Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 19

Posted: March 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 19

47.  There are many people in the world who are poor in spirit, but not in the way that they should be; there are many who mourn, but for some financial loss or the death of their children; many are gentle, but towards unclean passions; many hunger and thirst, but only to seize what does not belong to them and to profit from injustice ; many are merciful, but towards their bodies and the things that serve the body; many are pure in heart, but for the sake of self-esteem; many are peace-makers, but by making the soul submit to the flesh; many are persecuted, but as wrongdoers; many are reviled, but for shameful sins. Only those are blessed who do or suffer these things for the sake of Christ and after His example. Why? Because theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and they shall see God (cf. Matt. 5:3-12). It is not because they do or suffer these things that they are blessed, for those of whom we have spoken above do the same; it is because they do them and suffer them for the sake of Christ and after His example.

I’m reminded of the thief on the cross next to Christ. He saw himself accurately first. He said to the other thief that they were only getting what they deserved. And then he proclaimed that Jesus had done nothing wrong. It was then that he perceived Jesus as Lord.


The Jesus Prayer 11 – Relationship

Posted: March 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Prayer | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

This Eastern Christian path is not particularly concerned with morality or good behavior, surprisingly enough; it is concerned with a relationship. The Pharisees achieved high levels of good behavior, but if that was enough, Jesus would have chosen his apostles from their ranks. No, they were pretty on the outside and rotten on the inside, like “whitewashed tombs” (Mt. 23:27). Jesus consistently put the emphasis on the state of the inner person. …

It’s that transformed heart and nous he’s looking for. After that healing, good behavior flows out naturally. So this approach does not disregard morality; Jesus said, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48), and “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:20). But moral behavior is worthless without a transformed mind and heart.

Discipline and moral behavior absent prayer, a transformed nous, and the resulting relationship with our only source of life  simply offer another path to destruction. That is the path of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. The elder brother is also the figure in the parable directed back toward those challenging Jesus. When we come to believe that we are essentially good and moral, we lose sight of our deep interconnectedness with humanity and creation. We minimize our complicity and participation in the evil and brokenness of the world. We join hands with the Pharisee in the parable of the publican and the Pharisee.

I don’t remember where I found and watched a particular video about Orthodox monks in, I think, Romania. If I did I would post a link to it. I don’t remember a lot about it, but I vividly remember one bit of an interview with an old monk. At one point, according to the subtitles, he said, “All will be saved, and I alone will be damned.” That vision of the true depth of our shared relationship and responsibility fixed itself in my mind. We believe we live isolated, individual lives, but that’s a lie. We do not perceive the depth and breadth of the web in which we live and move. Nor do we often perceive the God who sustains our existence every moment.

The healing of our heart progresses slowly. At first it may appear that nothing much is happening. But centuries of experience of the practice of the Jesus Prayer promises us that over time we can be healed; we can experience a relationship with God; we can know peace. “Acquire the Spirit of peace and a thousand around you will be saved.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy.


Jesus Creed 13 – A Society of Transformation

Posted: September 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 13 – A Society of Transformation

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Matthew 6:10, 11:28-30; Luke 17:20-21; Mark 3:31-35.

This section begins with the point that your goal shapes your journey. You have to know where you are going or you can get lost.  Jesus, too, knew where he was going, and he had a term for it — ‘kingdom of heaven’ (malekutha shamayim). This expression of Jesus provides a goal for his followers and, by living out that vision in heart, soul, mind, and strength, life is transformed.

Thus we should be a society of transformation. Are we, though? Scot has this interesting bit.

But what does he mean by ‘kingdom’? Ask a Christian ‘What did Jesus mean by ‘kingdom’?’ and you will get something like this: ‘heaven, eternity, life after death.’ Or, you might hear: ‘heaven on earth, the millenium, a perfect world, a paradise.’ (On my unscientific questionnaire, the responses are about fifty-fifty.)

His ‘unscientific’ poll strikes me as exactly right. That does seem to be how most people view the term. Scot has a lot in the book developing his thoughts, but the below captures part of his conclusion.

So, if ‘kingdom of God’ is so important to Jesus, what does it mean? I offer this thumbnail definition: the kingdom is the society in which the Jesus Creed transforms life. Three parts here: first, it is a society; second, the content shaping that society is the Jesus Creed; and third, the impact of the kingdom is that it transforms life.

A society is certainly one term, an entry point if you will, into the reality we call the church, but I don’t believe it captures its fullness. The church does break down all human divisions — it heals Babel. But I would call it less a society than a restoration of communion between human beings. I will say that where a larger society or culture shaped by the Jesus Creed exists, it transforms both those within and those who come in contact with it. If the society, whether labeled ‘Christian’ or not, is not shaped by the Jesus Creed its impact is negligible or even harmful. We have plenty of examples of both of those from history.

I will note that in my own journey toward Christianity, I was neither uncomfortable with what I believed (I wasn’t seeking something different), nor did I have an unsettled opinion of Christianity and Christians in general. Rather, it was the actions — the love — I saw and experienced from various Christians over time that led me initially to wonder if my judgment of Christianity had been premature and unfair.

Scot continues with this important insight.

It is important to understand that for Jesus the kingdom is about a society. Jesus did not come merely to enable specific individuals to develop a solo relationship with God, to run about on earth knowing that they, surrounded by a bunch of bunglers, were the only ones getting it right. No, he came to collect individuals into a big heap, set them in the middle of the world, and ask them to live out the Jesus Creed. If they live out that Jesus Creed, they will be personally transformed, and they also will transform the society around them.

Think about that. If it were all about individuals and God, there would have been no reason to amend the Shema, would there? It already covered that, didn’t it? Are we proclaiming and living the kingdom? Or are we returning to something like the focus of Israel under the Shema? That’s something to think about. I will, however, note that Jesus’ own language goes well beyond that of societal relationship. His language is that we be one with each other as he and the Father are one. That’s why I think a communion is a better word for the Kingdom than a society. But the point remains — this is not a faith for individuals. It’s not just about God and you.

The kingdom would be a society that is transforming life in the now, and that’s the extraordinary thing about Jesus. At the time of Jesus, it was not hard to find Jews pining for, pondering over, or planning for the kingdom. It was impossible to find one who believed that the long-anticipated kingdom was already present. Of all the radical claims Jesus made, this one stands the tallest: ‘The kingdom of God does not come visibly … because the kingdom of God is [right now and here] among you’ (author’s translation). Jesus’ saying- satchel is full of radical comments, but this tops ’em all. Jesus believes the kingdom of God is present. This can mean only one thing: he expects his followers to live in the kingdom in their daily lives — right now. Thus, a spiritually formed follower of Jesus lives the values of the kingdom now.

Do you agree? Or disagree? This is a central question, not a peripheral one. How you answer determines how you perceive the faith, Jesus, and everything surrounding it. Obviously, I see it much as Scot McKnight does. I get the sense that much of the church today does not. He does point out that Jesus says the kingdom begins by turning to him. So it is personal and relational. It begins by turning to him. But it doesn’t end there. “Kingdom transformation continues by following Jesus.” Scot has a lot more to say, but that captures it. Turning to Jesus is the start, but if you refuse to follow him, it doesn’t mean all that much. He talks a lot here about Jesus’ yoke as compared to the Torah-yoke and that’s a really good part of the chapter.

But it doesn’t even end there. The Kingdom transformation is only sustained by communion. Those fellow believers are the holiest objects presented to your senses. As flawed as they are, as often as they will fail you, they are the only thing that will sustain you in the faith. If you do not spend time with them, you’re in trouble. Pure and simple.

As a family they learn from Jesus about this new transforming: about boundary-breaking table fellowship, about forgiving one another, about financial responsibility for one another, and about equality within the family of God. What they learn most is the upside-down nature of the kingdom istself: instead of acting with power, his family serves one another. And, instead of living in self-absorption, his followers love one another. In other words, they live out the Jesus Creed as a society –and when they do, life is transformed.

Do we do that? Really?

The kingdom is the society in which the Jesus Creed transforms life.

In other words, that place where God’s will is done as it is heaven, even imperfectly.

Nothing else transforms life.


On the Incarnation of the Word 56 – When Christ Appears Again

Posted: December 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on On the Incarnation of the Word 56 – When Christ Appears Again

This penultimate section looks forward to the “appearing” of Christ in glory.

And you will also learn about His second glorious and truly divine appearing to us, when no longer in lowliness, but in His own glory,—no longer in humble guise, but in His own magnificence,—He is to come, no more to suffer, but thenceforth to render to all the fruit of His own Cross, that is, the resurrection and incorruption; and no longer to be judged, but to judge all, by what each has done in the body, whether good or evil; where there is laid up for the good the kingdom of heaven, but for them that have done evil everlasting fire and outer darkness.

Much of the language commonly used in English discussions of Jesus today implies that he has gone off somewhere away from the world and will one day “come” back to it. That’s a distortion of the language of Scripture. “Ascension” describes royalty coming into their power. And that’s obviously the case with Jesus as he “ascended” to the throne of God to be seated at his right hand. “Clouds” or smoke are the imagery of the presence of God throughout the OT. I think we miss that as well.

But Jesus isn’t somewhere far away. He is with us always. He is our head and is the wellspring of the life of the Church. He is now veiled, and when he “appears” in glory that veil will be dropped and all creation will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord that already fills it. But Jesus is not coming back from some distant place. He is here now. He has already ascended to the power of his kingdom. It’s just a kingdom that operates very differently from any other kingdom we’ve ever encountered.

I also want to point out what Athanasius describes as the fruit of the Cross. (Certainly not the only one as the work of the Cross surpasses our imagination, but the main fruit.) It’s not forgiveness, which it would be if the primary problem was that we had done wrong by violating a law. Nor is it payment for a debt that could not be forgiven (as some put it instead). No, the fruit of the Cross is life. The instrument of death becomes the source of our resurrection and incorruption defeating the power of corruption and death that had before ruled man.

And, as Scripture always says, we will be judged for the works we have done in our body. We are our bodies and the things we do with them matter. Oh, they don’t change God’s attitude toward us. God has made that as clear as it can be made in Jesus of Nazareth. But the things we do in and through our bodies shape who we are as human beings. Are we becoming the sort of people able to experience the fire of God’s love as comfort and warmth? Or are we making ourselves into the sort of people who will experience that love as pain and torment when we can no longer feed the destructive passions we have written into our flesh? Through the grace and power and love of Christ, may it be the former!


Baptists, Eucharist, and History 23 – St. Cyprian on the Importance of Holding Fast the Tradition

Posted: August 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

We conclude today our reflections on St. Cyprian’s letter on properly preparing the Cup of our Lord. I want to end by looking one more time at the strength and passion with which St. Cyprian writes we should hold to the truth we have been given.

There is then no reason, dearest brother, for any one to think that the custom of certain persons is to be followed, who have thought in time past that water alone should be offered in the cup of the Lord. For we must inquire whom they themselves have followed. For if in the sacrifice which Christ offered none is to be followed but Christ, assuredly it behoves us to obey and do that which Christ did, and what He commanded to be done, since He Himself says in the Gospel, “If ye do whatsoever I command you, henceforth I call you not servants, but friends.” And that Christ alone ought to be heard, the Father also testifies from heaven, saying, “This is my well-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” Wherefore, if Christ alone must be heard, we ought not to give heed to what another before us may have thought was to be done, but what Christ, who is before all, first did. Neither is it becoming to follow the practice of man, but the truth of God; since God speaks by Isaiah the prophet, and says, “In vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men.” And again the Lord in the Gospel repeals this same saying, and says, “Ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” Moreover, in another place He establishes it, saying, “Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” But if we may not break even the least of the Lord’s commandments, how much rather is it forbidden to infringe such important ones, so great, so pertaining to the very sacrament of our Lord’s passion and our own redemption, or to change it by human tradition into anything else than what was divinely appointed! For if Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is Himself the chief priest of God the Father, and has first offered Himself a sacrifice to the Father, and has commanded this to be done in commemoration of Himself, certainly that priest truly discharges the office of Christ, who imitates that which Christ did; and he then offers a true and full sacrifice in the Church to God the Father, when he proceeds to offer it according to what he sees Christ Himself to have offered.

And this is the testimony of the sort of people who added to or changed the faith taught by the apostles? Color me unconvinced. I’ll close the reflections on this letter with St. Cyprian’s own closing.

Therefore it befits our religion, and our fear, and the place itself, and the office of our priesthood, dearest brother, in mixing and offering the cup of the Lord, to keep the truth of the Lord’s tradition, and, on the warning of the Lord, to correct that which seems with some to have been erroneous; so that when He shall begin to come in His brightness and heavenly majesty, He may find that we keep what He admonished us; that we observe what He taught; that we do what He did. I bid you, dearest brother, ever heartily farewell.