The Character of a Methodist

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Love Knows No Fear

Wesley’s Historic Teaching on Holiness

John Wesley wrote extensively to teach the Methodists of his day the tenets of the faith. We teach seminarians the historic doctrines, but many think these are “dead ideas of a long ago world.” Wesley gave us 52 Standard Sermons and the Notes on the New Testament, both of which are part of our doctrinal standards. Today many believe as long as they can justify an idea by scripture, reason, tradition, and experience, they can believe anything they want regardless of our standards. Of course, Wesley himself believed scripture, reason, and tradition led to the experience of being a child of God, but that’s another story for another day.

  1. The first tract I ever wrote expressly on this subject was published in the latter end of this year. That none might be prejudiced before they read it, I gave it the indifferent title of “The Character of a Methodist.” In this I described a perfect Christian, placing in the front, “Not as though I had already attained.” Part of it I subjoin without any alteration: —

Loves the Lord with All the Heart
“A Methodist is one who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul, which is continually crying, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth whom I desire besides thee.’ My God and my all! ‘Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.’ He is therefore happy in God; yea, always happy, as having in him a well of water springing up unto everlasting life, and over-flowing his soul with peace and joy. Perfect love living now cast out fear, he rejoices evermore. Yea, his joy is full, and all his bones cry out, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten me again unto a living hope of an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, reserved in heaven for me.’

Good is the Will of the Lord
“And he, who hath this hope, thus full of immortality, in everything giveth thanks, as knowing this (whatsoever it is) is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning him. From him therefore he cheerfully receives all, saying, ‘Good is the will of the Lord;’ and whether he giveth or taketh away, equally blessing the name of the Lord. Whether in ease or pain, whether in sickness or health, whether in life or death, he giveth thanks from the ground of the heart to Him who orders it for good; into whose hands he hath wholly committed his body and soul, ‘as into the hands of a faithful Creator.’ He is therefore anxiously ‘careful for nothing,’ as having ‘cast all his care on Him that careth for him;’ and ‘in all things’ resting on him, after ‘making’ his ‘request known to him with thanksgiving.’

Prays Without Ceasing
“For indeed he ‘prays without ceasing;’ at all times the language of his heart is this, ‘Unto thee is my mouth, though without a voice; and my silence speaketh unto thee.’ His heart is lifted up to God at all times, and in all places. In this he is never hindered, much less interrupted, by any person or thing. In retirement or company, in leisure, business, or conversation, his heart is ever with the Lord. Whether he lie down, or rise up, ‘God is in all his thoughts:’ He walks with God continually; having the loving eye of his soul fixed on him, and everywhere ‘seeing Him that is invisible.’

Loves the Neighbor as the Self
“And loving God, he ‘loves his neighbour as himself;’ he loves every man as his own soul. He loves his enemies, yea, and the enemies of God. And if it be not in his power to ‘do good to them that hate’ him, yet he ceases not to ‘pray for them,’ though they spurn his love, and still ‘despite. fully use him, and persecute him.’

Pure in Heart
“For he is ‘pure in heart.’ Love has purified his heart from envy, malice, wrath, and every unkind temper. It has cleansed him from pride, whereof ‘only cometh contention;’ and he hath now ‘put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering.’ And indeed all possible ground for contention, on his part, is cut off. For none can take from him what he desires, seeing he ‘loves not the world, nor any of the things of the world;’ but ‘all his desire is unto God, and to the remembrance of his name.’

Does the Will of God
“Agreeable to this his one desire, is this one design of his life; namely, ‘to do, not his own will, but the will of Him that sent him.’ His one intention at all times and in all places is, not to please himself, but Him whom his soul loveth. He hath a single eye; and because his ‘eye is single, his whole body is full of light. The whole is light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth enlighten the house.’ God reigns alone; all that is in the soul is ‘holiness to the Lord.’ There is not a motion in his heart but is according to his will. Every thought that arises points to him, and is in ‘obedience to the law of Christ.’

Tree Known by Fruits
“And the tree is known by its fruits. For, as he loves God, so he ‘keeps his commandments;’ not only some, or most of them, but all, from the least to the greatest. He is not content to ‘keep the whole law and offend in one point,’ but has in all points ‘a conscience void of offence towards God, and towards man.’ Whatever God has forbidden, he avoids; whatever God has enjoined, he does. ‘He runs the way of God’s commandments,’ now He bath set his heart at liberty. It is his glory and joy so to do; it is his daily crown of rejoicing, to ‘do the will of God on earth, as it is done in heaven.’

Keeping the Commandments
“All the commandments of God he accordingly keeps, and that with all his might; for his obedience is in proportion to his love, the source from whence it flows. And therefore, loving God with all his heart, he serves him with all his strength; he continually presents his soul and ‘body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God;’ entirely and without reserve devoting himself, all he has, all he is, to his glory. All the talents he has, he constantly employs according to his Master’s will; every power and faculty of his soul, every member of his body.

Doing All to the Glory of God
“By consequence, ‘whatsoever he doeth, it is all to the glory of God.’ In all his employments of every kind, he not only aims at this, which is implied in having a single eye, but actually attains it; his business and his refreshments, as well as his prayers, all serve to this great end. Whether he ‘sit in the house, or walk by the way,’ whether he lie down, or rise up, he is promoting, in all he speaks or does, the one business of his life. Whether he put on his apparel, or labour, or eat and drink, or divert himself from too wasting labour, it all tends to advance the glory of God, by peace and good-will among men. His one invariable rule is this: ‘Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God, even the Father, through him.’

Running the Race, Not as the World Runs
“Nor do the customs of the world at all hinder his ‘ running the race which is set before him.’ He cannot therefore ‘lay up treasures upon earth,’ no more than he can take fire into his bosom. He cannot speak evil of his neighbour, any more than he can lie either for God or man. He cannot utter an unkind word of any one; for love keeps the door of his lips. He cannot ‘speak idle words; no corrupt conversation’ ever ‘comes out of his mouth;’ as is all that is not ‘good to the use of edifying,’ not fit to ‘minister grace to the hearers.’ But ‘whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are’ justly ‘of good report,’ he thinks, speaks, and acts, ‘adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.'”

Lovely, Pure, Clean

Christian Perfection is Wesley’s Theme
These are the very words wherein I largely declared, for the first time, my sentiments of Christian perfection. And is it not easy to see, (1.) That this is the very point at which I aimed all along from the year 1725; and more determinately from the year 1730, when I began to be +homo unius libri,+ “a man of one book,” regarding none, comparatively, but the Bible? Is it not easy to see, (2.) That this is the very same doctrine which I believe and teach at this day; not adding one point, either to that inward or outward holiness which I maintained eight-and- thirty years ago? And it is the same which, by the grace of God, I have continued to teach from that time till now; as will appear to every impartial person from the extracts subjoined below.

Wesley goes on for some length, in his 18th century fondness for expositions. He’s not a modern blogger, but wrote for people who had time and leisure to read extensively. What I find most important for us Methodists today is his teaching about sin in believers, which is one of the points he makes strongly in the following sections.

Christian Perfection Explained
1.) In what sense Christians are not, (2.) In what sense they are, perfect.

“(1.) In what sense they are not. They are not perfect in knowledge. They are not free from ignorance, no, nor from mistake. We are no more to expect any living man to be infallible, than to be omniscient. They are not free from infirmities, such as weakness or slowness of understanding, irregular quickness or heaviness of imagination. Such in another kind are impropriety of language, ungracefulness of pronunciation; to which one- might add a thousand nameless defects, either in conversation or behaviour. From such infirmities as these none are perfectly freed till their spirits return to God; neither can we expect till then to be wholly freed from temptation; for ‘the servant is not above his master.’ But neither in this sense is there any absolute perfection on earth. There is no perfection of degrees, none which does not admit of a continual increase.

Christian Perfection means Sins Are Not Committed
“(2.) In what sense then are they perfect? Observe, we are not now speaking of babes in Christ, but adult Christians But even babes in Christ are so far perfect as not to commit sin. This St. John affirms expressly; and it cannot be disproved by the examples of the Old Testament. For what, if the holiest of the ancient Jews did sometimes commit sin? We cannot infer from hence, that ‘all Christians do and must commit sin as long as they live.’

Christians have the Holy Spirit
“The privileges of Christians are in nowise to be measured by what the Old Testament records concerning those who were under the Jewish dispensation; seeing the fulness of time is now come, the Holy Ghost is now given, the great salvation of God is now brought to men by the revelation of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of heaven is now set up on earth, concerning which the Spirit of God declared of old time, (so far is David from being the pattern or standard of Christian perfection,) ‘He that is feeble among them, at that day, shall be as David, and the house of David shall be as the angel of the Lord before them.’ (Zech. 12:8.)

Christ Cleanses Us from Unrighteousness
But St. John himself says, ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves;’ and, ‘If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.’

“I answer,
1.) The tenth verse fixes the sense of the eighth: ‘If we say we have no sin,’ in the former, being explained by, ‘If we say we have not sinned,’ in the latter, verse.

2.) The point under consideration is not, whether we have or have not sinned heretofore; and neither of these verses asserts that we do sin, or commit sin now.

3.) The ninth verse explains both the eighth and tenth: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ As if he had said, ‘I have before affirmed, The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin.’ And no man can say, ‘I need it not; I have 110 sin to be cleansed, from.’ ‘If we say, we have no sin, that ‘we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves,’ and make God a liar: But ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just,’ not only ‘to forgive us our sins,’ but also ‘to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,’ that we may ‘go and sin no more.’ In conformity, therefore, both to the doctrine of St. John, and the whole tenor of the New Testament, we fix this conclusion: A Christian is so far perfect, as not to commit sin.

Good Trees don’t Produce Evil Fruits
“This is the glorious privilege of every Christian, yea, though he be but a babe in Christ. But it is only of grown Christians it can be affirmed, they are in such a sense perfect, as, Secondly, to be freed from evil thoughts and evil tempers. First, from evil or sinful thoughts. Indeed, whence should they spring? ‘Out of the heart of man,’ if at all, ‘proceed evil thoughts.’ If, therefore, the heart be no longer evil, then evil thoughts no longer proceed out of it: For ‘a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit.’

Christ Lives in the Heart
“And as they are freed from evil thoughts, so likewise from evil tempers. Every one of these can say, with St. Paul, ‘I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me;’ – – words that manifestly describe a deliverance from inward as well as from outward sin. This is expressed both negatively, ‘I live not,’ my evil nature, the body of sin, is destroyed; and positively, ‘Christ liveth in me,’ and therefore all that is holy, and just, and good. Indeed, both these, ‘Christ liveth in me,’ and, ‘I live not,’ are inseparably connected. For what communion hath light with darkness, or Christ with Belial?

Wesley was fond of quoting his brother Charles’ hymns in his writings:
“He walks in glorious liberty, To sin entirely dead:

The Truth, the Son hath made him free, And he is free indeed.”

Lessons for Methodists Today
Do we Methodists today understand this classic teaching on Christian Perfection overriding the ancient concept of justification over and over again? That idea implied we’re always in a state of corruption, so we constantly needed a sacrifice to make us right with God. Wesley taught justification by Christ, followed by the Spirit helping to refine us until we were entirely sanctified to be as Christ. This could happen in this life if we expected it and cooperated with the Spirit, but more likely the state came at the moment of death.

If we Methodists actually agreed on living out the “heart so full of love of God and neighbor that nothing else exists” motto, we’d not be listing the sins of others we find distasteful, but looking instead to shed God’s love abroad in the world.

Instead, we still attempt to keep the old laws, rather than the law of Christ’s faith, which proceeds from God’s love for the world. As Wesley writes,

Christ is the End of the Old Laws
“For Christ is the end of the Adamic, as well as the Mosaic, law. By his death, he hath put an end to both; he hath abolished both the one and the other, with regard to man; and the obligation to observe either the one or the other is vanished away. Nor is any man living bound to observe the Adamic more than the Mosaic law. [I mean, it is not the condition either of present or future salvation.]

“In the room of this, Christ hath established another, namely, the law of faith. Not every one that doeth, but every one that believeth, now receiveth righteousness, in the full sense of the word; that is, he is justified, sanctified, and glorified.”

Love is the Fulfillment of the Law
Q. 4. Is love the fulfilling of this law?

“A. Unquestionably it is. The whole law under which we now are, is fulfilled by love. (Rom. 13:9, 10.) Faith working or animated by love is all that God now requires of man. He has substituted (not sincerity, but) love, in the room of angelic perfection.

“Q. 5. How is ‘love the end of the commandment?’ (1 Tim. 1:5.)

“A. It is the end of every commandment of God. It is the point aimed at by the whole and every part of the Christian institution. The foundation is faith, purifying the heart; the end love, preserving a good conscience.

“Q. 6. What love is this?

“A. The loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and the loving our neighbour, every man, as ourselves, as our own souls.

DeLee: Resurrection Icon

Thoughts on the Future
The question for me is, how do we as Methodists retain our classical teachings and interpret them for our modern world? While some in fear want to move toward the exclusionary teachings of other faiths, Methodists have never lived in fear, for “perfect love drives out fear.” Yet some persist in excluding some for the sake of “the law,” as if the breaking of one law were more heinous than all the others.

Today in our congregations we have persons who’ve had serial divorces or cohabitate, plus those who gamble, drink excessively, mismanage personal funds, have babies out of wedlock, and are a public nuisance. You know who I’m talking about, but we love these folks and pray for them just the same. This isn’t right to include folks whose infirmities are in the straight world, but to exclude those who have the same problems just because they have a different sexual orientation. It’s not a choice for anyone who they love. It’s not a disease to be straight or gay. It is a problem if our hearts are closed and the love of God for all our neighbors isn’t filling our hearts to overflowing.

Wesley once said, “if your heart be as my heart, then give me your hand.” In a manner of speaking, we’re saying, if your experience is the same as my experience, let’s be partners. We think too much separates us, or there’s a rat between or among us, so no one extends their hand in fellowship. We distrust what we fear, for we don’t live in perfect love, but live instead according to the ways of the world.

The Quadrilateral Doesn’t Exist

But Scripture and tradition would not suffice without the good offices (positive and negative) of critical reason. Thus, he insisted on logical coherence and as an authorized referee in any contest between contrary positions or arguments. And yet, this was never enough. It was, as he knew for himself, the vital Christian experience of the assurance of one’s sins forgiven that clinched the matter. (24)

Scripture Alone is Not Enough

When challenged for his authority, on any question, his first appeal was to the Holy Bible… Even so, he was well aware that Scripture alone had rarely settled any controverted point of doctrine… Thus, though never as a substitute or corrective, he would also appeal to ‘the primitive church’ and to the Christian tradition at large as competent, complementary witnesses to ‘the meaning’ of this Scripture or that…

Doctrine of Assurance
This is Methodism’s gift to the world and the reason we can live in perfect love, which casts out all fear. We have the assurance of the forgiveness of sins and our adoption as sons and daughters of God, so that we are the joint heirs with Christ to all the innumerable riches of God’s inheritance. This isn’t just for a few, but for all who give themselves to Christ.

We humans aren’t allowed to say whom God forgives or who is worthy to be forgiven. That would put us smack onto the throne of god and make us a god. Then we would be worshipping our own selves, an act which would be the highest form of idolatry and worshipping the creature. God forbid we Methodists fall into this trap!

Notes:

24—https://www.amazon.com/Wesleyan-Theological-Heritage-Essays-Albert/dp/0310754712

Notes on the 1992 Report to General Conference: Scripture, Science, and Sexuality | Beyond General Conference | Asbury United Methodist Church—

https://www.visitasbury.org/beyond-general-conference/scripture-science-and-sexuality/

A PLAIN ACCOUNT OF CHRISTIAN PERFECTION by John Wesley—

https://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Fellowship/Wesley.Christian.Perfectio.html

The Works of John Wesley, J and J Harper, 1827, free ebook.—

https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Works.html?id=PcWyAAAAMAAJ

THE SEASON OF LIGHT

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Hand painted Ceramic Christmas Tree

As the days grow short, some of us yearn for the light. This week I put up a few Christmas decorations, including my ceramic Christmas tree with the plastic bulbs from the 1960’s and my door wreath with ornaments from the 1950’s. I have a copper and paper manger scene I set before a small lamp, as well as an extremely gaudy, glitter filled candle nightlight to complete the mood. I keep out all year round my mom’s ceramic Holy Family group, since it’s too good to put away.

I remember living in Denver, Colorado, in the cold, dark days of December. They know how to do winter there. I would hang the big, bulging colored bulbs on the upstairs patio of our Victorian duplex, since these had the brightest light. In Louisiana, I used the tiny white lights to discretely outline the entire shape of my little stucco home. They both put out the same amount of light, but some were loud and others were quiet.

Stonehenge

Winter Solstice
Here at the tail end of the old year, the winter solstice comes on December 21, followed by Hanukkah beginning after sunset on December 22, and Christmas on December 25. All of these events have a focus on light.

The solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on Earth. In 2019, the December solstice comes on December 21 at 10:19 p.m. CST.

That’s on December 22 at 04:19 Universal Time (UTC). It’s when the sun on our sky’s dome reaches its farthest southward point for the year. At this solstice, the Northern Hemisphere has its shortest day and longest night of the year.

The World Heritage Site at Stonehenge, England, built about 5,000 years ago, is a site specifically built to mark the winter and summer solstices. For agricultural societies, this was important. It may also have been a religious site, connecting the living with the spiritual powers for healing and also with those who are dead to this world, but remembered by the living. We don’t know if the Stonehenge people believed in an afterlife, but they did bury in the gravesites important articles the person found useful in this world, such as bone needles and mace heads.

Repurposed Jewel Menorah for Hanukkah

Hanukkah
Hanukkah, a celebration to mark the miracle of the unfailing oil in the temple lamps, has taken on greater importance in recent years. It recalls the victory of the Maccabees and their resistance against foreign domination. The word Maccabee is an acronym for the Hebrew words that mean “Who is like You among all powers, G‑d.” The Greek army had defiled the Temple by setting up an image of Zeus and sacrificing a pig upon the altar of God. Those Jews who were fine with this were “sold out” in today’s terms, but not the Maccabees, who were joined by a ragtag group who ran a fifteen year resistance effort against the skilled fighters of the Greek army.

Once the resisters reclaimed the Temple, they rededicated it, set up a new altar, and made a new menorah, for the old one had been taken. They found only enough sacred oil for one day, but the light burned for eight days. The message of Hanukkah is a little bit of light can overcome the darkness of the world, so we should never cower in the face of tyranny, do our part, trust in God, and success is sure to come.

Illuminated Manuscript of Menorah

Perhaps this is why we have an enduring fascination with superheroes, characters who overcome challenges in life, such as Harry Potter and the Star Wars pantheon, as well as everyday people who do extraordinary deeds when dire situations present themselves. Those who don’t shirk from the opportunity to do good for others, even at great cost to their own good, are selfless heroes. What doesn’t make sense to us, may be the most sensible and best choice for the greater good. This is the heart of the servant mentality, which is recognized by the central candle of the Hanukkah menorah, which has eight lights, instead of the seven which was used in the Temple.

Christmas
Christmas is the time to celebrate the coming of the light into the dark world, and the joy that the darkness cannot overcome the light. Every Christmas Eve, we hear the old story ever new in our hearts again.

Nativity of Christ with Angels and Shepherds

When my daughter was about ten years old, she looked over the church bulletin one Christmas Eve and said, “John, John, John, who is this John that has such a big part in tonight’s service?”
I whispered, “That’s the gospel of John, and the Mathew and Luke are also gospels in the Bible.”

“Oh, I missed that,” she smiled.
I chuckled.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. ~~ John 1:1-5

Today we know dark energy and dark matter make up 95% of the universe, and all solid matter makes up the other 5%. In the ancient days, people thought God had made them the center of the world, but now science can make us feel small. Yet God still calls us into the dark spaces to shine like lights in the world.

We can look around and see, just as in the time of Christ’s birth, authoritarian leaders oppressing the minority members of their countries, and we see the rich and powerful controlling the economies of the world for their own profit, but not for the health of the planet or its population.

We see some of our leaders in the church unwilling to open their hearts to all of God’s children because the leaders live in fear rather than in the power of God’s love for all persons. We also see people of faith unwilling to take on the claims of a life lived in Christ, and so accept a mere testimony to the offer of the fullest life in Christ. A faith without works is a dead faith, or no faith at all, for there’s no evidence to convince the world we have a living faith. If we have the light of Christ in us, we will make our world a brighter and better place, and shine like stars in the world.

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” and God is the one who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. ~~ 2 Corinthians 4:6

No matter how you’re celebrating the return of the light this season, may you find at this year’s end more light than darkness and may you shine more brightly in a world which needs so desperately the light of pure and unconditional love willing to risk its own self for the greater good of others. This is the reason Christ came into the world, to serve the Father’s purpose and redeem the fallen and broken world, for all who believed.

MEDITATION ON THE LIGHT
Proverbs 20:27
“A person’s soul is the Lord’s lamp, which searches out all the innermost parts.”

First century oil lamp

Focus the mind on the multiple images of the lamp, the oil, the wick and the different hues of the flame, in order to understand the profound guidance in the divine service of every individual.

Flames demonstrate that while spiritual endeavors such as contemplative prayer and inner personal transformation are important, nonetheless the actual performance of mitzvot (the 613 commandments) is what is most essential. It’s practical deeds that keep the radiance of the soul kindled upon the body, acting much like the oil that fuses flame and wick.

Takeaway: It’s practical deeds that keep the radiance of the soul kindled upon the body—acting much like the oil that fuses flame and wick.

Questions for the eight candles of Hanukkah:

  1. For You, G‑d, are my Lamp; and G‑d will illuminate my darkness. The first question is: Why is G‑d’s Name invoked twice, seemingly bisecting the verse into two separate statements?
  2. What part do the lighter and darker colors of the flame play in our spiritual lives?
  3. What is the quality of our own light?
  4. Contemplate the divine radiance which fills all worlds, as well as the radiance which surrounds all worlds. Consider how we have both matter and dark matter/energy in our physical world, as a complement to the divine’s dual filling and surrounding of space. (Psalm 145)
  5. As the lights grow brighter in this season of light, is God’s love growing greater in our hearts?
  6. Is God’s love transforming our lives from the inside out, so God’s love can shine through us?
  7. The Hanukkah lamp has eight lights, plus one for the “servant” light. Is the energy of God’s love moving us to shed the light of God abroad in service of the least, the last, the lost, and the lonely?
  8. Where will we shine in the days to come, to be a light to the world and for the sake of God’s name?

NOTES AND LINKS FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Stonehenge: World Heritage Site:

https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/history-and-stories/history/

Dates for Hanukkah:

https://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/article_cdo/aid/103929/jewish/The-Eight-Days-of-Chanukah.htm

Everything you want to know about Hanukkah:

https://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/default_cdo/jewish/Hanukkah.htm

NASA discussion on Dark Matter:

https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-is-dark-energy

Part of this comes from:
A Chanukah Discourse by Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch
“THE SOUL OF MAN IS THE LAMP OF G-D.”

https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/63273/jewish/Flames.htm

The Image of God

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When I was a child, my mother’s friends were sure I was the spitting image of little Martha. Likewise, my daddy’s friends thought I was a chip off the old block of Stew-boy. I suppose I had enough of the parental DNA to be claimed by both sides of the family, as long as I wasn’t in the dog house for some juvenile infraction. Even today, folks are just gaga over who the newest royal baby favors, whether it’s our beautiful American Megan’s face or the handsome English Prince Harry’s mug. Since baby Andrew is a boy, hopefully he inherits Harry’s beard and the good health of both parents.

The Golden Christ

This odd phrase, the “spitting image,” was known in its earliest form in the 17th century, and has come down in its modern meaning today through literature and the theater. I heard it growing up from all the old folks in town and from all my out of town relatives when they pinched my cheeks at the summer camp meetings and family reunions. If you read some internet sites, they’ll even claim it has a biblical source, since God used spit and mud to create the first human beings. Of course, these sites don’t bother to attach the texts, but just repeat the claim. Let’s see if you can spot which text is the “proof” for this “spitting image” claim.

The Golden Christ

The first chapter of Genesis is the most recent biblical account of creation, known as the Priestly account:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” ~~ Genesis 1.26-27


We don’t see the mud and spit claim here, so we turn to the older account of creation, found in Genesis 2:4-7—

“In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

Here we have water from streams or mists rising from the face of the earth and dust from the ground, which God used to form the first human person. However, God doesn’t use spit.

Icon of Christ, Creator and Savior

Where do people get the idea God uses spit and mud to create human beings? They must be thinking of Jesus, who cured the blind beggar with a poultice of dust and saliva, as recorded in the book of John:

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent).

Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
~~ John 9:1-7

If some folks confuse Jesus with God, we can forgive them, since Colossians 1:15 reminds us, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

As the ancient creeds remind us, God has One nature, but Three Persons; and is one in unity of work, wisdom, energy, and love. We who were created in this divine image “and have clothed (ourselves) with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator,” are daily recovering the image of God. Colossians 3:10 is one of the most precious promises of the faith, for it testifies to God’s work in us, as the passive voice in scripture so often denotes.


So, what exactly is this divine image? If we look around us, we see a variety of faces and bodies, if we count the physical types of human beings. While some have tried to claim a perfect racial image in the past, or to eliminate all but their own tribal relations, today we have difficulty holding this thought together with “firstborn of all creation.” If we believe God created all things, all people, and all of us humans share in the divine image, then we’re all part of God’s family and we all share the DNA of the image.

I Am the One who Is

Is that image physical? It’s not the DNA of genetics, although we all share 99.9% of our DNA if we have common ancestry from any of the great continents. For those of European ancestry, everyone has a common ancestor from 3,400 years ago. Yet we still have enough variety in our DNA to make us unique persons. Because God’s creation of human beings in God’s image isn’t a physical imitation of God’s spiritual body, we have to understand the IMAGE as an incorporeal form more than a bodily form.


If we’re made in the spiritual image of God, then we must be more aligned to the wisdom of God, the energy, work, love of God, and look to our need to acquire the divine nature, as we put off our human nature bit by bit. If we keep yearning for the human nature, or the mortal flesh, then we’ll never grow into the higher and finer image. We often make the excuse, “I only human,” but fail to ask for God’s help to grow beyond our human nature into the divine nature of love for all creation.

Moreover, if we’re made in the spiritual image of God, our physical attributes mean less than our spiritual attributes. This isn’t to discount our humanity, but it’s to say our human differences mean less to God than they do to us. We look for reasons to separate us into tribes, but God looks for reasons to include us into incorporate us into God’s family, “for those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.” ~~ Romans 8.29

Renaissance Christ

Then it matters not who we are, what we look like, or where we’ve been on our journey to our faith in the Christ who saves us. Just as the Son has the image of God, and all persons have the image of God, all can be saved by the faith of the Son who trusted in the Father for his life, death, and resurrection. Too often people of faith focus wrongly on the requirements for a good life in order to be saved, but the only true necessity for salvation is unconditional faith in the one whose faith rested in the God who both creates and saves God’s people and world. This is why his family called him Jesus, or “God Saves.”

This is why the most unlikely people can claim the faith of Christ, and why their faith drives “good people” to distraction. But as it was even in the days of the Lord himself, as he reminded those who wanted to keep the smallest of laws, but ignore the greater meaning and spirit of the whole law. The whole of the law was summed up in two commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ~~ Matthew 22:37-39

I admit it’s hard to love my neighbors, since it’s sometimes difficult to love even some of the members of my extended family. If I’m honest, I often need a little breathing room from some of my immediate family, but I admit I have stress issues after a lifetime of ministry and helping people with their myriad family crises.

If we can learn to include in our lives and in our worship places more people who have hearts full of love of God and neighbor, we might find ourselves enriched by their joy and talents, as well as their fresh outlooks on life. The more alike we all are, the fewer creative ideas are lifted for the unknown future. We need a variety of viewpoints and visions to meet the challenges of the future, which by definition will not be a repeat of yesterday. We cannot pour new wine into old wineskins, or the vessel won’t hold. We are a people inspired by the Holy Spirit and meant to change.

As the scripture tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18—

“Now the Lord is the Spirit,
and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
And all of us, with unveiled faces,
seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror,
are being transformed into the same image
from one degree of glory to another;
for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

The Good Shepherd

I’ve included various paintings from my studio of the icons of Christ. Many people have their own image of Jesus which appeals to them, and it’s usually one that is created in a human image. By this I mean, the Jesus is sympathetic, prayerful, strong, otherworldly, calm, friendly, or some other attribute common to the relevant age. The Japanese Jesus has Orientalized features, the Native American Jesus looks like one of the people, the African Jesus is black, and the European American Jesus favors Mediterranean origins more than the Holy Land. The Icons of the early church have their own imagery, which is as much theological as artistic. I hope you enjoy the post, and focus on one question per day to consider:

  1. Do you see the image of God in others?
  2. How is your own image of God is recovering?
  3. Do the acts or behaviors of others diminish the image of God in them?
  4. How can you find common cause with people you disagree with?
  5. Spend a day looking for the good in others.
  6. Use today to reflect in words, art, or music on your experience with the image of God.

INTERNET REFERENCES TO SPITTING IMAGE IN THE BIBLE

https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/spitting-image-origin-meaning

https://grammarist.com/usage/spitting-image/

The others refer back to these or to others quoting these above.

All You Need is Love

Altars, arkansas, art, Faith, Forgiveness, Healing, john wesley, Love, Ministry, purpose, Reflection, renewal, righteousness, salvation, Spirituality, United Methodist Church

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.

Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope

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.

I.
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]

II.
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.”

III.
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!

Acknowledgements
[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.
http://www.wbbm.org/john-wesley-sermons/serm-022.htm

Spring Flowers

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How many colors exist in creation? Many more than we can buy in a tube at the art supply store and even more than the number of paint chips at our local building supply store. Recently I gave my adult art class an assignment to use their primary colors and white only to mix new colors, since I noticed they were not getting middle values in their paintings. I too enjoy the brightness of the primary colors, so this was also a challenge for me.

Power of the Cross

The following week I needed to do less geometry and more nature, but I came back to the cross theme once again, for these flowers are from a photo of the Easter “Living Cross” at my church. While we can’t see the arms of the cross, anymore than we can see Jesus today, we know the cross is there, just as we know Jesus is present for us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This makes Christ alive, not only in our hearts, but also in the lives of all who suffer: the poor, the immigrant or stranger in our land, and the oppressed. Even the land itself, which suffers from human caused climate change, can be a place where we meet the living Christ.

Spring Flowers

The Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem is a powerful place, for it was where Christ was handed over to his captors by a former friend. From there he went to death on the cross and resurrection for our salvation. This garden retains this energy of struggle: Jesus prayed to get his will in line with God’s will.

If the story ended here, we’d have no living crosses full of beautiful flowers on Easter Sunday. Out of pain and struggle comes great beauty. Most of us will avoid any challenge in our lives, thinking the easy way is the best way. Intentionally causing others to suffer pain isn’t acceptable for moral reasons: “do no harm” is a good adage, as is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Setting achievable goals and challenges are different. These cause us to grow. They may also cause us discomfort, but this isn’t pain.

On this canvas, Spring Flowers, I had to overpaint and scumble to create the textured grays of the background. I even had to repaint the wispy border flowers several times to get their petals colored and straight, plus to get the ground varied enough to make them stand out.

One of the artists I most admire is Picasso, for he was always reinventing his style. Today artists pick a style and stick with it. Perhaps this is lucrative and makes economic sense. Still, I wonder what happens to the creative spirit when it’s not nurtured, challenged, and expressed. Of course, this may be the difference between a great artist and a good artist, and only the centuries will tell which among us now will be great.

Hope and Suffering

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“You totally (should) become his nature, deny his being apart from you; you should be he himself, not Christians, but Christ, otherwise you will be no use to the coming god.”
—C. G. Jung, The Red Book, p. 137.

“No one can be spared the way of Christ, since this way leads to what is to come. You should all become Christs, says C. G. Jung, in his Answer to Job. He goes on to explain in the divine indwelling of the Holy Spirit in humanity, “a christification of the many arises.” One of the great and simple prayers is “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them in them the fire of your love.” When we ask for the indwelling third person of the Trinity, we also ask for the rest of the “family,” for the three are fellow travelers. The Father and the Son aren’t separate entities, even when the Spirit proceeds from the two, just as the Father and the Spirit aren’t off somewhere distant when the Son is suffering on the cross.

In the season of Lent, many people begin with ashes on their forehead as a sign of repentance and fasting for the forty days before Easter. Some give up bacon, others give up alcohol, and some give up social media. Perhaps this is our idea of suffering today, since most of us have our needs for shelter, food, and security met. Modern people tend to suffer emotionally instead, so this may be why we fast from social media. Unfortunately, we don’t have much deep Christian teaching around suffering, mostly because it’s not a happy subject. Nobody likes a downer sermon. Bible studies on Job and the prophets are unpopular too. We don’t like seeing our faces in a BCE Mirror.

I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE

Who wants to suffer today? No one! Most of the Christian teaching around the cross concerns a variation on the substitution theory, or Jesus takes on our suffering so we no longer have to endure the agony ourselves. Of course, when we meet trouble in our daily life, we then call into question either the effectiveness of this work on the cross or our faith in his work on our behalf. Did Christ die for everyone else, but not for me? Are there other works besides my faith in Christ necessary for my salvation? Do I need to be a better person to earn my freedom from suffering?

If we understood the nature of the earthbound Christ life, rather than the resurrected Christ life, we’d grasp the essential nature of suffering bound up into this life of flesh and spirit. Christ knew hunger, thirst, loneliness, temptation, disappointments, weariness, rejection, and pain. Worst of all, he tasted the emptiness of death before he knew the fullness of the resurrection.

Should we protect our children from suffering? If we mean, should we do our best to feed, clothe, and shelter them, the answer is yes, of course! If we mean, do we protect them from the logical consequences of their acts, I’d say, most likely no. If a child won’t do their own homework, they should get the logical results for their refusal. Physical punishment isn’t a logical result. Poor grades, limits on sports or activities, or staying after school are consequences in line with the poor behavior. Small sufferings now will avoid larger sufferings later. (If they want to jump out of a third story window, that’s another matter. Put some locks on that, parents!)

Of course, to even call these “suffering” shows how far our modern world has moved from the ancient world. Sufferings once were the lot of slaves, who had no authority over their own lives, and could be bought and sold like cattle. They had no agency or control over their fortunes or lots in life. We modern folk are different, unless we buy into the idea we’re rudderless ships upon a stormy ocean. Then we’re merely chaff tossed about by external forces, so we might as well be slaves to our environment.

If we held the whole nature of Christ within us, we’d know both the Christ of suffering and the resurrected Christ of glory. While we ourselves have not yet ascended, we do hold fast to his promise,

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)

If we live with hope, we can rejoice, and be patient in suffering, while we persevere in prayer.
~~ Romans 12:12

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PRAYER: Listening to an Icon

Most of us separate our lives into doing and being: we are creatures of comfort at times, and then we expend energy doing chores or work at different times. We live bifurcated lives, even if we’ve heard the admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), we work without prayer and pray without working. Then again, some of us have little connection with the spiritual at all, so we miss the mystery and the awe of the dimensions beyond this mundane world. We’re unable to see even the glory and beauty of the creation, since we aren’t connected spirituality to a life beyond this world.

Christ Overcomes the World

The iconographer is more than a painter or a writer: he or she is one who connects this material world with the spiritual world beyond. The icon is a window through which the heavenly and the earthly worlds communicate. It’s like a wormhole, of sorts, in sci-fi language, or a portal passage for direct communication. Of course, we can directly communicate with the Holy Spirit, but not being able to see the Spirit, we can see the icon’s representation of the image of Christ or a saint, and this helps us to focus our thoughts and prayers.

Golden Christ

Some say a candle would suffice, or a text from Scripture, and I agree. Yet not everyone is able to live such a spare life, reduced of images, color, and beauty. Minimalism isn’t for everyone! This is why we have zen gardens as well as romantic English gardens. Some of us need architectural modernism and others like quaint country clutter. The icon tradition comes from the ancient church, for Luke was traditionally ascribed to be the first iconographer, as well as one of the first gospel writers. He painted Mary “the God-bearer” and Jesus.

Mary Macaroni

Our art class is moving out of its comfort zone in the painting of icons. We can learn about the spiritual life in the art class every time we meet. In fact, every time we try something new or challenging, we learn about ourselves and the spiritual life. A close inspection of the gospels shows a Jesus who was always challenging the status quo. The only time he was comforting people was when they were dispossessed, marginalized, or disrespected. “Blessed are the poor…” was his first choice, not blessed are the rich or powerful!

When we are weak and powerless, when we struggle and fall short of success, and that will be. Every. Single. Day. In. Art—We are then most able to lean on the one who for our sakes became weak so we can become strong. Then we’ll come back and fail again and remember the times Christ stumbled on the rocky road to the crucifixion. What seemed like a failure to everyone gathered about, and didn’t make logical sense to wisdom seeking people, nevertheless served a higher purpose. By uniting all of our human failures and faults in one person, God could experience all of them in God’s own image, the icon we know as Jesus Christ.

Crucifixion

If there’s any reason to attempt a Holy Icon in this modern world, we paint and pray to unite our work and spiritual into one. Usually only the clergy have this privilege, and they can too easily burn out if they do too much and pray too little. Lay people underestimate the amount of prayers necessary for effective work. The older I get, the more prayer time I need. Of course, work takes more out of me now, but I’m a refugee from the dinosaur age. I used to be an energizer bunny back in my fifties, but working thirty hours a week painting and writing is enough for me today.

Any art work, whether a landscape, portrait, or an icon, can be alive or dead, depending on how the artist approaches the work. If we draw the lines, fill in the colors, and never pay attention to the energy of the art itself, we’re just filling up time. If we’re thinking about our grocery list, what to make for dinner, or the errands we have to run, we aren’t on speaking terms with our artwork. On the other hand, if we’re paying attention, sharing in the conversation, listening to what our work is telling us, we can respond to the push and pull of the conversation. Our work will tell us what it needs if we’ll only listen to it. If we trust and listen to the Holy Spirit, we’ll paint a true icon, and the window into heaven will open for all who want to listen.

Christ Blessing the World

ICONS: A Moment of Mystery

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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

“That’s sacrilegious!”

“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?”

“Well….”

“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 God
as 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 himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

Jeweled Cross

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. 

Flight into Egypt

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. 

Gail’s Cross

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!

Icon of Christ the Redeemer

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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.

Redeemer of the Earth

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)

The Spa Life and Righteousness

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As a gal who loves her spa days, few and far between though they are, I enjoy the pampering these small forays into indulgence involve. The friendly staff, the luxurious soft robes, the warm scented tubs, the cold needled showers, and even the brief stints in the steam box. Most of all, I live for the white terrycloth towels soaked in the hot spring waters, but cooled enough to put onto tender human flesh. The attendant who wraps my knees and back also puts an ice cold towel on my face before she leaves me alone to the quiet. Then I succumb to the ecstasy of this melting experience for about fifteen minutes.

Afterward, she wraps me back into my white robe to walk me over to the massage therapy room. She walks, but I sort of flow, for my feet don’t really feel connected to my legs or knees or hips. The heat can make a person feel giddy for a time, or perhaps the lack of pain is such a relief, I feel euphoric.

DeLee—Christ Blessing the World

I notice the other women waiting for their massages have similar beatific smiles on their faces. The magic of the spa day outing is at work. After our massages, we seem to glow from the inside out. This effect lasts for a few hours at best, until the experience wears off, and we return to normal. I understand now why my grandparents would come to Hot Springs for “the waters” on their vacations. They did the baths daily, for their supposedly medicinal cure, even if it served to merely relax then and distress them. “Take as needed” is a medical prescription we can all understand.

This brings me to my real subject: Faith and Righteousness. Of late in the public realm we’ve been treated to curious definitions of faith and righteousness by groups in powerful places and those who want to ascend to positions of power. “I go to church” is their definition of faith and “I got into the best college and law school “ has been their definition of righteousness. Evidently attendance in these places didn’t include a passing acquaintance with the dictionary or intensive study, much less convincing evidence.

Imputed righteousness and the Faith of Acceptance

Righteousness and faith for the average church going person is like the robe I wear at the spa for a while. I don’t own it, but I use it. It belongs to Christ, who imputes his right relationship with God to me while I wear it. I accept this idea by faith—the faith Christ had in God’s love for humankind as well as Christ’s faith God would raise him from the dead. I don’t own this faith with any depth of conviction, so my outward life isn’t changed in any way from a nonbeliever ‘s life.

As the writer of Ephesians says in 5:12-14–

For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Imparted righteousness and the Faith of Assurance

One day we wake from our sleep and come to the conviction our surface appearances have failed us. We see our outward professions of faith and righteousness are a mere mask for the carefully constructed False Self we’ve been presenting to the world. We see our own righteousness is weak beside the true righteousness of Christ. We no longer see our Self, but Christ. We depend only on Christ, and not on any strength of our own Self.

When we cast aside this False Self, we can finally “buy the robe of Christ,” which he purchased with his own life, death, and resurrection. We buy into the whole life of Christ when we let our False Self die, and let our New/True Self rise with Christ. We can wear this robe of righteousness everywhere we go, for it changes us from within. The evidence shows on the outside by our words, deeds, and temperament. Our attitude changes our behavior and the consequences follow suit. The inner person shows through in the outer person, for better or worse, depending on whether we merely borrow or buy the robe of Christ.

The question for all of us remains: Do we trust our goodness to our ethnicity, our deeds, our social status, our religious heritage, our political group, our wealth, our zip code, our strength, our beauty, or any other transient thing? Or do we trust the unchanging and eternal love of God in Christ Jesus, who gave his son so all of creation could be redeemed to its original perfection?

DeLee—Christ, The Good Shepherd Saves All the Lost

John Wesley has a famous sermon called “The Almost Christian.” He suggests we need to go farther and become an “Altogether Christian.”

You can read his sermon preached at St. Mary’s, Oxford, before the University, on July 25, 1741 at the link below:

https://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-2-The-Almost-Christian