Netflix has a new movie called “Come Sunday” which recounts the story of Carlton Pearson, a Black, Pentecostal, Evangelical Bishop who becomes a devout universalist.
The movie is about 1:45 and well produced. Pearson is skillfully played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (Doctor Strange, 12 Years a Slave) and also includes a brief performance by Danny Glover (as his uncle), and Martin Sheen as Oral Roberts (an interesting choice given Sheen’s Catholicism). Pearson was educated at ORU and Oral considered him a son.
Pearson is an in demand preacher, running one of the largest churches in Oklahoma, where blacks and whites worship side by side. He is ready to evangelize anyone anytime. Winning souls, is his soul focus. He even recounts how he continues to struggle with his marriage, because he was taught that marriage was a distraction to effective ministry.
He is burned by his uncles suicide in prison, sure that he was going to hell. At the same time he is overwhelmed by the murder of 800,000 Rwandan’s during that countries genocide. It is in that context that he believes he hears the voice of God telling him that he should not be burdened because He has already saved the African’s – and everyone else! The balance of the movie shows the consequences of coming out with his new view: he is kicked out by the association of Bishops, loses most of his congregation and eventually the church building and in the end, becomes a speaker and minister in the universalist church. He appears to be quite active today.
While I’m not a universalist myself, I am sympathetic to their view. It was once said that everyone is a universalist at a funeral, and I think that’s not far off. I think, in Pearson’s case, he was reacting to a particular theology. A traditional gospel message that unless someone hears the gospel, they are damned. They do however make allowance for Jesus to appear in visions and dreams.
Scripture states that it is God’s desire that all should be saved (1 Tim 2:4) so it is under stable that some might find it hard to believe that God can’t make it happen, if it’s what his desire is. Yes, we get into issues of free will, etc, but still, I understand the argument, or rather, the desire.
Whether you would champion or mourn where Pearson finally land, I think the movie if worth watching for the questions it asks, such as does your theology adequately answer what does happen to those who have never heard the name of Christ? This demands a serious examination and honest answers.
I deactivated my Facebook account a couple of months ago and yesterday I deactivated messenger and Instagram. I’m still on Twitter for the time being, because I have a particular need for it, but I’m hoping to be able to ditch that as well by year’s end. I’m keeping LinkedIn for professional reasons, at least for now.
Despite being a fairly early adopter of a lot of technology, I was one of the last to jump on the Facebook bandwagon. I was skeptical of the service and wondered why anyone would voluntarily put that much personal information out there for people to see. But, feeling like I was missing out, I joined. And was immediately sucked in. I posted pictures and statuses, hoping for the red like button to illuminate. I won’t say I was addicted by any clinical definition, because quitting wasn’t really that hard, but I was definitely a heavy user and loved getting the little hits of recognition (likes, comments).
After many years of indulging in various forms of social media, I came to realize that it was not having an overwhelming positive effect on my life. Indeed, I now believe that the positives did not outweigh the negatives.
So, here are some of the primary reasons, I decided to let go.
1 – It’s a time suck that prevents me from getting more meaningful things done. I recently finished reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. In it, he makes the case that most of what we find useful about Social Media has legible ROI on our lives, and should be eliminated in favour of pursuing more worthy work (note: work doesn’t necessarily mean our employment. It could be a hobby, etc.). I also recommend his other books, particularly, *So Good They Can’t Ignore You*
2 – I’ve read some research that indicates were only meant to have a small number of close friends and despite the rise of social media, most of us only have 2 or so close friends. Social media gives us the illusion of being closer to others and knowing more about them, then maybe we really do. Long before social media came around, we lost the concept of an acquaintance. Merriam-Webster defines this as: a person whom one knows but who is not a particularly close friend. We’re all supposed to be super friends, because we can share the most intimate (or close to it) parts of our lives online. It can be stressful to think you need to keep up with your feed, so you know what’s going on in other people lives. And, let’s face it, we all know social media is largely a lie. Or least, only a partial truth. We post the best of everything and rarely the worst. So, time to step away from it and get back to some reality.
Also, when I looked at my actually messaging, I realized that out of the 200-300 friends I have, I only message about 10 of them with any regularity. If I didn’t have their contact info, I sent them one last message asking for it. I can now phone, text, or email, when I feel I have something to say or ask, and not just because they pop up on my list and I think “Oh, I should message them, they’re online now”.
3 – I recently watched the movie Snowden and the documentary Citizen Four. Both recount the story of whistleblower Edward Snowden as he revealed the extent of the US Government’s surveillance programs. He also revealed details of the PRISM program, where it was revealed that the various spying agencies have virtually free access to the servers of multiple technology companies, including social media sites. So, my original unease with social media was correct, they really are watching us and more than perhaps we thought at first.
I’m not a paranoid person, I just believe in the rule of law and the concept of human rights. And while it is a common refrain to say, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about”, I think that misses the point. The government has no moral right to our information without our informed consent. It doesn’t matter if I’m doing anything “wrong”, they shouldn’t be looking in the first place. (But, seriously, if you do nothing else, cover up your webcam).
Jesus had 12 apostles, not 300. We weren’t biologically designed to manage this level of relationship with as many people as social media would want us to. When I emailed my friends and told them, many of them expressed support and a desire to do the same thing. There’s something that keeps us there and I don’t think it’s healthy when it can be that hard for people to quit. FOMO is a real cultural phenomenon and should be heavily scrutinized.
I am aware that this has implication for this blog. I can’t just publish it to all the various for the world to see, but that’s okay. I write this for me and whoever finds it.
So, those are some of my primary reasons for ditching social media (or most of it). My friends are still my friends and we will still email or phone or meet in person or whatever. But, the world doesn’t need access to children’s photos, or my every thought (no one really cares). Plus, I’ve got this blog, so if you want to know what I think, just stay here and you’ll get more than 140 characters of thought. Hopefully, that’s more worth reading.
Originally preached in Chapel at Tyndale University College & Seminary on Wednesday, July 5th
Listen to the audio, here:
How did you first hear of Jesus Christ? How was the faith transmitted to you? Do you ever think of what it took for the story of God to reach us in the year 2017, over 2000 years after the death of Christ? It’s easy to say, “well God makes it happen”. This is true, but God doesn’t work in isolation. He partners with us and that partnership doesn’t always seem fair or easy or for that matter bloodless. Much blood has been spilled to ensure the survival and continuation of this faith we call Christianity. We still encounter it today; thinking of our brothers and sisters in Syria and other places. I want today, to give us pause and cause to consider what it has taken to get us the message today. We will do this by delving into the brief but pivotal story of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church.
To talk about the life of St. Stephen, we need to remind ourselves where we are in the story of Scripture. Through the Word, earth and the heavens were created and life began. The curse entered the world and so did death. The covenants of Abraham and Moses were established, leading to the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Humble and meek as a baby was He born. 33 years did He live, teaching and ministering to those he encountered preaching of the kingdom of God and encouraging all to follow Him to a better way. He was then arrested and condemned to death. 3 days later he rose from the dead and then ascended to Heaven. His life, work, and message were his legacy to the church. It was entrusted to them and through pentecost the church began.
As the mission developed it became clear that the Apostles couldn’t and shouldn’t do everything. They then appointed Deacons, of which one was St. Stephen. We don’t know a lot of about Stephen, but what we do know is important and his story his pivotal for the spread of the gospel.
As soon as Stephen is commissioned by the apostles he is described as a man full of faith and the holy spirit. A man who is full of grace and power, who performed many wonders and signs, in his ministry to widows. It was not long however before he drew the negative attention of the Jewish leaders and brought to trial on falsified charges. His face was described as being as bright as an angels.
The persecution of Stephen is a wonderful example of a believer who listened to his master and trusted the teaching he had received. In the gospel of Luke, it records Jesus as warning:
“12“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13“It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14“So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15 for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.”
When pressed to refute the charges again him, Stephen didn’t so much offer up a defence as he did a witness. His speech is masterful and leads us through the stories of Abraham, Jospeh and Moses. He reminds them what God did through each of these men. He talks about “our ancestors”, “our people”, how Moses received life-giving words to “passed on to us”, how “our ancestors” refused to listen to Moses. Further he reminds them that it is again “our ancestors” who carried the tabernacle with them through the wilderness. He is constantly including himself in the story – “our ancestors”, “our people”…
Then, he drops the bombshell and signs his own death warrant. The Jewish system was completely connected to the temple system. But, God, as revealed through Jesus is a boundless God. God’s love is so great that he circumvented the temple system and came to earth to bring salvation to His creation.
Stephen says: “The Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands… Then, quoting the prophet Isaiah says ”
Heaven is my throne,
And the earth is my foot stool.
Could you build me a temple as a good as that?
Asks the Lord.
Could you you build me such a resting place?
Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?
Queue the fireworks. Stephen has just used their own scriptures against them. This is a direct challenge to the temple system of the day. But wait, he’s not done yet. He was a man full of grace, spirit and power and he has’t even mentioned Jesus Christ yet.
Here we see a change in Stephen’s emphasis. No longer is he talking of “OUR” – our ancestors, our people, etc. As one who has accepted Christ’s message he knows the rest doesn’t apply to Him.
He continues and says “YOU stubborn people” – some translations will say stiff-necked – YOU stubborn people! YOU are heathen! – Stephen is not interested in making friends. You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. In the greek, the word ‘heathen’ can also mean ‘uncircumcised’. Now, remember, circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant and an absolutely central component of their faith. He was now accusing them of being surface level believers. That their circumcision was literally, only skin deep. It did not penetrate their heart. We would hear similar words from Paul. In Philippians 3:3, Paul writes: For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, OR in Romans 2:29 “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”
Must YOU forever resist the Holy Spirit.
YOUR ancestors did and so do YOU
Name one prophet YOUR ancestors didn’t persecute
THEY even killed the one who predicted the coming of the RIGHTEOUS ONE – THE MESSIAH
Whom YOU betrayed and murdered
YOU deliberately disobeyed God’s law.
YOU disobeyed God’s law
YOU are HEATHEN!
Stephen clearly wan’t trying to talk himself out of the charge or his impending fate. He has submitted himself totally and completely the will of God, the spreading of the Gospel and calling the Jews to repentance. He was trying to save them. Stephen was directly pointing the finger of guilt away from him and towards them. He was calling them to a life free from the temple system, free from following strict laws, free from a limiting view of God to following the God of boundless love. To the truth that God is Love as personified in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Now, Stephens was standing trial in front of the Sanhedrin. The council, essentially the high court. So, we might expect that what came next would be the result of careful thought and deliberation. In fact – to skip to the end for a moment – Stephen’s death does not appear to have been an official judgement, but the result of a mob mentality. We know this because it does not appear that under Roman rule they had the authority to assign someone the death penalty. In John 18:31 the Jewish leaders, in order to convince Pilate to crucify Jesus, tell him they “have no right to execute anyone” and thus the death of Stephen becomes a mob murder, rather than a state execution.
Stephen is granted a great comfort by God, when he looks up and sees the glory of God and sees Jesus standing in the place of honour at God’s right hand. It is curious that Jesus here is standing. Normally we are used to hearing of him sitting at the right hand… Is this just a different way of depicting Jesus? Is he standing in preparation of welcoming home his good and faithful servant, or is this an allusion to Daniel 7: 13-14, which reads.
I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.
Here the Son of Man, as Jesus also describes himself, is standing in judgement and if correct, this may mean that Stephen’s vision means that Jesus is standing in judgement of his accusers. So, no wonder then that his accusers became all the more enraged when he TOLD them what he had seen.
“Look! I see the Son of Man standing in the place of honour at God’s right hand!”
They rushed Stephen, taking off their own clothes – presumably to give them more freedom in the rock throwing arm – and began stoning Stephen – careful to ensure that they did so outside the boundaries of the holy city.
Stephen’s life, once again parallels that of Christ. In his anguish, in his pain, he manages to get out the prayer: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” AND “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!”
And then he died. But with his death, God was not defeated. His plans that all be saved were not derailed.
With this event, the first great persecution of the church began. The chief persecutor was Saul. Saul thought nothing of Stephen’s death and it seemed to embolden him and energize him to pursue his duties with vicious cruelty and vengeful anger!
What happens next is perhaps one of the most awesome and amazing bits of God’s story and early church.
The believers began to scatter all over; except that is for the Apostles. The greek word for scatter is as for the scattering of seed. Perhaps, like mustard seeds.
As the Gospel of Matthew records, Jesus said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches.”
The grains of mustard seed that were the early church was forcibly distributed throughout God’s creation. The enemy was not winning; indeed this is an amazing example of using the enemy’s tactics against him. The seeds were spread and were planted. The gospel was spoken far and wide to eager ears, evil spirits were cast out screaming and the paralyzed and lame were healed, and many believed and were baptized. And there was great joy! And in the end, of course, Saul himself came to know the Lord Christ, repent of his wicked ways, and spread the Gospel even further, including through his letters so that we too may benefit from his zeal for the gospel.
St. Stephen, the first martyr of the church, did not die for nothing. His death was the catalyst for the spreading of the gospel defeating all the enemies designs. He also helped usher in one of the greatest evangelists of the new testament: Paul.
Stephen trusted in the legacy of Christ. He trusted in His teachings and message. Christ’s legacy of love inspired Stephen to serve widows, to exalt the name of Christ, even unto death. Even his death, with his plea that his murderers not be judged for their actions, was Christ like.
To all the Apostles, disciples, and believers who we read about in Scripture we owe our thanks.
To the early church, who stewarded the faith and the scriptures down through the ages, so that 2000 years later we can be here, living this faith, we owe our thanks. To the preachers of old, down to those who passed the faith on to us, we owe thanks. The faith depends on no one person, but an unbroken chain of disciples, filled with the spirit, who have as faithfully as they could and with the stewardship of the Holy Spirit, passed on the faith from generation to generation.
The question for us today is simple: in all the ways that we can live out our faith, in all that Christ has taught us, are we honouring our Christian past. Do we live in a way that honours our heritage, the blood shed by the Apostles, the witness of the martyrs past and present?
That is our call. To continue to pass this faith, bought by the blood of Christ and those who have come before us, down to the next generation and to encourage each other as we run the race.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
You’ve been up all night and day. Not a wink of sleep. Whenever you have a moment to sleep, you are torn between cleaning and tidying up your messed up dwelling or trying to catch some zzz’s. Whenever you choose the latter, the second you hit the pillow, the cries of your newborn wakes you just seconds after you close your eyes.
Through your tears you hold your baby, bouncing, soothing, whispering to them that it’s ok and they can stop crying. Why won’t you stop crying? Are you dirty? I’ll change your diaper. Are you still hungry? I’ll feed you one more time. I’ve done all that, why won’t you stop crying? Do you have gas? I’ve been trying to make you burp for an hour. I heard a couple of small burps, even a big one, but you still won’t stop crying.
Please Lord, I just want to sleep.
I didn’t sign up for this.
Parenting is hard. Especially your first. Especially the first three months.
While I believe there is lots we can say about the awesome responsibility and privilege that is raising a child, it drives me beyond insane when I see people overly romanticize parenting; especially those initial three months. You can be told over and over again that parenting is hard, but until you endure it, you can’t truly be shown to an adequate level of understanding what that means. Unless you’ve been through painful, prolonged sleep deprivation, you can’t know what it’s like. You certainly don’t know what it’s like when the reason you can’t sleep is the cries of your child. The cries of this child who has only one way to communicate with the world and it’s through their tears and their silence.
What do those tears mean? That is for you to detect and figure out. Sometimes there is no answer.
May the Lord have mercy on you if your child has colic.
Our first child (we have two) had colic. Hours long, virtually non-stop crying episodes in the middle of the night. How many times I saw my wife, after trying for hours to calm him, would walk out of his room in desperation. Tears spilling out, wondering how she’s possibly going to deal with this one more minute. There was little I could do to support her, other than listen and comfort. I had to work after all, and that requires driving, so I needed my sleep too. At least a modicum of sleep.
That’s not being supportive, some say. You should have taken turns, swapped out and given her a break.
Maybe. Maybe, you’re right. This is the reality of parenthood. Someone does the lions share of child care and one does the lions share of making money so the roof stays over our head, the food stay in the fridge and the oven and lights turn on. Sometimes, this means an unequal distribution of the hard stuff. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of early morning drives where I would take our son on a drive, which would settle him. I would take him 15 mins south to the lake. The sun would dawn and we would both sleep. It was exhausting, but I also knew it was giving my wife at least a couple of hours of sleep she desperately needed to get through the day. Then I would go home and sleep. Missing a day of work. I used half my yearly allotment of sick leave in one month.
The first days of your first child can be extremely difficult. Or they could be easy. But, if you tell me they were easy, I’m not going to believe you. If for no other reason than I don’t want to think it could have been easier. The 100 days of hell were just that. We became the living, walking dead. Able to function on an almost primal level, but not much beyond that. Work, when I was able to go to work, because I had had enough sleep and could safely drive, became almost like respite care. A time to get away from the terror of the screamer.
I love my son. And my other son. I learned that you can love someone even though they cause you so much grief and hardship. Intended or not. Love is a choice you make. Every. Single. Day. In those 100 days however, it seemed that the spectrum of time was sharply reduced and it became an hour by hour decision, if not minute by minute.
The reality is that holding a screaming baby close to your chest, puts their mouth right next to your ear, making the screams that much louder and visceral. They cut you to the core. You want to simultaneously fling the baby away from you and at the same time hold them closer. Holding them closer: hoping that you can make them stop if they just feel your breath, your heartbeat, your love a bit more. It doesn’t help. Sometimes love isn’t enough to make someone else’s pain stop.
This is the beginning of compassion.
Compassion is a desire to end someone’s pain, yes. But it is more than that. It is the willingness to sit with them through the pain. To take on some of that burden for yourself. To let them know they are not alone.
Love demands compassion.
In those 100 days, we learned about compassion and devotion. I learned by watching my wife consistently recommit to our son. Bounce. Tears. Bounce. Tears. Repeat. I think that must be God’s cycle sometimes. He teaches, he prods, he pokes. We disobey. God cries. Repeat. Never giving up, never stopping, never imposing.
You can’t impose on a newborn. They don’t know what they’re doing themselves, let along what you want them to do.
I suppose in a way, I was her Aaron to her Moses. I played a supporting role. That doesn’t denigrate fatherhood or manhood. It recognizes the supreme sacrifice that mothers make and the resultant sacrifice fathers must make. Food needs to be made. Bills need to be paid. You know, the necessities of adult life. Just help her get through the next hour. The next day. Eventually those days add up to a week and a month. Then finally, 100 days hits and a switch is flipped.
You start sleeping again. You feel human again. The tears subside. You take a deep breath of relief and start thinking long term again. You’ve made it through survivor without being voted off and now you can get on with the job of raising a family.
Parenting is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. You can’t know how hard it is if you don’t have a child, and that’s a good thing. If you knew would you really do it. Parenting is a reflective exercise. Yes, there is planning. Sort of. (Can you hear God laughing?), but it’s ultimately a reflective exercise. So is much of life, I suppose.
If you are not a parent yet, are pregnant or thinking about being pregnant, I want to encourage you. You’re on the rollercoaster as it slowly rises to the top of the first curve. You’re about to drop super fast down that first mountain and you’ll feel like everything is out of control. You will get through it though. Almost every has. Spouses, remember each other. Have each other’s backs. Husbands, remember to “love your wife, just as Christ loved the church”. Support her. Love her. Cry with her. Make sure she knows you’re there for her.
If you have just become a parent and are saying “I didn’t sign up for this”, I say with love “yes you did”. There’s just no way to tell you that in advance. It gets better. It really does. Screw the fairy tales you were told. This is hard stuff. But you will learn so much about yourself, your spouse and God, if you only keep your eyes open and pay attention.
In the end, this is so worth it. Seeing your child grow and develop and learn, is one of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever witnessed or been a part of. My love for my children and my wife, continues to grow and deepen. But, there are the hard bits.
Parenting is amazing, earth shattering, terrible, horrible, and wonderful. All at the same time. Enjoy the ride.
I’ve recently begun reading through Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si (Praised Be To You) with a friend at work. It’s 184 pages, so not a quick read, though the language isn’t very technical (so far), so most of me readers should be able to get through it pretty quick if you want to.
It’s broken up into 9 separate chapters, each covering a different angle. I’m partway through chapter 2, and so far I’m enjoying it immensely. There is much that is challenging in it, comforting, and several things that make me grateful for the Catholic perspective on the issue of creation.
I don’t intend to provide a commentary on the entire letter, but only to highlight some of what my friend and I found of interest. I will post more as it appeals to me.
FOR ALL THE CHURCH For all the talk that this is the “climate change” encyclical (and it is that), it is much more than that. I would submit that even if you don’t believe humans are contributing to global warming and negative climate change, what he presents should be taken on board by all Christians, as a call to the church universal’s responsibility to the creation, of which it is a part. There is a way in which we are to relate to the rest of creation which is proper and ordered, and the all too common way today, which is disordered.
Quoting Patriarch Bartholomew, who wrote “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. (page 8) Using strong language, which will continue through the document, the Patriarch states that “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.
Drawing on the life of his name sake, Pope Francis draws on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, who is describes as a “mystic and a pilgrim”, who was particularly concerned with “God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. ” (page 9).
Deriding our current mechanistic hermeneutic to reading the book of nature, (Pope) Francis, further recounts that (Saint) Francis’ “…response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. (page 10).
There is much talk of “calling” today. What do I feel called to? To what is God calling me to devote my life? Do we feel called to live in harmony with the rest of the created world, of which we are an integral part? Pope Francis believes our duty is clear: “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.”
ULTIMATE RESPONSIBILITY NOT AUTHORITY We all come from God. Yes, we have been given a unique place in the hierarchy of creation, but that position comes with ultimate responsibility, not ultimate power. It also restricts our power over our fellow creation. Francis connects our humanity with the necessity to fall in plan with God’s plan.
“Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and “take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system”.8 Accordingly, our human ability to transform reality must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all that is.” (Page 6)
He further quotes Pope Benedict XVI who wrote “the book of nature is one and indivisible” and that “the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence”. We can’t go on living our lives assuming we can do whatever we want, just because we’re human, and think that the impact of those actions, are amoral, or worse, condoned by God.
Our responsibility to the rest of creation, is perhaps first a responsibility to recognize and affirm that all of creation brings glory to God, not just us. We must therefore tread carefully when we impact the ability of the rest of creation to bring glory to the God that created all us. Francis uses quite forceful language when he emphasizes this point: “Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.” (page 25).
We, rightfully I think, applaud our artisans who create beautiful art and music, but what homage do we pay to the one who created the forests and the sky, the sunrise and sunset? Do we honour the artist by defiling their painting? Do we scrawl our own initials on it, and claim it to be our own? Never. So, why do we do the same with the paintings of God? Do we seek to replace the beauty of God with that which we create? Believing we can best the Creator-God?
Francis observes “We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.” (page 26).
We are all part of creation. Our unique and special relationship to God and His creation, is an authority in as much as we have ultimate responsibility, not ultimate authority. As our Lord Christ Jesus teaches us, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16 NIV).
I just finished reading a wonderful spiritual reflection by an Episcopal priest, Marcus Halley, on why he has started wearing his cassock again. It’s beautifully written and although it is mainly of interest to his fellow Priests, he asks a question that’s important to all of us: Are we becoming too familiar with holy things?
The Eucharist became another “task,” something else “to do” on a Sunday morning as we priests, the “professionally religious,” engage the hundreds of people who come to Church looking for something – peace, joy, community, love, fulfillment, coffee. It became a ritual in the worst sense – a habit that I was too familiar with. That Sunday morning when I stood before God’s altar, holding the bread and wine that still seemed to me to be just bread and just wine, I had a moment when I wanted to cry because despite my best effort, I had become too familiar with holy things.
As a former pastor and now, sometimes small group leader, there’s nothing I enjoy more than leading communion. I think it’s one of the most amazing gifts the church has been given. It’s a mystery, it’s wonder, it’s basic, it’s deep, it’s… Something only God could construct.
Even if you don’t subscribe to a sacramental understand and prefer the term ordinance, the question is still valid. Do you take your Bible for granted, do you take the Church and other Christians for granted? How about your baptismal call? How about the death on the cross and resurrection of our Lord? How about your salvation and the leading of The Spirit, working in and through your life? Do you take the very existence of your faith for granted? Is it so well worn that it is no longer new?
Like Fr. Halley’s professor said, we must “always … be on our guard against becoming “too familiar” with holy things.”
Fr. Halley found renewal in taking his eucharistic preparation more seriously. It helped him renew his call as a Priest. How can you renew your baptismal call to live out the resurrection everyday, to be a witness to the Gospel and to seek the leadership of the Holy Spirit daily. Are there aspects of belief that are a little dried up and needs the living water of our Lord to renew them?
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his face continually. Psalm 105:4
I’ve created this post to try and curate the best articles, podcasts, etc, that I come across that address the concepts of race, white privilege, etc. As my time is extremely limited, I don’t pretend that this is an exhaustive list. It is sadly limited by my network. Thankfully, my network includes some pretty smart folks. If you have any suggestions for recourses to add, let me know and I’ll consider them.
Drew GI Hart: On Race, the Church, Anabaptism, and Black Theology, Seminary Dropout podcast (recorded long before Ferguson, etc, but still a good listen about undercover racism. Plus, Drew’s just cool to listen too).
Kyle Canty: On Privilege, Ferguson, and History, Seminary Dropout podcast
Anabaptists are fond of saying that they read the plain meaning of scripture first, before we try to do any gymnastics to explain what a verse means or doesn’t mean. Oh, and we don’t start with our theological teleology and back the truck up into our reading of scripture either; no never. This sounds well and good and noble, but sometimes I really wonder how much this holds up.
Take this verse for instance: 1 Peter 3:21
Baptism, which corresponds to this, 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,
and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
The thing it corresponds to, is Noah and his ark safely conveying people and animals through the flood waters to safety. It is, of course, historical anabaptist doctrine that baptism is only for those who profess faith in Christ and that it is an outward sign of something that God has already done on the inside. In other words, it has no actual metaphysical effect on the believer.
In that context, I’ve always struggled with 1 Peter 3:21. On plain reading, it clearly seems to be saying that baptism is salvific (having a direct metaphysical connection to salvation). “Baptism, which now saves you”. It’s really hard for me to see how we didn’t read our theology back into this verse. The explanation of how why this IS NOT actually making a connection between water baptism and salvation seem to me, at times, to be gymnastics worthy of the Olympics.
First, a selection of perspectives, found in various commentaries and the Church Fathers (sorry, some of these selections are quite lengthy).
First:Baptism has no real efficacy:
From the New American Commentary:
The typological thrust of the text is now specifically stated, expressed in the NIV by the verb “symbolizes,” though in the Greek the word is a noun that could be translated as “type” or “pattern” (antitypon; cf. Heb 9:24). The water that deluged the world in Noah’s day and through which Noah was saved functions as a model or pattern for Christian believers.324 But to what is the water related in the new covenant? The answer is baptism.
From the Holman New Testament Commentary
Verse 21 has also generated great debate. This writer believes that Peter used the historical account of Noah and his family as an analogy for the triumphant salvation provided through Christ. His reference to baptism, however, is not water baptism. The flood waters did not save Noah—quite the opposite. The waters of the flood destroyed everyone in judgment. Noah passed through those waters safely because he and his family were placed securely in the ark. Water baptism does not fit the picture and is not the point.
The point of the analogy becomes clear when we recall that when a person accepts Jesus Christ as personal Savior, he or she is placed into “the body of Christ.” At that moment the Holy Spirit enters that person’s life as a permanent resident. This action is described in the New Testament as “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” (see 1 Cor. 12:13). This is Peter’s emphasis. When you accept Christ, you are placed spiritually in Christ. As this occurs, you stand before God with a “good conscience” (v. 21) because your sins have been forgiven. Water baptism does not provide a person with a clear conscience before God; baptism by the Holy Spirit does.
Second: An attempt at a middle ground
From the Crossway Classic Commentary on 1, 2 Peter
That baptism has power is expressly stated: baptism that now saves you. What kind of power this is, is equally clear from the way it is here expressed. It is not by a natural force of the element. Even when it is used sacramentally it can only wash away the dirt of the body, as its physical power reaches no further. But since it is in the hand of the Spirit of God, as other sacraments are and as the Word itself is, it can purify the conscience and convey grace and salvation to the soul through its reference to and union with what it represents. It saves by the pledge of a good conscience toward God, and that by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Thus, we have a true account of this power, and so of other sacraments, and we find the error of two extremes. First, that of those who ascribe too much to them, as if they worked through a natural, inherent value and carried grace in them inseparably. Second, the error of those who ascribe too little to them, making them only signs and badges of our profession. Signs they are, but more than signs that merely represent something. They are the means exhibiting and seals confirming grace to the faithful. But the working of faith and the conveying of Christ into the soul are not put into them to accomplish in themselves but are still in the supreme hand that appointed them. God causes the souls of his own to receive these seals of his with faith and makes them effectual to confirm the faith that receives them in this way. They are then, in a word, neither empty signs to those who believe, nor effectual causes of grace to those who do not believe.
Third: Baptism is efficacious
According to: Ambrose of Milan. “On the Mysteries” and the Treatise “On the Sacraments.” Therefore, when the Lord saw that the transgressions of mankind were multiplied, he saved the righteous one alone with his offspring, but he bade the water rise even above the mountains. And therefore, in that flood all corruption of the flesh perished, only the family and pattern of the righteous survived. Is not the flood the same thing as baptism, whereby all sins are washed away, only the mind and grace of the righteous is revived?
According to: St. Cyprian, The Epistles of Cyprian, Epistle LXXV 2. But that the Church is one, the Holy Spirit declares in the Song of Songs, saying, in the person of Christ, “My dove, my undefiled, is one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her.” Concerning which also He says again, “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring sealed up, a well of living water.”9 But if the spouse of Christ, which is the Church, is a garden enclosed; a thing that is closed up cannot lie open to strangers and profane persons. And if it is a fountain sealed, he who, being placed without has no access to the spring, can neither drink thence nor be sealed. And the well also of living water, if it is one and the same within, he who is placed without cannot be quickened and sanctified from that water of which it is only granted to those who are within to make any use, or to drink. Peter also, showing this, set forth that the Church is one, and that only they who are in the Church can be baptized; and said, “In the ark of Noah, few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water; the like figure where-unto even baptism shall save you;” proving and attesting that the one ark of Noah was a type of the one Church. If, then, in that baptism of the world thus expiated and purified, he who was not in the ark of Noah could be saved by water, he who is not in the Church to which alone baptism is granted, can also now be quickened by baptism. Moreover, too, the Apostle Paul, more openly and clearly still manifesting this same thing, writes to the Ephesians, and says, “Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water.”2 But if the Church is one which is loved by Christ, and is alone cleansed by His washing, how can he who is not in the Church be either loved by Christ, or washed and cleansed by His washing?
Next, from First and Second Peter, Jude: Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture 21–22 Stepping aside from his narrative of Christ’s journey, Peter now applies the waters of the flood to us: This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. This is the only explicit reference to baptism in 1 Peter, though baptismal imagery and themes are found throughout the letter (1:3, 22–23; 2:1–3). The syntax of this verse is extremely complicated, and scholars continue to debate how to render it appropriately in English. Yet all agree that the meaning is fairly clear. “Prefigured” translates a rare word in the Bible that indicates here a divinely ordained correspondence between the waters of the flood and the waters of baptism. What happened to Noah is similar to what happens to us, and we can learn about our baptism by understanding Noah’s passage through the waters of the flood. What then is Peter saying? Just as Noah and his family were saved from death by passing through the waters of the flood, so we are saved from sin by passing through the waters of baptism. In both Noah’s case and ours God himself is the true cause of salvation, but the waters are the instrument through which salvation comes.
Peter goes on to clarify that baptism is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience. It is not perfectly clear what Peter means by this contrast. He seems to be saying that baptism does not consist in cleansing the body from dirt (literally, “filth”) but in our appeal to God to give us a “clear conscience.”
A “clear conscience” (literally, a “good conscience,” the same as in 3:16) is similar in meaning to a pure heart; that is, those who have a clear conscience are morally upright and pure. By submitting to the waters of baptism we purify our souls (1:22) by asking God to cleanse us within. It is God’s power that brings about a “clear conscience,” but by actively submitting to baptism we make an appeal to God to accomplish this in our hearts. Some scholars believe that “appeal” is better translated as “pledge,” such that baptism is “the pledge of a good conscience toward God” (NIV). In this interpretation, we are not making an appeal to God to give us a clear conscience but are pledging ourselves to live with a clear conscience in an upright way. Both senses are true: baptism includes our appeal to God and our commitment to him.
In a final phrase Peter shows that the true power for salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is not the water itself that saves, and even less our appeal or commitment to God; it is God who saves us through the resurrection of Christ
Finally, we can’t conclude such a brief outline of views, without quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1094:
It is on this harmony of the two Testaments that the Paschal catechesis of the Lord is built, and then, that of the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church. This catechesis unveils what lay hidden under the letter of the Old Testament: the mystery of Christ. It is called “typological” because it reveals the newness of Christ on the basis of the “figures” (types) which announce him in the deeds, words, and symbols of the first covenant. By this re-reading in the Spirit of Truth, starting from Christ, the figures are unveiled.16 Thus the flood and Noah’s ark prefigured salvation by Baptism, as did the cloud and the crossing of the Red Sea. Water from the rock was the figure of the spiritual gifts of Christ, and manna in the desert prefigured the Eucharist, “the true bread from heaven.”
Now, back to Sacred Scripture: There is this particularly odd verse from Ephesians: “25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,”
So, now baptism is connected to preaching?
Ok, I’m tired just thinking about it now. Truthfully, I’m less concerned about “what” baptism does, as I am the clear necessity for it. I am often distressed at the length of time it seems to take professing Christians to be baptized (if they have not already been as infants and therefore they may legitimately be struggling with the decision to be re-baptized).
… But, that’s for another post.
Essentially, the point of this post was to point out that there is valid diversity of opinion, and that the “plain” reading of Scripture is maybe not os plain after all. Let’s give each other some grace as we work through these things.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
In the passage before the one we heard today, Jesus was teaching his disciples the beatitudes: Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. He tells us to Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven...
Those who do the blessings are his people, his church. If we stop being salty, that is, if we stop being and acting like His people who spread and teach the Gospel of Love, then we are like salt mixed with other impure substances. We will, as the Gospel of Luke tells us, become “of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away”.
A world class chef works hard to put just the right mix of spices on his food, so it tastes exactly right. Then when the food comes out to the guest, someone who doesn’t know better, may immediately pick up the salt or pepper and throw it on the food, completely destroying what the Chef intended the food to taste like.
God wants his people to taste a certain way. He keeps it simple to understand, but in a way that will take a lifetime to comprehend: which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” … . You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
As Jesus says he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. The law properly understood is Love. Love the Lord your God with everything you are, and love your neighbour as you would love yourself. The more you love, the more salty you become. The more you study the words of God, the more time you spend with him in prayer, the more you come to know him and the more you will radiate his light to a dark and hurting world.
Jesus is the light of the world and just as one flame lit all these candles behind me, the flame of the holy sprit lives in each of us and reflects the love of Christ to the world around us. Do not hide this love from anyone, not a single person. It is easy to love someone who loves you, or at least doesn’t annoy you. To love one who appears undeserving of your love is an act that is only possible through divine intervention. Allow the love of Christ to flow through you to each other. While you are here in this place, recovering, I encourage you to do things that will increase your saltiness. Comfort each other, pray with and for each other, and study God’s words if you can get a Bible. Jesus says we ARE the salt and we ARE light. We are to be salt and light where we are right now today, not just some day one day.
You are all here for different reasons, but you can all show the love of Christ while you’re here. Show each other what it means to love and to be loved by Jesus.