own fear of a loss in power. Having heard so many lies about the Christians, Diocletian issued a command throughout the army. All soldiers were to give a sacrifice to the roman gods and values to demonstrate their allegiance and deny any faith in the Christian God. Those who refused were to be executed as Christians and traitors to the Roman army. Diocletian was stuck deciding between his beloved friend George whom he knew as a Christian and the power he hoped to consolidate with this bloody edict. He begged George to renounce his faith and offered him great gifts of land, money, and slaves if he would give his greatest allegiance to Diocletian and Rome. George refused and still Diocletian begged. Diocletian still offered him his most persuasive gifts but George did the incredible by giving away all that he already owned to the poor and to the Church that he had served so eagerly and willingly. He was tortured and finally he was beheaded so that Rome might make a statement about power. Eventually, George was turned over to the executioners with many other Christians for torture and death.However, Rome and Diocletian also made an unintentional statement about the faith of the Christians of whom they made martyrs. George died in good company and died so that others might know there was more to death than a grave and more to life than comfort.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

April 22 - Corrie ten Boom and Family, Friends of Refugees, Opponents of the Nazis, Righteous Among the Nations


When Corrie ten Boom heard the knocking at the door she checked to make sure that the family was ready for her to open it. This was a habit--and a good one--because they never knew who might be standing outside their door in Haarlem, Holland, in the year 1942. The Nazis and their brutal gestapo were always keen on surprise searches and raids. So, a family like Corrie's knew that they should tie down any loose ends--or visible refugees--before they opened the door. The challenge was, of course, making sure that there wasn't much hesitation in answering the door, however, because the Nazis were always looking for an excuse to rationalize their violating searches. Casting glances around her--while her family did the same--she decided that they were ready for whoever might be on the other side of the door. As the door swung open and obscured her view she readied herself to be courageous and to stand by her faith regardless of who waited for her on the threshold. As her expectation turned to vision, she was glad to see a finely dressed woman in traveling clothes with a briefcase. She didn't need the woman to tell her what she was there for but she knew it was important to the woman to say. The woman told Corrie that she was a Jew--quietly so that any nearby informants might not have cause to run to the Nazis--and that her husband had been arrested by the Nazis. After finding a hiding place for their son she had left the watchful eye of her city's predators and arrived at the house of Corrie and her family seeking refuge and a sanctuary. Corrie led her inside without a moment's hesitation.


Corrie and her family were committed to offering a haven of protection for those that the State despised and abused. They had given refuge to Jews and members of the Dutch resistance for over two years by the point that the young woman arrived on their doorstep. They had a special place in their home--a small room accessed in Corrie's closet--where those that the Nazis pursued could hide when they inevitably came looking. Otherwise, they were the honored guests of Corrie and her family. They observed the Sabbath with their guests and kept their kitchen kosher so that they might not present any problem to those the world called refugees and they called brothers and sisters. Their Christian convictions led them to understand the Jews as their kin and family--the chosen people of God to whom they had been joined by their faith. However, as this heroic work continued they were presented with a challenge. The members of Corrie's family each had a ration card but none of the Jews were ever given ration cards. This meant that they had a limited amount of food for an increasing number of people. They shared what they had but it wasn't enough.

Corrie, who was known to say not only "Let God's promises shine on your problems" but, also,"Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God" went at night to a man who was a government employee and was connected to the ration cards. Corrie had once cared for this man's mentally handicapped daughter and had even run a special Church service for the girl and others like her. She had shown love and kindness to another of those whom the world avoids and fears and in doing had shown God to the girl and her mother and father. She knocked on his door and began to tell her story but eventually he cut her off because he knew what she must be preparing to ask him for. He asked her how many cards she needed. She had been planning on asking for five because that would have made the situation at home much easier. But, then when she went to say how many she needed she realized that she had an opportunity to expand her family's ability to protect those they loved.She asked for one hundred and received the man's help with some hesitation.

Eventually, their goodness became public knowledge and shortly thereafter a Dutch informant sold them out to the Nazis. The Nazis raided the house and took the family captive along with all their beloved guests. Corrie and her family were sent to Scheveningen prison for their efforts and her already ailing father died only ten days into his captivity. Corrie's nephew, brother, and younger sister were all released after some time in prison but Corrie and her older sister were transferred first to Vught concentration camp and finally to Ravensbruck. Corrie's older sister died at Ravensbruck but, perhaps sensing Corrie's growing desperation, she told her: "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still." Inspired by her sister's faith, she continued offering comfort and solace to those she was captive with until she was released--because of a clerical error--on Christmas Day in the year 1944. They had not meant to release her but they did and so she was spared the death that was scheduled for her in a week's time.


Perhaps the most shocking moment, though, came two years later when she was in Germany and brought face to face with one of the guards from Ravensbruck. She was immediately furious with him but this would not last. Instead, she reminded herself of her call to love and forgive even her enemies and that "Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart." She forgave the man and held his hands and prayed for him. She would look back at this event for the remainder of her career as a speaker and storyteller as the one moment when she most felt the love of God surging through her. In that moment, she had slipped the bonds of broken sinfulness and attained to the great calling that Jesus had placed upon her life: to redeem a broken and sinful world by laying down herself and loving others.

Friday, April 21, 2017

April 21 - Anselm of Canterbury, Theologian, Archbishop, Doctor of the Church


Anselm's home life was troubled when he was a little boy. His mother--Ermenberga--took the role of educator and spiritual director for Anselm and guided him on the path that led to being a disciple of her Lord Jesus. From his mother, Anselm learned the power of obedience and the high calling that God has placed upon his life. Consequently, Anselm also learned the gravity of his own sin and the frustration of his own brokenness from his dear mother. However, his father--Gundulph--owned much property and felt the weight and burden of noble birth and blood. Much had been given to Gundulph by the powers of this world and so much more was expected of him. Gundulph expected his son Anselm to help him bear these burdens of affluence and become more like himself and less like the heroes of the faith his wife taught. Anselm was less impressed by his father's view of things but he was captivated by a vision born to him from his mother: serving God as a monk. When he expressed this desire to his father, Gundulph was adamant that this could not be the place where his son would end up. He forbade his son to go and Anselm was heartbroken at his father's refusal.


Anselm's thoughts soon turned to others matters because his dream had been crushed by his father. He felt a distinct calling to go and to be what it was that God willed but he also felt obligated to honor his father even when his father didn't have his best interests in mind. Perhaps he still held out hope for a change in his father's mind or perhaps his mother advised him to continue growing spiritually where he was until God opened a door for him to go elsewhere and serve God. Regardless, he gave up his studies and became a man of leisure. This must have simultaneously comforted and frustrated Gundulph who was happy still to have his son nearby to work and be groomed for his own burdens but distressed that his son seemed given to either a monastic life or a life of nothing of consequence. Gundulph had got what he wanted but it tasted bitter once he had it. Some years later--years full of Anselm's uninterested participation in Gundulph's dreams--Ermenberga died and both father and son were cut deeply by the loss. Without Ermenberga, Anselm found it hard to continue to relate to his father and Gundulph could find no way back to reconciliation with his son. Gundulph became more unbearable at home and began lashing out at Anselm. Eventually, Anselm left home and traveled West through the Alps before arriving at a monastery in France. He became a monk over a decade after his first calling and attempt.

Eventually, he would become abbot of his community and begin to take positions of leadership within the Church. His highest position would be becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury and regularly wrestling the English authorities for control of the Church. Wherever he served and worked became a place of education and spiritual formation. Many of his writings have survived to this day and are read widely by those interested in what became known as Scholastic theology. Anselm's writings possessed a character of a hopeful seeker of truth who found that understanding and knowledge could only be found through the lens and filter of faith. In his writings he advanced many theological positions including a detailed understanding of the doctrines of substitutionary atonement in his work entitled Cur Deus Homo ("Why God Became Human"). Though he is best known as an author, theologian, and archbishop it should not be forgotten that he was also one of the earliest opponents of the atrocities that would be called "The Crusades." He took criticism for this stance but he maintained anyway. He died on this day 900 years ago and has been considered a "Doctor of the Church" for nearly 289 years.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

April 20 - Justin Martyr, Martyr, Apologist, "Samaritan"


Justin Martyr was born in a place known as Flavia Neapolis some 70 miles away from Jerusalem. But he was thoroughly influenced by the Greeks and Romans in his birth, childhood, and upbringing. Evidently his family was of some influence and considerable wealth because he had the relative luxury of an education in a time when education was a nice thing largely available only to the wealthy and powerful. He excelled in his studies and moved on to study philosophy in an anxious pursuit of wisdom and truth. He professed to be a lover of wisdom but at times it must have been easier to believe he was a lover of the comfort and security that money and education afforded him. Justin sought truth but found it nowhere that he looked until a Christian--one of those that Rome abhorred and detested--began to speak with him about the faith that he or she professed. Justin asked his questions and wondered openly if it might not be the case that this Jesus was right when he claimed to be "The Truth." As he studied the faith of the Christians more and more he found himself falling further and further into the grips of a faith that enlivened and comforted him in ways that influence, money, and acclaim could not. Soon, he became a convert and made it well known to his colleagues, peers, and students that he was no longer on a philosophical quest to find truth because he had met "The Truth."

He identified himself in his numerous writings as a Samaritan even though he was most definitely a Roman citizen and he had been raised to serve and follow the gods of his father and his father's father. Perhaps he identified himself as a Samaritan because he knew that in his faith he was the unlikely heir of the covenant promised to Abraham and others. He knew that he had been grafted into a story that was not his own but was, in fact, a story that ended in redemption and resurrection. Thus, he was an outsider who had been loved and cared for by Jesus and and he was an outsider that was on the route that led to salvation and healing. Or, perhaps, he identified himself as a Samaritan because he longed to live into the role of the Good Samaritan that Jesus had talked about. Perhaps Justin hoped to go where others refused to go to be with those the world rejected so that he might find Christ among the stranger and refugee. Regardless, he continued living a life of a philosopher and rhetorician but his speech turned to a testimony of what God had done in Jesus and what God wanted to do in the lives of those who heard Justin's words.

Given the incredible position that Justin had within Roman society he began to deliver the Gospel to ears that might never have heard it. He argued that while Rome was killing Christians it was missing the point and pronouncing Christians evil while being seduced to do so by evil itself. He insisted that Christians were not evil and were, in fact, following after "The Truth" even while others failed to see it. Eventually he was arrested for having the audacity to say such things as: "We pray for our enemies; we seek to persuade those who hate us without cause to live conformably to the goodly precepts of Christ, that they may become partakers with us of the joyful hope of blessings from God, the Lord of all." and "Wherein is it possible for us, wicked and impious creatures, to be justified, except in the only Son of God? O sweet reconciliation! O untraceable ministry! O unlooked-for blessing! that the wickedness of many should be hidden in one godly and righteous man, and the righteousness of one justify a host of sinners!"

Finally, those whom he preached to brought him to trial with other soon-to-be martyrs. The prefect said to them, "Sacrifice to the gods or you will be mercilessly tortured."

Justin replied, "Nobody in their right mind would give up faith for apostasy and your merciless torture is what we desire because it leads to our salvation and gives us confidence to face a greater trial--the judgment to which all men will come before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Then he joined with the others to be martyrs and invited the Romans to do whatever it was that they desired since they professed the Christian faith and refused to become apostates and sacrifice to the idols. So, they were tortured mercilessly and finally beheaded as an example to the Roman citizens of how evil the Christians were and how good the Romans were.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

April 19 - Alphege of Canterbury, Martyr, Peacemaker, Refused to be Ransomed


Alphege had known from a very early age what he wanted to do; he wanted to take vows and become a monk. So, at the earliest possible date for Alphege to make this commitment he applied and became a monk at Deerhurst. He proved not only his commitment but devotion to his calling and soon was transferred to Bath. At Bath he continued to demonstrate his devotion and eventually became the abbot of the community at Bath. In many ways he had been a spiritual leader among them for many years--leading them to take better care of the poor and practice compassion more intently--but his elevation to the role of abbot made the leadership official. His leadership and compassion had attracted the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury and after years of service at Bath he was called to become the Bishop of Winchester at the age of thirty so that he could further serve the Church he loved.

He served as Bishop of Winchester for ten years of relative peace before a fateful day in the year 994 when the Danish vikings landed on the coastline of England and began rampaging through the nearby villages. They slaughtered and pillaged the Britons they encountered and eventually an envoy of ministers was sent by the Archbishop to negotiate a peace. Alphege was one of the men sent to speak with the leader of the vikings: Anlaf. A deal was brokered thanks to Alphege's willingness to relate to Anlaf. The group had purchased peace from Anlaf's raids with a regular tribute payment. Further, Anlaf agreed to listen to Alphege's preaching and was soon converted to the Christian way. It's hard to say whether or not Anlaf's conversion was solely because of its political expediency or because of an inner conviction but regardless of Anlaf's intentions it points to Alphege's willingness to relate and commune even with his enemies. After his great success and the death of the Archbishop, Alphege was elevated to the role of Archbishop of Canterbury. He went to Rome to receive this position and its symbols.

When he returned to England he was shocked to see viking raiders pillaging the Canterbury cathedral. These were not Anlaf's vikings--at least Anlaf was not there--so there was no treaty between them and the British people.These vikings were seeking a similar tribute as to what Anlaf had received and also copious amounts of ransom money. They captured Alphege and forced him to watch the burning of the cathedral and the brutal murder of many monks and priests. Finally, they let him know that he would be their prisoner until somebody paid them a ransom of 3,000 pounds of gold. He was an important figure and it was possible that his name could have fetched such a huge ransom but Alphege refused to be ransomed. He informed the vikings that he would not pay it or solicit anybody else to pay it because if it were paid by the government then it would come out of the hands of the poor. Alphege was unwilling to hurt the people he loved so that he might be given his life back. So, they beat him savagely and then busted his head open with the back of an axe. He was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to by martyred.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

April 18 - Apollonius of Rome, Martyr, Apologist, Not Afraid to Die


Apollonius had spent years in study and was strikingly familiar with the major philosophers and schools of thought in the second century Roman empire. He had converted to Christianity because of the witness and testimonies of the early Church members but had continued to study the beliefs and convictions of those he had left behind and hoped to bring to faith with himself. He was a Roman senator and knew that his power brought a modicum of protection with it. He knew that there was a law against being a Christian but he knew two other things, as well: 1) the Roman rulers would not simply betray him without cause, and 2) he was called to share the grace and love that he had freely received. Eventually, one of his slaves betrayed him as a Christian to a praetorian prefect by the name of Perennis. It's likely that Perennis and others knew but they were turning a blind eye to Apollonius' faith because they had no desire to enforce the law upon their friend and respected colleague--they were comfortable enforcing the law upon "the little people" who didn't matter but feared what might happen if the laws were enforced fairly and equitably. So, Perennis had Apollonius arrested so that he might come to trial. He also had the slave's legs crushed as punishment for forcing the hand of the Empire.

As Perennis brought Apollonius to his trials he pleaded with him to renounce his faith--even if he "didn't mean it"--because those in power were all too willing to find him not guilty of the crime. He reminded Apollonius that the punishment for being a Christian was death and insisted that the right course of action for a senator like Apollonius was to renounce his faith and maintain his influence and power in the world. When Apollonius refused to apostatize before the court he was given over to the senate of which he was a member to be tried by his peers and--hopefully--dissuaded from his faith. This was the moment that Apollonius had been counting on and so he shared his faith with the whole senate. He knew they would give him a charitable ear because of their respect for him and that his arguments--well crafted by many years of education and the passion he now felt for life and truth because of his faith--would be heard without interruption. He ended his great testimony by praying, "O Lord Jesus Christ, give us a bit of your spirit so that we might be helped to obey your teachings to: make peace over anger, join in pity with others and for others, temper our desires, always increase in love, put away our sorrow, cast aside our foolish pride, not love vengeance, and not fear death. Help us to trust our spirit to God the Father who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit now and forever." Perennis couldn't understand why Apollonius wasn't taking the easy and reasonable way out of death and yelled at him, "Are you determined to die today?"

Apollonius responded, "Oh no." He continued, "I very much enjoy life but my love of life does not make me afraid to lose it. There's something better waiting for me: eternal life! There is something better given to the person who has lived well on earth." He admonished the listening crowd to cast aside their pride and self-obsession but they were unwilling to pay the price of faith. He was convicted for his crime not because the senate was willing to convict one of its own but because he was unwilling even to pretend not to trust God. For his crime his legs were crushed and he was decapitated. He died a martyr who had been given a rare chance to preach the Gospel to his executioners.

Monday, April 17, 2017

April 17 - Kateri Tekakwitha, Orphan, Persecuted by Both Sides, Lily Among the Mohawks


Kateri Tekakwitha had two parents and an older brother. All of them were part of the Mohawk people who lived in the northeastern parts of what is now known as North America. Her father was a Mohawk warrior and leader while her mother was ethnically Algonquin but she had been raised by French settlers and had been taught the Christian faith. She was captured by the Mohawk and became the wife of one of their men (the man who would be Kateri's father). Three years later she had given birth to a son and a newborn daughter. Her faith was tolerated as long as she kept it to herself but she seemed incapable of that task and shared it with both of her children as best as she knew how. When Kateri was only four years old an outbreak of small pox swept through her village. There seemed to be no escape from the contagion and, when it finally faded, little Kateri was the only one of her family who had survived it. In the aftermath she discovered that she had been left with a remembrance of this awful time: disfiguring facial scars. She was adopted by an uncle and two aunts in the village but her life was forever changed by this horrific outbreak.

As she grew older, she had no connections to the faith of her mother and knew of the European settlers only as insurgents and usurpers. When Kateri was only ten years old her village was raided and burned by the French. They came with their weapons and hatred and left a swath of destruction in their wake. Furthermore, these soldiers were accompanied by priests who seemed no more merciful or kind than the one who wielded the weapons. Kateri had every reason to distrust and despise the people who came bringing death and suffering in the name of Jesus but for some blessed reason she was able to look beyond their poor example and see the Lord they were unable faithfully to represent. When missionaries visited the new villages they were met with understandable and justifiable hostility. It turns out that you can't proclaim grace and love to a people whose neck you step on. Kateri, however, couldn't escape the feeling that God was calling to her and so she made a leap of faith that the God they claimed to follow did not guide them to do their evils. She met in secret with a priest, converted, and was baptized. For this conversion and baptism she was labeled a problem by her people and persecuted viciously. By taking up the cross of Jesus, she became an enemy both to her people and her people's enemies.

She tried to show her people the Christ that the Christians were obscuring but their evils had darkened the view for all who would find the one who offers life more abundant and free--the one who died on a cross for all peoples. Most of the Mohawk were resistant to listening to Kateri and the persecution only continued. Eventually--after many threats and a few attempts to take her life--she was forced to flee and find refuge elsewhere. She escaped at night and traveled with a few other young Christian Mohawks to Sault-Sainte-Marie where other Christian natives were living in community. She devoted herself to a life of prayer and took a personal vow of chastity so that she might further devote herself to the Lord she had found in spite of all the odds. At one time she wanted to start a convent of native Christian women but this did not happen before she died at the age of twenty-four. Her last words were a testament of love for her Savior: "Jesus, I love you!" She died an inspiration to those who knew her. She had been willing to give up anything and everything to follow after a foreign Lord who was not well-represented but who had called her anyway.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

April 16 - 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, April 15, 2017

April 15 - 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, April 14, 2017

April 14 - 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, April 13, 2017

April 13 - 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, April 12, 2017

April 12 - Isaac the Syrian, Abbot of Spoleto, Intuitive, Man of Prayer

The monks must have balked at first at Isaac's strange instructions--did he really think it was wise to leave their gardening tools out in the garden at night?"Surely," they said one to another, "he must know that thieves will come and steal them." But Isaac's story had earned their obedience even if it seemed a ridiculous instruction that almost certainly meant trying to garden without their tools in the days to come. They did as they were instructed because they had grown to trust Isaac completely and had, in fact, left their previous lives behind simply to be his disciple after hearing stories about him. Many of them had first heard of Isaac shortly after his arrival in Spoleto, Italy. He had traveled from far away and when he arrived he requested from the local officials at the cathedral that he be allowed to stay in the cathedral as long as necessary to make his prayers and to give thanks to God. When they consented, he went about his prayers with a fervor that was at first charming but grew tiring for the men in charge of the upkeep of the building. When he had been there for nearly sixty hours, one of the men had had enough of what he believed to be Isaac's hypocrisy. The man reasoned that Isaac was attempting to gain favor with other worshipers by faking a devout prayer life all while keeping a roof over his head. So, the man approached Isaac to tell him to leave and not to pester anyone else.

With venom on his tongue, he harassed Isaac and told him to move on. But, Isaac continued in his prayers. So, the man struck him on the side of the face and knocked Isaac to the floor. The man was suddenly seized by an unclean spirit that took advantage of his spiritually weakened state and his sin against his brother. Under the conviction of God and having been driven to the floor by the unclean spirit, the man begged Isaac to drive the spirit out of him and grant him forgiveness. Isaac said nothing, continued his prayers, and leaned over the stricken man. In an instant the man was delivered from the spirit and from his sin and offered his heartfelt gratitude to Isaac as Isaac continued to pray. This story spread quickly and soon Isaac was deluged by people seeking not only to learn from him but to give him money, possessions, and land to build a monastery. Isaac politely refused all these offers and when asked why he responded, "A monk who acquires possessions is no longer a monk."He left Spoleto behind and moved into a nearby wilderness to build a small cell and take up the devoted prayer life of a hermit. In his wake came those who were willing to cast aside all things to gain what it was that Isaac already seemed to have--an intimate connection with the God that others just seemed to talk about.

So, the monks under his care went to sleep that night confident that their tools would be gone in the morning. Indeed, shortly after they had all fallen asleep, thieves scaled the walls of the monastery and began the task of gathering up the gardening tools. But, as each man picked up a spade he felt a heaviness upon his heart concerning their plan to pilfer the monks' livelihood. So, one by one they decided to finish the work that the monks had started before leaving with the tools. In the morning, Isaac gathered the monks and asked them to prepare a breakfast feast for some unexpected guests from the produce in their garden. When the monks went to the garden, though, they found the thieves still working and were amazed at the wonderful care that each man had taken in tending the garden. As the thieves and the monks stared at each other in surprise, Isaac entered the garden and began gathering produce while inviting the thieves to sit at the table and join in their feast. Each thief and each monk ate his fill and enjoyed the fellowship of one another. As the meal finished, Isaac spoke to the guests. He didn't shame or guilt them but he simply encouraged the men to leave their lives of theft behind. He invited them to join with the monks in prayer whenever they wanted to do so and then he gave them each permission to come and harvest as much as they liked from the garden any time they were hungry. Many of the thieves left their sin behind while some were converted and even joined the monastery. Isaac had simply followed after his Lord Jesus and offered grace and mercy to any who would have it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

April 11 - Guthlac, Penitent, Monk, Hermit


Perhaps it was just a hunch or a lucky guess. Or, perhaps it was God's subtle guidance that led Guthlac to come to the conclusion he did about the man giving him a shave. Maybe it was a combination of subtle, unconscious signals--the way the man held the razor, the movement of his shoulders, where the man's eyes focused as he talked, and the pitch and timbre of his voice--but Guthlac knew that the man was contemplating a heinous act even as the man held a razor mere inches from Guthlac's throat. Perhaps Guthlac had seen that murderous look before in the eyes of his enemies or even his allies. Regrettably, he had indubitably known what it felt like to silently plot the destruction of another. Guthlac kept his hands at his sides and looked his would be killer in the eyes before asking, "You would kill me even as I sit here?" The man's face must have shown his shock, not at being accused of some surprising evil but rather at being found out. Guthlac made no move to stop the man who paused with death in hand--after all, Guthlac had had his share of fighting and was interested in fighting no more. The would be killer nodded lamely and produced a tearful confession before begging Guthlac's forgiveness. Guthlac forgave him instantly and taught the man about the Adversary's way of tempting us to destroy life--a lesson Guthlac was exquisitely qualified to speak upon--even as the man finished Guthlac's shave.

Guthlac had left his father's home at the age of fifteen to pursue a life of what he thought to be freedom and liberty and would only later discover to be a type of self selected slavery. Raised in a noble family with prestige and influence, Guthlac was afforded with opportunities to gather around himself both friends and dark desires. He left his home with sword in hand and armor purchased with his family's wealth. Guthlac assembled around himself a band of followers and soldiers who would join with him in pursuing gratification and dominance by the work of their sword arms. They made war upon the people around them and took in spoils and profit at the expense of those who could least afford it. Everything they wanted--no matter how large or small--was theirs for the taking and in this way they sought after happiness. Yet, after nearly nine years of such a life, Guthlac was rapidly approaching the realization that his "freedom" felt peculiarly like slavery and his "liberties" felt like chains. One night Guthlac had a dramatic vision of the Lord Jesus while he slept and in that vision his perspective on life was changed and a seed of love and compassion was planted within his heart. A short time later, Guthlac could no longer deny the sin he had done in the pursuit of himself and so he laid down his sword and all its weight to pursue a path of love and compassion. Guthlac sold his things, bid his companions farewell, and became a monk at Repton in Derbyshire.

Having forsaken his life of self obsession and violence, Guthlac devoted himself with the same passion to dwelling with and abiding in the God who had called him out of sin and into true freedom. After years of study, prayer, and growth, Guthlac asked for (and was granted) permission to become a hermit and further devote himself to the Lord he had met as a child but had only returned to in a tent and bedroll purchased with blood money. Guthlac moved to a place known as the Fens and built a hermitage for himself in its bleak setting. At first, the only ones who came to see him were his persecutors who hoped to gain any of his meager possessions through violence. Guthlac was beaten repeatedly and refused to harm his persecutors, choosing rather to pray for them. Guthlac knew well what their lives were and where they were headed, there were few better to pray for them.Eventually, his hard earned wisdom and spiritual maturity caused pilgrims to seek him out and ask for his prayer and guidance. One of these pilgrims would be the man who nearly murdered Guthlac with a razor so that he could move into Guthlac's cell and perpetrate a great lie to receive the esteem of other pilgrims. The same man--now a disciple of Guthlac--was there when Guthlac became ill suddenly and passed from this world after struggling with sickness for eight days. Guthlac left this world and its trouble behind on April 11, 714.