Thursday, January 29, 2009
PCA pastor Jason Stellman makes the point I've been wanting to make for some time in a post entitled On Pleasantville and the Visible Church:
"Once we have sufficiently convinced ourselves that the visible church is small enough only to contain those who are under the authority of our particular denomination or body, then we can allow passages like Matthew 16:19 to play a significant role in our ecclesiastical practice. When someone becomes unrepentantly delinquent in doctrine or morals, we exercise our proper jurisdiction and remove such a one from our assembly.
But while all of this painful, sober, and faithful discipline happens we have this nagging thought in the back of our minds that the excommunicated person can just run out and join one of many other churches in the area, and that the chances that those churches will take seriously our disciplinary sentence are slim to nil. So he’s not really “delivered over to Satan,” but delivered over to Lakeside Community Church.
My point is two-fold. First, Protestantism doesn’t really believe in a visible church but in visible churches, and secondly, it is only in the context of any one of these distinct churches that spiritual authority and discipline make any sense."
He has a spot-on analysis coming from the place where I stood just 4 months ago.
If Jesus wanted Christians to gather together into multiple bodies willy-nilly, there would be the confusing situation we are in today. The ability to deliver the disobedient to Satan, to shun those who cause divisions, etc. etc. is made to be something where one group of Christians say "Yes, Brother X is a brother in good standing" while the others say "No, Brother X is in trouble."
So just as the Gospels call for celibacy among at least some brethren, and I tried to argue "Hey, but that's not in there!," I would also argue that church discipline has no real teeth outside of a Church that is ultimately visible and one. The ideal set forth by Christ is doomed to fail, if we are supposed to be split based on baptism, communion, church government, soteriology, music, and the color of the drapes.
Lord, heal us of our division as a group so that we can be healed of our many weaknesses as individuals.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Christian proclamation of hope in a world of separation
“that they may become one in your hand”
Ezek 37: 1-14 I will open your graves
The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he led me out in the spirit of the LORD and set me in the center of the plain, which was now filled with bones.
He made me walk among them in every direction so that I saw how many they were on the surface of the plain. How dry they were!
He asked me: Son of man, can these bones come to life? "Lord GOD," I answered, "you alone know that."
Then he said to me: Prophesy over these bones, and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!
Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: See! I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life.
I will put sinews upon you, make flesh grow over you, cover you with skin, and put spirit in you so that you may come to life and know that I am the LORD.
I prophesied as I had been told, and even as I was prophesying I heard a noise; it was a rattling as the bones came together, bone joining bone.
I saw the sinews and the flesh come upon them, and the skin cover them, but there was no spirit in them.
Then he said to me: Prophesy to the spirit, prophesy, son of man, and say to the spirit: Thus says the Lord GOD: From the four winds come, O spirit, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.
I prophesied as he told me, and the spirit came into them; they came alive and stood upright, a vast army.
Then he said to me: Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They have been saying, "Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off."
Therefore, prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.
Ps 104: 24-34 You renew the face of the earth
How varied are your works, LORD! In wisdom you have wrought them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
Look at the sea, great and wide! It teems with countless beings, living things both large and small.
Here ships ply their course; here Leviathan, your creature, plays.
All of these look to you to give them food in due time.
When you give to them, they gather; when you open your hand, they are well filled.
When you hide your face, they are lost. When you take away their breath, they perish and return to the dust from which they came.
When you send forth your breath, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD be glad in these works!
If God glares at the earth, it trembles; if God touches the mountains, they smoke!
I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God while I live.
May my theme be pleasing to God; I will rejoice in the LORD.
Rev 21: 1-5a I am making all things new
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people 4 and God himself will always be with them (as their God).
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away."
The one who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."
Mt 5: 1-12 Blessed are you...
When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live. Biblical faith is imbued with a radical hope that the last word in history belongs to God, and that God’s last word is not one of judgment but of new creation. As reflected upon in meditations of previous days, Christians live in the midst of a world which is marked by various kinds of division and alienation. Yet the stance of the church remains one of hope, grounded not in what human beings can do, but in the power and abiding desire of God to transform fracture and fragmentation into unity and wholeness, death-giving hatred into life-giving love. The people of Korea continue to endure the tragic consequences of national division, yet there too, Christian hope abounds.
Christian hope lives on even in the midst of profound suffering because it is born out of the steadfast love of God revealed on the cross of Christ. Hope rises with Jesus from the tomb, as death and the forces of death are overcome; it spreads with the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which renews the face of the earth. The risen Christ is the beginning of a new and authentic life. His resurrection announces the end of the old order and sows the seeds of a new eternal creation, where all will be reconciled in him and God will be all in all.
See, I am making all things new. Christian hope begins with the renewal of creation, such that it fulfils God’s original intention in the act of creating. In Revelation 21, God does not say ‘I am making all new things’ but rather, ‘I am making all things new’. Christian hope does not imply a long passive wait for the end of the world but the desire for this renewal, already begun in the resurrection and at Pentecost. It is not the hope for an apocalyptic culmination of history collapsing our world, but rather, hope for the fundamental and radical change of the world already known to us. God’s new beginning ends the sin, divisions and finitude of the world, transfiguring creation so that it can take part in God’s glory and share in God’s eternity.
When Christians gather to pray for unity, they are motivated and sustained by this hope. The strength of prayer for unity is the strength which comes from God’s renewal of the created world; its wisdom, that of the Holy Spirit which breathes new life on dry bones and brings them to life; its integrity, that of opening ourselves completely to the will of God, to be transformed into instruments of the unity Christ wills for his disciples.
Gracious God, you are with us always, amidst suffering and turmoil, and will be to the end of time. Help us to be a people deeply imbued with hope, living out the beatitudes, serving the unity you desire. Amen.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Christians face to face with a plurality of religions
“that they may become one in your hand”
Is 25: 6-9 This is the Lord for whom we have waited.
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples A feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, The web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces; The reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.
On that day it will be said: "Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!"
Ps 117 :1-2 Praise the Lord, all you nations.
Praise the LORD, all you nations! Give glory, all you peoples!
The LORD'S love for us is strong; the LORD is faithful forever. Hallelujah!
Rom 2:12-16 The doers of the law will be justified
All who sin outside the law will also perish without reference to it, and all who sin under the law will be judged in accordance with it.
For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; rather, those who observe the law will be justified.
For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law.
They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them
on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people's hidden works through Christ Jesus.
Mk 7:24-30 For saying this, you may go home happy.
From that place he went off to the district of Tyre. He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it, but he could not escape notice.
Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.
He said to her, "Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."
She replied and said to him, "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children's scraps."
Then he said to her, "For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter."
When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
Nearly every day we hear of violence in different parts of the world between followers of different faiths. We learn that Korea however is a place where different faiths – Buddhist, Christian, Confucian – mostly coexist in peace.
In a great hymn of praise, the prophet Isaiah speaks of all tears being wiped away and a rich feast for all people and nations! One day, asserts the prophet, all the peoples of the earth will praise God and rejoice in the salvation he offers. The Lord for whom we have waited is the host at the eternal feast in Isaiah’s song of praise.
When Jesus meets a non-Jewish woman who pleads for healing for her daughter he initially refuses to help her, in surprising terms. The woman persists, in similar terms: “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”. Jesus affirms her insight into his mission to Jews and non-Jews alike, and sends her on her way with the promise of healing for her daughter.
The churches are committed to dialogue in the cause of Christian unity. In recent years, dialogue has also developed between people of other faiths, particularly those ‘of the Book’ (Judaism, Islam): encounters which are not only enlightening but also help promote respect and good relations between neighbours, and build peace where there is conflict. If our Christian witness is united by virtue of our faith in Christ, our opposition to prejudice and conflict will be all the more effective. And if we listen carefully to our neighbours of other faiths, can we learn something more of the inclusiveness of God’s love for all people, and of his kingdom?
Dialogue with other Christians should not lead to a loss of a particular Christian identity but to joy as we obey Jesus’ prayer that we become one, as he is one with the Father. Unity will not come today or even tomorrow; but together, with other believers, we walk towards that final, common destiny of love and salvation.
Lord our God, we thank you for the wisdom we gain from your scriptures. Grant us the courage to open our hearts and our minds to neighbours of other Christian confessions and of other faiths; the grace to overcome barriers of indifference, prejudice or hate; and a vision of the last days, when Christians might walk together towards that final feast, when tears and dissension will be overcome through love. Amen.
Friday, January 23, 2009
One of the things I've tried to do is bring actual quotes from authorities in the Catholic Church. Thankfully, the Vatican has its own youtube channel, as I found from Amy Wellborn's awesome blog.
Take an honest look at what you find there. You may just end up liking it as much as I do...at any rate, the link is simple, remember it...
Christians face to face with disease and suffering
“that they may become one in your hand”
II Kings 20: 1-6 Remember me, O Lord!
In those days, when Hezekiah was mortally ill, the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, came and said to him: "Thus says the LORD: 'Put your house in order, for you are about to die; you shall not recover.'"
He turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD:
"O LORD, remember how faithfully and wholeheartedly I conducted myself in your presence, doing what was pleasing to you!" And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Before Isaiah had left the central courtyard, the word of the LORD came to him:
"Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people: 'Thus says the LORD, the God of your forefather David: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you. In three days you shall go up to the LORD'S temple;
I will add fifteen years to your life. I will rescue you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; I will be a shield to this city for my own sake, and for the sake of my servant David.'"
Ps 22: 1-11 Why have you forsaken me?
For the leader; according to "The deer of the dawn." A psalm of David.
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the glory of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted and you rescued them.
To you they cried out and they escaped; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm, hardly human, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me:
"You relied on the LORD--let him deliver you; if he loves you, let him rescue you."
Yet you drew me forth from the womb, made me safe at my mother's breast.
Upon you I was thrust from the womb; since birth you are my God.
Jas 5: 13-15 The prayer of faith will save the sick
Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise.
Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord,
and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.
Mk 10: 46-52 Jesus asked: What do you want me to do for you?
They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me."
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, "Son of David, have pity on me."
Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take courage; get up, he is calling you."
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see."
Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you." Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
How often Jesus encounters the sick and is willing to heal them! Common to all our still separated churches is the awareness of our Lord’s compassion for the sick. Christians have always followed his example, by healing the sick, building hospitals, dispensaries, organizing medical missions and caring not only for the souls but also the bodies of God’s children.
This is not such an obvious response; the healthy tend to take health for granted and forget those who cannot take part in the regular life of the community because they are sick or handicapped. And the sick? They may feel cut off from God, his presence, blessing and healing power.
The deep rooted faith of Hezekiah supports him through sickness. In a time of sorrow, he finds words to remind God of his grace. Yes, those who are suffering might even use words from the Bible to cry out or struggle with God: Why have you forsaken me? When an honest relationship with God is well established, grounded in language of faithfulness and thankfulness in good times, it creates space also for a language to express sorrow, pain or anger in prayer when necessary.
The sick are not objects and not only at the receiving end of care; rather, they are subjects of faith, as the disciples must learn in the story of the gospel of Mark. The disciples want to continue directly along their way with Jesus; the sick man on the edge of the crowd is ignored. When he cries out, it is a diversion from their goal. We are used to caring for the sick, but we are not so used to their crying loudly and disturbing us. Their cries today may be for affordable medicine in poor countries, which touches the question of patents and profits. The disciples who wanted to prevent the blind man getting near Jesus have to become the messengers of the Lord’s rather different and caring response: Come, he is calling you.
It is only when the disciples bring the sick man to Jesus that they come to understand what Jesus wants: to take time to meet and talk with the sick man, asking what he wants and needs. A healing community can grow when the sick experience the presence of God through a mutual relationship with their sisters and brothers in Christ.
God, listen to people when they cry to you in sickness and pain. May the healthy thank you for their wellbeing, And may they serve the sick with loving hearts and open hands. God, let all of us live in your grace and providence, becoming a truly healing community and praising you together. Amen.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Christians face to face with discrimination and social prejudice
“that they may become one in your hand”
Is 58: 6-12 Do not hide yourself from your own kin
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am! If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land. He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; "Repairer of the breach," they shall call you, "Restorer of ruined homesteads."
Ps 133 How good it is when kindred live in unity
A song of ascents. Of David. How good it is, how pleasant, where the people dwell as one!
Like precious ointment on the head, running down upon the beard, Upon the beard of Aaron, upon the collar of his robe.
Like dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion. There the LORD has lavished blessings, life for evermore!
Gal 3: 26-29 You are all one in Christ Jesus
For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendant, heirs according to the promise.
Lk 18: 9-14 To some who trusted in their own righteousness
He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.
"Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity--greedy, dishonest, adulterous--or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.'
But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
In the beginning, human beings created in the image of God were but one in his hand. Sin, however, entered the hearts of men and women and since then we have built up all kinds of prejudice. Here it may be according to race or ethnic identity, elsewhere sexual identity or the simple fact of being man or woman is cause for discrimination. In yet other places it is being disabled or adhering to a particular religion which is a reason for exclusion. All these discriminatory factors are dehumanising and a source of conflict and great suffering.
In his earthly ministry, Jesus showed himself to be particularly sensitive regarding the common humanity of all men and women. He continually denounced discrimination of all sorts and the pride which some of his contemporaries derived from it . The just are not always those whom you would imagine. Contempt has no place in the hearts of believers.
Psalm 133 compares the joy of a life shared with sisters and brothers to the goodness of a precious oil or the dew of Mount Hermon. We are given to taste this joy with our sisters and brothers, each time we let go of our confessional prejudices within our ecumenical gatherings.
The restoration of the unity of all humankind is the common mission of all Christians. Together they must struggle against all discrimination. It is also their common hope because all are one in Christ and there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, man or woman.
Lord help us to recognize the discrimination and exclusion which damage societies. Direct our gaze and help us to recognize our own prejudices. Teach us to banish all contempt and to taste the joy of living together in unity. Amen.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Christians face to face with ecological crisis
“that they may become one in your hand”
Gen 1: 31-2:3 God saw everything he had made and it was very good
God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed--the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed.
Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.
So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.
Ps 148: 1-5 He commanded and they were created
Hallelujah! Praise the LORD from the heavens; give praise in the heights.
Praise him, all you angels; give praise, all you hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon; give praise, all shining stars.
Praise him, highest heavens, you waters above the heavens.
Let them all praise the LORD'S name; for the LORD commanded and they were created,
Rom 8: 18-23 The destruction of creation
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God;
for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope
that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
Mt 13: 31-32 The smallest of all the seeds
He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'"
God created our world with wisdom and love and when he had finished his great work of creation, God saw that it was good.
Today however the world is confronted with a serious ecological crisis. The earth is suffering from global warming as a result of our excessive consumption of energy. The extent of forested area on our planet has diminished by 50% over the last 40 years while the deserts are spreading ever faster. Three quarters of ocean life has already disappeared. Every day more than 100 living species die out and this loss of biodiversity is a serious menace for humanity itself. With the apostle Paul we can affirm: creation has been delivered into the power of destruction, it groans as in the pains of childbirth.
We cannot deny that human beings bear a heavy responsibility for environmental destruction. Their unbridled greed casts the shadow of death on the whole of creation.
Together Christians must do their utmost to save creation. Before the immensity of this task, they must unite their efforts. It is only together that they can protect the work of the creator. It is impossible not to notice the central place which natural elements occupy in the parables and teaching of Jesus. Christ shows great respect even for the smallest of all the seeds. With the biblical vision of creation as affirmation, Christians can contribute with one voice to the present reflection on the future of our planet.
God our Creator, the world was created by your Word and you saw that it was good. But today we are spreading death and destroying our environment. Grant that we may repent of our greed; help us to care for all that you have made. Together, we desire to protect your creation. Amen.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Christians face to face with economic injustice and poverty
“that they may become one in your hand”
Lev 25: 8-14 The jubilee which liberates
"Seven weeks of years shall you count--seven times seven years--so that the seven cycles amount to forty-nine years.
Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month let the trumpet resound; on this, the Day of Atonement, the trumpet blast shall re-echo throughout your land.
This fiftieth year you shall make sacred by proclaiming liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when every one of you shall return to his own property, every one to his own family estate.
In this fiftieth year, your year of jubilee, you shall not sow, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth or pick the grapes from the untrimmed vines.
Since this is the jubilee, which shall be sacred for you, you may not eat of its produce, except as taken directly from the field.
"In this year of jubilee, then, every one of you shall return to his own property.
Therefore, when you sell any land to your neighbor or buy any from him, do not deal unfairly.
Ps 146 The Lord executes justice for the oppressed
Praise the LORD, my soul; I shall praise the LORD all my life, sing praise to my God while I live.
I Put no trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save.
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth; that day all their planning comes to nothing.
Happy those whose help is Jacob's God, whose hope is in the LORD, their God,
The maker of heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them, Who keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free;
the LORD gives sight to the blind. The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD protects the stranger, sustains the orphan and the widow, but thwarts the way of the wicked.
The LORD shall reign forever, your God, Zion, through all generations! Hallelujah!
1 Tim 6: 9-10 The love of money is the root of all evil
Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction.
For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.
Lk 4: 16-21 Jesus and the jubilee as liberation
He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read
and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."
We pray for the kingdom of God to arrive. We long for a world where people, in particular the poorest, do not die before their appointed time. However, the economic system of the world today aggravates the situation of the poor and accentuates social inequity.
Today the world community is confronted with the growing precariousness of labour and its consequences. The idolatry of the market (profit), like the love of money according to the author of the Epistle to Timothy, thus appears as ‘the root of all evil’. What can and must the churches do in this context? Let us look at the biblical theme of jubilee which Jesus evoked to define his ministry.
According to the Leviticus text, during the jubilee, liberation was to be proclaimed; economic immigrants could return to their homes and their family; if somebody had lost all his goods he could also live with the populace as a foreign resident. Money was not to be lent for interest nor food sold for profit.
The jubilee implied a community ethic, the freeing of slaves and their return home, the restoration of financial rights and the cancellation of debts. For the victims of unjust social structures, this meant the restitution of law and of their means of existence.
The priorities of today’s world, in which ‘more money’ is seen as the highest value and goal of life, can only lead to death. As churches, we are called to counter this by living together in the spirit of jubilee and following Christ, spreading this good news. As Christians experience the healing of their divisions they become more sensitive to other divisions which wound humanity and creation.
God of justice, there are places in this world overflowing with food, But others where there is not enough and where the hungry and the sick are many. God of peace, There are those in this world who profit from violence and war and others who because of war and violence are forced to leave their homes and become refugees. God of compassion, Help us to understand that we cannot live by money alone but that we can live by the word of God, Help us to understand that we cannot attain life and true prosperity except by loving God and obeying his will and his teaching. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Onward to day two of the Catholic Church's special week of prayer for unity! In case you were as puzzled as me about the reference to Korea in Day One, the readings/commentary for this year's octave on Christian Unity were prepared by Church leaders in Korea. Apparently these prayer weeks have been going on since 1966 and since we are Catholics, it would follow that we would like to give multiple nations a voice. I digress...This brief reference from yesterday's reading is underscored by even more serious reflections that are somewhat specifically based on Korea, as the readings are focused on Christians facing war and violence.
While a mere member of the USA, I think that the sufferings and strife of Korea are especially indicative of the consequences of disunity on a political and spiritual plane, so considering them in particular and in general is a good thing in my book.
Day 2 Christians face to face with war and violence “that they may become one in your hand”
Is 2: 1-4 They shall no longer learn war
This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come, The mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it;
many peoples shall come and say: "Come, let us climb the LORD'S mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths." For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.
Ps 74: 18-23 Do not forget the life of your poor for ever
Remember how the enemy has jeered, O LORD, how a foolish people has reviled your name.
Do not surrender to beasts those who praise you; do not forget forever the life of your afflicted.
Look to your covenant, for the land is filled with gloom; the pastures, with violence.
Let not the oppressed turn back in shame; may the poor and needy praise your name.
Arise, God, defend your cause; remember the constant jeers of the fools.
Do not ignore the clamor of your foes, the unceasing uproar of your enemies.
I Pet 2: 21-25 His wounds have healed you
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.
"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."
When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly.
He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
Mt 5: 38-48 Pray for those who persecute you
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, 26 go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
War and violence are still major obstacles to that unity willed by God for humanity. In the last analysis, war and violence are the result of unhealed division which exists inside ourselves, and of the human arrogance which prevents us from recovering the real foundation of our existence.
Korean Christians long to put an end to more than 50 years of separation between North Korea and South Korea and to see peace established elsewhere in the world. The instability which prevails in the Korean peninsula represents not only the pain of the one remaining nation in the world which is still divided; it also symbolises the mechanisms of division, hostility and vengeance which plague humanity.
What can bring an end to this cycle of war and violence? Jesus shows us the power which can stop the vicious circle of violence and injustice in even the most brutal of situations. To his disciples, who react to violence and rage according to the ways of the world, paradoxically he teaches the renunciation of violence (Mt 26: 51-52).
Jesus reveals the truth about human violence. Faithful to the Father, he dies on the cross to save us from sin and death. The cross reveals the paradox and the conflict inherent in human nature. Jesus’ violent death marks the beginning of a new creation which nails human sin, violence and war to this very cross.
Jesus Christ teaches a non-violence based on more than humanism. He teaches the reestablishment of God’s creation, and hope and faith in the final coming of a new heaven and a new earth. This hope, founded on Jesus’ ultimate victory over death on the cross, encourages us to persevere in the search for Christian unity and in the struggle against all forms of war and violence.
Lord, who gave yourself on the cross for the unity of all humankind, we offer up to you our human nature marred by egoism, arrogance, vanity and anger. Lord, do not abandon the oppressed who suffer from all sorts of violence, anger and hatred, victims of erroneous beliefs and conflicting ideologies. Lord, reach out to us with compassion and take care of your people, so that we may enjoy the peace and joy integral to the order of your creation. Lord, may all Christians work together to bring about your justice, rather than ours. Give us the courage to help others to bear their cross, rather than putting our own on their shoulders. Lord, teach us the wisdom to treat our enemies with love instead of hatred. Amen.
The Catholic Church is urging its members to pray especially for unity (a period of 8 days, also known as an octave) during January 18-25th. This was brought to my attention by Bryan Cross, whose much-appreciated first post in several months is quite poignant.
For my part, I just want to draw your attention to the readings and commentary on Christian unity.
Will you read it with me? Pretty please? Apologies that day one was posted at the beginning of day two-I'm frightfully behind the times, at times. I'll be sure to have day 2 posted before day 3 begins, I promise...
Christian Communities Face-to-Face With Old and New Divisions
Ezekiel 37:15-19, 22-24a -- "One in your hand"
Thus the word of the LORD came to me:
Now, son of man, take a single stick, and write on it: Judah and those Israelites who are associated with him. Then take another stick and write on it: Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.
Then join the two sticks together, so that they form one stick in your hand.
When your countrymen ask you, "Will you not tell us what you mean by all this?",
answer them: Thus says the Lord GOD: (I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and of the tribes of Israel associated with him, and I will join to it the stick of Judah, making them a single stick; they shall be one in my hand.
I will make them one nation upon the land, in the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one prince for them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.
No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols, their abominations, and all their transgressions. I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy, and cleanse them so that they may be my people and I may be their God.
My servant David shall be prince over them, and there shall be one shepherd for them all
Psalm 103:8-13, or 18 -- "The Lord is merciful and gracious ... abounding in steadfast love"
Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger, abounding in kindness.
God does not always rebuke, nurses no lasting anger,
Has not dealt with us as our sins merit, nor requited us as our deeds deserve.
As the heavens tower over the earth, so God's love towers over the faithful.
As far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on the faithful.
1 Corinthians 3:3-7, 21-23 -- "Jealousy and quarrelling among you... you belong to Christ"
...for you are still of the flesh. While there is jealousy and rivalry among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving in an ordinary human way?
Whenever someone says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely human?
What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.
Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth.
So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you,
Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you,
and you to Christ, and Christ to God.
John 17:17-21 -- "That they may all be one... so that the world may believe"
Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.
And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.
"I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.
Christians are called to be instruments of God's steadfast and reconciling love in a world marked by various kinds of separation and alienation. Baptized in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and professing faith in the crucified and risen Christ, we are a people who belong to Christ, a people sent forth to be Christ's body in and for the world. Christ prayed for this for his disciples: May they be one, so that the world may believe.
Divisions between Christians on fundamental matters of faith and Christian discipleship seriously wound our ability to witness before the world. In Korea, as in many other nations, the Christian gospel was brought by conflicting voices, speaking a discordant proclamation of the Good News. There is a temptation to see current divisions, with their accompanying background of conflicts, as a natural legacy of our Christian history, rather than as an internal contradiction of the message that God has reconciled the world in Christ.
Ezekiel's vision of two sticks, inscribed with the names of the divided kingdoms of ancient Israel, becoming one in God's hand, is a powerful image of the power of God to bring about reconciliation, to do for a people entrenched in division what they cannot do for themselves. It is a highly evocative metaphor for divided Christians, prefiguring the source of reconciliation found at the heart of the Christian proclamation itself. On the two pieces of wood, which form the cross of Christ, the Lord of history takes upon himself the wounds and divisions of humanity. In the totality of Jesus' gift of himself on the cross, he holds together human sin and God's redemptive steadfast love. To be a Christian is to be baptized into this death, through which the Lord, in his boundless mercy, etches the names of wounded humanity onto the wood of the cross, holding us to himself and restoring our relationship with God and with each other.
Christian unity is a communion grounded in our belonging to Christ, to God. In being converted ever more to Christ, we find ourselves being reconciled by the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer for Christian unity is an acknowledgement of our trust in God, an opening of ourselves fully to that Spirit. Linked to our other efforts for unity among Christians - dialogue, common witness and mission -- prayer for unity is a privileged instrument through which the Holy Spirit is making that reconciliation in Christ visibly manifest in the world Christ came to save.
God of compassion, you have loved and forgiven us in Christ, and sought to reconcile the entire human race in that redeeming love. Look with favour upon us, who work and pray for the unity of divided Christian communities. Grant us the experience of being brothers and sisters in your love. May we be one, one in your hand. Amen.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
2) Has anyone else felt like this recent amazing crash landing has done more than instill a sense of admiration for the heroism of the pilot? I must admit, my first thought was, "Thank God! All of those meaningless talks about life preservers and cushions and the like are now redeemed!" I always thought those preview talks were just time killers during runway taxiing. I guess we were wrong, and I know at least 150 people who are glad we were wrong.
3) When you ride a bike, be sure to not be in a gear that is too high--you'll be too tired. On the flip side, make the gear too low and you're all revolutions and no motion. This is especially true if, like me, you have "strength issues".
4) On the subject of bike riding, I hate how when I'm riding on the street and there's a lot of traffic, I feel an incessant push and pull towards driving near the curb. Go near the curb and be terrified of all the glass and rubbish that may make for a flat tire. Go near the actual lane and you have cars swerving or slowing in annoyance. Implacable, I tell you. But it's necessary to avoid crashes. Ask these guys!!!
5) People without kids who complain about the noise that they make demonstrate a chief reason why they don't have kids-they can't handle the tumult of real life and so they create a sterile world that is really unreal.
6) The Pizza Port is an amazing place, but its name is so vacuous you'd be tempted to pass it by. But you'd be wrong....If you're in SoCal, don't ever make that mistake again.
7) Pity I'd never listened to the New Pornographers until recently. But the name, the scandal, (the ignorance and prejudice), the infamy!
That is all for now.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
At a symposium in honor of Francis Schaeffer he gave a talk on the nature of the Church. As the son of Lutheran pastor who was born in 1936 and later became a Lutheran pastor himself, he decided to become a Catholic in 1990. He was ordained a priest a year later, and served God's people in so many ways, with a great perspective on our faith, having been on both sides of the fence and having tried so hard to bring the two sides together. This week, on January 8, he entered eternity.
The talk addresses so many things that were helpful to me when I first listened to it about 2 years ago--why he became Catholic, how Catholics view those Christians who are Protestant and Eastern Orthodox, and how he longs to see unity.
Requiescat in pacem!
Friday, January 9, 2009
Philosopher Umberto Eco made a funny and thought-provoking observation about the difference between Macs and PCs. Thanks to American Papist for the link to this site which states:
Macintosh is Catholic and MS-DOS is Protestant
The following excerpts are from an English translation of Umberto Eco's back-page column, "La bustina di Minerva," in the Italian news weekly "Espresso," September 30, 1994.
...."Insufficient consideration has been given to the new underground religious war which is modifying the modern world. It's an old idea of mine, but I find that whenever I tell people about it they immediately agree with me.
"The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the 'ratio studiorum' of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory, it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach--if not the Kingdom of Heaven--the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.
"DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: a long way from the baroque community of revellers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.
"You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counter-reformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It's true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions; when it comes down to it, you can decide to allow women and gays to be ministers if you want to.....
"And machine code, which lies beneath both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that is to do with the Old Testament, and is talmudic and cabalistic..."
Friday, January 2, 2009
Many objections to Catholicism center around the idea that our dogmas and definitions are not in the Bible. And while elements of the Nicene creed such as the notion that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (or just the Father, if you are Eastern) strike me as being at least somewhat obscure, it is alleged that the Catholic cry that certain passages point to Purgatory, the Pope, the intercession of the saints in heaven, the coronation of Mary in heaven, and more are just not clearly delineated by the Scriptures.
This leads many to cry out, "Hey, but that's not in there!" to the Catholic faithful.
Personally, I went back and forth on the matter, and while I think those passages should be considered (something I did on this blog a year or so ago in talking about Mary and Revelation 12), the key to the matter is asking what else is missing.
Scott Hahn made a great point in discussing the goodness of this entire debate, in asking the simple question--where does the Bible tell us to only use the Bible for understanding our faith and morals? This, the basic premise behind Sola Scriptura as classically understood, is an interesting area where the Bible actually doesn't describe itself in such a way. It's just not in there, that everything is in THERE (there being the Good Books of the Bible).
The same can be said as to where the Bible in an inspired matter delineates what Books are actually those Good Books. This has led some Protestants to call the Bible a fallible collection of infallible books. I'll leave that thought for you to chew on over dinner or dessert, but that's not really what's on my mind tonight.
Instead, what strikes me at the moment is not what is not in the Bible, but what is not in those congregations that claim to be the Church established by Jesus.
The Gospels say a lot of things that are quite often overlooked for the sake of epistles by Paul (James, not so much, but I'm digressing), and one thing which I had often overlooked was this passage:
From the 19th Chapter of the Gospel of Saint Matthew, we read:
10The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."
11Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."
In my estimation, that there is a group of those who are dedicated to serving God in such a way that they have renounced the marital union is just "not in there", when I survey Protestant groups. Eastern Orthodox and Catholics have this element of devotion, but where is it in Protestantism? It's certainly not in the leaders. Do you know of Pastor Jim at First Community Church (or whatever denomination happens to float your boat) who has deliberately made it a point to never get married so that he can focus on his parishoners? If anything, he'd be likely suspect by his congregation. And speaking of leaders, I know one leader of disciples who lived 3 years longer than I have made it on this planet thus far, and he remained a virgin. Which reminds me of something Homer Simpson once said:
"Kids, let me tell you about another so-called 'wicked' guy. He had long hair and some wild ideas. He didn't always do what other people thought was right. And that man's name was... I forget. But the point is... I forget that, too. Marge, you know what I'm talking about. He used to drive that blue car?"
OK--sorry for the comic relief via the Simpsons, but I found it fitting.....At the end of the day, a big element of the tide that turned and led me to believe that Jesus established the Catholic Church was not merely a matter just understanding things that Catholics believe that are viewed to be hard to understand from the Scriptures, there were things like the matter of celibacy that are simply impossible to find in Protestantism. And for all of the literalism that can be seen in some circles, when will my friends consider this testimony to celibacy here:
1Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. 3And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. 5No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.
Hopefully, I'll spend more time on this issue and talk about what else seemed to just not be in there, as I looked outside of the Catholic Church.