Christianity is more than a doctrine. It is Christ Himself, living in those whom He has united to Himself in one Mystical Body. It is the mystery by which the Incarnation of the Word of God continues and extends itself throughout the history of the world, reaching into the souls and lives of all men, until the final completion of God’s plan. Christianity is the “re-establishment of all things in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:10)
Thomas Merton – The Living Bread [ix]
I have cherished friends of the Egyptian Coptic Church of Saint Mary’s & Saint Rouis here in Memphis. Several of Saint John’s household joined these brothers and sisters for prayers this week after the bombing of Saint Peter’s in Cairo last Sunday. Please find below the pastoral letter from His Grace, Bishop Youssef of the Southern Diocese of the American Coptic Church. His Grace was most kind to me when I was presented to him a couple of years ago at a Bible Study he conducted at his annual visitation.
COLLEYVILLE, TX. December 11, 2016 — A message from His Grace regarding the bombing at St. Peter Coptic Orthodox Church in Abassiya, Egypt.
Today, heaven’s gates opened wide to many victims of terrorism, angels placed the crowns of martyrdom upon their heads, and our Lord Jesus Christ welcomed them into the paradise of joy. Shortly after receiving the Holy Eucharist, a bomb exploded on the side of this ancient church, where women, infants, and young children await their turn to partake of the Holy Eucharist. There is no God in any religion that can accept this savagery, for it is incomprehensible that heaven can be comprised of murderers. Where is the bravery in these atrocities? Where is the heroism in such violent acts? Bravery and heroism are marked by the courage of all Christians, regardless of their dire circumstances, whether poor, ill, or disadvantaged, but greet each day with faith and fill every church in this great land that has been blessed by the blood of the martyrs for more than 2000 years. We are not praying for our martyrs, for they have won the kingdom of God. We are praying and fasting for those who commit these cowardice acts and hide behind the cloak of religion to destroy a nation trying to recover from years of the poison of extremism. We are praying and fasting, not for our martyrs, for they have obtained forgiveness through the body and blood of Christ, but for those who do not know the meaning of love and will not be forgiven until they learn the power of love. We are praying and fasting, not for our martyrs, for they held their children in their arms so that they would grow in their footsteps and follow the rules of love and forgiveness, but for those who are steered by hate and teach their children to kill. We are praying and fasting for the healing of all Egyptians, Christians and Muslims, that we may live together in peace, safety, and civility for the good of all citizens. We are praying and fasting, not for our martyrs, for they followed God’s commandments, but for those who do not denounce these horrific crimes, that will worsen matters by not taking a stand. We are praying and fasting that the Lord will be swift in hearing the call of the martyrs’ blood and bring these murderers to justice here on earth and in eternity. May the Lord comfort the families and loved ones of our beloved martyrs and may He root out all aggression from His beloved Egypt, and may He heal the pain of all Egyptians suffering from the consequences of terrorism.
“And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry that we speak of a human kingdom. Instead, we speak of that which is with God, as can be shown from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, even though they know that death is the punishment awarded to those who so confess. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we would deny our Christ, so that we might not be killed. We would try to escape detection, so that we might obtain what we hope for. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since death is a debt which must at all events be paid” (Justin Martyr, c. AD 150, First Apology 11).
We ask the Lord to protect His church and the Christians all over the world, to grant His peace upon us, to support our beloved father and patriarch, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, and to guide all the leaders and governors entrusted with the lives of all the people in the whole world.
Glory be to God, forever. Amen.
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
PROPER 20C – SEPTEMBER 18, 2016 – SAINT JOHN’S EPISCOPAL – MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
The manager was never sure who turned him in. But somehow the master got wind of his little “on the side” business deals and called him on the carpet. The boss said that an outside accountant was auditing the books and just as soon as the report came and he knew the bottom line of the manager ‘s malfeasance: he was out on his ear. Back in his office, the manager thought to himself, “Self, what will I do, I’m too puny to dig and too proud to beg.” Then it hit him. He would fix things so he would have a few friends when he needed references.
Now, let me pause in our story for an infomercial on stuckness. We have all experienced being stuck – when the way we have always done something no longer works. Paralysis strikes individuals, institutions and nations. What happens when things get stuck?
PEOPLE KEEP TRYING HARDER BUT WITH NO NEW RESULTS.
There is a treadmill effect of trying harder. No one changes perspective or direction; they just keep trying harder. A bird will see its reflection in the window and spend hours bouncing off the window in the vain attempt to get at the other bird. Trying harder will not get you unstuck.
PEOPLE KEEP TRYING TO FIND NEW ANSWERS TO OLD QUESTIONS INSTEAD OF CHANGING THE QUESTION. Questions are perceptions. How you phrase a question determines the range of possible solutions. For example, you put a person on the witness stand and say, “now answer yes or no, do you still beat your spouse.” If indeed you do not and have never beaten your wife or husband, the question won’t let you get at the truth.
WHAT ARE NEEDED NEW QUESTIONS. Perhaps that is why the Gospels rarely show Jesus answering people’s questions. He usually asked another question.
PEOPLE GET POLARIZED. They only see utter black and pure white. Things are really great or just shy of a disaster. Not only are there extremes but also there are many options in between. Polarization keeps people from coming up with new possibilities.
Stuck systems get un-stuck via adventure!
In 1492 Columbus sailed west, in order to arrive in the east. On his way to China, he bumped into the Americas. The moral of that story being, “What you find may be more valuable than what you were looking for.”
NOW BACK TO OUR STORY. THE MACHIAVELLIAN MANAGER GETS UNSTUCK.
1. He doesn’t keep doing the same thing, only harder. He does a new thing.
2. He does not look for new answers to old questions; he asks a new question.
3. He’s too puny dig and too proud to bet, but between those extremes are lots of options.
Since on one knows he is about to be fired he calls in the accounts receivable and says to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” The answer, “a hundred jugs of olive oil.” The manager said, “Take your bill, sit down quickly and make it fifty.” He has another account mark his hundred containers of wheat down to eighty. What is he doing?
In that culture, a manager did not earn a salary for running the estate, and so, when he agreed to lend on his master’s goods, he had been paid in kind, correspondingly increasing the amount of the bill. Fearing for his future the manager cuts his markup and reduces the receipts to their amount. While he had previously inflated the bills to enrich himself, now, he sacrifices his markups. By giving up what was ill-gotten, he made an investment in good will in the community without costing the master anything. At any rate, when he heard what the manager had done, the master commended him for his shrewdness or prudence. His adventure got him unstuck!
This parable is disturbing which is what a parable is supposed to do. A parable is designed to create distance and provokes thought. Parables challenge one’s sense of the proper hierarchy of things.
The manager is not praised in general but only for his “prudent actions.” The manager recognized the critical danger of the situation. He did not let things simply take their course, but boldly, resolutely and prudently moved to make a new life for himself. Jesus tells his listeners and us that we need to wake up and discern the real situation. Discern what is going on and take action.
In the past 15 years, stuckness has become a way of life. Since September 11, 2001, as a nation we feel stuck in a conflict that is disturbing, even terrifying. How do we function in a world of terror? People are stuck in their lives, marriages, careers, and families. Fear and paralysis are common. The challenge of this time demands wisdom and shrewdness.
There are two kinds of situations in life that I might call level I and level II.
1. A level I situation is one in which nothing we do will make a difference. The collapse of the Twin Towers of the Trade Center was a level I. If you were on the top floor of one of those buildings your personal maturity and wisdom made no difference to gravity.
2. A level II situation is one in which our response makes a crucial difference.
I trust you remember the old TV show MacGyver. Given the anxiety in the society, I’m not surprised a remake is about to launch on TV. In every episode, the hero, MacGyver, originally played by Richard Dean Anderson, now by Lucas Till, found himself in some scrape that appeared to be a level I situation. He would take a hairpin, the contents of his fountain pen and some aluminum foil and escape. The show was built on his response making all the difference. Most situations we encounter in life are level II. But all too often we go around mistaking level II for level I circumstances. Our response is crucial.
We must dig deep into our faith and find the resources to conquer fear. As our Lord once said, “Perfect (mature) love casts our fear.” As Christians, we believe that the worst things that happen to us are never the last things. For Jesus has overcome the world.
If we are shrewd, we recognize that our wealth cannot get us out of the last crisis. No, says Jesus, “read the signs and be shrewd. Don’t depend on money that is passing away. Rather rely on those things that do not pass away – love: God’s love for us and our love for each other. The resurrection of Jesus opens vast possibilities for because he overcame the ultimate level I situation: death.
Remember the way to get unstuck is an adventure. I believe that Jesus is saying something to us like, “Trust me. Come and follow me on the adventure of eternity. You may be scared, but you will not be bored. For I will never leave you or forsake you.” Our response here is crucial – will we accept the call of Jesus or not? It is up to us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
August 28, 2016, marks the beginning of a new class on Sundays. Entitled, Praying Without Ceasing. Perhaps a majority of Christians has taken Paul’s admonition literally until the enlightenment. I confess that I do as well. Thus dreams & visions are prayer happening in sleep. This is one place that the malignant EGO cannot go. For that reason, alone dreams are worthy of investigation.
DREAM: THE TEMPORARY CESSATION OF THE WAKING STATE.
1. From time to time in this period anything from a single picture or figure to an elaborate story may be vividly perceived, which is in no sense a direct perception of the outer physical world. This happens 4 or 5 times per night.
2. In addition, there are periods of conceptual activity or thinking between dream periods. [Parts of the brain never go to sleep].
3. A third form of dream is the spontaneous image or vision that appears to a person in the borderland or wakefulness when a person is not sure they are awake or asleep.
4. The waking dream or vision consists of dream images that intrude into waking consciousness. The images are not different than the ones in sleep.
God, Dreams, and Revelation – Father Morton T. Kelsey
ST. LUKE 1:28.”Hail, thou that art highly favoured among women, the Lord is with thee.”
I count my time as Rector of Saint John’s as the high mark of my public ministry for a myriad of reasons and near the top is the murals by John Henry De Rosen in the church.
Under the rubric of the ancient practice: Constant Prayer, several of Saint John’s company has spent the summer reading the writings and teachings of Meister Eckhart.Today (July 31st) we listened and followed alone with the text of sermon 3. This sermon’s text is the greeting of the archangel Gabriel.
HERE there are three things to understand: the first, the modesty of the angel; the second, that he thought himself unworthy to accost the Mother of God; the third, that he not only addressed her, but the great multitude of souls who long after God.
I’ve never considered the event from the point of view of Gabriel. I supposed that being one of the Four Archangels of the Quarters, Gabriel was not starstruck by celebrity. However, for the first time a detail in the DeRosen annunciation mural was thrown into high psychological relief. Always, I have pondered the posture of the messenger.
Gabriel’s body is full of tension. Note especially his right foot, especially the great toe. His modest diffidence is carried in this posture. The weight of expectation and hope, perhaps.
He does not look directly at the woman before him.
I affirm that had the Virgin not first borne God spiritually He would never have been born from her in bodily fashion. A certain woman said to Christ, “Blessed is the womb that bear Thee.” To which Christ answered, “Nay, rather blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it.” It is more worthy of God that He be born spiritually of every pure and virgin soul, than that He be born of Mary. Hereby we should understand that humanity is, so to speak, the Son of God born from all eternity. The Father produced all creatures, and me among them, and I issued forth from Him with all creatures, and yet I abide in the Father. Just as the word which I now speak is conceived and spoken forth by me, and you all receive it, yet none the less it abides in me. Thus I and all creatures abide in the Father.
Hereto I adjoin a parable. There were a certain man and wife; the woman by accident lost an eye, and was sorely troubled thereat. Her husband then said to her, “Wife, why are you troubled? “She answered, “It is not the loss of my eye that troubles me, but the thought that you may love me less on account of that loss.” He said, “I love you all the same.” Not long after he put one of his own eyes out, and came to his wife and said, “Wife, that you may believe I love you, I have made myself like you: I, too, now, have only one eye.” So men could hardly believe that God loved them till God put one of His eyes out, that is took upon Himself human nature, and was made man. Just as fire infuses its essence and clearness into the dry wood, so has God done with man. He has created the human soul and infused His glory into it, and yet in His own essence has remained unchangeable. If you ask me whether, seeing that my spiritual birth is out of time, whether I am an eternal son, I answer “Yes,” and “No.” In the everlasting foreknowledge of God, I slumbered like a word unspoken. He hath brought me forth His son in the image of His eternal fatherhood, that I also should be a father and bring forth Him. It is as if one stood before a high mountain, and cried, “Art thou there?” The echo comes back, “Art thou there?” If one cries, “Come out.” the echo answers, “Come out.”
Again: If I am in a higher place and say to someone, “Come up hither,” that might be difficult for him. But if I say, “Sit down,” that would be easy. Thus God dealeth with us. When man humbles himself, God cannot restrain His mercy; He must come down and pour His grace into the humble man, and He gives Himself most of all, and all at once, to the least of all. It is essential to God to give, for His essence is His goodness and His goodness is His love. Love is the root of all joy and sorrow. Slavish fear of God is to be put away. The right fear is the fear of losing God. If the earth flee downward from heaven, it finds heaven beneath it; if it flee upward, it comes again to heaven. The earth cannot flee from heaven: whether it flee up or down, the heaven rains its influence upon it, and stamps its impress upon it, and makes it fruitful, whether it be willing or not. Thus doth God with men: whoever thinketh to escape Him, flies into His bosom, for every corner is open to Him. God brings forth His Son in thee, whether thou likest it or not, whether thou sleepest or wakest; God worketh His own will. That man is unaware of it, is man’s fault, for his taste is so spoilt by feeding on earthly things that he cannot relish God’s love. If we had love to God, we should relish God, and all His works; we should receive all things from God, and work the same works as He worketh.
God created the soul after the image of His highest perfection. He issued forth from the treasure-house of the everlasting Fatherhood in which He had rested from all eternity. Then the Son opened the tent of His everlasting glory and came forth from His high place to fetch His Bride, whom the Father had espoused to Him from all Eternity, back to that heaven from which she came. Therefore He came forth rejoicing as a bridegroom and suffered the pangs of love. Then He returned to His secret chamber in the silence and stillness of the everlasting Fatherhood. As He came forth from the Highest, so He returned to the Highest with His Bride, and revealed to her the hidden treasures of His Godhead.
The first beginning is for the sake of the last end. God Himself doth not rest because He is the beginning, but because He is the end and goal of all creation. This end is concealed in the darkness of the everlasting Godhead, and is unknown, and never was known, and never will be known. God Himself remains unknown; the light of the everlasting Father shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. May the truth of which we have spoken lead us to the truth. Amen.
P. Jacques Hamel (1930-2016).
Requiescat in pace.
I suppose we all wonder from time to time as the cause and time of our own death. When Fr. Jacques awakened this morning he rose to celebrate the Holy Eucharist for his people at Saint Etienne. After 58 years of presiding at the table of the Lord in the midst of the Holy Mysteries, there was little that would have surprised him. However, this morning at this mass he was attacked at the altar by evil men who mixed his blood with the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. Today, the faithful 84-year-old servant of Christ laid down his life for his faith. He is the most recent martyr for the sake of Christ. God grant us grace to follow his example.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.
Any Christian who wants to understand the Scripture will want to know this. Good work Brother Mark Oaks.
PROPER 8C – Saint John’s, Memphis, Tennessee – June 26, 2016
Who Can Pass Jesus’ Test?
Jesus is about to be “taken up” or crucified. So he “set his face” or literally, “He set his face like flint” to go to Jerusalem. This is a Semitic expression, which means opposition or contention. What is about to happen is difficult and requires courage and will. This is in sharp contrast to what has been going on in Galilee. Jesus had been going from town to town, village to village, teaching, healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of God. He was very successful: there were great crowds following him, around hanging on every word that he said. People were beginning to nominate him “Messiah” (the anointed one of God).
The Kingdom of God is what scholars call a “tensive symbol” which evokes not one meaning but a whole range of meaning. There are certain symbols that always have a one-to-one relationship to the things they represent such as the mathematical symbol pi or a red signal light at an intersection. These are steno-symbols; they are useful precisely because they have single, clearly defined, and clearly understood meanings.
Norman Perrin writes, “Since the kingdom of God is such a tensive symbol it is a mistake to try to reduce it to any one idea or conception.” That is why we are always frustrated when we attempt to “define’ the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God does not have a definition: it tells a story.”
People were fascinated and excited about the stories of the Kingdom: the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, the Kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field. The Kingdom is like a party. These images and metaphors suggest and evoke what cannot be properly put into words: the fullness of salvation wrought by God beyond this present world…
Some of the people who heard Jesus were overcome with the excitement of it all. It is these people that we encounter in today’s Gospel lesson. They illustrate what might be called the three tests of what it means to be a disciple:
The sentimentality test, the tribal test, and the conditional test.
THE SENTIMENTALITY TEST
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” This person has decided to follow without counting the cost. Excited by the Jesus movement he does not realize that Jerusalem lies at the end of the journey and that the cross is the point to which Jesus is traveling. Jesus said to him, “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Marshall, p. 410 …Jesus bids the man count the cost. The Son of man experiences rejection and homelessness, and his followers must be prepared to do the same. As one writer [Synthesis] says, “Jesus reminds this disciple, whose boldness suggests that following Jesus is a never ending
Marshall, p. 410 …Jesus bids the man count the cost. The Son of man experiences rejection and homelessness, and his followers must be prepared to do the same. As one writer [Synthesis] says, “Jesus reminds this disciple, whose boldness suggests that following Jesus is a never ending succession of kumbayas, that, if he is to follow, all financial standing and social security have to be reattached – from the world to the Kingdom of God. For Jesus’ closest disciples, there will be no worldly security whatsoever. Faith is not an electric blanket. Even foxes and birds have less vagrancy than the Son of Man.
To follow Jesus requires an enlightened recklessness.
To follow Jesus means that one gives up the traditional securities and opens oneself to rejection and homelessness that has just occurred in the village of Samaria.
THE TRIBAL TEST
To another, he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Marshall, p. 411, Burial of the dead was a religious duty that took precedence over all others, even including study of the Law. To assist in burying a person who had no claims on one as a relative was a work of love that carried great reward from God both in this life and in the next world. It follows that the burial of a father was a religious duty of the utmost importance. To leave it undone was something scandalous to a Jew. This does not mean that the person’s father was lying in state at the local funeral home. He wants to wait until his father is dead so that he will not be troubled by the decision of his child to follow Jesus. But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury the dead; but as for your, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” To follow Jesus, to be part of the Kingdom of God, takes precedence over all commitments, even burying the dead.
I knew an old couple in Lauderdale county Alabama who waited to get married until their parents were dead. They dated for over forty years. Then when both parents were dead they married. Only a few years passed before the husband died. We can’t put off following.
THE CONDITIONAL TEST
Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home. This is the yes, but of discipleship. It is the Yes I will give sacrificially, Lord, only when I get a raise. Yes, I will commit to being at worship on Sunday when I get caught up on my sleep. I will … But …Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” I grew up in the country. The family had five farms that joined. Dad borrowed a mule from Great Granddad’s place to plow the garden as it began to mature because the mule didn’t damage the crops like a tractor. Plowing with a mule is interesting. Plowing a straight furrow requires looking at the end of the row in front of you and moving toward it. If you keep looking back to where you came from or at your watch to see when quitting time is the row is crooked. That’s what Jesus is talking about.
THE CALL IS UNCONDITIONAL
The call of Jesus is unconditional. The OT story of Elijah and Elisha illustrate the unconditional call clearly. Elijah came by and threw his cloak over Elisha, which meant that Elisha was chosen to succeed Elijah as the prophet of the Lord. Elisha was out plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. This was a big farming enterprise. Elisha slaughtered the yoke of oxen, broke up the yokes and plows for fuel, fired up the grill and threw a farewell barbecue.
BELOVED, IT IS A TRUE SAYING AND WORTHY OF ALL TO BE RECEIVED, THAT IT’S HARD TO GO BACK TO PLOWING IF YOU JUST ATE YOUR OX! JWS
Meister Eckhart asked why people are so reluctant to seek God in earnest. Then he made this comment: When one is looking for something and sees no sign that it is where he is searching, he will keep on looking there only with painful reluctance. If, however, he begins to find traces of it, then he will hunt gladly, gaily, and in earnest. The man who wants fire is cheered by feeling warmth and then joyously looks for the blaze. It is like that with people who ought to be seeking God: if they get no taste of the divine sweetness, they drag; but if a man lies in wait until he does catch the taste of the divine, ever afterward he is a glad seeker of God.