Our annual conference began today here in Arkansas. We United Methodists have a rich tradition from our founder John Wesley, who was a brand plucked from a burning parsonage back in 18th century England. While the Church of England thought him something of a firebrand and an upstart, he only wanted to rekindle the flame of the Spirit of God and renew the church of his time.
Wesley understood people could go through the motions of an outward show of religion, but lack an inward conviction of any true faith and trust in God’s saving grace. As we say today, just going to Burger King won’t make you a burger any more than going to a KFC will make you a chicken. If showing up in church doesn’t make one a Christian, what does give the evidence of the fully formed Christian person?
Wesley’s answer is to contrast the religion of the world, or what we might call civic religion today, with the soul so thirsty for God, only the love of God and love of neighbor can satisfy that desire. Wesley says in his “Sermon on the Mount, 2, (Standard Sermon #22), “And it is as impossible to satisfy such a soul, a soul that is athirst for God, the living God, with what the world accounts religion, as with what they account happiness. The religion of the world implies three things:
1. The doing no harm, the abstaining from outward sin; at least from such as is scandalous, as robbery, theft, common swearing, drunkenness.
2. The doing good, the relieving the poor; the being charitable, as it is called.
3. The using the means of grace; at least the going to church and to the Lord’s Supper. He in whom these three marks are found is termed by the world a religious man.”
Then Wesley asks, “But will this satisfy him who hungers after God? No: It is not food for his soul. He wants a religion of a nobler kind, a religion higher and deeper than this. He can no more feed on this poor, shallow, formal thing, than he can “fill his belly with the east wind.”
True, he is careful to abstain from the very appearance of evil; he is zealous of good works; he attends all the ordinances of God: But all this is not what he longs for. This is only the outside of that religion, which he insatiably hungers after. The knowledge of God in Christ Jesus; “the life which is hid with Christ in God;” the being “joined unto the Lord in one Spirit;” the having “fellowship with the Father and the Son;” the “walking in the light as God is in the light;” the being “purified even as He is pure;” — this is the religion, the righteousness, he thirsts after: Nor can he rest, till he thus rests in God.
For John Wesley and all who claim his mantle in the ages following, the words Love of God and Love of Neighbor still echo across the years. If ever there were a watchword from Wesley’s life, from his conversion through his many years of preaching, it is the word Love. Once he trusted Christ for his salvation, the next day his diary entry was, “My song shall be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord: with my mouth will I ever be showing forth thy truth from one generation to another.”
This great Standard Sermon ends with the words:
“But my full soul shall still require
A whole eternity of love.”
The whole sermon is below, for your blessing and spiritual formation. May all your exercises be done in love today and always.
Joy and Peace, Cornelia
“Blessed are the meek: For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: For they shall obtain mercy.”
~~ Matthew 5:5-7
I. Who are the meek who shall inherit the earth?
II. The hunger and thirst for righteousness are the strongest of our spiritual appetites.
III. The merciful are they who love their neigbors as themselves.
1. When “the winter is past,” when “the time of singing is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land;” when He that comforts the mourners is now returned, “that he may abide with them for ever;” when, at the brightness of his presence, the clouds disperse, the dark clouds of doubt and uncertainty, the storms of fear flee away, the waves of sorrow subside, and their spirit again rejoiceth in God their Saviour; then is it that this word is eminently fulfilled; then those whom he hath comforted can bear witness, “Blessed,” or happy, “are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.”
2. But who are “the meek?” Not those who grieve at nothing, because they know nothing; who are not discomposed at the evils that occur, because they discern not evil from good. Not those who are sheltered from the shocks of life by a stupid insensibility; who have, either by nature or art, the virtue of stocks and stones, and resent nothing, because they feel nothing. Brute philosophers are wholly unconcerned in this matter. Apathy is as far from meekness as from humanity. So that one would not easily conceive how any Christians of the purer ages, especially any of the Fathers of the Church, could confound these, and mistake one of the foulest errors of Heathenism for a branch of true Christianity.
3. Nor does Christian meekness imply, the being without zeal for God, any more than it does ignorance or insensibility. No; it keeps clear of every extreme, whether in excess or defect. It does not destroy but balance the affections, which the God of nature never designed should be rooted out by grace, but only brought and kept under due regulations. It poises the mind aright. It holds an even scale, with regard to anger, and sorrow, and fear; preserving the mean in every circumstance of life, and not declining either to the right hand or the left.
4. Meekness, therefore, seems properly to relate to ourselves[.] But it may be referred either to God or our neighbour. When this due composure of mind has reference to God, it is usually termed resignation; a calm acquiescence in whatsoever is his will concerning us, even though it may not be pleasing to nature; saying continually, “It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good.” When we consider it more strictly with regard to ourselves, we style it patience or contentedness. When it is exerted toward other men, then it is mildness to the good, and gentleness to the evil.
5. They who are truly meek, can clearly discern what is evil; and they can also suffer it. They are sensible of everything of this kind, but still meekness holds the reins. They are exceeding “zealous for the Lord of hosts;” but their zeal is always guided by knowledge, and tempered, in every thought, and word, and work, with the love of man, as well as the love of God. They do not desire to extinguish any of the passions which God has for wise ends implanted in their nature; but they have the mastery of all: They hold them all in subjection, and employ them only in subservience to those ends. And thus even the harsher and more unpleasing passions are applicable to the noblest purposes; even hatred, and anger, and fear, when engaged against sin, and regulated by faith and love, are as walls and bulwarks to the soul, so that the wicked one cannot approach to hurt it.
6. It is evident, this divine temper is not only to abide but to increase in us day by day. Occasions of exercising, and thereby increasing it, will never be wanting while we remain upon earth. “We have need of patience, that after we have done” and suffered “the will of God, we may receive the promise.” We have need of resignation, that we may in all circumstances say, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” And we have need of “gentleness toward all men;” but especially toward the evil and unthankful: Otherwise we shall be overcome of evil, instead of overcoming evil with good.
7. Nor does meekness restrain only the outward act, as the Scribes and Pharisees taught of old, and the miserable Teachers who are not taught of God will not fail to do in all ages. Our Lord guards against this, and shows the true extent of it, in the following words: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment:” (Matt. 5:21, &c.) “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment: And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.”
8. Our Lord here ranks under the head of murder, even that anger which goes no farther than the heart; which does not show itself by an outward unkindness, no, not so much as a passionate word. “Whosoever is angry with his brother,” with any man living, seeing we are all brethren; whosoever feels any unkindness in his heart, any temper contrary to love; whosoever is angry without a cause, without a sufficient cause, or farther than that cause requires, “shall be in danger of the judgment;” enochos estai, shall, in that moment, be obnoxious to the righteous judgment of God.
But would not one be inclined to prefer the reading of those copies which omit the word eikE, without a cause? Is it not entirely superfluous? For if anger at persons be a temper contrary to love, how can there be a cause, a sufficient cause for it, — any that will justify it in the sight of God?
Anger at sin we allow. In this sense we may be angry, and yet we sin not. In this sense our Lord himself is once recorded to have been angry: “He looked round about upon them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” He was grieved at the sinners, and angry at the sin. And this is undoubtedly right before God.
9. “And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca;” — whosoever shall give way to anger, so as to utter any contemptuous word. It is observed by commentators, that Raca is a Syriac word, which properly signifies, empty, vain, foolish; so that it is as inoffensive an expression as can well be used, toward one at whom we are displeased. And yet, whosoever shall use this, as our Lord assures us, “shall be in danger of the council;” rather, shall be obnoxious thereto: He shall be liable to a severer sentence from the Judge of all the earth.
“But whosoever shall say, Thou fool;” — whosoever shall so give place to the devil, as to break out into reviling, into designedly reproachful and contumelious language, “shall be obnoxious to hell-fire;” shall, in that instant, be liable to the highest condemnation. It should be observed, that our Lord describes all these as obnoxious to capital punishment. The first, to strangling, usually inflicted on those who were condemned in one of the inferior courts; the second, to stoning, which was frequently inflicted on those who were condemned by the great Council at Jerusalem; the third, to burning alive, inflicted only on the highest offenders, in the “valley of the sons of Hinnom;” GE Hennon, from which that word is evidently taken which we translate “hell.”
10. And whereas men naturally imagine, that God will excuse their defect in some duties, for their exactness in others; our Lord next takes care to cut off that vain, though common imagination. He shows, that it is impossible for any sinner to commute with God; who will not accept one duty for another, nor take a part of obedience for the whole. He warns us, that the performing our duty to God will not excuse us from our duty to our neighbour; that works of piety, as they are called, will be so far from commending us to God, if we are wanting in charity, that, on the contrary, that want of charity will make all those works an abomination to the Lord.
“Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee,” — on account of thy unkind behaviour toward him, of thy calling him “Raca,” or, “Thou fool;” think not that thy gift will atone for thy anger; or that it will find any acceptance with God, so long as thy conscience is defiled with the guilt of unrepented sin. “Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother,” (at least do all that in thee lies toward being reconciled,) “and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matt. 5:23, 24)
11. And let there be no delay in what so nearly concerneth thy soul. “Agree with thine adversary quickly;” — now; upon the spot; “whiles thou art in the way with him;” if it be possible, before he go out of thy sight; “lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge;” lest he appeal to God, the Judge of all; “and the judge deliver thee to the officer;” to Satan, the executioner of the wrath of God; “and thou be cast into prison;” into hell, there to be reserved to the judgment of the great day: “Verily, I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” But this it is impossible for thee ever to do; seeing thou hast nothing to pay. Therefore, if thou art once in that prison, the smoke of thy torment must “ascend up for ever and ever.”
12. Meantime “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Such is the foolishness of worldly wisdom! The wise of the world had warned them again and again, — that if they did not resent such treatment, if they would tamely suffer themselves to be thus abused, there would be no living for them upon earth; that they would never be able to procure the common necessaries of life, nor to keep even what they had; that they could expect no peace, no quiet possession, no enjoyment of anything. Most true, — suppose there were no God in the world; or, suppose he did not concern himself with the children of men: But, “when God ariseth to judgment, and to help all the meek upon earth,” how doth he laugh all this heathen wisdom to scorn, and turn the “fierceness of man to his praise!” He takes a peculiar care to provide them with all things needful for life and godliness; he secures to them the provision he hath made, in spite of the force, fraud, or malice of men; and what he secures he gives them richly to enjoy. It is sweet to them, be it little or much. As in patience they possess their souls, so they truly possess whatever God hath given them. They are always content, always pleased with what they have: It pleases them because it pleases God: So that while their heart, their desire, their joy is in heaven, they may truly be said to “inherit the earth.”
13. But there seems to be a yet farther meaning in these words, even that they shall have a more eminent part in “the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness;” in that inheritance, a general description of which (and the particulars we shall know hereafter) St. John has given in the twentieth chapter of the Revelation: “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, — and he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, — and bound him a thousand years. — And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and of them which had not worshipped the Beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again, until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: On such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” [Rev. 20:1-6]
1. Our Lord has hitherto been more immediately employed in removing the hindrances of true religion: Such is pride, the first, grand hindrance of all religion, which is taken away by poverty of spirit; levity and thoughtlessness, which prevent any religion from taking root in the soul, till they are removed by holy mourning; such are anger, impatience, discontent, which are all healed by Christian meekness. And when once these hindrances are removed, these evil diseases of the soul, which were continually raising false cravings therein, and filling it with sickly appetites, the native appetite of a heaven-born spirit returns; it hungers and thirsts after righteousness: And “blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.”
2. Righteousness, as was observed before, is the image of God, the mind which was in Christ Jesus. It is every holy and heavenly temper in one; springing from, as well as terminating in, the love of God, as our Father and Redeemer, and the love of all men for his sake.
3. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after” this: In order fully to understand which expression, we should observe, First, that hunger and thirst are the strongest of all our bodily appetites. In like manner this hunger in the soul, this thirst after the image of God, is the strongest of all our spiritual appetites, when it is once awakened in the heart: Yea, it swallows up all the rest in that one great desire, — to be renewed after the likeness of Him that created us.
We should, Secondly, observe, that from the time we begin to hunger and thirst, those appetites do not cease, but are more and more craving and importunate, till we either eat and drink, or die. And even so, from the time that we begin to hunger and thirst after the whole mind which was in Christ, these spiritual appetites do not cease, but cry after their food with more and more importunity; nor can they possibly cease, before they are satisfied, while there is any spiritual life remaining.
We may, Thirdly, observe, that hunger and thirst are satisfied with nothing but meat and drink. If you would give to him that is hungry all the world beside, all the elegance of apparel, all the trappings of state, all the treasure upon earth, yea thousands of gold and silver; if you would pay him ever so much honour; — he regards it not: All these things are then of no account with him. He would still say, “These are not the things I want; give me food, or else I die.” The very same is the case with every soul that truly hungers and thirsts after righteousness. He can find no comfort in anything but this: He can be satisfied with nothing else. Whatever you offer besides, it is lightly esteemed: Whether it be riches, or honour, or pleasure, he still says, “This is not the thing which I want! Give me love, or else I die!”
4. And it is as impossible to satisfy such a soul, a soul that is athirst for God, the living God, with what the world accounts religion, as with what they account happiness. The religion of the world implies three things: (1.) The doing no harm, the abstaining from outward sin; at least from such as is scandalous, as robbery, theft, common swearing, drunkenness: (2.) The doing good, the relieving the poor; the being charitable, as it is called: (3.) The using the means of grace; at least the going to church and to the Lord’s Supper. He in whom these three marks are found is termed by the world a religious man. But will this satisfy him who hungers after God? No: It is not food for his soul. He wants a religion of a nobler kind, a religion higher and deeper than this. He can no more feed on this poor, shallow, formal thing, than he can “fill his belly with the east wind.”
True, he is careful to abstain from the very appearance of evil; he is zealous of good works; he attends all the ordinances of God: But all this is not what he longs for. This is only the outside of that religion, which he insatiably hungers after. The knowledge of God in Christ Jesus; “the life which is hid with Christ in God;” the being “joined unto the Lord in one Spirit;” the having “fellowship with the Father and the Son;” the “walking in the light as God is in the light;” the being “purified even as He is pure;” — this is the religion, the righteousness, he thirsts after: Nor can he rest, till he thus rests in God.
5. “Blessed are they who” thus “hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.” They shall be filled with the things which they long for; even with righteousness and true holiness. God shall satisfy them with the blessings of his goodness, with the felicity of his chosen. He shall feed them with the bread of heaven, with the manna of his love. He shall give them to drink of his pleasures as out of the river, which he that drinketh of shall never thirst, only for more and more of the water of life. This thirst shall endure for ever.
The painful thirst, the fond desire,
Thy joyous presence shall remove;
But my full soul shall still require
A whole eternity of love.
6. Whosoever then thou art, to whom God hath given to “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” cry unto him that thou mayest never lose that inestimable gift, — that this divine appetite may never cease. If many rebuke thee, and bid thee hold thy peace, regard them not; yea, cry so much the more, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on me!” ” Let me not live, but to be holy as thou art holy!” No more “spend thy money for that which is not bread, nor thy labour for that which satisfieth not.”
Canst thou hope to dig happiness out of the earth, — to find it in the things of the world? O trample under foot all its pleasures, despise its honours, count its riches as dung and dross, — yea, and all the things which are beneath the sun, –“for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus,” for the entire renewal of thy soul in that image of God wherein it was originally created. Beware of quenching that blessed hunger and thirst, by what the world calls religion; a religion of form, of outward show, which leaves the heart as earthly and sensual as ever. Let nothing satisfy thee but the power of godliness, but a religion that is spirit and life; thy dwelling in God and God in thee, — the being an inhabitant of eternity; the entering in by the blood of sprinkling “within the veil,” and sitting “in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.”
1. And the more they are filled with the life of God, the more tenderly will they be concerned for those who are still without God in the world, still dead in trespasses and sins. Nor shall this concern for others lose its reward. “Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.”
The word used by our Lord more immediately implies the compassionate, the tender-hearted; those who, far from despising, earnestly grieve for, those that do not hunger after God.
This eminent part of brotherly love is here, by a common figure, put for the whole; so that “the merciful,” in the full sense of the term, are they who love their neighbours as themselves.”
2. Because of the vast importance of this love, — without which, “though we spake with the tongues of men and angels, though we had the gift of prophecy, and understood all mysteries, and all knowledge; though we had all faith, so as to remove mountains; yea, though we gave all our goods to feed the poor, and our very bodies to be burned, it would profit us nothing,” — the wisdom of God has given us, by the Apostle Paul, a full and particular account of it; by considering which we shall most clearly discern who are the merciful that shall obtain mercy.
3. “Charity,” or love, (as it were to be wished it had been rendered throughout, being a far plainer and less ambiguous word,) the love of our neighbour as Christ hath loved us, “suffereth long;” is patient toward all men: It suffers all the weakness, ignorance, errors, infirmities, all the frowardness and littleness of faith, of the children of God; all the malice and wickedness of the children of the world. And it suffers all this, not only for a time, for a short season, but to the end; still feeding our enemy when he hungers; if he thirst, still giving him drink; thus continually “heaping coals of fire,” of melting love, “upon his head.”
4. And in every step toward this desirable end, the “overcoming evil with good,” “love is kind:” (chrEsteuetai, a word not easily translated:) It is soft, mild, benign. It stands at the utmost distance from moroseness, from all harshness or sourness of spirit; and inspires the sufferer at once with the most amiable sweetness, and the most fervent and tender affection.
5. Consequently, “love envieth not:” It is impossible it should; it is directly opposite to that baneful temper. It cannot be, that he who has this tender affection to all, who earnestly wishes all temporal and spiritual blessings, all good things in this world and the world to come, to every soul that God hath made, should be pained at his bestowing any good gift on any child of man. If he has himself received the same, he does not grieve, but rejoice, that another partakes of the common benefit. If he has not, he blesses God that his brother at least has, and is herein happier than himself. And the greater his love, the more does he rejoice in the blessings of all mankind; the farther is he removed from every kind and degree of envy toward any creature.
6. Love ou perpereuetai, — not “vaunteth not itself;” which coincides with the very next words; but rather, (as the word likewise properly imports,) is not rash or hasty in judging; it will not hastily condemn any one. It does not pass a severe sentence, on a slight or sudden view of things: It first weighs all the evidence, particularly that which is brought in favour of the accused. A true lover of his neighbour is not like the generality of men, who, even in cases of the nicest nature, “see a little, presume a great deal, and so jump to the conclusion.”
No: He proceeds with wariness and circumspection, taking heed to every step; willingly subscribing to that rule of the ancient Heathen, (O where will the modern Christian appear!) “I am so far from lightly believing what one man says against another, that I will not easily believe what a man says against himself. I will always allow him second thoughts, and many times counsel too.”
7. It follows, love “is not puffed up:” It does not incline or suffer any man “to think more highly of himself than he ought to think;” but rather to think soberly: Yea, it humbles the soul unto the dust. It destroys all high conceits, engendering pride; and makes us rejoice to be as nothing, to be little and vile, the lowest of all, the servant of all. They who are “kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love,” cannot but “in honour prefer one another.” Those who, having the same love, are of one accord, do in lowliness of mind “each esteem other better than themselves.”
8. “It doth not behave itself unseemly:” It is not rude, or willingly offensive to any. It “renders to all their due; fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour;” courtesy, civility, humanity to all the world; in their several degrees “honouring all men.” A late writer defines good breeding, nay, the highest degree of it, politeness, “A continual desire to please, appearing in all the behaviour.” But if so, there is none so well-bred as a Christian, a lover of all mankind. For he cannot but desire to “please all men for their good to edification:”
And this desire cannot be hid; it will necessarily appear in all his intercourse with men. For his “love is without dissimulation:” It will appear in all his actions and conversation; yea, and will constrain him, though without guile, “to become all things to all men, if by any means he may save some.”
9. And in becoming all things to all men, “love seeketh not her own.” In striving to please all men, the lover of mankind has no eye at all to his own temporal advantage. He covets no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel: He desires nothing but the salvation of their souls: Yea, in some sense, he may be said, not to seek his own spiritual, any more than temporal, advantage; for while he is on the full stretch to save their souls from death, he, as it were, forgets himself. He does not think of himself, so long as that zeal for the glory of God swallows him up.
Nay, at some times he may almost seem, through an excess of love, to give up himself, both his soul and his body; while he cries out, with Moses, “O, this people have sinned a great sin; yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin — ; and if not, blot me out of the book which thou hast written;” (Exod. 32:31, 32) — or, with St. Paul, “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh!” (Rom. 9:3)
10. No marvel that such “love is not provoked:” ou paroxynetai. Let it be observed, the word easily, strangely inserted in the translation, is not in the original: St. Paul’s words are absolute. “Love is not provoked:” It is not provoked to unkindness toward any one. Occasions indeed will frequently occur; outward provocations of various kinds; but love does not yield to provocation; it triumphs over all. In all trials it looketh unto Jesus, and is more than conqueror in his love.
It is not improbable that our translators inserted that word, as it were, to excuse the Apostle; who, as they supposed, might otherwise appear to be wanting in the very love which he so beautifully describes. They seem to have supposed this from a phrase in the Acts of the Apostles; which is likewise very inaccurately translated. When Paul and Barnabas disagreed concerning John, the translation runs thus, “And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder.” (Acts 15:39) This naturally induces the reader to suppose, that they were equally sharp therein; that St. Paul, who was undoubtedly right, with regard to the point in question, (it being quite improper to take John with them again, who had deserted them before,) was as much provoked as Barnabas, who gave such a proof of his anger, as to leave the work for which he had been set apart by the Holy Ghost. But the original imports no such thing; nor does it affirm that St. Paul was provoked at all. It simply says, egeneto oun paroxysmos, — “And there was a sharpness,” a paroxysm of anger; in consequence of which Barnabas left St. Paul, took John, and went his own way. Paul then “chose Silas and departed, being recommended by the brethren to the grace of God;” (which is not said concerning Barnabas;) “and he went through Syria and Cilicia,” as he had proposed, “confirming the churches.” [Acts 15:39-41] But to return.
11. Love prevents a thousand provocations which would otherwise arise, because it “thinketh no evil.” Indeed the merciful man cannot avoid knowing many things that are evil, he cannot but see them with his own eyes, and hear them with his own ears. For love does not put out his eyes, so that it is impossible for him not to see that such things are done; neither does it take away his understanding, any more than his senses, so that he cannot but know that they are evil.
For instance: When he sees a man strike his neighbour, or hears him blaspheme God, he cannot either question the thing done, or the words spoken, or doubt of their being evil. Yet, ou logizetai to kakon. The word logizetai, “thinketh,” does not refer either to our seeing and hearing, or to the first and involuntary acts of our understanding; but to our willingly thinking what we need not; our inferring evil, where it does not appear; to our reasoning concerning things which we do not see; our supposing what we have neither seen nor heard. This is what true love absolutely destroys. It tears up, root and branch, all imagining what we have not known. It casts out all jealousies, all evil surmisings, all readiness to believe evil. It is frank, open, unsuspicious; and, as it cannot design, so neither does it fear, evil.
12. It “rejoiceth not in iniquity;” common as this is, even among those who bear the name of Christ, who scruple not to rejoice over their enemy, when he falleth either into affliction, or error, or sin. Indeed, how hardly can they avoid this, who are zealously attached to any party! How difficult is it for them not to be pleased with any fault which they discover in those of the opposite party, — with any real or supposed blemish, either in their principles or practice! What warm defender of any cause is clear of these?
Yea, who is so calm as to be altogether free? Who does not rejoice when his adversary makes a false step, which he thinks will advantage his own cause? Only a man of love. He alone weeps over either the sin or folly of his enemy, takes no pleasure in hearing or in repeating it, but rather desires that it may be forgotten for ever.
13. But he “rejoiceth in the truth,” wheresoever it is found; in “the truth which is after godliness;” bringing forth its proper fruit, holiness of heart, and holiness of conversation. He rejoices to find that even those who oppose him, whether with regard to opinions, or some points of practice, are nevertheless lovers of God, and in other respects unreprovable. He is glad to hear good of them, and to speak all he can consistently with truth and justice. Indeed, good in general is his glory and joy, wherever diffused throughout the race of mankind. As a citizen of the world, he claims a share in the happiness of all the inhabitants of it. Because he is a man, he is not unconcerned in the welfare of any man; but enjoys whatsoever brings glory to God, and promotes peace and good-will among men.
14. This “love covereth all things:” (So, without all doubt, panta stegei should be translated; for otherwise it would be the very same with panta hypomenei, “endureth all things:”) Because the merciful man rejoiceth not in iniquity, neither does he willingly make mention of it. Whatever evil he sees, hears, or knows, he nevertheless conceals, so far as he can without making himself “partaker of other men’s sins.” Wheresoever or with whomsoever he is, if he sees anything which he approves not, it goes not out of his lips, unless to the person concerned, if haply he may gain his brother. So far is he from making the faults or failures of others the matter of his conversation, that of the absent he never does speak at all, unless he can speak well. A tale-bearer, a backbiter, a whisperer, an evil-speaker, is to him all one as a murderer. He would just as soon cut his neighbour’s throat, as thus murder his reputation. Just as soon would he think of diverting himself by setting fire to his neighbour’s house, as of thus “scattering abroad arrows, fire-brands, and death,” and saying, “Am I not in sport?”
He makes one only exception. Sometimes he is convinced that it is for the glory of God, or (which comes to the same) the good of his neighbour, that an evil should not be covered. In this case, for the benefit of the innocent, he is constrained to declare the guilty.
But even here, (1.) He will not speak at all, till love, superior love, constrains him. (2.) He cannot do it from a general confused view of doing good, or promoting the glory of God, but from a clear sight of some particular end, some determinate good which he pursues. (3.) Still he cannot speak, unless he be fully convinced that this very means is necessary to that end; that the end cannot be answered, at least not so effectually, by any other way. (4.) He then doeth it with the utmost sorrow and reluctance; using it as the last and worst medicine, a desperate remedy in a desperate case, a kind of poison never to be used but to expel poison. Consequently, (5.) He uses it as sparingly as possible. And this he does with fear and trembling, lest he should transgress the law of love by speaking too much, more than he would have done by not speaking at all.
15. Love “believeth all things.” It is always willing to think the best; to put the most favourable construction on everything. It is ever ready to believe whatever may tend to the advantage of any one’s character. It is easily convinced of (what it earnestly desires) the innocence or integrity of any man; or, at least, of the sincerity of his repentance, if he had once erred from the way. It is glad to excuse whatever is amiss; to condemn the offender as little as possible; and to make all the allowance for human weakness which can be done without betraying the truth of God.
16. And when it can no longer believe, then love “hopeth all things.” Is any evil related of any man? Love hopes that the relation is not true, that the thing related was never done. Is it certain it was? — “But perhaps it was not done with such circumstances as are related; so that, allowing the fact, there is room to hope it was not so ill as it is represented.” Was the action apparently undeniably evil? Love hopes the intention was not so. Is it clear, the design was evil too? — “Yet might it not spring from the settled temper of the heart, but from a start of passion, or from some vehement temptation, which hurried the man beyond himself.” And even when it cannot be doubted, but all the actions, designs, and tempers are equally evil; still love hopes that God will at last make bare his arm, and get himself the victory; and that there shall be “joy in heaven over” this “one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance.”
17. Lastly. It “endureth all things.” This completes the character of him that is truly merciful. He endureth not some, not many, things only; not most, but absolutely all things. Whatever the injustice, the malice, the cruelty of men can inflict, he is able to suffer. He calls nothing intolerable; he never says of anything, “This is not to be borne.” No; he can not only do, but suffer, all things through Christ which strengtheneth him. And all he suffers does not destroy his love, nor impair it in the least. It is proof against all. It is a flame that burns even in the midst of the great deep. “Many waters cannot quench” his “love, neither can the floods drown it.” It triumphs over all. It “never faileth,” either in time or in eternity.
In obedience to what heaven decrees,
Knowledge shall fail, and prophecy shall cease;
But lasting charity’s more ample sway,
Nor bound by time, nor subject to decay,
In happy triumph shall for ever live,
And endless good diffuse, and endless praise receive.
So shall “the merciful obtain mercy;” not only by the blessing of God upon all their ways, by his now repaying the love they bear to their brethren a thousand fold into their own bosom; but likewise by “an exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” in the “kingdom prepared for them from the beginning of the world.”
18. For a little while you may say, “Woe is me, that I” am constrained to “dwell with Mesech, and to have my habitation among the tents of Kedar!” You may pour out your soul, and bemoan the loss of true, genuine love in the earth: Lost indeed! You may well say, (but not in the ancient sense,) “See how these Christians love one another!” These Christian kingdoms, that are tearing out each other’s bowels, desolating one another with fire and sword!
These Christian armies, that are sending each by thousands, by ten thousands, quick into hell! These Christian nations, that are all on fire with intestine broils, party against party, faction against faction! These Christian cities, where deceit and fraud, oppression and wrong, yea, robbery and murder, go not out of their streets! These Christian families, torn asunder with envy, jealousy, anger, domestic jars, without number, without end! Yea, what is most dreadful, most to be lamented of all, these Christian Churches!
–Churches (“tell it not in Gath,” — but, alas! how can we hide it, either from Jews, Turks, or Pagans?) that bear the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace, and wage continual war with each other! That convert sinners by burning them alive! That are “drunk with the blood of the saints!” — Does this praise belong only to “Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth?”
Nay, verily; but Reformed Churches (so called) have fairly learned to tread in her steps. Protestant Churches too know to persecute, when they have power in their hands, even unto blood. And, meanwhile, how do they also anathematize each other! Devote each other to the nethermost hell! What wrath, what contention, what malice, what bitterness, is everywhere found among them, even where they agree in essentials, and only differ in opinions, or in the circumstantials of religion!
Who follows after only the “things that make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another?” O God! how long? Shall thy promise fail? Fear it not, ye little flock! Against hope, believe in hope! It is your Father’s good pleasure yet to renew the face of the earth. Surely all these things shall come to an end, and the inhabitants of the earth shall learn righteousness. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they know war any more.” “The mountains of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains;” and “all the kingdoms of the earth shall become the kingdoms of our God.” “They shall not” then “hurt or destroy in all his holy mountain;” but they shall call their “walls salvation, and their gates praise.”
They shall all be without spot or blemish, loving one another, even as Christ hath loved us. — Be thou part of the first-fruits, if the harvest is not yet. Do thou love thy neighbor as thyself. The Lord God fill thy heart with such a love to every soul, that thou mayest be ready to lay down thy life for his sake! May thy soul continually overflow with love, swallowing up every unkind and unholy temper, till he calleth thee up into the region of love, there to reign with him for ever and ever!
[Edited by William A. Buckholdt III, student at Northwest Nazarene College (Nampa, ID), with corrections by George Lyons for the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.]
This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library server.
My newest painting is from a photo I took of a church in downtown Hot Springs on one cloudy spring day. It wasn’t much to look at as a photo, but I was called to stop and snap its image at that moment. I learned long ago in ministry to listen to those promptings of the spirit, for a greater power was working beneath my poor powers of discernment and knowledge. If I listened, I’d show up when people needed me, even when they were unable to contact me. God has a mysterious power to do unlikely works, or things we ordinary folks would call minor miracles.
Most of us see our churches as ordinary places, maybe even “our places,” rather than God’s holy place. This is why we say “my church,” but if we were truthful, we’d admit, no church ever belongs to any human being, for the church is the body of Christ. We also aren’t just one congregation either, for all these buildings comprise a greater Body of the greater Church, which is the Body of Christ. Plus, we who look to our membership rolls forget about the ones who are outside our doorsteps: the hungry, lonely, poor, wandering, naked, or the prisoners and infirm who are confined. They too are part of Christ’s body, which yearns to be made whole.
In my painting, this ordinary, grounded church now rises as a golden, ethereal structure striving toward the heavens. As a Inspired Church, it’s “going on to perfection.” While it won’t get there on its on account, God’s energies are there to help it, just as the spirit will help each of our churches to grow in faith and witness to the world. As I consider the pre Easter fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, I think of the cycles of spiritual growth both we and the bodies of Christ undergo. We all have times of growth and lying fallow, and some even seem to have seasons of rot. Yet God’s renewing spirit can make the dead bones live again.
A Christian church has been in Paris since the 3rd century of the CE. This site has a history of both blight and renewal. Two ancient churches were destroyed to build the new gothic cathedral. These were built on the site of an old Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter. The work on the cathedral began in 1163 and was completed 203 years later. In 1789, French revolutionaries caused major damage to the building, especially the statuary. Nearly a half century later, publication of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831 sparked a campaign to restore the cathedral.
Although Notre Dame de Paris is a Catholic Church, it’s also a historic building. As such, the cathedral belongs to the state, which is responsible for its maintenance. Nevertheless, the day-to-day maintenance of churches and cathedrals in France often falls to cultural and religious associations. And just because the state is responsible for funding large infrastructure projects doesn’t necessarily mean it has the money to do it.
When the world watched the spire fall and the wooden roof collapse, a great sadness fell across people’s hearts. Immediately large financial pledges poured in to rebuild this architectural treasure. One of the blowbacks in the days of grief after the fire and the generous outpouring of pledges to rebuild this cathedral of hope, which is over 850 years old, was the reality of human needs. Soon folks said, “If we can raise this much money for a building, why can’t we raise it for the homeless, the hungry, the war refugees, and all the other human causes of need?”
Yes, these are important, and we should always provide relief for human distress. Great buildings, which have seen over eight centuries upon this earth, are a special case. They carry the hopes, dreams, and memories of each person who has ever entered their doors. With the advent of television and social media, they now carry the memories and dreams of everyone around the world who watched this great sanctuary burn and all their hopes for what it will become in the future.
When we cast a vision for our own churches, most of us aren’t facing a burned down edifice. Instead, we usually find a burned out congregation or a barely burning membership. Not many of us will stay in our appointments long enough to make “cosmic changes,” so we work to improve what we can, with the hope the next pastor will build on our work. In truth, it’s easier to redesign or renovate a building than it is to restore a congregation to health.
Currently architects are designing their best proposals for this spiritual heart of Paris and France. Some will “go big or go home,” while others will bring a more simple vision. Paris firm Vincent Callebaut Architectures’ vision for the cathedral is an innovative and eco-friendly design that supports the local population and produces more energy than it uses. Its vision of the rebuilt Notre Dame features a futuristic glass design, solar power, and an urban farm to support vulnerable and homeless Parisians.
Four years ago, an art historian used lasers to digitally map Notre Dame Cathedral. His work now could help save it. The Vincent Callebaut project is titled “Palingenesis,” a Greek concept of rebirth or recreation. The firm proposes a new roof made of glass, oak and carbon fiber, which connects “in one single curved stroke of pencil” to the sloping spire. The rooster which topped the original spire and retrieved from the rubble after the fire, will resume its watch from the new glass design, while the cathedral’s choir will be bathed in natural light.
Vincent Callebaut Architectures
Beneath the spire, the roof will host a fruit and vegetable farm run by charities and volunteers, in order to produce free food for vulnerable local people. “Up to 21 tons of fruits and vegetables could be harvested and directly redistributed for free each year,” the firm said in a press release. “To that end, a farmers’ market would be held every week on the forecourt of Notre Dame.”
Vincent Callebaut Architectures
The roof and spire will also produce electricity, heat and ventilation for the cathedral: an “organic active layer” within the glass will provide solar power, while the roof’s diamond-shaped “scales” will open to offer natural ventilation — a design inspired by termite mounds. The spire will act as a “thermal buffer space” in which hot air accumulates in winter.
The cathedral could host an urban farm which produces food for local people. Credit: Vincent Callebaut Architectures
“How can we write the contemporary history of our country, but also that of science, art and spirituality together?” the firm said in a press release. “We seek to present a transcendent project, a symbol of a resilient and ecological future.”
If the Vincent Callebaut design is selected, the firm said, the reborn Notre Dame will define “the new face of the Church in the 21st century,” presenting “a fairer symbiotic relationship between humans and nature.”
This is so amazing, yet I wonder if the religious community will feel elbowed out of their worship space. I know one of the difficult challenges in church leadership is adopting new ideas because “we’ve never done it that way before.” On the other hand, helping this 14th century gothic cathedral rise from the ashes to a new birth is the perfect moment to claim an extraordinary vision for a forward looking future, not only for the church, but also for Paris, the French, and even the people of the world.
- When we think about a new vision for our own church, are we willing to destroy the pagan temple and the god of its age?
- When we build a church for an earlier time, do we have the faith to tear it down and build it anew for the age in which we live?
- Do we hold on to an old form of church until it burns down and we need to create a new one from the ashes?
- Will we have the courage to reconfigure our “idea of church” so it’s not a separation from the world, but an incorporation of the world, as in the Wedding Banquet parable?
- Are we ready to entertain new visions and dream new dreams for our churches and our ministries?
Although we celebrated the vernal equinox on the 20th last month, the church counts March 21 as the equinox date in the ecclesiastical calendar, rather than the actual date, which can vary between March 19-21.
This is important because the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE established Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon occurring on or after the spring equinox. From then on, the church determined the full moon would be on March 21 for the vernal equinox. This means Easter can be as early as March 22nd, or as late as April 25th.
My dad loved to recite this bit of lore each year, just as much as he relished knowing the difference between first and second cousins and those kin who were once removed from us. If I live long enough, I may one day learn this arcane knowledge of relationships, but for now I’m doing well to keep the date of Easter in my head.
Easter is always a Sunday celebration, while Good Friday and the Passover are Friday events. Although the text says Jesus was taken down from the cross before sundown before the beginning of the Passover, the two celebrations don’t always coincide. The Christian calendar follows the sun, whereas the Hebrew calendar follows the moon. These two can get out of sync over time.
The two festivals do share a common theme, however. God works a miracle in the lives of the people. In the Passover, God spared the Hebrew families, but visited the plagues upon the Egyptians until Pharaoh freed the people. At Good Friday, God freed the people from bondage to sin and death and through the resurrection of Jesus on Easter, freed all who believe to live in freedom in love and life.
This is why we can say with Ellis Peters, “Every spring is the only spring—a perpetual astonishment.” If we wear our new or best clothes in honor of the resurrection, it’s only because we want to share the experience of rebirth in our own lives. After a grim winter, or a rain filled March, the bright colors of the Easter resurrection feel more real than the few small bursts of colors we’ve seen in the garden to date.
Longfellow wrote in Kavanaugh: A Tale,
“If Spring came but once in a century, instead of once a year, or burst forth with the sound of an earthquake, and not in silence, what wonder and expectation there would be in all hearts to behold the miraculous change! But now the silent succession suggests nothing but necessity. To most men only the cessation of the miracle would be miraculous and the perpetual exercise of God’s power seems less wonderful than its withdrawal would be.”
If we were only barely holding on to hope during the days of false spring, now as the days grow longer and warmer, we can feel hope taking hold in our hearts for certain. Maybe we feel better because of the longer days, or we can be outside more often. We don’t know, but we thank God for this blessing and the resurrection of hope in our hearts.
Perhaps it’s true: “The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created Spring.” —Bernard Williams
As a reminder, Time is infinite, even if we mark its passing in moments, minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, centuries, and millennia. While we’re not infinite, the love of God is inexhaustible and steadfast, enduring forever. Where we see paucity, God provides abundance. The message of the eternal springtime and the resurrection is hope abounds in the most unlikely and darkest of days.
May you have a blessed Easter and a new hope in your hearts and lives! My gift to you is a poem I’ve loved for nearly half a century.
Joy and Peace, Cornelia
A Poem by Khalil Gibran
And an astronomer said, “Master, what of Time?”
And he answered:
You would measure time the measureless and the immeasurable.
You would adjust your conduct and even direct the course of your spirit according to hours and seasons.
Of time you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing.
Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness,
And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.
And that that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.
Who among you does not feel that his power to love is boundless?
And yet who does not feel that very love, though boundless, encompassed within the centre of his being, and moving not from love thought to love thought, nor from love deeds to other love deeds?
And is not time even as love is, undivided and paceless?
But if in your thoughts you must measure time into seasons, let each season encircle all the other seasons,
And let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing.
We had a bright taste of spring in last Friday’s art class with the yellow daffodils from Gail’s yard. She and Mike have come a long way in their powers of observation and rendering. They take their time to see, study, and really observe intentionally whatever objects are before them. These two students have been to most of the 26 classes to date, beginning back in June 2018. They’ve come a long way.
We can get lost in the busyness of the world with all the competing claims for our attention, but if we take our time, breathe, look for the most important things first, and then deal with the details, we’ll usually have a better outcome. This is an art studio principle we can carry over into life.
I happen to be doing something entirely different. It’s a woven painting, from two old works I’m no longer keeping. As part of my recycled/resurrection series, it belongs to a theme of change. In Luke 9:51, we hear
“When the days drew near for him to be taken up,
he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
Sometimes we have to set our minds on what God wants for us and deal with the consequences. As we head into Lent, I recognize as a teacher most students today don’t want to suffer, but want the prize of achievement without the sweat of practice. Some say 10,000 hours is the mythical threshold to acquire competency.
Will we then all be Leonardo’s, Picasso’s, or Monet’s? Some of us will work 100,000 hours and still be ourselves, but we’ll be so much more than we were when we began! It’s like the Christian life: if we aren’t intentional about giving ourselves into God’s service, we won’t practice it often enough to grow in love and grace.
I had a dream about this image I’m working on now. Jesus knows the cross is before him. He’s already seen it in his mind. When he goes down to Jerusalem for the Passover, things won’t go well for him. He can go to fulfill his mission or turn tail and run. The prelude to his ministry was the temptation in the desert, which we remember during Lent. He goes forward to the certainty of his ministry and also his death and resurrection.
Those of us who like Easter, but not Good Friday, will one day have to deal with suffering: our own, someone’s we love, or the suffering of humanity. We can’t escape suffering, for it’s part of the human condition. Some of it we choose, like training for sports, but some is visited upon us unkindly, such as the dread illnesses and wars of our world. Some were born into suffering by geographic location, and this causes mass refugee populations to move across national borders in search of hope and opportunity.
When we’re painting these pretty pictures of flowers, we can think of those who have put their hope in God’s hands and remember we are Christ’s hands in God’s world.
My weaving is a dream image of a transformational point in time when you see what is both before you and behind you. You choose to go ahead anyway, even knowing the consequences. Both the hero and the artist have to risk the danger. Otherwise we’ll paint pretty canvases for nice homes and be the Christians who wear our decorative crosses, but we’ll never bear the cross for the sake of Christ, his kingdom, and the better world God calls us to recreate.
The Christian life calls each of us to be a hero, one who suffers on behalf of another. If our lives are too easy, we aren’t walking like Christ. We aren’t called to suffer at the hands of another, or to be harmed by others, but there’s a real need in our lives for “structured and guided suffering in a safe environment,” such as learning a new skill or getting outside of our comfort zone.
I carry my phone when I walk, so I always have a camera for the scenes of beauty which catch my eye. Since light is ephemeral and these moments are fleeting, catching them as they occur is important. When I come home, I often photoshop the image on my computer or in Instagram to get the emotions, which I experienced when I took the photo.
Several winters ago, I took this photo. By the time I painted it this year, I was feeling more optimistic. Back then, I didn’t know if my daughter was alive or dead. I lived in hope, but I also was holding onto some fear, for I knew her drug addiction was going to be difficult to overcome.
This is my most recent landscape. The cloud always reminds me of God’s appearance! Then I think of this verse in Job 38:34, when God asks Job, who’s been questioning God’s intentions and reasons—
“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
so that a flood of waters may cover you?”
Poor Job, he’s not God. And neither are any of us. We’d like to make sense of the senseless, right all the wrongs, put order to all the chaos, and make things the way they should be. Of course, if we were in charge, the world would have gone to hell in a hand basket much sooner than it has already.
Maybe we should reread Job 42:3—
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
In our world today, many changes are happening. Some of us want things to be “the way they used to be.” This would make us feel better and be more comfortable with a known world, but God is always recreating God’s new world–
“For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).
If we are people of faith, we can trust in our God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). If Christ is the same, then God is the same, and so is the Holy Spirit. Does this mean our understanding of the Holy Trinity never changes? No, this means God’s love and mercy for us never changes! We think we can fall outside the bounds of God’s love, but this is only because we have short arms and can’t include all others within our embrace. Just as the water reflects the sky and earth above it, so we’re to reflect the attributes of the holy image in which we’re created and demonstrate the qualities of the heart and the same mind that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).
Job, who was well respected and honored in his community, was enamored of his ability to assist others with their needs. He was a big man who used the blessings from God for good purposes. When he lost this status, he was upset. Once he met God face to face, he realized he’d been giving lip service to God, but didn’t actually know God. Many of us today know about God, but haven’t had an encounter or experience with the living God. We can’t reflect a love which we’ve never received, and we can’t share a forgiveness we’ve not known. Perhaps our first work is to seek God’s generosity for our own lives, so we can reflect it outward in the world toward others.
Making Found Object Icons is an art project that evolved out of the Great Macaroni Multimedia Traveling Artandicon Show. In seminary during Art Week our fellow students were horrified we were making sacred images out of edible products, such as macaroni, lentils, peas, and beans.
“Jesus is the bread of life, and macaroni is just another form of wheat,” we replied.
“But it’s so ordinary!”
“Clay is ordinary, and so is stone. Can an object only be worthy of God if it’s made of expensive materials?”
“The value of all the chemicals in a human body is about $5.18, but we’re worth far more than that in the eyes of God. Some say God doesn’t make junk, yet too many people of faith despise and debase the body. I’ve always wondered why this was so, since the Son of God came to earth in human form, and as the great hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSV) says—“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God,did not regard equality with Godas something to be exploited,but emptied himself,taking the form of a slave,being born in human likeness.And being found in human form,he humbled himselfand became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.Therefore God also highly exalted himand gave him the namethat is above every name,so that at the name of Jesusevery knee should bend,in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue should confessthat Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.”
When we meet Christ at Christmas, we can get all warm and fuzzy because who doesn’t like a warm, cuddly baby? Maybe I have a soft spot for babies, but I really don’t trust people who don’t get a little ga-ga when the little ones coo and smile. I can understand folks getting squeamish at Good Friday and the cross. Most of us avoid as much pain as possible. Humility and obedience to God are not high priorities these days for many people.
Many tend to ignore this wonderful call to the Christ-like life, preferring instead the cop out of “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” (Mark 14:38, NRSV). “Forgive us,” we say, but we hold others up to high standards.We make a distinction between our dual natures of the flesh and the spirit, a concept inherited from the Greco-Roman culture. It’s notable that the often quoted verse, “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit,” is found in Galatians 6:8 (NRSV), for this was a Roman province.The ancient Mediterranean area had a knowledge/mystery tradition. The Greeks had their cult of Bacchus, the Egyptians the cult of Isis, and the Jewish had their mystical Kabbalah. The Romans had their dying and rising god cult of Mithras, the bull. Entry into all of these groups was by word of mouth only, given to a special few, and all had secret rites known to the members only. Most promised salvation through secret knowledge, and the true world for them was spiritual rather than the physical world in which we live today. Ecstatic worship separated the believer from the body and the ordinary world.You might recognize these traits in your own church or worship community today, except for the ecstatic and enthusiastic worship brought about by mood altering substances. That’s not my church anyway! How do we come close to God? Across the centuries, the tradition has discovered contemplative prayer, singing, searching the scriptures, serving the poor, attending the sacraments, and creating art for God or the Holy Icons.Making an object for the glory of God, to enhance the worship experience, and to honor God is a gift of the artist’s time and talent. No artist is ever paid what their training and talent is worth, for it’s a treasure from God to begin with—it can’t be valued. Artists have learned over the centuries to live simply, accept fame if it comes, and put a fair price on their work.
They get value in the spiritual real from the work they do, for the icon opens a window into heaven. As they arrange the jewels and found objects, and move them to a better position, the icon comes alive under their hands and begins to breathe. Only the person, who will be still long enough to hear the silence from beyond the open window, can hear the voice of God in this world. For this person, the icon is a treasure, and a place of holy focus, no matter how small or how simple the materials.This is the reason the artist makes an icon—to have a moment of mystery, a time of intersection, and a communion with the holy. In today’s hurried world, each of us wants a place in which we can experience for a moment the timelessness of heaven.When we return in the New Year, we’ll begin painting our own holy icons. The process is a spiritual journey, more than a destination or the attempt to reach perfection. We only need to “go toward perfection” each day!
My latest icon of the face of Christ is based on the Napkin of Christ or The Image Not Made by Human Hands. The tradition tells us the Lord washed his face on a cloth and the image of his face transferred directly to it. King Abgar took the image bearing cloth to Edessa and hung it above the city’s entrance, where the people venerated it.
For many years afterwards, the inhabitants kept a pious custom to bow down before the Icon Not-Made-by-Hands, when they went forth from the gates. When one of the great-grandsons of Abgar, who later ruled Edessa, fell into idolatry, he decided to take down the icon from the city wall. In a vision the Lord ordered the Bishop of Edessa to hide His icon. The bishop, coming by night with his clergy, lit a lamp before it and walled it up with a board and with bricks.
Years later, when the city was under siege, the Virgin Mary appeared to the presiding bishop with the instruction to reveal the old icon. Not only was it found, but also the lamp, and a copy etched into the wall itself! This miracle saved the city.
We know “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21), for Christ came not to save only humankind, but to redeem all creation. Sometimes when hurricanes, floods, fires, and other natural disasters make the news, we might think nature is disordered, dysfunctional, and we can despair for any harmonious sensitivity to the only planet we can call our home.
For some people of faith, because their “citizenship is not of this world,” they see no reason to care for our world, yet God created this place for us and our children and their children. We don’t own it, we merely care for it, as good stewards for the generations to come and as servants of our creator. If our world is to be lush and green, as well as clean and blue, we must love it as if it were the body of Christ, even though the world isn’t divine.
God is still going to “make a new heaven and a new earth,” but we don’t have to destroy the one we already have just to get God to prove God’s powers over our stupidity. We could choose to participate in the recreation of the new earth and let God finish the task at the right time. Then we’d enjoy the fruits of this better world and share it with all our neighbors around the earth.
As Paul reminds us, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” (Romans 8:22-24)
Some things I take for granted, since I had the great privilege of knowing my great grandmother in her last years. I knew all but one of my grandparents, since my daddy’s father died when I was only a year old. Even my daughter knew both her Nana and all four of her grandparents. Growing up we attended family reunions or homecomings every summer without fail. We renewed ties with the distant or “kissing cousins” who also showed up for the food and fellowship. I also have family members who care about genealogy, especially if this gets them into exclusive organizations, but I’ve never joined these.
The Mexican festival for the Day of the Dead pays respects to the ancestors. In truth, we don’t need to know who they are, or to have had an intimate relationship with them. After all, I certainly didn’t know my great great ancestors! I can appreciate I wouldn’t be here without their gift of life to my more proximate relatives. This is what the writer of Hebrews means by, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (12:1).
The Day of the Dead is celebrated on or around All Saints Day, and sometimes for several days on either side of it. It began with an Aztec custom, and blended into the Catholic tradition. This is a time for feasting, celebrations, and joy, to make memorable the experience of recalling the lives of the ancestors. Sweet foods shaped like skulls are one of the traditions.
Michael worked on a pyramid of foam core boards, which he painted to look like stones. He decorated it with store bought skulls and a photo of his deceased brother. He has more nuts and bolts from a found object stash to add to it. Telling the story of his beloved one is part of the project. Art is part therapy and part project. We may work with our hands, but our hearts and minds are also involved.
Gail worked on a tombstone painting with images of her ancestors and their pets. She figured our how to transfer photos to cloth via the printer! Technology! I was impressed! Plus Gail made coffee for my sake, and it was a means of grace, since I’ve had a serious sinus infection that won’t go away. Coffee really is a blessing.
I’m slowly working on a new box for my daughter’s memory. This is the third anniversary of her death. When we think of the Dead, we remember
we believe “he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive” (Luke 20:38). So we don’t grieve like others do, for our loved ones aren’t lost to us. Since God is close to us, and our loved ones are with God, this means our loved ones are always as close to us as God is.
In these past three years, grief has roiled not only our nation, but the nations of the world. Since 2015, more than 33,000 Americans have died as a result of the opioid epidemic, but drug overdose deaths overall are even larger. In 2015 alone, 52,404 people died from a drug overdose and 64,070 died in the year ending in January, 2017. Across the world, 2015 was remarkable for forcibly displaced persons: 21.3 million refugees, 40.8 million internally displaced persons, and 3.2 million asylum seekers. The photo of the drowned Syrian boy, who washed up on a Turkish beach, helped open Europe’s doors to people fleeing the war torn country they once called home. Now we have neighbors from the south fleeing gangs and corruption in the hope of a place to work and give their families a better life.
Perhaps we’ve had so much of our own grief, we can’t deal with any more. We’ve become numb to the pain of others. If this is the case, we are dead inside, and others need to grieve for us. The fancy name for our condition is “compassion fatigue,” for we hear folks saying, “We should take care of our own first,” but our own go hungry and sleep in the bushes behind our churches or on our city streets.
To live with joy isn’t easy in the early days after the death of a loved one, but as our journey progresses toward recovery, we come to remember who we are and whose we are. Making a scrapbook, writing a journal, or building an altar are all physical means to engage the senses. Once we tap these, we can open the floodgates to our emotions and thoughts, and then healing can begin. We aren’t healed in a moment, but by a process over time.
“Hear, LORD, and be merciful to me; LORD, be my help.
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy”
~~ Psalms 30:10-11
NEXT WEEK: We begin a new still life painting series—Ornamental Gourds.
No, we aren’t painting ON the gourds…Bring paints and a canvas!
Joy and Peace, Cornelia
Drug Overdose Statistics:
After all is said and done, the taste of victory will not be sweet for the winning side. They will be eating a roast beast cooked to ashes. It will feed them, but it won’t nourish them for the long haul.
The agony of this latest defeat for the survivors, who came out of hiding to share their stories of pain in solidarity with others, is just a minor setback, for their bravery has been honed by years of struggle. One skirmish doesn’t make a battle, anymore than one person can make or break our spirits. We know our worth and identify is located in our being loved by God and loved into the image of God.
Yet, if we listen to the news feed of any political persuasion, either “the kingdom has come according to God’s will,” or “the apocalypse is upon us now!” I admit to being one of the latter, but even I can put on my drama queen crown for a day. Television, social media, and our instant society push us in this direction. We are seduced into overconsumption of media during times of high drama, especially when an unusual event occurs, such as a natural disaster or a Supreme Court appointment.
Why would we even care, as people of faith, about a political appointee? While this government position is technically separate from the church, the people who rule make decisions affecting God’s people and God’s world–especially the poor, the marginalized, and the dispossessed. We want to know that all 114 of the justices since 1789 not only are well qualified in matters of the law, but have the “temperament suitable for the highest court of the land.”
This is like the classic “sorting hat” of Harry Potter fame—or the Southerner’s expression “couth”—you either have it or you don’t. If you have to ask what it is, you don’t have it. Mostly down South, we easily recognize “uncouth.” That is plain as the nose on you face or people screaming at you to listen when your mind is already made up.
So the vote to confirm the 114th was close, but affirmative, and we now have a new Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. People think Justice Kavanaugh will tilt the Court to the right, since there’s no swing vote currently among the nine. Since I’m afflicted by the dread disease of chronic optimism, and infected by family systems thinking, I don’t believe in static systems. After all, every place I’ve ever been and every job ever had, both secular and sacred, all had the same people and conditions, but when you replace one key person (or change the way the key person relates to the others), change happens.
I observed an interesting effect of Family Systems behavior patterns when an extroverted clergy pal, who led youth groups, and I were part of a leadership training seminar. Our normally reserved group leader began to toss the dinner rolls across our restaurant table as he called out our names. The more he “acted out,” the straighter and quieter my friend became! I was dying laughing inside, but I couldn’t laugh out loud at her expense.
When we throw a rock into a lake, it creates a ripple. We may think these waves dissipate after a few feet, but under the water are small fish who felt the water’s expansion, so they moved to another part of the lake. Perhaps the fisherman, whose luck was poor all day long, made one final cast and caught the bigger fish that had moved over to seek the small fish from our tossed pebble area. We may have given him a meal for his family or just made his day glad. We’ll never know the results of the small acts or decisions we make.
Likewise, when a new Justice arrives into the very small pond—there’s only nine of them—it’s bound to make a ripple. If we believe “God is working for good in all things, for those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes,” then by faith we’d trust God will work in this small pond to move the hearts and minds of these justices. In their discussions and interactions, they would affect one another. They don’t make decisions in an ivory tower, for they’re not like a judge in an individual court, but colleagues who come to a consensus opinion, even if one may write a dissent on the side.
As a stone sharpens a blade, we can hope and pray for the light of God’s love to illumine both the mind and heart of all who serve on our high court. They’ll have many important questions to come before them. Our hope is they and we always remember psychologist Ellen Langer’s advice for making tough choices: “Don’t make the right decision. Make the decision right.” Since we never have enough information to make the best choice, all we can do is make the best of the choice we’ve made.
If we remember we’re all children of God and all of God’s children are well loved, then we can go forward without rancor to recreate the world anew. If the current occupants of political office aren’t responding to this transformative calling, we should run, organize, vote, and elect others who will work together for the good of all, not just for a few. This takes vision, planning, and a long term view.
Most of us will only think about as long as it takes our double shot white mocha latte with soy to come over the counter at our favorite cafe spot, if that long. Plan for a major holiday? Five year plan? Plan out the church year in advance? No wonder we don’t even know what we’re doing this weekend. Most of us are just trying to get through the day. No wonder we live moment to moment and crisis to crisis. We don’t ever pull back and reflect on where the ripples go when the stone drops. All we do is keep throwing stones. This isn’t evidence of a life of faith and purpose. Calendars are going on sale now. It might be time to make some prayers and plans.
I haven’t read this book, but the New York Times gives it a rave review.
“Farsighted,” Steven Johnson’s riveting new book on how we make tough long-term decisions, uses compelling stories that reveal surprising insights, and explains how we can most effectively approach the choices that can chart the course of a life, an organization, or a civilization. “Farsighted” will help you imagine your possible futures and appreciate the subtle intelligence of the choices that shaped our broader social history.