EVANGELISM

At the heart of the Christian Faith stands the command of Jesus, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19

What does that mean?

Christians of all schools of thought believe that repentance and faith in Christ are necessary, but emotionalism, inferior hymnody, and the call for an immediate decision do not seem to many Christians appropriate means of evangelism.

“To evangelize is so to present Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through him, to accept him as their Savior, and serve him as their king in the fellowship of his Church (Archbishop’s Commission on Evangelism, Toward the Conversion of England, 1945, 1.)

Some see the task of evangelism as that of providing a reasonable faith – reasonable, the is, in terms of current philosophical and cultural ideas.

Others view evangelism as the reshaping of church organizations and programs so that Christianity has the power to draw more people into the circle of believers.

AT the same time, however, others have regarded the task of evangelism as that of developing better techniques of outreach and church organizations or more sophisticated means of communication.

To develop a theology of evangelism to try to form a bridge between the intellectual and the practical, or the theological and the institutional modes of understanding.

What brings good news to our contemporaries in relevant language? For most of the Church’s history evangelism was seen as the revival of a lagging, sleeping faith of people who were at least nominal Christians. So when the “evangelists” [everyone from St. Francis to John Wesley] assumed that their hearers knew and shared to some measure the faith and traditions of Christianity. …at the end of the 20th Century such assumptions can no longer be made. Secularity has washed away the common religious and moral convictions that characterized “cultural Christianity.” Evangelism today faces the task of addressing people who are now outside the church and its structures and no longer share the values and visions that have both guided western civilization and provided a common ground for preacher and for people for nearly two millennia.

In the New Testament a sermon was an attempt to adapt the Word of God to the concrete situation of the hearers, so that it may be readily understood. What is it people are being asked to do when they are asked to have faith in Jesus Christ?

Diognetus 3

Faith VRS Belief

FAITH is used to characterize a relationship to God. Faith implies loyalty and trust. Faith is characterized by openness and confidence in relationship to God’ conversely, it is a Christian affirmation that Jesus Christ God is committed to humankind. Jesus Christ is the disclosure of God’s faithfulness. Faith is relationship we can have in Christ.

BEIEF has a narrower focus than faith. To believe something is to accept its truth. Everyday life is shaped by a host of beliefs about the people, organizations, and things that surround us.

We need to be clear about what must come first? Do we first have beliefs that produce faith, or is faith that relationship to God out of which our convictions or beliefs as Christians arise? The modern theology of evangelism has reached a consensus on this point. Evangelism has to do with faith in God’s redemptive act in Jesus Christ.

…Yet the crucial thing for all theologies of evangelism is the way in which they affirm in faith the centrality of the grace of God offered in Jesu Christ rather than any specific system of beliefs.

p. 317 “In evangelism, Jesus Christ is presented as God’s call and promise to us, about which we are called to make a decision. Evangelism occurs when, through preaching or teaching, either as an individual witness or as a community act, we are confronted with the possibility of committing ourselves to what God is doing through Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world.”

The starting point for this is REPENTANCE. This is more than having a good cry and going on as before. “It is a desire for reorientation in life or an act in which we turn from a life that is less than it can be to something that is more authentic, namely, the grace of God.” …”The call of Christian evangelism is the call to new life in Christ, not new life through Christian ideas or ethics or even through the Christian church. The focus of evangelism is not on the presentation of a point of view on life, but on the transformation of life. Our focus is not on words about Jesus, even good and pious ones, but on the concrete power of Jesus himself. …Christianity is not an ideology to be instilled into a culture, but a power of new life to be shared.

“…As Jesus said, “And I when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to myself” John 12:32 The question is, “Do we believe that is true or not?”

Alfred Krass – *

1. “EVANGELISM WILL ARISE OUT OF THE COMMUNITY WHICH LIVES OUT THE MESSAGE OF GOD’S GRACE.”

The church does not aim at solving all the world’s problems, it is not the community of those who are perfect. It does need to exist as a community of people who have found a key to a wholeness the world does not have. It lives as a community of people who are a unifying force in the world.

anonymous-letter-to-diognetus

The Letter to Diognetus

The Epistle to Diognetus is an apology for Christianity, written by an unknown writer to a pagan of high social or political rank. It probably dates from the 2nd or 3rd century. In chapters 5 & 6 Christians are described as the soul of the world.

“Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by either country, speech, or customs; the fact is, they nowhere settle in cities of their own; they use no peculiar language; they cultivate no eccentric mode of life. certainly, this creed of theirs is no discovery due to some fancy or speculation of inquisitive men; nor do they, as some do, champion a doctrine of human origin. Yet while they dwell in both Greek and non-Greek cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and conform to the customs of the country in dress, food, and mode of life in general, the whole tenor of their way of living stamps it as worthy of admiration and admittedly extraordinary. They reside in their respective countries, but only as aliens. They take part in everything as citizens and put up with everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their home and every home a foreign land. The marry like all others and beget children; but they do not expose their offspring. Their board they spread for all, but not their bed. They find themselves in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. They spend their days on earth, but hold citizenship in heaven. they obey the established laws, but in their private lives they rise about the laws. They love all men, but are persecuted by all. They are unknown, yet are condemned; they are put to death, but it is live that they receive. They are poor, and enrich many; destitute of everything, they abound in everything. They are dishonored, and in their dishonor find their glory. The are calumniated, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted and render honor. Doing good, they are penalized as evildoers; when penalized, they rejoice because they are quickened into life. they Jews make war on them as foreigners; the Greeks persecute them; and those who hate them are at a loss to explain their hatred.

In a word: what the soul is in the body, that the Christians are in the world. The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and the Christians throughout the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but is not part and parcel of the body; so Christians dwell in the world, but are not part and parcel of the world. Itself invisible, the soul is kept shut up in the visible body; so Christians are known as such in the world, but their religion remains invisible. The flesh, though suffering no wrong from the soul, yet hates and makes war on it, because it is hindered from indulging its passions; so, too, the world, though suffering no wrong from Christians, hates them because they oppose its members; so, too, Christians love those that hate them. The soul is locked up in the body, yet is the very thing that holds the body together; so, too, Christians are shut up in the world as in a prison, yet it is precisely they that hold the world together. Immortal, the soul is lodged in mortal tenement; so, too, Christians, though residing as strangers among corruptible things, look forward to the incorruptibility that awaits them in heaven. The soul, when stinting itself in food and drink, fares the better for it; so, too, Christians, when penalized, show a daily increase in numbers on that account. Such is the important post to which God has assigned, and they are not at liberty to desert it.”

2. EVANGELISM INVOLVES PROCLAMATION AND CELEBRATION.

Evangelism means communicating the gospel in act and also in word. The first task of all the baptized: lay, bishop, deacons and priests is to “represent Christ in the world.” Re-present Christ in the world.

The story is told of the man who wanted to witness by his actions rather than his words to his next-door neighbor. He did just that and one day some time later the man and his neighbor were talking. The neighbor said that he had observed that there was something in the man’s life that mad e him a happier and healthier than he was and would it be all right if he asked him a personal question? The man was thrilled and said that he could ask him anything he desired. “Well, here goes,” said the neighbor. “This is pretty personal but tell me are you a vegetarian?”

3. EVANGELISM IS SPECIFIC, NOT GENERAL.

Evangelism is concretely related to the needs of those to whom it is addressed.

4. EVANGELISM IS ORIENTED TOWARD THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

Evangelism is oriented not toward the past or toward some golden age of religion that once was. It is oriented toward the future. It is the encounter with the grace of God NOW that points us to the unfolding lordship of Christ over all of life. evangelism is good news, not of the soul retreating from the world, but of the transformation of this world.

Alfred C Krass

Alfred C. Krass

*Look for Krass’s book, Evangelizing Neopagan North America. [p. 200] “The results of the neglect of the Holy Spirit by many sections of the Church have been utterly disastrous. Deprived of the sense of power and of the experience of God’s life, religion deteriorates into a dreary system of rules and ceremonies. It becomes content with a ‘diminished mode of consciousness’. So religion ceases to mediate the world of the Spirit, and becomes a second-hand account of what was once experienced by people long since dead. …”

Every Day is Christ-mass!

Ethiopian icon

Ethiopian Icon of Epiphany

GIVING BIRTH TO THE DIVINE BEING IN YOURSELF

Unknown author

And when upon their way they came to Bethlehem the day was done, and they must tarry for the night. But Bethlehem was thronged with people going to Jerusalem; the inns and homes were filled with guests, and Joseph and his wife could find no place to rest but in a cave where animals were kept; and there they slept. 
At midnight came a cry, A child is born in yonder cave among the beasts. And lo, the promised son of man was born.

And strangers took the little one and wrapped him in the dainty robes that Mary had prepared and laid him in a trough from which the beasts of burden fed.
Three persons clad in snow-white robes came in and stood before the child and said, All strength, all wisdom and all love be yours, Immanuel.
Now, on the hills of Bethlehem were many flocks of sheep with shepherds guarding them.

The shepherds were devout, were men of prayer, and they were waiting for a strong deliverer to come.
And when the child of promise came, a man in snow-white robe appeared to them, and they fell back in fear. The man stood forth and said, Fear not! behold I bring you joyful news. At midnight in a cave in Bethlehem was born the prophet and the king that you have long been waiting for.
And then the shepherds all were glad; they felt that all the hills were filled with messengers of light.

ox ass 2
In a cave, among the animals, a child was born in the middle of the night. The other-one-within-us has broken loose from his bonds and breathes.

The first delicate signs of a completely new life, deep in the human heart, are immediately surrounded by the unknown forces of the new life, a life to which Mary-within-us had directed herself with unshakable certainty. And the child is “wrapped in the dainty robes that Mary had prepared”, which means that the child is immediately surrounded by light forces that protect him from harmful influences.

Then this newborn is carefully laid down in the manger of the animals; and immediately three men appear in snow-white garments. They bring three gifts: strength, wisdom and love. Those are the three fundamental forces that make everything possible, the invincible forces that require a completely new life. For no human being of this world would be able to endure perfect power, absolute wisdom and all-embracing love.

Opening up the new life within a human being is therefore like an all-encompassing love, like being irradiated by hitherto unknown forces that well up from an unfathomable source in the heart … The light birth, the birth of the light-in-man, has taken place.

Gnostic Christianity considers the birth of Jesus as the birth of the new soul in a person who became like John. John is the one who had the power to purify himself by following a new path. The new soul is the higher vehicle, ‘the new garment’ which will ultimately allow the human being to enter his original world once again.

The paradise myth in the Book of Genesis, at the beginning of the Old Testament, tells the story  of Adam and Eve; a man and a woman who left their birthplace (paradise) and obtained a new residence (outside of Paradise).

With the birth of Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament the return journey begins. There we read of a man and a woman, Joseph and Mary, traveling from their home to their place of birth. Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She is a virgin in the spiritual sense, pure d untainted, completely oriented towards the higher life.
Joseph is the free builder, he who has purified his thoughts and directs them towards the soul. He symbolizes the aspiring human being who deliberately and perseveringly works and builds while staying focused on the divine. That work brings about a continuous process of purification that is guided by the soul.

A HIGHER OCTAVE

We can describe the Joseph and Mary within ourselves as the new thinking activity and the new way of feeling which are caused by the touch from the domain of the soul. In this sense, Joseph and Mary can be seen as a higher octave of Zacharias and Elizabeth.
After all, Elizabeth symbolizes the longing that is oriented to the good of the world, while Mary represents the orientation toward the higher life. The two are therefore related to each other and both bring forth children with a special task: John, who has the task of adopting the outer life to the new inner life; and Jesus, the child in whom pure Love, the highest possible in this universe, assumes a physical form.

Jesus is born in the greatest darkness of the night in a cave in Bethlehem (meaning ‘bread house’) where ‘beasts of burden’ reside as well. Our inner ‘beasts of burden’ have done their job: the persevering, goal-oriented ox caused us to proceed ever onward and the donkey carried us on the most inaccessible roads of life. They brought us ‘home’. They belong to us and therefore they stay in the cave where the soul-being is born.

And what could this cave be other than our own human heart? The human heart is like a cave system with one special birthing room: the right ventricle. There is the manger where our ‘beasts of burden’, the ox and the donkey, found their food with which we were able to complete our journey so far.

But after all the preparation and purification, the same feeding place became a place where a completely different life-force could descend: Light itself. Food and energy for a whole new journey with which the entire personality will joyfully cooperate.
In many cultures, a cave is an ancient symbol of a shelter, an image of birth and rebirth. Ritual meetings were often held in caves. Caves were also shelters for cattle and refuges for people in times of danger.

THE OX AND THE DONKEY

Where do the legendary ox and donkey come from? In the first chapter of the Book of Isaiah, verses 2 and 3, the following is said on behalf of God: I reared children and brought them up, but they havox asse rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. So the cattle know who feeds them and where they belong, but people have forgotten where they come from, who feeds them and who guides them.

In a certain tradition, the ox and the donkey represent the ‘Jews’ and the ‘Gentiles’. The donkey symbolizes the Gentiles, the heathen who are suffering under the burden of sin and idolatry. The ox is then a symbol for the Jews who live under the yoke of the law, like an ox wearing a yoke during ploughing. In this instance, the yoke refers to being fully connected with and guided by the divine. The word yoke is derived from the Latin word ‘iungere’ meaning ‘to connect’ and is still recognizable in the word yoga, for example. Thus, the ox and the donkey stand together at the manger of Jesus, which symbolizes the idea that the inner light birth is not restricted to one single race or country but that it is a calling for all humanity. Every human being is able to celebrate the inner light birth at the appropriate moment in his or her life, in his or her own year zero.

GOD IN MAN

The Light Messengers, the visible and invisible spiritual leaders of humanity, descend into the world of time and space to support and guide humanity at every step on the spiritual path.

The divine birth cannot be forced. You can only create the conditions for this birth to take place. How do you know if the new soul is born in you? The famous mystic Meister Eckhart wrote about this: Now you turn your face entirely to this birth. Yes, you will encounter this birth in everything you see and hear, whatever it is. You are like someone who looks for quite a while at the sun, and afterwards sees the image of the sun in whatever he looks at. As long as you do not seek and perceive God in everything, this birth has not yet occurred in you.

Quote

merton

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968

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]

EASTER FOUR

Just what state of being are we baptizing Lucy Barboro Champbliss? Just why are we doing this? Let me begin with our natural state.

Watson evil

In 1996, Lyall Watson published a fascinating book entitled Dark Nature, A Natural History of Evil, [p. 54ff.]

“THERE ARE SEVERAL GENETIC INSTRUCTIONS WHICH SEEM TO BE COMMON TO ALL LIFE:
• BE NASTY TO OUTSIDERS: We are afraid of strangers. We are afraid even when the newcomer has done us no harm. “Who is your family?” “Who were you before you married?” “You don’t talk like you all are from around these parts!”
• BE NICE TO INSIDERS: We are nice to those who are part of us, even when they are really trouble and difficult. Why? “Because blood is thicker than water.” “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It is really hard to get into most human institutions if those already on the inside do not invite us in.
• CHEAT WHENEVER POSSIBLE: This is the basis of everything from card games to tax evasion. (April 15 is our national day of wailing and gnashing of teeth.) It comes naturally. We hear all sorts of reasons for cheating: “Everybody is doing it.” “I didn’t think that it really mattered?” “Do it if you can get away with it.” “It’s a matter of national security.”

As Vladimir Lenin once said, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable.”

The great Anglican liturgist, Dom Gregory Dix once wrote, “It is the heart and core of ‘the Gospel’ that something drastic has to be done about brokenness and sin, and that what I cannot do God has done.”

In today’s first reading from Acts we find ACTS 2:42 Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Life among the Believers 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Let me point out that if this is normative for the Community of Faith, there are NO CLERGY. Yes, Apostles but then everyone is supposed to be “fully loaded and ready to move out,” which is the meaning of the Word Apostle. In a sense everyone who witnessed the ministry, passion and resurrection of Jesus was an Apostle with the Twelve having a special role in terms of message.

We have idealized this period ever since: Our baptismal creeds picks this up. What a wonderful place, wouldn’t you love to have been there? How long do you suppose it was before someone ripped the bloom off the bush? It was just about nine months, just long enough for mischief to be brought to full term.  Acts 6ff [pg. 1266 in Pew bible]

In the first century women and children depended on the income of a man in order to survive. If the husband died, then the family was in desperate straits. This being the case there is a lot widow and orphan talk in scripture. The Greek part of the community felt that their widows were discriminated against. So the dissatisfaction grew and the Greek communicants began to complain loudly, “our widows are being ignored by the Church meals on wheels.” They came and told the Apostles. The Apostles said we can’t do it all and we must be about prayer and serving the word not waiting tables or literally “Keeping Accounts”. Choose seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. We’ll appoint them.” And they did. They were called Deacons, a name that comes from the word: doulos or servant. They chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, etc. Prayed, laid hands on them . . . and put them to work. Notice that the names of those chosen to be deacon were Greek names. Apparently that management technique is ancient. Put those who complain in charge of the problem. “You are empowered now go do it.”  These are the first clergy. Bishops in the earliest days were selected from the College of Deacons.

Over the first five hundred years the Church in the Roman Empire developed the model that is still dominant in the West. From the 6th Century on the Western Culture was Christian. That model continues to this day: Building – People – clergy. Clergy were put in place to act as “professional Christians” so nobody else need bother.

  • Lay People get serious about their faith and folk assumed what? Off to Seminary with you. Why, only professional Christians bother with all that.
  • “O John, we hired you to do that.”

This is not working and it is not true. I am here to be your Coach not your surrogate nor your truant officer. I am a player coach. I’m playing because I’m baptized. I’m ordained to Coach. This is my part of the re-inventing process we call SOULWorks.

At Saint John’s we have actively and consciously for the past five years been growing ourselves up and calming ourselves down. We took surveys that told us where we are on the journey to union with Christ. We’ve developed initiatives: Bible Challenge (Bibles in Pews), Ancient Practices, SOULWorks Weekends #7 in September.

We are in transition. Going forward there will be many, many, more lay-people in active ministry than clergy. All Christians are in ministry. You will be in places I’ll not be. You have influence that I lack.

What we are called to and what we are baptizing Lucy into is un-natural in this fallen world. We are called to live above our unconscious animal nature What the Church was dealing with then and has struggled with ever since is the simple fact that being Christian runs against what comes naturally for humanity. Rising above the animal toward the Angels of our better nature is an un-natural act!

France’s Cardinal Suhard, “To be a witness is being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”

St Mark Alex

PALM SUNDAY MARTYRDOM IN ALEXANDRIA AT SAINT MARK’S CATHEDERAL
Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response. “The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered. Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city. On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church. “I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’ “‘You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’” Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal. “How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.” Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.

This is the un-natural life of one who is in Christ. This un-natural life of grace is ours in Christ Jesus. I am committed during these last years as your Rector to accept what is mine in Baptism so that you will do the same. What might happen in Memphis if we each become the living mystery that makes no sense without the resurrection? I’m not sure, but I’d sure like to see it, just once. Amen

The Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany

salted

5 February 2017
John W Sewell

On this Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany we continue the theme of the light of Christ going into the world. We who are in Christ are called to be salt/light.

Salt/Light are valued for their effects: by what they do.
Salt: preserves, stimulates, smarts if it touches a wound, and heals.
Light: illuminates, enables sight, stimulates, and heals.

Jesus says that those who follow him are to be like salt and light. But if Christians have lost their saltiness they are of no use. It is like lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket. It is of no use.

Our Christianity is authenticated by our functioning, by what our lives reveal us doing. How salty we are or how brightly our light shines indicates where we are in our CONVERSION. he word “conversion” means “to turn toward”. This is the opposite of aversion: “to turn away from.” Conversion is the movement toward God, the overcoming of our separateness from Him. Our movement toward God is our response to His movement toward us in His son: Jesus the Christ. Conversion may be an event from time to time, but each event is part of a process. Conversion is a journey. Every day we are in a posture of conversion or aversion toward God.

Where does conversion take place? Cultural anthropologists talk about the place deep within each of us where the essence of “US” lives. It is that part we have been aware of all our lives as “US”. It is that part of us that does not age and is surprised to look in the mirror and realize that we are aging.

joseph-campbell

The late Joseph Campbell once said, “I don’t feel like an old man. I feel like a young man with something terribly wrong with him.”

There are Four Layers of “meaning” that make up a human being: Layer I being closest to the “US” of our essence.

Layer I: Symbols: the cross, the cup, water, bread. [This past week a group of girls from Independent Presbyterian church, one of our sister denominations, visited Saint John’s to see the murals and to talk about symbols, why? Because we live surrounded the symbols, myths and stories of our faith: these are images and stories that tell us who we are, speaking to the deep ideas, mother, father, hero, lover.] We forget just how blessed we are to have these displayed for us to live with and our unconscious to draw on.

Layer II: Customs, values: Christmas, Easter. Family Values: Right and wrong, being kind to people and animals. Jesus is a wonderful fellow and teacher. It’s a good thing for children to be in Church so they will learn values. Recently I had what my friend Walton Griffin calls a dinosaur moment when at young adult bible study – I quoted Archie Bunker and nobody in the room knew who he was… going back even further I quote Little Abner who said, “goodness is better than badness because it’s nicer.” That’s Layer II.

Layer III: Moveable features: That western people wear pants (first men, now women) That might change if we lived somewhere else; particularly if winters were all like the one we are living through.

Layer IV: Outer, superficial elements, fads, styles, bell-bottoms, Hula hoops, skinny jeans, mood rings, pet rocks, rubrics’ cube, poodle skirts, fiddleback chasubles, low hems, high hems and hardly any hem at all . The color of one’s wall, the kind of car one drives, keia pets the next great thing that will make you thin, rich and safe. The sort of “stuff” that fills our attics.

If we are not careful, we will mistake superficial change for conversion. Example: Fran Alexander watching the neighborhood boys signing the cross before taking free throws in the backyard, because one of the stars at North Carolina was Roman Catholic and signed the cross before he took a free throw.

Turning toward God must happen to the essence of our being in the depths of our souls.Jesus said, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees.” It is easier to be transformed at the outer layers.

Often well intention Western missionaries tried to make Westerners out of other nations, as if you could only be Christian if you were like us. The spread of that sort of cultural Christianity may in fact prevent the Gospel from touching people in deeper places. When Christianity is the dominant religion in the culture it is easy to lose our saltiness. Too much is taken for granted. Basic faith decisions about Jesus the Christ being Lord and Savior often do not get made or are simply made in a shallow way.

When the Gospel is proclaimed in a place for the first time a four Generation process is observed:

1. First generation of Christians: Being Christian is a choice. Christ is at the center of their lives and being. Light is bright – Salt is very salty.
2. Second generation: born into the Church. They make no particular decision about this themselves. The center of Christianity for this generation is jobs or tasks in the Church: working in the Church. The jobs become the center of faith and believing. Light continues to shine – Salt is still salty
3. Third generation: Occasional worship. The Christmas and Easter cycle becomes the center of their faith. They also appear for the birth, marriage, death cycle – the “Hatching, matching, dispatching” function of the Church. The light is dim and there is a low sodium diet.
4. Fourth generation: simply follow the crowd out of the Church and the faith altogether into the dark and is no longer salt at all.

e-stanley-jones-quote

“We have inoculated our people with such a harmless strain of Christianity that they are almost immune to the real thing.”  E. Stanley Johnes

What must happen for each of us is to meet God directly. God does not have grand-children. Why do we depend on hearing a story from another person about their religious experience. If you and I are inclined to meet God, let’s go and look him up and when we look God up we will learn that God has been looking for people since the Garden of Eden = and each of us since the day of our birth! That is what I want to be about and I suspect that you do too!!!

Virginia Owens – “The Total Image or Selling Jesus in the Modern Age”  “A person, whether human or divine, cannot be known — as a person rather than an image except by immediate presence. If we want to project an image, either of Christians or the Church, we can do that by means of television, magazines, books, billboards, movies, bumper stickers, buttons, records, and posters. If we want people to know Christ, we must be there face-to-face, bearing Christ within us.”

There is a story about a man looking for God was dunked under the water in a pool by the old monk. As he was gasping for air, the monk asked him, “What were you thinking about when you were under the water?” “Air”, gasped the man. Then the monk said, “If you wanted to know God as much as you wanted air, you would know him.”

What generation are we? We are called to be transformed in the deep places of our beings: in the essence of the “US”. Nothing else will do, Nothing else will satisfy. Nothing else is light and salt. Let’s not settle for less. Amen.

Save

 

“A child is born to us and a son is given to us.”

 

johann-tauler

[From Johann Tauler
(1300 – 1361), disciple of Meister Eckhart]

It is certain that if God is to be
born in the soul
it must turn back to eternity….
It must turn in toward itself with all is might, must recall itself,
and concentrate all its faculties within itself,
the lowest as well as the highest.
All its dissipated powers must be gathered up into one,
because unity is strength.

Next the soul must go out.
It must travel away from itself,
above itself….
There must be nothing left in us
but a pure intention towards God;
no will to be or become or obtain anything for ourselves.
We must exist only to make a place for God,
the highest innermost place,
where He may do His work; there, when we are no longer putting ourselves in His way,
He can he born in us.

If one would a prepare an empty place in the depths of the soul
there can be no doubt that God must fill it at once.
If there were a void on earth the heaven would fall to fill it….

So you must be silent.
Then God will be born in you,
utter his word in you and you shall hear it;
but be very sure that if you speak the word will have to be silent.
If you go out, he will most surely come in;
as much as you go out for him
He will come in to you; no more, no less….

When shall we find an know
this birth of God within us?
Only when we concentrate
all our faculties within us
and direct them all towards God.
Then he will be born in us
and make himself our very own.
He will give himself to us as our own, more completely ours than anything we have ever called our own.

“A child is born to us and a son is given to us.”
He is ours.
He is all our own, more truly ours than anything else we own, and constantly, ceaselessly, he is born in us.

THE EPIPHANY

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6 January 2017
Saint John’s Memphis, Tennessee
John W. Sewell

What would have happened if, at Epiphany, there had been wise WOMEN instead of wise men at Bethlehem? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole and brought practical gifts!

Most people know nothing of the Epiphany. As a feast of the Church, The Epiphany ranks with Christmas, All Saints, Ascension, and Pentecost. Unlike Christmas Eve, we will not need four services tonight to accommodate worshipers.

The Word Epiphany comes from a Greek word that means to manifest or to reveal. The deep mystery of the Incarnation – the coming of the Second Member of the Trinity – to live as a human being, now is revealed or displayed not just to the Jews but to Gentiles.

In Judaism, the thread of universal salvation weaves in and out among the fabric of Israel’s special call. Periodically individual gentiles found their way into the household of Israel: people such as Rahab the harlot of Jericho who hid the spies sent by Moses to scope out the Promised Land and Ruth the great-grandmother of King David was a woman of Moab.

The theme of the Book of Jonah is the concern the God of Israel has for gentile people, even including the hated Assyrians. This concern is a source of much aggravation to the prophet Jonah. Isaiah predicts that the nations will come to the light revealed in Israel. In today’s Epistle, Paul writes to the Ephesians, “that … the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”

Now, Jesus, the Son of God, has been born in Bethlehem. The Magi arrive, the first non-Jews, to encounter the Christ child. The scriptures do not label these mysterious figures kings or indeed number them three. Echoing Isaiah their gifts are gold, frankincense and myrrh. Or as the little boy put it, “the Wise Men arrived bringing gifts of common sense, frankness and mermaids. “

Following the star, they came via Jerusalem where the wise men met the wise guy, Herod, King of Judea. They asked to see his newborn son. Herod had no such son. Bethlehem is the place to look they were told. “Come back and tell me when you find him” said the wise guy. And when they came to Bethlehem the star stopped over the house where the holy family was living. After they worshiped they wisely went home another way avoiding the wise guy back in Jerusalem.

The Epiphany is our story, the story of all non-Jews who have no claim to be children of Abraham, all who are beyond the perimeters of ordinary grace. Evelyn Waugh in the novel, Helena, has the title character pray the following prayer to the Magi, “You are the patrons for all latecomers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents. … For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”

Blaise Pascal once wrote,  “The knowledge of God is very far from the love of God.”

We realize that our most elegant descriptions of God are always just descriptions. We will never know enough to know what we want to know. The good news is that we experience God without understanding. The love of God is a very different economy from the economy of epistemology!

Jesus never said, “repeat after me.” What Jesus said was, “Follow me.” So let us follow him who was manifested to the Magi, that through his cross and resurrection, the love of God revealed through him will be manifest in us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What Is Most Difficult?

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On my way to celebrate Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 2016, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in my 15th year. 

Someone asked me what was the most difficult part being a priest?  I hadn’t really thought too much about it these past thirty-five years, so I had to ponder a moment.  The one who asked opined that death and burial was the most difficult. That is true but not the answer. Then it came to me.  The most difficult part of my work is to want so much more for people than they want for themselves.  Yeah, that’s it.

JWS+

The Incarnate Word Born in Us

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Christ Presented to the Nations – artist: John De Rosen – Lady Chapel at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Memphis. Tennessee

“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.”

– Meister Eckhart, 1260-1328, German Dominican

The birth of the Divine Son in the human soul is the very center of Eckhart’s teaching.  After contemplating this notion for some years,  I find that at the end of the most challenging of my thirty-five years of ordained ministry,  this is the core of my affirmation of faith.  My collection of works by and on Eckhart has grown from a couple of books to several shelves in my library.  My discipline is to read Eckhart every day. I commend his work to you.  It is difficult reading, yet paradoxically very illuminating.

Merry Christmas Eve.  John Sewell+

Saint John says, ‘I saw the word in God’

St John says, ‘I saw the Word in God.’ God is abstract being, pure perception, which is perceiving itself in itself. St John means that the Son is in the Father, in his nature. ‘I saw the Word with God.’ Here he is referring to the intellect which, flowing into God eternally, proceeded forth from God in distinction of Person, namely, the Son. ‘ I saw the Word before God.’ This means that the Son is ever being born of the Father and that he is the image of the Father. ‘In the Word there is only the Word,’ refers to the eternal emanation of creatures in the Word. ‘I saw the Word under God’; the Son becomes man, as God said, ‘I have loved you in the reflection of my darkness.’ God’s darkness is his nature which is unknowable. Good people know it not and no creature can divine it; therefore it is a darkness. While God was flowing in his own darkness the Son was not distinct from him. In the darkness of his nature the Father flowed as Person so far as he was pregnant. The Father gave his Son birth and gave him his own nature; he gave him not his Person: his nature he can give away but he can give to none his Person for that is the product of his unborn essence. The Father spoke himself and all creatures in his Son; the Father spoke himself to all creature in his Son. The Father turning back into himself speaks himself in himself; he flows back into himself with all creatures. As Dionysius says, ‘God proceeded himself,’ meaning that his hidden nature suffices him, which is concealed from creatures. The soul cannot follow him into his nature, except he absorb her altogether, and then in him she is made dark of all created lights. The darkness of creatures is their incomprehensibility in their simple nature, that is, in the nothing from which they were created. In this uncreated light they discern his uncreatedness. Into his uncreatedness they flow in the reflection of his darkness.

–‘Tell me, good Sir, do Father, Son and Holy Ghost speak the same word in the Godhead or has each a different word? ‘ — In the Godhead there is but one word; in it the Father in the Godhead speaks into his unborn essence and into his born essence, the Father flowing into his Son with all that he is and the Son speaks the same word, and the Father and the Son flow into the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost speaks the same word. They speak this one simple word in their essence and each speaks the same word in his own Person, and in their common nature they discourse the truth and the Persons receive the essence as it is essentially. Yet the Persons receive from one another. They bow down to the essence in praise, lauding the essence; and the unborn essence pronounces its unborn word in the Persons, lauding the Persons, and the Persons receive the essence every whit and pass it on to one another. This unborn essence is self-sufficient, without birth and without activity. Birth and activity are in the Persons. The Persons say they are the truth and that creatures have none of the truth. When the soul attains to this divine speech she speaks this very truth and is the Deity to every creature as well as to herself. This comes of his indivisible nature and therein creatures are a matter of the will. The bad are bad and the good good, the Persons preserving justice in the Godhead. They give the bad their due and the good theirs.

St Dionysius says, ‘God is the Prime Cause, and God has fashioned all things for himself who is the cause of all; and his works are all wrought in the likeness of the First Cause.’ Father and Son show forth the first cause, and the Son is playing in the Father with all things for he proceeded forth from him. The Son plays before the Father with all things, the Son plays below the Father with all things. The Father begat his Son with his Godhead and with all things. The Father begat his Son in his Godhead with all things. The Godhead is the several Persons and the fullness of the Persons. The Godhead is not given to any thing. On coming to its knowledge the soul sees God and glancing back into herself she sees that the Godhead is in all things. Receiving into her the likeness of the creator she creates what she will but cannot give it essence: she gives it form and is herself its matter and its eternal activities are in her; these are in the eternal birth. Its temporal activities are in time, where God gives his works essence, form and matter out of nothing, which the soul is unable to do; God reduces his works to the unity of Christ and this order shall not pass away but shall be raised up to the glory of the one. Soul, transcending order, enters the naked Godhead where she is seen when God is seen in the soul as God. This soul has God as God in her, she has gotten in her the image of her creator.

Now mark the difference between the work of God and creature. God has done all things for himself, for he is the universal cause and all his works are wrought in the likeness of the first cause and creatures all work according to the likeness of the first cause. That is the intention they have towards God. God made all things from nothing, infusing into them his Godhead so that all things are full of God. were they not full of the Godhead they would all perish. The Trinity does all the work in things and creatures exploit the power of the Trinity, creatures working as creatures and God as God, while man mars the work so far as his intention is evil. When a man is at work his body and soul are united, for body cannot act without the soul. When the soul is united with God she does divine work, for God cannot work without the soul and the soul cannot work without God. God is the soul’s life just as the soul is the body’s, and the Godhead is the soul of the three Persons in that it unifies them and in that it has dwelt in them for ever. And since the Godhead is in all things it is all soul’s soul. But in spite of its being all soul’s soul, the Godhead it not creatures’ soul in the way it is the Trinity’s. God does one work with the soul; in this work the soul is raised above herself. The work is creature, grace to wit, which bears the soul to God. It is nobler than the soul as admitting her to God; but the soul is the nobler in her admissibility. This creature which has neither form nor matter nor any being of its own, translates the soul of her natural state into the supernatural.

To his eternally elect God gives his spirit as it is, without means; they cannot miss it. Creatures God is going to make at his good pleasure he has known eternally as creatures, for in God they are creatures albeit nothing in themselves: they are uncreated creatures. Creatures are always more noble in God than they are in themselves. In God the soul shall see her own perfection without image and shall see the difference between things uncreated and created and she shall distinguish God from Godhead, nature from Person, form from matter. The Father is the beginning of the Godhead, he is the well-spring of the Godhead, overflowing into all things in eternity and time. The Godhead is a heaven of three Persons. The Father is God and a Person not born nor proceeding any; and the Son is God and a Person and born of the Father; and the Holy Ghost is God and a Person proceeding from both. St Paul speaks of the uncreated spirit flowing into the created spirit (or mind). This meeting which befalls the created spirit is her saving revelation; it happens in the soul who breaks through the boundaries of God to lose herself in his uncreated naught. The three Persons are one God, one in nature, and our nature is shadowing God’s nature in perpetual motion; having followed him from naught to aught and into that which God is to himself, there she has no motion of her naught. Aught is suspended from the divine essence; its progression is matter, wherein the soul puts on new forms and puts off her old ones. The change from one into the other is her death: the one she doffs she dies to, and the one she dons she lives in.

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‘Christ Triumphant’ –  John De Rosen – Saint John’s Episcopal Church,  Memphis, Tennessee (note Saint John as an old man at the foot of the cosmic cross. He is usually seen as a young man).

St John says, ‘Blessed are the dead that die in God; they are buried where Christ is buried.’ Upon which St Dionysius comments thus: Burial in God is the passage into uncreated life. The power the soul goes in is her matter, which power the soul can never approfound for it is God and God is changeless, albeit the soul changes in his power. As St Dionysius says, ‘God is the mover of the soul.’ Now form is a revelation of essence. St Dionysius says, ‘Form is matter’s aught. Matter without form is naught.’ So the soul never rests till she is gotten into God who is her first form and creatures never rest till they have gotten into human nature: therein do they attain to their original form, God namely. As St Dionysius hath it, ‘God is the beginning and the middle and the end of all things.’

Then up spake the loving soul, ‘Lord, when enjoyest thou thy creatures?’ — ‘That do I at high noon when God is reposing in all creatures and all creatures in God.’ St Augustine says, ‘All things are God,’ meaning, they have always been in God and shall return to God. So when St Dionysius says,’ All things are naught,’ he means they are not of themselves and that in their egress and their ingress they are as incomprehensible as naught. When St Augustine says, ‘God is all things,’ he means he has the power of all things, one more noble than he ever gave to creatures. And St Dionysius’ dictum, ‘God is naught,’ implies that God is as inconceivable as naught. As King David sings, ‘God has assigned to everything its place: to fish the water, birds the air and beasts the field and to the soul the Godhead.’ The soul must die in every form save God: there at her jouney’s end her matter rests and God absorbs the whole of the powers of the soul, so now behold the soul a naked spirit. Then, as St Dionysius says, the soul is not called soul, she is the sovran power of God wherewith God’s will is done. It is at this point St Augustine cries, ‘Lord thou hast bereft me of my spirit!’ Whereupon Origen remarks, ‘Thou art mistaken, O Augustine. It is not thy spirit, it is thy soul-powers that are taken from thee.’ The soul unites with God like food with man, which turns in eye to eye, in ear to ear. So does the soul in God turn into God; and God combines with the soul and is each power in the soul; and the two natures flowing in one light, the soul comes utterly to naught. That she is she is in God. The divine powers swallor her up out of sight just as the sun draw up things out of sight.
What God is to himself no man may know. God is in all things, self-intent. God is all in all and to each thing all things at once. And the soul shall be the same. What God has by nature is the soul’s by grace. God is nothing at all to anything; God is nothing at all to himself, God is nothing that we can express. In this sense Dionysius says, ‘God is all things to himself for he bears the form of all things.’ He is big with himself in a naught; there all things are God, and are not, the same as we were. When we were not then God was heaven and hell and all things. St Dionysius says that ‘God is not’, meaning that he bears himself in a not, namely, the not-knowing of all creatures, and this not draws the soul through all things, over all things and out of all things into that superlative not where she is not-known to any creature. There she is not, has not, wills not, she has abandoned God and everything to God. Now God and heaven gone, the soul is finally cut off from every influx of divinity, so his spirit is no longer given to her. Arrived at this the soul belongs to the eternal life rather than creation; her uncreated spirit lives rather than herself; the uncreated, eternally-existent which is no less than God. Wherewith being all-pervaded to the total loss of her own self, the soul at length returns without herself to eternal indigence, for what is left alive in her is nothing less than God. Thus she is poor of self. This is the point where soul and Godhead part and the losing of the Godhead is the finding of the soul, for the spirit which is uncreated drawing on the soul to its own knowledge she comes nearer to the not-being of the Godhead than by knowing all the Father ever gave. [The gift of the Father is the positive existence of all creatures in the Person of his Son and with the Son the Holy Ghost as well. For the Persons must be looked on as inseparate, albeit distinct illuminations of the understanding.] And so far as she attains this in the body she enjoys the eternal wont and escapes her own.

We ought to be eternally as poor as when we were not and then our kingdom shall not pass away, abiding as it does in God whose it is eternally. The Godhead gave all things up to God; it is as poor, as naked and as idle as thought it were not: it has not, wills not, wants not, works not, gets not. St Dionysius says, ‘Be the soul never so bare the Godhead is barer’: a naught from which no shoot was ever lopped nor ever shall be. It is this counsel of perfection the soul is straining after more than after anything that God contains or anything she can conceive of god. Saith the bride in the book of Love, ‘The form of my beloved passed by me and IGo cannot overtake him.’ It is God who has the treasure and the bride in him, the Godhead is as void as though it were not. God has consumed the form of the soul and formed her with his form into his form. Now she gets all things free from matter, as their creator possesses them in him, and resigns the same to God.

Ours to contain all things in the same perfection wherein the eternal wisdom has eternally contained them. Ours to expire them as the Holy Ghost has expired them eternally. Ours to be all things’ spirit and all things spirit to us in the spirit. Ours to know all and deify ourselves with all.

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