Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Where is your sting? - (I Corinthians15:55)
There in the land of Moab, Moses the servant of Yahweh died as Yahweh decreed; he buried him in the valley opposite Bethpeor; but to this day no one has even found his grave.
Where could I go to escape your spirit? Where could I flee from your presence? If I climb the heavens, you are there; there, too, if I lie in Sheol.
There is a season for everything... A time for giving birth, a time for dying; a time for planting, a time for uprooting... A time for killing, a time for healing... A time for tears, a time, for laughter; a time for mourning, a time for dancing.
Where is your plague, Death? Where are your scourges, Sheol?
Happy those who mourn; they shall be comforted.
After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, 'It is accomplished'; and hanging his head he gave up his spirit.
As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and said aloud, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them'; and with these words he fell asleep.
Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know as fully as I am known.
Life to me, of course, is Christ, but then death would bring me something more... I want to be gone and be with Christ, which would be very much the better.
Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you promised.
Jesus said, 'I am the resurrection, If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'
(Deuteronomy 34:5-6; Psalm 139:7-8; Ecclesiastes 3:1-4; Hosea 13:14; Matthew 5:4; John 19:30; Acts 7:59-60; 1 Corinthians 13:12; Philippians 1:21 and 23; Luke 2:29; John 11:25-26 -- all JB)
'Are you prepared to kill?' recruit to the armed forces was recently put on the spot with this question, to test his commitment to serve. Equally relevant and even more searching would be the question, 'Are you prepared to die?' In an armed encounter, you will not always be the lucky one. Or is death such a bad escape after all?, 'Death, where is your sting?,'
On the subject of death, the Bible is clear, firm and uncompromising. Moses, David, Simeon, Stephen, Paul and many other biblical characters welcomed its approach. Jesus pointed to a greater life beyond death and offered himself to Martha, Thomas and others, as the 'way' to eternity.
Many Christians today, particularly those engaged in pastoral ministry, live in regular contact with this dying. As a process or an event, it's often shunned in modern Western society. Information is withheld, pretences maintained, farewells foregone. What is the role of the pastor at the death-bed? To be emotionally involved or professionally immune? Yet he or she is the one person who can inject warmth, truth and hope into the experience of those who are watching, waiting and dying.
We can, of course, learn so much about death and dying from the Two-thirds World. Asians, Africans, Pacific Islanders, mostly live closer to the possibility of death -- and so perhaps grasp more fully the meaning and purpose and value of life. Certainly they have less fear!
Death is probably most difficult to accept when it occurs far away, in situations where there can be no watching or waiting or sharing. Grieving at a distance is a hard experience. It drives you back to a sense of utter dependence on the God who 'gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ'.
A doctor said to me recently, 'Having been through the interesting process of dying with so many patients, I can hardly wait to share the experience myself!' Death is an adventure, a vital staging-post, on our pilgrimage. Yes, I am prepared to die!
Nine officers were killed by IRA mortar bombs last week in the worst attack against the Northern Ireland police since the present troubles began. Another officer, a Roman Catholic, was shot dead this week as he was about to enter a church for mass, bringing the total of killings in the province to eighteen in just over two weeks.
The Guardian, March 10, 1985
Death in itself, is nothing; but we fear, to be we know not what, we know not where.
What's brave, what's noble,
Let's do it after the high Roman fashion,
And make death proud to take us.
William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra
No life that breathes with human breath
Has ever truly longed for death.
Tennyson, The Two Voices
Why should man be in love with his fetters, though of gold? Art thou drowned in security? Then I say thou art perfectly dead. For though thou movest, yet thy soul is buried within thee, and thy good angel either forsakes his guard or sleeps. There is nothing under heaven, saving a true friend (who cannot be counted within the number of movables), unto which my heart doth lean. And this dear freedom hath begotten me this peace, that I mourn not for that end which must be, nor spend one wish to have one minute added to the uncertain date of my years. It was no mean apprehension of Lucian, who says of Mennippus, that in his travels through hell, he knew not the kings of the earth from other men, but only by their louder cryings and tears: which were fostered in them through the remorseful memory of the good days they had seen, and the fruitful havings which they so unwillingly left behind them: he that was well seated, looked back at his portion, and was loth to forsake his farm; and others either minding marriages, pleasures, profit, or preferment, desired to be excused from Death's banquet: they had made an appointment with earth, looking at the blessings, not the hand that enlarged them, forgetting how unclothedly they came hither, or with what naked ornaments they were arrayed.
Francis Bacon, Essay on Death
It comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes. The ashes of an Oak in the Chimney are no Epitaph of the Oak to tell me how high or how large that was. It tells me not what flocks it sheltered while it stood, nor what men it hurt when it fell. The dust of great persons' graves is speechless too, it says nothing, it distinguishes nothing: as soon the dust of a wretch whom thou wouldest not, as of a Prince thou couldest not look upon, will trouble thine eyes, if the wind blow it thither; and when a whirlwind hath blown the dust of the Churchyard into the Church, and the man sweeps out the dust of the Church into the Churchyard, who will undertake to sift those dusts again, and to pronounce, This is the Patrician, this is the noble flower, and this the yeomanly, this the Plebeian bran. So is the death of Jesabel (Jesabel was a Queen) expressed; They shall not say, this is Jesabel; not only not wonder what it is, nor pity that it should be, but they shall not say, they shall not know, This is Jesabel.
John Donne, Death the Leveller
Should this be found I want these facts recorded. Oates' last thoughts were of his Mother, but immediately before he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased with the bold way in which he met his death. We can testify to his bravery. He has borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and to the very last was able and willing to discuss outside subjects. He did not -- would not -- give up hope till the very end. He was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning -- yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, 'I am just going outside and may be some time.' He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.
Robert Scott, Death of Captain Oates
The disease may, however, be one of those from which there is no certainty that the patient will recover. I am reminded of an old friend, a woman of boundless energy and optimism. One might have wondered if her faith, when she was in good health and engaged in a full and useful life of spiritual service, was only the reflection of her simple and confident nature. I saw her later, immobilised on her bed of pain. In answer to her direct question, her doctor had informed her of the inevitable diagnosis he must make of her condition. She was preparing herself joyfully for death. She was more radiant than ever. Visitors flocked to see her, and found in her a testimony that was more striking than she had given in active life and health.
Paul Tournier, The Person Reborn
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, who at this evening hour didst rest in the sepulchre, and didst thereby sanctify the grave to be a bed of hope to thy people; make us so to abound in sorrow for our sins, which were the cause of thy passion, that when our bodies lie in the dust, our souls may live with thee; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, our God, world without end. Amen.
The Office of Compline
Jesus, confirm my heart's desire to work and speak and think for thee; still let me guard the holy fire and still stir up thy gift in me.
Ready for all thy perfect will, my acts of faith and love repeat, till death thy endless mercies seal and make the sacrifice complete.
Go forth upon thy journey, O Christian soul; in the Name of God the Father, who created thee; in the Name of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who suffered for thee; in the Name of God the Holy Ghost, who hath sanctified thee.
May thy portion this day be in peace and thy dwelling in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 129-134
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. One Lord, one faith, one baptism.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit. This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. And when Jesus had been baptised, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The one who believes and is baptised will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.
Peter said to them, 'Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptised?' Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptised.
When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death. Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. As many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. And baptism which this prefigured, now saves you - not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
He took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, 'Take this and divide it among yourselves; And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them.
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often a you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?
John 6:51; Ephesians 4:5; Luke 3:3; Mark 1:8; 1 John 5:6; Matthew 3:16; Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:12; 8:36; 18:8; Colossians 1:12; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21; Luke 22:19,17,20; Luke 24:30; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29; 1 Corinthians 10:16.
A sacrament is 'an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.' The word comes from the Latin sacramentum, the term used for the coin given to a soldier to signify his oath of loyalty when recruited to serve the Emperor. His allegiance was to Caesar as lord. In the Christian sacraments, we pledge our loyalty to Christ: 'Jesus is Lord' (Romans 10:9).
For people in tune with the Infinite God everything is sacramental. Teilhard de Chardin has said, 'Because of creation and even more because of incarnation there is nothing profane for those who know how to see.' God's grace gifts are many and varied - our very life, the world of nature and of other people, prayer, the Scriptures, the Christian community, corporate worship. These are all 'means of grace'.
But the Lord serves us especially in 'the sacraments' of water, bread and wine. They are special reminders of God's grace to us, unworthy as we are. He pledges in them his loyalty to us. His steadfast love is with us forever.
Baptism. Water, of course, is the common element for cleansing. When 'pagans' wanted to join the Jewish faith they were baptized, cleansed, with water. John the Baptist told religious Jews they, too, needed to be baptized as a sign of their repentance. This they naturally found hard to take.
Jesus was baptized by John, then Jesus' disciples baptized converts during his ministry. At the end of his life he commissioned his disciples to make disciples everywhere, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20).
Baptism is associated in the New Testament with a rich variety of meanings: the washing away of our sins (Acts 22:16); putting off the old life like soiled clothes, and putting on Christ, like a new, clean garment (Galatians 3:27, Ephesians 4:22-24); being buried and raised with Christ (Colossians 2:12). Baptism, like the waters in Noah's time, is linked with our salvation (1 Peter 3:21), so we, like him, should be godly in a corrupt and sinful world. Baptism is the sign of the new covenant God makes with us, our children, and all that 'far away' (Acts 2:39, Colossians 2:11-12). It is an act of faith (often of real courage, too) before witnesses. It's a proclamation, a dramatization of Christ's work for sinful humanity (Romans 6). Baptism means we are now owned by Christ (the words 'in the name' signify ownership) (Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48 etc.). Baptism is associated, too, with 'baptism in the Holy Spirit': two aspects of what Paul calls 'one baptism' (Ephesians 4:5; see also Titus 3:5, John 3:5, Luke 3:22, Acts 2:38, 1 Corinthians 12:13). Finally, baptism is the door into the church.
Baptism is not really an individual event. You don't baptize yourself. You are asking to belong. You are coming into a new community. Paul says we are 'baptized into Christ' (Romans 6:3) and baptized into the Body of Christ, the Church (1 Corinthians 12:13).
So baptism is an 'acted creed'. 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven' ought to be our response at every baptism. Baptism is the rite of entry into the church. It is ordination for ministry. It ought to be the time when a person receives the fullness of the Spirit, and before the congregation is assured of his or her 'Spiritual giftedness'. The baptismal service should have some sort of creed or covenantal statement to express the body of beliefs and commitments of the church into which the candidates are being baptized. The Apostles' Creed was originally called the Baptismal Creed.
The mode of baptism, the amount of water used and the age of the baptized may vary from church to church. The more important factor is that one is baptized in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The time is coming, hopefully, when more churches will recognize each other's baptism in this way.
If you have not been baptized, why should you? Not to save you - we are saved by God's grace and our response in faith, not by anything we do (John 3:35, Ephesians 2:8,9). The best reason for being baptized is that Jesus, your Master, commands it (Matthew 28:19). He himself was baptized to 'do all that God requires' (Matthew 3:15). Every step of obedience you take (and this is certainly a major one) strengthens and encourages you to follow Christ still further.
The Lord's Supper, or 'Eucharist', is really high drama, and refers to the memorial feast instituted by Jesus just before he died. As he celebrated the Passover with his friends, he gave them bread and wine, saying 'this is my body', 'this is my blood'. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 suggest that the Lord's Supper had become a focal point of worship in the early churches. Justin Martyr in the early second century in his First Apology states that Christians met on the first day of the week to worship and 'break bread' together. With very few exceptions this sacred meal has been practised in all Christian denominations to the present day.
'Eucharist' means 'thankfulness': this service is a thankful remembrance of our Lord's death for us. Roman Catholics use the term 'Mass', from the Latin missa, a 'service' or perhaps 'feast'. The early Christians thought of Christ in terms of the past ('remember me'), present ('you proclaim the Lord's death'), and future (till he come') (1 Corinthians 13:13, Hebrews 13:8).
The Communion is not just a private affair between an individual and Jesus, but a public act of the entire assembly, a public sign of our intention to be united with each other (1 Corinthians 10:17).
Anglican article 28 offers three aspects of the Lord's Supper: # it is a sign of Christian love; # it is a symbol of Calvary, and the provision, through Christ's death, of forgiveness of sins and a new life; and # it is a means of grace. By faith we believe that when we receive this sacrament our lives are strengthened and our faith renewed. As the bread and wine are assimilated into our bodies, so, by faith, the person of Christ enters again spiritually into the life of the communicant.
You ask, 'But what if I don't feel I'm good enough?' That's a serious question, and you are invited to confess your sins and accept again the forgiveness of Christ before you partake of the sacred elements. But if we have to wait until we are sinless to participate, none of us would qualify!
There is great value in a weekly celebration of the Eucharist: in Acts 20:7 coming together for this purpose on the Lord's Day is mentioned as though it were a matter of course. There may also be other occasions where Christians can meet around the table of the Lord. At the time of the Communion we might make another opportunity to get right with one another. Sometimes let us move around and say something meaningful to another: a word of encouragement, confession, maybe a plea for forgiveness.
Do it differently sometimes, and think about what you are doing. For example, for churches where people come to the front to receive the bread, why not take it to them, symbolizing the good news that grace meets you not after you become worthy, but in order to help you become worthy? Perhaps servers of the wine could position themselves around the meeting-place, and people go to them. That is, as grace is given to us freely, we have to be willing to receive it: I will get up and go and claim the gift Christ offers. If the elements are normally served to the congregation, let them come to the front to receive them sometimes. Or serve each other. Or sing some meaningful worship-songs during communion.
A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time which you can see through to something deep inside time.
Generally speaking, Protestants have two official sacraments (the Lord's Supper, Baptism) and Roman Catholics these two plus five others (Confirmation, Penance, Extreme Unction, Ordination, and Matrimony). In other words, at such milestone moments as seeing a baby baptised or being baptised yourself, confessing your sins, getting married, dying, you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.
Needless to say, church isn't the only place where the holy happens. Sacramental moments can occur at any moment, any place, and to anybody. Watching something get born. Making love. A high-school graduation. Somebody coming to see you when you're sick. A meal with people you love. Looking into a stranger's eyes and finding out he's not a stranger.
If we weren't blind as bats, we might see that life itself is sacramental.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London: Collins, 1973, p.82-83.
Ignatius says, When eating, think of Jesus. Zen says, When eating, think of eating. Are these two approaches so different? Is not Jesus our food? Is not every food symbol of the Eucharist? Is not God present in all we eat? Is not every action of ours an act of faith? Do what you do, and eat when you eat. Jesus is with you.
Anthony de Mello, in Carlos G. Valles, Mastering Sadhana, New York: Doubleday, 1988, p. 99.
Through these visible re-enactments, God's grace is awakening and empowering our participation in the life of Christ. We are born in Christ in baptism, and through Holy Communion we are nurtured, sustained, and, it is hoped, eventually sanctified (made mature in holy living) in Christ...
The sacraments presuppose that God has met us in history and that this meeting calls us to regular recollection and re-enactment in order to experience God's real presence in our midst. The grace of God is offered to us in and through these sacraments in a way that we cannot grasp by our own moral efforts. Protestants revolted against what they perceived to be superstitions of medieval penance and sacramentalism. Yet never do the Protestant confessions lose sight of the basic idea that grace is being offered, and, by faith, communicated to the believer in baptism and Holy Communion by Christ's own ordinance. They are means of grace.
Thomas Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983, pp. 106-107.
[The early church fathers Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Cyprian, Augustine, Ambrose, Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom etc.] thought in terms of one sacrament - one visible, tangible means by which we are brought to God. That means is Jesus Christ. He is the sacrament par excellence. The fathers never argued for salvation by the sacraments. Rather, the sacraments of water and bread and wine, they said, are the visible, tangible signs of Christ's saving action.
Robert E. Webber, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals are Attracted to the Liturgical Church, Waco, Texas, 1985, p.48.
Baptism consists of getting dunked or sprinkled. Which technique is used matters about as much as whether you pray kneeling or standing on your head. Dunking is a better symbol, however. Going under symbolises the end of everything about your life that is less than human. Coming up again symbolises the beginning in you of something strange and new and hopeful. You can breathe again.
Question: How about infant baptism? Shouldn't you wait until the child grows up enough to know what's going on?
Answer: If you don't think there is as much of the less-than-human in an infant as there is in anybody else, you have lost touch with reality.
When it comes to the forgiving and transforming love of God, one wonders if the six-week-old screecher knows all that much less than the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London: Collins, 1973, p.5-6.
The differences between infant and believers' baptism become less sharp when it is recognized that both forms of baptism embody God's own initiative in Christ and express a response of faith made within the believing community... The practice of infant baptism emphasizes the corporate faith and the faith which the child shares with its parents... The practice of believer's baptism emphasizes the explicit confession of the person who responds to the grace of God in and through the community of faith and who seeks baptism... In some churches which unite both infant-baptist and believer-baptist traditions, it has been possible to regard as equivalent alternatives for entry into the Church both a pattern whereby baptism in infancy is followed by a later profession of faith and a pattern whereby believer baptism follows upon a presentation and blessing in infancy. This example invites other churches to decide whether they, too, could not recognize equivalent alternatives...
Commentary (12) on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper No. 111, World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1982, p. 5.
What the Church of England does not do, but any of the Baptist Churches do, is to administer an adult rite to those already previously baptized, and it is that principle which distinguishes between the two denominational traditions and not the principle as to whether adults should be baptized or not. All Christians are agreed that adults who come to faith in Christ and have not been baptized should then be baptized.
Submersion or dipping is the Church of England's first and preferred option. Every candidate ought to be shown that this option is not only open to him or her, but is the Church of England's preferred option... It is an 'option' - not a necessity - and its usefulness and desirability must be worked out between minister and candidates on each occasion, and it is not absurd to have one font or baptismal tank with some candidates undergoing dipping and others receiving pouring (just as adult and infant candidates may also be mixed together, though that is not necessarily to imply that only adults should be submerged, or only infants have water poured on them).
Colin Buchanan, Adult Baptisms, Bramcote Notts: Grove Books, 1985, pp. 4, 20.
The presence of Christ in the ordinary events of our lives and his presence in the sacraments are not in opposition to each other. In the sacraments we celebrate in a special ritual way the love of Christ we experience in our lives. In turn, these celebrations help us become more aware of the presence of Christ in all our human experiences...
The sacraments are external realities that first touch our senses. Through the messages that reach and get through our senses Christ 'speaks' and 'touches' the depths of our being... [But] if we have not had happy, enriching experiences of breaking and sharing authentic bread around a table of love, then how can that sign speak to us at Eucharist? If the celebration of the Eucharist obscures as much as possible the sign of a shared meal (an altar instead of a table, people scattered in a large building rather than gathered in an intimate community, tasteless wafers instead of loaves of wholemeal bread) is not the experience of Christ in the meal sacrifice diminished accordingly?
William P. Roberts, 'New Riches in Old Signs' in Praying, Kansas, No. 12, 1985, pp. 11, 12.
The road from the Last Supper in the Upper Room on the night when Jesus was betrayed to modern eucharistic faith and practice in the Christian church has been long, tortuous and diverse. Along it, Christians have been persecuted by the State and by each other. Sometimes they have worshipped in joyful assurance of their Lord's presence and in confident expectation of his triumphant return. Sometimes Christ's presence in the sacrament has been hidden and distorted by magic and superstition. Sometimes, great Christians have struggled with lofty words to explain and lay hold of the sublime truths conveyed in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Often Christian understanding has been partial and shallow. After centuries of neglect many Protestant Christians are rediscovering the importance and centrality of the Eucharist in worship. After centuries of suspicion many Catholics and Protestants are feeling the urge to break bread together again, and to heal the rifts which have divided them for so long.
Donald Bridge and David Phypers, The Meal That Unites?, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1981, p. 166.
An increasing number of Christians feel that a united communion service is the most expressive demonstration of true Christian unity, since it means... we welcome to the Lord's Table those whom we believe Christ has received even though we may have differing views on such matters as church order.
To practise 'open communion' is not to deny real and meaningful denominational differences, but it is to recognize that churches other than one's own are also part of the body of Christ. The invitation to partake should surely be extended to all true believers and the onus thereafter is upon the individuals concerned.
Gilbert W. Kirby, Too Hot to Handle, London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1978, p. 36.
To eat this particular meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic humanness, which involves our need not just for food but for each other. I need you to help fill my emptiness just as you need me to help fill yours. As for the emptiness that's still left over, well we're in it together, or it in us. Maybe it's most of what makes us human and makes us brothers.
The next time you walk down the street, take a good look at every face you pass and in your mind say, Christ died for you. That girl. That slob. That phoney. That crook. That saint. That damned fool. Christ died for you. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London: Collins, 1973, p.53.
Breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death which gives eternal life in Jesus Christ.
Irenaeus, quoted in Margaret Pepper (ed.), The Pan Dictionary of Religious Quotations, London: Pan Books, 1989, p. 166.
O sacred feast in which we partake of Christ: his sufferings are remembered, our minds are filled with his grace and we receive a pledge of the glory that is to be ours.
Antiphon from the Vespers of Corpus Christi in Tony Kelly, Touching the Infinite, Blackburn: Collins Dove, 1991, p.129.
Father accept us, as we offer and present ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a holy and living sacrifice; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be all honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Alternative Great Prayer of Thanksgiving B, Uniting in Worship, Melbourne: Uniting Church Press, 1988, p. 108
O God, by your word and Spirit bless and sanctify [the] bread and [the] wine, that they may be for us the communion of the body and blood of Christ, and that he may ever live in us and we in him.
Jesus, you are the bread of life; those who come to you will never be hungry; those who believe in you will never thirst. You are the living bread from heaven; the bread you give us is your own flesh, and you give it for the life of the world.
All who eat your flesh and drink your blood live in you and you in them; for your flesh is the food we need, your blood is our salvation; all who eat your flesh and drink your blood have eternal life.
Look to Jesus in the wilderness, breaking bread and feeding the multitude.
A New Zealand Prayer Book, Auckland: Collins, 1989, p.124.
Thou art thyself both he who offers and he who is offered, he who receives and he who is distributed.
Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, quoted in Margaret Pepper (ed.), The Pan Dictionary of Religious Quotations, London: Pan Books, 1989, p. 166.
Lord, grant that your faithful people may continually desire to relive the mystery of the Eucharist and so be born to lead a new life. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Daily Mass Book, Brisbane: The Liturgical Commission, 1990, p.38.
Grant, O Lord that I may receive your precious body and blood to make me holy, to enlighten and strengthen me, to ease the burden of my many sins, to protect me from the traps of the devil, to overcome my sinful and evil habits, to subdue my wayward urges, to help me to live your commandments, to increase in me your divine life, to bring me into your kingdom.
John Chrysostom, cited in Praying with the Saints, Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1989, p.49-50.
A Benediction: May God Almighty bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord: In the name of Christ. Amen.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
God... commands all people everywhere to repent. Repent, and believe the good news. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Yet even now, says the LORD,
return to me with all your heart...
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Turn, then, and live. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
[The Lord] does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord,
that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon.
So they [the disciples] went out and proclaimed that all should repent... They should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8,9; 2 Peter 3:9; Acts 17:30; Mark 1:15; Revelation 3:3; James 4:10; Joel 2:12-13; Ezekiel 18:31,32; Acts 3:19,20; Psalm 103:10-12; Isaiah 55: 6,7; Mark 6:12; Acts 26:20. Psalm 51:1,2,10.
A COMEDIAN, Dan Leno, used to open his act saying, 'Ah, what is man? Wherefore does he why? Whence did he whence? Whither is he withering?'
Who am I? As our first three chapters disclose, I am a special person made in the image of God, but whose image has been scarred. I am like God, and like the devil. I am good... and bad. I am a delight, but my sins are a horror, both to God and to myself.
How bad am I? There are two opposite errors in some replies to this question. 'Too bad' you might say. Wrong. 'Not bad enough' - again, wrong. Pascal once wrote: 'There are only two kinds of people - the righteous who believe themselves sinners; the rest, sinners who believe themselves righteous.'
We are all are equally guilty - not just those the law calls 'criminals'. Indeed it's people who think they're good enough who are in the greatest peril. Most people in the Bible who were asked to repent were religious people. We cannot offer our righteousness to God (we'll never have enough), only our penitence.
You will sometimes read about the doctrine of 'total depravity' in connection with our sin. This doesn't mean that humans are as bad as they can be, but rather that no part of us has escaped the pollution of sin.
C.S. Lewis explains the old prayer-book phrase about being 'miserable offenders' by analyzing the situation of those who don't realize they're miserable. Passengers on two trains speeding towards each other on the same track may be reading magazines, dozing over a drink, or laughing boisterously. They don't feel miserable. But in fact their situation can be described as utterly miserable. Tell them they're miserable and they'll laugh at you.
John Bunyan's classic Pilgrim's Progress opens with 'a man clothed with rags standing in a certain place with his face from his own house, a book in his hand and a great burden upon his back.' 'How camest thou by thy burden?' this pilgrim was asked by his companion, Mr. Worldly Wiseman. He replied, 'By reading this book in my hand.'
The book, of course, was the Bible, a book with an accurate diagnosis and cure for the human condition. The problem: you are a sinner. Cure: 'Repent!' If you check a concordance you'll find 'repentance' is an idea mentioned as often in the Old as in the New Testaments (eg. Ezekiel 18:31, Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19). Jesus' first recorded preaching was about repentance, so was his last.
So repentance isn't funny, like the little old men in cartoons with sandwich boards shouting 'Repent, the end is nigh!' Or the mourners' bench in Charlie Chaplin films. Byron was wrong in his opinion that 'The weak alone repent'.
And the cynic who said
Christians are people who feel
Repentance on a Sunday
For what they did on Saturday
And intend to do on Monday
could not be more wrong!
Repentance is about radical change. It means coming to your senses, waking up to yourself! It means turning from your sins to God.
Repentance isn't the same as 'doing penance': inflicting pain on yourself isn't the way to go. Christ died for your sins: his sacrifice was sufficient. Repentance is more than feeling sorry, though it includes sorrow. Judas felt remorse for betraying Jesus, but apparently he didn't truly repent. (His greater sin was not to betray our Lord, but to refuse to go to Calvary for a pardon). Repentance is more than feeling guilty: guilt can be a form of self-hatred. You should hate your sins, not yourself.
And repentance is not superficial. The bucks stops with you, the penitent. You can't blame anyone but yourself. Repentance has no room for excuses, putting the blame somewhere else. Sigmund Freud, probably more than anyone else in the twentieth century, has done a lot to help us understand ourselves. He located many of our personality disorders in the early experiences of infancy. These, he said, are repressed into our subconscious and come back later to haunt us. Now this may be true, but it could lead to a 'blame-oriented' approach to life. Many who have never heard of Freud still blame their parents for who they are. Repentance is the opposite of blaming. It's you taking responsibility for who you are and what you've done.
Repentance involves a radical change of heart, and mind, and behaviour. It is a U-turn, not merely a course correction. The story of the prodigal son and the waiting father (Luke 15:11-32) is about repentance. The boy felt sorry for himself, then sorry that he'd wronged his dad, so he decided to go to his father and confess: 'I have sinned against God and against you'. He was instantly forgiven, welcomed back into the family, and his homecoming was the occasion for great rejoicing. There's feasting in heaven, Jesus said, whenever a sinner repents. If you have repented did you know you caused the angels to throw a party?
The Bible encourages us to confess our sins to God and to another human being (1John 1:9, James 5:16). Be careful to whom you confess: that person must be able to keep a confidence, and to pray a healing prayer for you.
You are saved from the penalty of your sins (though their effects may lnger). So confess them and forsake them and then don't carry their guilt with you: 'own and disown' them. God has truly, completely forgiven you. It's like being sick, then well: don't keep thinking about your sickness; enjoy your health!
A Christian evangelist was asked, 'How is it that your religion has been around for 2000 years and hasn't influenced more people?' His reply: 'How is it that water has been around for thousands of years and many people are still dirty?'
A final serious word: the refusal to repent is worse than the sin for which one ought to repent. The question really isn't 'Shall I repent?' but 'Shall I repent now, when it may save me?' Jesus had some awesome things to say about one's repentance being one's punishment... So...?
The biblical view of the history of mankind and of each individual is contained in the first three chapters of Genesis. We are created to serve God by loving him and each other in freedom and joy, but we invariably choose bondage and woe instead as prices not too high to pay for independence. To say that God drove Adam and Eve out of Eden is apparently a euphemism for saying that Adam and Eve like the rest of us made a break for it as soon as God happened to look the other way. If God really wanted to get rid of us, the chances are he wouldn't have kept hounding us every step of the way ever since.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London, Collins, 1973, p.55-56.
I went back to the New Testament, to the Acts and the epistles, to Peter and Paul, who were the first ones to preach the gospel to a pagan world. What does it mean to preach the Christian gospel to such a world...?
Christ, after his resurrection, said... `Now that the resurrection is a reality, now that forgiveness of sins is accomplished in this new covenant, go out to all the earth and preach the good news of the forgiveness of sins to all the nations'...
That is good news, to the Masai, to the guilty man cast out of his community, to the sinful son and to the offending family. I do not have to convince them of sin. They know of sin. What they did not know of was forgiveness. It has touched the earth. This is where Christianity parts company from Judaism and from Hinduism and from paganism. Sin is a conquered thing. This is a redeemed world. One wonders if one should dare talk to pagans about sin - apart from Christ, until they know Christ.
The job of a missionary, after all, is... to teach the forgiveness of sin.
Vincent J Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered, London, SCM, 1985, p.61-62.
Jesus describes sinfulness as more than just doing wrong things. When we fail to do what's right, it's as bad as doing wrong. You can be totally law-abiding and not give a thought for anyone else. Sin is basically four things: 1. Failing - in our thinking, saying and action - to do what is right. 2. Trying to find meaning and fulfilment without God's love, relationship and guidance. 3. Rejecting and rebelling against God. 4. Missing out on the full and creative life God intends for us...
[Repentance] begins with being sorry enough to quit the past... It begins with: * changing directions * changing sides * changing what is important to us * changed alliances * changed intentions * changed commitments... There should be changes everywhere - enough for it to be noticeable: * at home * at work * at sport * in relationships * in lifestyle * in attitudes * in thinking.
Sin incriminates. To be a sinner means to be guilty before God. Guilt is that aspect of sin which belongs to the past, and is well expressed in the words from Fitzgerald's Omar Khayyam,
The Moving Finger writes; and having writ
Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.
As Paul would say, 'the handwriting is against us', and this is something that no merely human means can ever remedy...
The late Archbishop Temple once wrote, 'A great deal too much attention has been given to sins as compared with sin. And so, if it happens that I cannot think of any particular wrong thing that I have done, or any particular good thing that I might have done and neglected, yet still I must ask God to be merciful to me a sinner, for I share the common sin of [humankind] and make myself in a host of ways the centre of the world. I think like a human and not like God.'
James Philip, Repentance: Its Meaning and Implications, London: the Tyndale Press, 1963, pp. 12-13,20.
Your intellect says, 'I accept Christ,' your emotions say, 'I love Christ,' and your will says 'I will follow Christ.' In true repentance all your powers are diverted and channeled through Christ. It is not just giving mental assent, it is not just an act of volcanic emotion, nor is it an act of will power alone. True repentance is bringing all of our being - mind, heart and will - under the control of Christ.
Billy Graham, 'The Meaning of Repentance', a sermon preached on 'The Hour of Decision', Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Box 779 Minneapolis, Minnesota 55440, 1967, pp. 8-9.
Repentance must not be mistaken for remorse. It does not consist in feeling terribly sorry that things went wrong in the past; it is an active, positive attitude which consists in moving in the right direction. It is made very clear in the parable of the two sons (Mt. 21:28) who were commanded by their father to go to work at his vineyard. The one said 'I am going,' but did not go. The other said, 'I am not going,' and then felt ashamed and went to work. This was real repentance, and we should never lure ourselves into imagining that to lament one's past is an act of repentance. It is part of it of course, but repentance remains unreal and barren as long as it has not led us to doing the will of the father. We have a tendency to think it should result in fine emotions and we are quite often satisfied with emotions instead of real, deep changes.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, 'Meditation and Worship', in John Garvey (ed.), Modern Spirituality: An Anthology, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1986, pp. 35-36.
Ignatius sums up as one single and fundamental principle (in other words, his First Principle and Foundation): our end is God; therefore what helps towards God is good, what gets in the way is bad. Things are not good or bad in themselves, but only in the effect they have on our relationship with God. We can recall Augustine's classic, rule-defying pronouncement: `Love, and do what you will'.
Margaret Hebblethwaite, Finding God in All Things, London, Fountain Paperbacks, 1987, p.35
Repentance is a gift... I do not have to live into fearful defensiveness in relation to my past... I can learn things today that shed a whole new light on yesterday's conclusions, and this is precisely what I hear Jesus encouraging us to do in his call for us to repent and believe the Good News. He is affirming that God is more interested in growth than innocency, in how much we have learned from our mistakes rather than how many mistakes we have made. Is not that the crucial point in the way the father of the prodigal son responded to his return from the far country? He was more concerned about what the lad had gained in terms of self-understanding than about the money and time he had lost in coming to that wisdom.
John Claypool, 'Growing and the Gift of Repentance', a sermon preached in Northminster Baptist Church, 3955 Ridgewood Rd., Jackson, Mississippi, on August 31, 1980.
Repentance, metanoia, is the turning of the mind, and with the mind the imagination, the affections and the will, away from self and sin and towards God. It is within an act of Godward-turning that our self-examination happens. We look towards God in gratitude for his loving-kindness, towards Jesus in his death for our sins, towards our own true self in what it is meant to become. The examining of our consciences will be thorough, and while it means a looking into ourselves it will not be an introspective self-scrutiny, for it will be mingled with the looking up towards God and the exposing of the self towards him. But the preparation will be thorough. It is not a matter of naming those sins which seem to be 'big' or which worry us specially, for it is necessary to confess all the ways in which our attitudes and actions have been contrary to the Christian way. That is important. It is a confession of the whole self, and the attitudes and actions which we may sometimes think to be small may be a decisive part of the self's orientation.
William Ramsay, Be Still and Know: A Study in the Life of Prayer, London: Collins (Fount paperbacks), 1982, pp. 107-8.
Oh the comfort,
the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person,
Having neither to weigh thoughts or measure words
but pour them all out just as they are
Chaff and grain together,
and a faithful hand will take them and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away
George Eliot ?
The most noble strategy for dealing with guilt is the way of self-punishment. Do you remember how T.S.Elliot's Celia said, `I feel I must atone for this'? This is a very deep impulse of the human spirit - to conclude that because a wrong has been done, some price needs to be paid or some equivalent action taken. At least in this approach there is a recognition of the seriousness of the situation and of the individual's responsibility. However, the problem with self-punishment is that one never knows how much is enough; we can spend all our lives scourging ourselves and still feel no sense of absolution. Soren Kierkegaard's father, as a shepherd lad out on the freezing Danish slopes, once cursed God, and the memory of that act of blasphemy haunted the man for the rest of his life. He never stopped punishing himself for this misdeed. He gave lavish sums of money to the church, even lacerated his own body, but he was never able to believe that the debt had at last been paid. Any attempt to design or effect our own atonement is bound to end in uncertainty and failure.
John Claypool, The Light Within You, Texas: Word, 1983, p.188.
The practice of confession and absolution is central to the teachings of the Christian church. Throughout the pages of Holy Scripture the reader encounters a variety of forms and procedures reflecting an understanding of and support for confession and forgiveness.
Luther struggled to restore the proper practice of individual confession and absolution to the church... His writings reveal that he allowed... six types of confession: (1) confession in the heart (secret confession); (2) general or public confession in the liturgy; (3) public confession made by an individual before an assembled congregation; (4) reconciliatory confession (based on Matthew 5:23-24)); (5) the 'mutual consolation of the brethren'; and (6) private (individual) confession.
Walter J. Koehler, Counseling and Confession: The Role of Confession and Absolution in Pastoral Counseling, St. Louis: Concordia, 1982, pp. 38, 39.
Confessing one's sins to another human being... makes a public expression of my sorrow... It is an act of humility wherein I accept the authority of the Church as guardian and guide to the holy things of God. I accept my fellow human being as someone better able than myself to make a judgment of where I stand, of my guilt - and of my goodness; and I accept through his word the promised forgiveness of God, who knows me through and through. This practice brings peace of mind and soul, a deeper trust in God, and a facing of the reality of sin in my life as something to be tackled in the future, once it is clear that the past is no more a burden, that guilt does not remain, that there is nothing to hold me back.
Michael Hollings, Hearts Not Garments, London, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1982, p.50.
The seven capital sins are pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth...
What am I proud about?
What are my ambitions?
What does sex mean for me?
Have I shown anger and if so was it constructive?
Have I suppressed anger in any areas of my life, and if so is it doing damage?
What am I dependent on in food and drink?
Have I got professional jealousies, or jealousies in relationships?
What am I lazy about?
Or, if we turn our minds to the corresponding positive qualities:
What is the gift of humility?
What would it be like to be less concerned with better status and possessions?
What would it mean to have a sexual drive directed towards the real purpose of sex?
What is the virtue of gentleness?
What is best for my health in eating and drinking?
What would it be like to desire the well-being and success of others without envy?
For what causes would it be good to be able to work tirelessly...?
`God works with those who love him... and turns everything to their good' (Romans 8:28). And St Augustine adds, `even my sins'.
Margaret Hebblethwaite, Finding God in All Things, London, Fountain Paperbacks, 1987, pp.158, 142.
O Lord, our God, grant us the grace to long for you with our whole heart, and that so longing we may seek and find you; and that so finding you we may love you; and that so loving you we may hate those sins from which you redeemed us for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Anselm, cited in Praying with the Saints, Dublin, Veritas Publications, 1989, p.12.
Lord, your 'need' is to love, mine to be loved by you. Your 'need' expressed itself in my creation, my being made an object of your love. I am a masterpiece of spiritual, emotional and physical engineering, with a spirit yearning to relate to you, the living God; a soul and mind and heart and will to relating lovingly to others, and a body to relate to a dynamic cosmos.
Your love, Lord, expressed itself ultimately in the life of Jesus, and now in the life of Jesus-in-me.
Lord, when I think back on my sins, my feelings range from sadness (for what might have been) through regret (either that I was found out by others or found out who I was really was myself) to anger (that I could have been so destructive and stupid). Perhaps also fear: what will almighty God do to me for what I've done?
So out of my darkness, sorrow and night, Jesus, I come to you. I receive your gift of forgiveness, and ask for your help to live in the future a life of commitment to yourself and obedience to your word.
I am not worthy to come to you, or belong to your eternal family, Lord. But apparently that's not the point: your invitation is not conditional upon my goodness, but simply upon my acceptance of it.
A Benediction: May God, who in your conscience has already graciously given you an awareness of your sins, give you also grace to repent, grace to accept his complete forgiveness, and then grace to forgive yourself! Amen.
John Smith, 'When Love Comes to Stay', Care and Communication Concern, 1990, pp. 5,7.
By Rowland Croucher, GROW: Meditations and Prayers for New Christians JBCE, 1992, Chapter 4
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
The goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared..., so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between
God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all.
I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you... through which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you... Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, he was buried, and was raised on the third day.
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.
Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.'
Psalm 27:1; Isaiah 12:2; John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Romans 8:1,2; Titus 3:4 & 7; Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Timothy 2:5,6; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 5:1,2,6,8-10; Matthew 16:24-26.
'Save the rainforests'! 'Save the whales'! But if it has not happened to you already, it will: someone will ask you in a public place 'Are you saved?'. (To which a theologian retorted, 'I'll be damned if I'm not!').
'Jesus saves' can still be seen on some old church buildings or bulletin boards. (To which a Jewish student responded, 'Jesus saves, but Moses invests!').
What does it mean to be 'saved'?
On a memorable night in the Trinity Term of 1929, the great scholar C.S. Lewis, alone in his room at Magdalen College, Oxford, 'admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.' In that moment he began to be 'saved', a term he (and the New Testament) often used.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S.Lewis has a vivid picture of what it means to be saved. Eustace, a dragon, is transformed back into a person. Eustace remembered that dragons can cast off their skin like a snake, so he began to work on himself. At first just the scales came off, but with more effort the whole skin started to peel off, and he stepped out of it altogether. He began to wash but noticed his foot was still hard and scaly. So he scratched away and finally peeled off another layer of dragon skin. But under it was still more. Then Aslan, the lion, offered to help. Though Eustace was afraid of Aslan's claws he lay down before him. His fears were justified: the first tear was so deep it went down to his heart. When the skin was at last off him, Eustace found it 'ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been.' Then Aslan bathed him and dressed him in new clean clothes... You will guess who Eustace and Aslan are.
'Salvation' is a key concept in the Bible. The name Jesus (or Joshua) means 'God saves'. The Old Testament Hebrew word yasha, 'to save', really means to be wide open, to be free. Salvation is freedom. Not freedom to do what you like, but the opposite: freedom from whatever is binding, controlling and destroying you, and freedom to serve God and others. Jesus is our Saviour: that is, he wants to make us whole persons. 'Salvation' in the New Testament has therefore a wide range of meanings, including healing (Matthew 9:22), and rescue from danger (Matthew 8:25, Acts 17:20).
The key to being 'saved', however, means doing something about our sins. Zaccheus, a swindler, decided to return more than he'd stolen, and Jesus said 'Today, salvation has come to this house.' But you are not saved merely because you do good; you do good because you are saved. You are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and faith is a gift - you can't 'earn' it. In an article 'I Was Decided Upon' C.S. Lewis wrote, 'It is not enough to want to get rid of one's sins. We also need to believe in the One who saves us from our sins... Because we know that we are sinners, it does not follow that we are saved.' A man said to his Irish friend, 'It's great to be saved!' 'Aye,' said the Irishman, 'it is. But I know something better than that.' 'Better than being saved? What can possibly be better than that?' 'The companionship of the One who has saved me,' his friend responded.
So salvation is personal: Paul said 'He loved me and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2:20). Christianity is a rescue mission: rescuing sinners from death and giving them eternal life, life in all its fullness; rescuing us from selfishness, to friendship with God. It is life and health and peace and joy and fulfilment. It is a crisis (I was saved) a process (I am being saved), and a destiny (I will be saved).
It is also social. Salvation is for the whole of a person, not just for the soul of a person. Jeremiah preached against the attitude which says 'I'm safe, because my religion's the right one' but is not concerned enough about ethics and justice (Jeremiah 7:1-15). A religion divorced from justice, love, mercy and honesty was also attacked by Jesus (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42).
Salvation is also ecological: God is concerned for all his creation. The whole universe is to be transformed (Romans 8:19-25).
And (all this and heaven too!) salvation is eternal. As the old preachers put it, we're saved for time and for eternity! Frederick Buechner says somewhere, 'To love God is to be saved... [but] you do not love God and live for him so you will go to heaven. Whichever side of the grave you happen to be talking about, to love God and live for him is heaven.'
A final word from W.E. Sangster: 'To know "full salvation" is not only to be forgiven and sure of the way home; it is to be so indwelt by Christ, and so loving towards others, that we are ready (with Moses) to be blotted out of the Book of Life if these cannot be saved also. Only Christ can give us love like that. It is his love, loving in us... It can make us unafraid to face the question: "How much are you saved?".'
Different people at different stages of life need to be saved from different things. Some people have to be saved from a nagging sense of guilt that never leaves them. Other people have to be saved from a sense of meaninglessness. Other people need to be saved from terror at the brevity of life.
To be saved by faith means that if I place my trust in God, if I let my attention be focused on God, God will grasp me and will give me yasha, [salvation]. He will give me space, room, and wholeness.
Martin Marty, 'Saved by Faith' in LaVonne Neff et al, Practical Christianity, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 1988, p. 185.
Nice people don't need to be saved... We never put it to ourselves quite like that, but something very like it is often at the back of our minds when we give thought (if ever we do!) to the subject of salvation... And yet the Bible knows of only two final classes, the saved and the lost. There is no in-between niche for nice people. In the last resort we must be found in one or other of these two classes, and the second doesn't sound inviting...
Leon Morris, Salvation, Beecroft, NSW: Evangelical Tracts and Publications, n.d., p.2.
While we may have some clear criteria whereby a person may decide whether he or she is a Christian, it may be a much more difficult thing sometimes to decide whether one is Christian!
W. Cantwell Smith, 'Christian: Noun or Adjective?' in Questions of Religious Truth, New York: Scribner's, 1967, pp. 99-123, quoted by Paul Trudinger, 'On Being Saved', Canberra: St. Mark's Review, Autumn 1989, p. 22.
...It is both curious and sad that this note of salvation by grace is often muffled in much modern churchmanship. In a message to the Church of Scotland that profound scholar, Professor Tom Torrance, deplores its absence. He claims that we have become so mesmerized by the world's material needs that we have shifted our message away from salvation by grace to salvation by social righteousness and political action. In our obsession with making the church relevant, we have made it the servant of public opinion. To be sure, the Christian is desperately concerned with social righteousness and justice. The black people of South Africa need salvation from the atrocious indignities of apartheid. The starving millions of our world need salvation from poverty and hunger and hopelessness. The victims of oppressive regimes need salvation from cruel injustices. These are all authentic Christian concerns, and must be addressed by the church. But how great and pressing is the need of all for the personal salvation graciously offered by God in Christ crucified and risen again! To withold this gift of grace is to offer stones instead of bread, the Bread of life...
John N. Gladstone, 'Magnificently Charismatic', a sermon preached in Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, Toronto, date unknown, p.3.
The term 'full salvation' has long been loved in some evangelical circles. It is used to indicate the depth of the change Christ can work in a human life and his ability to work the change now. 'Full salvation' is not only pardon from sin but increasing deliverance from it, power to have victory over the inward as well as the outward sins, and victory not only in eternity, but in this life as well. The term grows in meaning... it now has range as well as depth. To have 'full salvation' is to be saved in our relationships as well as in our deep solitariness...
W.E.Sangster, How Much Are You Saved?, Westminster pamphlet no. 11, London: Epworth, 1959, p. 15.
Not what these hands have done,
Can save this guilty soul;
Not what this toiling flesh has born
Can make my spirit whole.
Thy love to me, O God
Not mine, O Lord, to thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest
And set my spirit free.
Literally, 'adding insult to injury', while Jesus hung on the cross, they said 'He saved others, himself he could not save' (Matthew 27:34)... Yet back of the voices of ridicule is a truth as deep as reality itself... They were right! Precisely because he was saving others, he could not save himself. This is the 'law of redemption' that is rooted in the very way our universe is put together. No matter what area of life you are talking about, it has always been true that 'saving others' and 'saving self' are mutually exclusive...
For many years I was troubled by all the theories of atonement that talked about 'blood sacrifice' and 'penal substitution', and it never made sense to me until I realized that not even a God can solve personal problems by the exercise of power alone. If human beings were robots or puppets or objects that could be moved around by force, then salvation could be a simple 'power transaction'. As any parent of a rebellious child knows full well, there are no easy answers to setting right a spirit that has gone wrong. Solutions relying on power wind up destroying the person you want to save. Only by getting involved with the sickness and appealing directly to the heart can resolution come. This is what the Old Testament principle 'Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission or sins' is all about.
John Claypool, 'The Paradox of Salvation', sermon preached at Broadway Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas. (Weekly sermons published by the church, Vol. XIV, No. 2, Nov. 3, 1974).
I believe everyone has another self imprisoned within him or her. It may require soul surgery to bring it out, it will require repentance, a change of heart, conversion, new birth... But the real self is the person Christ loves. He sees within us hidden possibilities, he sees what we might become. Salvation is Christ's gift of 'becoming', enabling us to realise what God intended for us. In the preface to his book The Tragic Sense of Life the Spanish writer Unamuno writes '...A new friend enriches our spirit... by what he causes to discover in our own selves, something which, if we had not known him, would have lain in us undeveloped.'
Ivor Bailey, in a sermon preached from Maugham Church, Adelaide, 7th October, 1973.
According to Kittel's great Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, the Greek word for salvation was used in the ancient world from Homer onwards of 'an acutely dynamic act in which gods or people snatch others by force from serious peril' whether the danger was a battle, a storm at sea, condemnation in a law court, illness or death... We use the same terminology today, when a surgeon saves a patient's life by an operation, the fire brigade saves someone trapped in a burning building, or a rescue team saves a climber stranded on a mountain rockface. In each case somebody is in acute peril. 'Salvation' means nothing unless there is a situation of grave danger from which a person needs to be rescued...
So let me ask you: have you received the salvation which the gospel proclaims? Have you trusted personally in Christ who once secured and now offers this salvation? Only then shall we be able to say from our experience: 'I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.'
John Stott, 'Salvation Today', a sermon preached in All Souls' Church of England, Langham Place, London, on 7 October, 1973. Published in All Souls' Magazine, date unknown, pp. 11-15.
Conversion begins but it never ends. It is an increasing process in which we gradually become more and more what we should be, until, after the day of judgment, these categories of fall, conversion and righteousness disappear and are replaced by new categories of a new life. As Christ says: `I make all things new' (Rev 21:5).
John Garvey (Ed), Modern Spirituality, an Anthology, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1985, p.36.
Lord save me.
Lord, save me from
the sins that separate me from friendship with you,
the wilfulness that leads me to stray from your love and your laws,
and the selfishness that separates me from being there for others.
Save me from
self-despising which separates me from enjoying living with myself,
or the pride which prevents me from seeing myself realistically,
and the immaturity which is unable to accept others' uniqueness.
Deliver me from
bad habits that imprison me in addictive behaviours,
laziness which prevents my realizing your full potential for me,
or workaholism which confuses ends and means.
Rescue me Lord, from
closed-mindedness which prejudices me against receiving a new idea,
or the stubbornness which causes me to be unteachable,
and any bigotry which exalts my beliefs or my group above others'.
Redeem me Saviour, from
the enticements of the world, the flesh and the devil:
the seductions of fame, temptations from lust, or violence which
destroys rather than heals.
Thank you, Lord and Saviour, for the good news that if I believe in you, trust you, commit myself to you, I will be saved. Thank you for doing for me what I cannot possibly do for myself. Help me to change any attitudes, beliefs or behaviours that are not pleasing to you and therefore are unwholesome for me and unhelpful for others.
Help me to ask often,
'What must I do to be saved?'
'Day by day, am I being saved...?'
May God bless you with every good gift from on high.
May he keep you pure and holy in his sight at all times.
May he bestow the riches of his grace upon you,
bring you the good news of salvation,
and always fill you with love for everyone...
May the Lord God be your strength, your song, your
salvation, the stronghold of your life, your fortress, so that you will
never be shaken, and trusting him will not be afraid.
Daily Mass Book, Brisbane, The Liturgical Commission, 1990, p.38 for benediction (first part).
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, ch. 14. quoted in Kilby, A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C.S.Lewis, London: Geoffrey Bles, 1968, p. 133.
C.S.Lewis, 'I Was Decided Upon', Decision (September 1963), quoted in Clyde S. Kilby (ed.), A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C.S.Lewis, London: Geoffrey Bles, 1968, p. 131.
W.E.Sangster, How Much Are You Saved?, Westminster pamphlet no. 11, London: Epworth, 1959, p. 15. (for quote in homily)
By Rowland Croucher (chapter 3 in GROW! Meditations and Prayers for New Christians, JBCE 1992/1993
God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness...
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over... every living thing that moves upon the earth.' When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them...
When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that
you have established;
what are human beings that you
are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.
Jesus said, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'
God... is rich in mercy, [and a] great love with which he loved us.
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him. ...We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings...
Do not lie to one another, seeing you have... clothed yourself with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its Creator. With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.
Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 5:1; Psalm 8:3,4; 1 Corinthians 15:49; Jeremiah 29:11-13; John 6:35; Ephesians 2:4; Colossians 2:6; Ephesians 4:13 & 15; Philippians 3:9-10; Colossians 3:9,10; James 3:9; 1 Peter 5:7.
'Going once... going twice... gone! Sold to the gentleman with the green tie!' cried the auctioneer. One by one the man's possessions were offered - the stereo, the car, the TV. Finally only the man remained. 'And what am I offered for this man?' the auctioneer continued. 'A fine specimen...!'
Trembling with horror, he woke from his dream. But the thought troubled him. What would they have paid for him? Two thousand dollars, five thousand? More? Less?
How much am I worth?
Our inorganic elements would bring about $10: our bodies have enough fat to make a few bars of soap, enough iron for a couple of nails, enough sugar to fill a small shaker, enough phosphorous to make a box of matches, and enough lime to whitewash a shed...
The biblical question is not merely 'What are human beings?' but 'What are human beings... that you care for them?' It's about how we relate to God; how God values us. Each of us is on this planet not by chance or accident, but by design. You and I are God's idea, and very special to him. We resulted from a special creative act of God. Genesis says 'God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good.' Man/woman comes into being 'trailing clouds of glory'.
Humans were/are the apex of creation, made 'in the image of God'. This means we are 'like God', not in physical form (God is Spirit) but as the visible representatives on earth of the Divine Being. Nor are we simply more like God than the other animals, because we weep and laugh, or because we are the only primates to walk upright (but we begin and end life horizontally rather than perpendicularly), or whose brain is larger and cleverer (so that we can use equipment outside our own bodies, or manufacture striped toothpaste. But then, as James Thurber once wrote, dogs are raising families of their own before the first anniversary of their birth; but the young of humans are practically no good at all until almost a quarter of a century'). We are more than naked (or trousered) apes. Humans are creatures who sense the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.
D H Lawrence sees humans in terms of 'blood, soil and sex'. Camus summarizes his dilemma: 'Everything which exalts life adds at the same time to its absurdity.' In Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot human life is reduced to waiting - for someone who never comes.
Some ancient philosophers regarded humans as encased souls or animated bodies; the Bible rather emphasizes the unity of our personhood. Naturalism says we are a little higher than the tadpoles; the Bible says we are a little lower than the angels. Scientism says we are an accidental arrangement of molecules; the Bible says we are crowned with glory and honour. Behaviourism says we are complex biological machines, whose behaviour is explained in terms of inherited or environmental factors; Jesus invites us to use our God-given capacity to worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth. Marxism says all human reality can be reduced to natural processes and events; the Bible affirms our God-endowed dignity and worth.
We are like God intellectually: having the power to reason, imagine and think about God; socially: capable of loving God, others and self; of celebrating and grieving; vocationally: as tenants of God's good earth we are commissioned to tend it with care; aesthetically: delighting in the natural beauty God has created; morally: our conscience helps us discern the will of God and freely choose goodness; and spiritually: we pray and worship and can 'know' God, and we experience premonitions of immortality (long before stone was used for houses it was used for tombs). So we are invited to exhibit the nature and qualities of our Creator. The only satisfactory way we can understand who we are is in terms of our being cared for by God, and responsible to serve and obey him in return.
But these same humans have not wanted to replicate the Divine nature. They would prefer to be served than serve; to rule than to submit; to be autonomous and selfish rather than live responsibly in community; to get along without God, rather than live in dependence upon him. Fallen human nature is such that distant wars, earthquakes or cyclones trouble us a little, but a lot less than our own toothache or the scratch on our new car. As Rousseau said, we are born free, but everywhere we are in chains. If there is one theme recurring throughout this book, it is this: you are like God, and like the Devil. Humans do despicable things to each other. They're sinners. (Did you know that cannibalism was practised in Scotland, Ireland and England as recently as four hundred years ago?).
The alternative to worshipping and serving God is idolatry: making gods out of our selves or some other created thing. That's why the second commandment prohibits our making images of God. William Golding's Lord of the Flies graphically describes the depths to which human depravity will sink when some English school boys, marooned on a tropical island resort to a primitive sacrificial cult in which pigs are offered to appease the mysterious Lord of the Flies.
God makes all things good, humans meddle with them and they become evil. But although the image of God in us is marred, it's still there! As Irenaeus put it in an unforgettable sentence: 'The glory of God is [humans] fully alive.'
Sigmund Freud once said that human self-esteem suffered three great blows from science. First Copernicus showed that the earth is not the centre of the universe. Then Darwin suggested that humans are not organically superior to animals. And psychoanalysis asserted that we are not 'masters in our own house'.
But how can we change and grow? Libertarians say we have complete freedom to decide this way or that. Hard determinists believe we have no free will and are therefore not ultimately responsible for our destinies. Soft determinists say we may be governed by heredity, social factors, our psychology, our sin, or even God's working in our lives, but we have some responsibility for our decisions. We can freely choose to eat of a certain tree, and die, or obediently desist, and live. Adam and Eve are 'everyperson'.
The Greeks in their wisdom said 'Know thyself!' The Hebrews would have preferred 'Know thy God!' God, more than humans, is 'the proper study of mankind'. And where is God? Look around. C S Lewis says somewhere if we realized who we truly were, we'd be tempted to fall down and worship one another.
We are made up of body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). What does this mean? Greek philosophers like Socrates and Plato regarded the body as a useless encumbrance from which the spirit must be freed before it can achieve its destiny. But we are not simply a soul/spirit united to a body, any more than we are a body united to a soul. We are a complex unity: and Christianity regards the body and soul and spirit very highly. When God wanted to show us what he was really like, he inhabited a human body: 'Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/ Hail! the Incarnate Deity'. With our bodies we have an affinity with nature, and relate to the material universe; with our souls we have self-identity and relate to others; with our spirits we relate to God. We are like a two-storied house. The lower storey is the physical part of us - the body. The upper storey has a window looking out towards the earth, and a skylight through which we view the stars. But it's all one house!
So, use some biblical self-talk and say to yourself: 'I am important. God loves even me. I am an unrepeatable miracle of God's creation. I have significance, not because I am better or smarter than anyone else, but because I was made in his image. All through life I will be bombarded with negative feedback - from family, friends, enemies, advertisers, teachers, bosses, employees, or even my own brain. But I will agree with God about myself: he doesn't make junk. When I fail, I will learn from it and will not call myself a failure. When I succeed, I will give thanks to the One who endowed me with those gifts and abilities. When I am depressed, I will say "This, too will pass." And when elated, I shall praise him, my wonderful Lord and my God. I am important to God, and therefore to myself. I was died for. I belong to him. I am his special child. He loves me and forgives me, and I will serve him on earth and celebrate with him in heaven - forever. Wow!'
[Meursault, the hero of Camus' The Outsider, came early in life to the conclusion that life was meaningless. As he neared the time of his execution he tried to console himself...]: 'But,' I reminded myself, 'it's common knowledge that life isn't worth living anyhow.' And, on a wide view, I could see that it makes little difference whether one dies at the age of thirty or three score and ten.
Albert Camus, The Outsider, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1965, p. 112.
Back at the end of World War 1, the French Army found itself with a very sticky situation on its hands. There were upwards of a hundred soldiers who were suffering from amnesia because of shell shock, and due to a very faulty record system, not even the army knew the identity of these individuals. In every other way these men were healthy, and if they could only be returned to their families and their native surroundings, this in itself might quicken the return of their memories. But how to discover their identity and get them back into their family groupings? Someone came up with the idea of having an Identification Rally in Paris. It would be publicized throughout the whole country, and families who had relatives missing in action would be encouraged to attend. The plan was adopted, and the moment finally came when literally thousands of people gathered in one of the great plazas of the city. A platform had been erected in the centre where all could see, and one by one these men would step up to a microphone and look out anxiously over the crowd and say, 'Please, please, is there any one here who can tell me who I am?' A reporter who covered the event said it contained as much high drama as the events of war themselves.
There is something almost mythic about this scene, for in one way or another this is exactly what each of us has been doing from the moment we emerged from our mother's womb. We are creatures in search of an identity, all of us. We are forever attempting to discover who we are and why we are here and what kinds of capacities make up our uniqueness. There is no question closer to the centre of our human mystery than the question: 'Who am I?' and we are forever looking for people who can help us at this most foundational level.
John Claypool, 'Who Am I?' unpublished sermon, Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi, September 9, 1979.
G K Chesterton.
Shortest-ever letter to the Times of London.
Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice... [Humans] propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache: it is our nature.
C.S. Lewis, in a sermon preached at the beginning of World War I, The Weight of Glory, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1965, pp. 44f.
[Humans are] so the universe will have something to talk through, so God will have something to talk with, and so the rest of us will have something to talk about.
The biblical view of the history of humankind and of each individual man and woman is contained in the first three chapters of Genesis. We are created to serve God by loving him and each other in freedom and joy, but we invariably choose bondage and woe instead as prices not too high to pay for independence. To say that God drove Adam and Eve out of Eden is apparently a euphemism for saying that Adam and Eve like the rest of us made a break for it as soon as God happened to look the other way. If God really wanted to get rid of us, the chances are he wouldn't have kept hounding us every step of the way ever since.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, London: Collins, 1973, pp. 55,56.
This phrase, 'the image of God', is as important as anything in Scripture... I stand in the flow of history. I know my origin. My lineage is longer than that of the Queen of England. It does not start with the Battle of Hastings. It does not start with the beginnings of good families, wherever or whenever they lived. As I look at myself in the flow of space-time reality, I see my origin in... God's creating us in his own image.
Francis Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity, 1972, pp. 48, 53-54.
When God said, 'Let us make [human persons] in our image' he once and for all provided a basis for human dignity, worth and value. He sealed forever the fact that all persons who walked this earth would have the right to see themselves as creatures of worth, value and importance... No matter how deeply sin mars our image, one fact remains: we are in his image... The Bible describes sin as an intruder into human nature. It is a foreigner - uninvited by the Creator - and it will eventually be totally eliminated from our personalities. [Therefore] sin cannot serve as the basis for our identity... No matter how far we fall short, the image of God in us will triumph... We must base our principles of self-esteem on this most basic aspect of our nature. Only in the fact that we are God's creations do we have a solid basis for self-acceptance and self-love. Once we have this foundation solidly in place, we can take a look at the extent of our sinfulness and our shortcomings. We do this in order to see our need for growth and grace, however, and not as a measure of our worth or value.
Bruce Narramore, You're Someone Special, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1978, p.39.
[Meister Eckhart's spirituality is one] of blessing and of passing on a blessing to others by way of justice and compassion... Every creature is a word of God... Salvation for Eckhart is creativity plus justice, or creativity at justice-making... The purpose of living is not to flee the earth or run from its pleasures but to return the blessings one has received by blessing other creatures and other human generations as well... We are sons and daughters of God and therefore have divine blood within us... God is the Creator and we, the images of God, follow in God's footsteps.
Matthew Fox, Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart's Creation Spirituality in New Translation, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1980, excerpts from pp. 4-46.
Aligned with that long tradition that affirms God as creator of the world, we affirm that in God's provision for the beings that issue from God's creativity, grace is built into the processes of birth, of maternal or parental care and into the orders our species has evolved for the sustenance and maintenance of life. We might call the kind of grace that comes as part of creation ordinary grace.
But in insisting upon the radical freedom of God, we must also take account of what might be called extraordinary grace - the unpredictable and unexpected manifestations of God's care and of God's claims upon our loves and our passions...
We human beings seem to have a generic vocation - a universal calling - to be related to the Ground of Being in a relationship of trust and loyalty. That vocation calls us into covenantal relationship with the transcendent and with the neighbour... Human beings are genetically potentiated - are gifted at birth - with readiness to develop in faith... We can become co-responsible with God for the quality and extensiveness of faith on earth.
James Fowler, Stages of Faith, The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, Blackburn, Victoria: Dove Communications, 1981, pp. 302-303
Some think of a Christian as one who necessarily believes certain things. That Jesus was the son of God, say. Or that Mary was a virgin. Or that the Pope is infallible. Or that all other religions are wrong.
Some think of a Christian as one who necessarily does certain things. Such as going to church. Getting baptised. Giving up liquor and tobacco. Reading the Bible. Doing a good deed a day.
Some think of a Christian as just a Nice Guy.
Jesus said, `I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me' (John 14:6). He didn't say that any particular ethic, doctrine, or religion was the way, the truth, and the life. He said that he was. He didn't say that it was by believing or doing anything in particular that you could `come to the Father'. He said that it was only by him - by living, participating in, being caught up by, the way of life that he embodied, that was his way.
Thus it is possible to be on Christ's way and with his mark upon you without ever having heard of Christ, and for that reason to be on your way to God though maybe you don't even believe in God.
A Christian is one who is on the way, though not necessarily very far along it, and who has at least some dim and half- baked idea of whom to thank.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London, Collins, 1973, p.14.
One idea that has influenced me greatly is that the Jesus I love in the abstract can become concrete for me in every person I meet. If I look at the person a second time, I can see through him or her to Jesus. And Jesus says to me, 'Hey, love me in this person!' Loving Jesus through people has affected my life dramatically. Each person becomes sacred when I sense that on the other side of that person is Jesus waiting to be loved.
I want to emphasize that the person is not Jesus, the person is not God; but I can get at God through the person, and, strangely enough, God can get at me through that person too. In reality, you cannot love God without loving people. And God loves you through people...
If someone treats me like dirt and I'm about to get angry, I look at that person again and - if I'm prayerful - I can sense the presence of God on the other side of that person. When I sense God coming at me through that person, no matter how rotten the person is, my attitude toward him or her is altered.
Anthony Campolo, 'Loving Jesus through People' in Neff, pp. 101 - 102.
Too late have I loved you,
O beauty always old and ever new.
Behold you were within and I looked for you elsewhere
and in my weakness I ran after the beauty in the things you had made.
You were with me and I was not with you.
The things you created kept me from you.
You have called and have pierced my deafness.
You have shone out and have lifted my blindness.
You have sent out your sweetness and I have longed after you
and looked for you, I have tasted you and hungered after you.
And now my whole hope is in nothing else but in your great
mercy O Lord, my God.
Augustine, Praying with the Saints Dublin, Veritas Publications, 1989, p.19-20.
Lord, what incredible human creatures you have created. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Once we trudged from place to place, now we can fly faster than sound. Once we scratched the earth with crude wooden tools, now robots serve us. Once we chiseled inscriptions laboriously on parchment or stone; now we multiply words and ideas in milli-seconds. Once we looked at the moon and marveled; now we can walk on it. Someone somewhere first blew through a ram's horn; now we create mighty symphonies.
But remind us, Lord, that we have some fearful limitations. We humans possess real goodness but not sufficient goodness, real wisdom but not sufficient wisdom, real power but not sufficient power. So we need your goodness, wisdom and power. Help us, Lord, to use our intelligence to take account of the dangers that come from trusting solely in human intelligence.
You have made us for yourself, and we do not rest until we rest in you. O God, deny us peace, so that you may some day give us glory. Conquer our hearts through your sovereign power and in your mercy and love might we become the men and women you intended us to be. And if events seem to conspire against our desires, and we haven't the strength to impose our terms on life, give us the grace to accept the terms life offers us, because of our conviction that all of life is under your divine control.
As we study the majesty and glory of Jesus Christ, we see our destiny: what we could become if we too are truly in tune with your good will for us. May we become less and less enslaved by the desires of the moment, and freed by your ennobling love and forgiving grace to love you with all our heart.
We pray for your glory. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
A Benediction: Now to God who is able to strengthen you... to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 16:25, 26.