Saints, Cubs, and Preaching to the Preacher

“And if you ask, ‘Who is Amos or Abdias, or what is the number of the Prophets or Apostles?’ they cannot even open their mouths. But with regard to the horses or charioteers, they can compose a discourse more clever than the sophists or rhetors.” (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, LVIII).

I referenced this in my sermon on Sunday, Within the Octave of All Saint’s Day. I followed with the question, “Can you name the Twelve Tribes of Israel? Can you name the nine of the Cubs who won the World Series? Or 12 of the actors in your favorite movie?”

Pastors preach to themselves. Yes, I can name the 12 tribes…at least on a good day (frankly it is something I’ve been refreshing myself on as I read Genesis this month), but we still preach to ourselves. So we all look to our weaknesses and strengths. Knowing the Scriptures is pretty basic. Learning who the saints are is good.

In my vocation, I know the Scriptures, have a vocational, and avocational interest in the Saints, but I don’t remember and know Hebrew like I once did or should. So that’s my intent. I’m going back to basics, and by next year hope to be reading Hebrew at least as well as I do Greek, maybe better.

I’ve already started.



A Confused and Tottering Faith

Let us consider those others of whom Christ said, ‘And those upon the rock are they who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, and they have no root. These believe for a while and in time of temptation depart away.’ There are men whose faith has not been proved. They depend simply on words and do not apply their minds to examining the mystery. Their piety is sapless and without root. When they enter the churches, they feel pleasure often in seeing so many assembled. They joyfully receive instruction in the mysteries from him whose business it is to teach, and laud him with praises. They do this without discretion or judgment, but with unpurified wills. When they go out of the churches, at once they forget the sacred doctrines and go about in their customary course, not having stored up within themselves anything for their future benefit. If the affairs of Christians going peacefully and no trial disturbs them, even then they scarcely maintain the faith, and that, so to speak, and it confused and tottering state. When persecution troubles them and enemies of the truth attack the churches of the Savior, their heart does not love the battle, in their mind throws away the shield and flees.

Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 42

St. Nicholas’ Rowdy Reputation

My Facebook friends are all ablaze about the heretic-hitting St. Nicholas of Myra. It’s a funny story, in a way. Just look it up here.

Warning: I’m about to throw down on y’all.

St. Nick reacting to the bad reputation as a brawler he’s gotten of late.

The irony, of course, is that he venerated and commemorated by millions of Christians for generations and generations not because of this at all. This is incidental and really out of character. We commemorate St. Nicholas because of his Christian witness, life and deeds. He was renowned for his generosity, for his self-denial, for his humility and kindness to the poor and to children. He was a supposed miracle-worker in life–Christ working through him, of course.

Yet in our violent and greedy age, it’s much easier to jump on his violence rather than his virtue. In our Synod so focused on strife and so full of bullies in district offices and in “confessional” groups, it makes more sense to think about Santa Claus hitting a heretic than St. Nicholas giving away his wealth to the poor and hopeless.

We get the saints we deserve. We make the heroes after our image.

Easters Here, There and Everywhere

Easter Sunday was hard. Seeing all the faces of those I’ve known, the widows whose husbands I’ve buried, the hands held out that I had confirmed over the years, knowing why she doesn’t kneel but he does–seeing this and knowing it is my last Easter here. But at the same time already moving ahead, thinking of my new congregation kneeling, communing with them already together with the angels and the archangels, with Peter and John and Mary and all the company of heaven.

Haven’t had one like that in years–stressful and sad and expectant and disappointing. Yes, disappointed that I will not be here again for this Feast but disappointed I’m not yet there either. It was a limbo on Easter Sunday. But it’s also saying goodbye. It’s the reason I am dreading visiting the shut-ins for the last time. Saying goodbye.

This is the way of life in this fallen world. We say goodbye. Nothing lasts forever here. Sometimes you know when you are leaving, when they are leaving, and other times you don’t, but it is the way.

But we who have life in the kingdom have yet another promise: there is no true goodbye for us in Christ. We commune with all of them as we gather around the lamb who was slain. We receive the same body and blood, we gather together, separated by distance and dimension, but not death. Space, but not spirit. We move to the next room, the next town, the next place, but we never leave our Lord–or He never leaves us.

Repenting and Not Repenting and Still Repenting

Photo by antibarbarie

On this coming Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican (in the One Year lectionary), I ran across the following and had to share:

But if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican ( cf. Luke 18:13): that is enough to ensure your salvation. For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair, must out of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone. Rather, he will marvel at God’s compassion, and will be full of gratitude towards his Benefactor, and so may receive many other blessings as well.”

– St. Peter of Damaskos in The Philokalia – The Complete Text, Volume Three, pg. 160

In conversation with someone the other day, we talked about repentance. We talked about how to do it, as this person said she was having a hard time. “It is the easiest thing to do…and the hardest thing to do,” I said, in an uninspired moment. It is turning your back on the former ways–easy, but even St. Sisoe of the Desert (renown in his day for his ascetic life–think Mother Teresa), said, “I have not yet begun to repent.” And St. Paul said that he was “chief of sinners.”

It is too much for us. We cannot do it. Even the simple command, the first word of our Lord in the Gospel of Mark is too much for us to bear, to do. And I’m not talking about some kind of perfect repentance, either. Not perfect, but just the start, the basics. And as St. Peter notes (ironically), even acknowledging you cannot is, well, a sign of repentance.

As Rush once sang, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

The Resurrection of the Dead, Part Ia

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (1Co 15:12-18 ESV)

This passage is often used to support the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That it does. But it is actually addressing the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead in general, not just Jesus’. In fact, the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day is primary, according to St. Paul: “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.” And most importantly, if you do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, then your faith is in vain, he writes.

So what? Don’t all Christians who recite the Apostles or Nicene creed believe in the resurrection of the dead de facto?

They speak it, but how do we live it? How do we express it? By finding our “comfort” in the fact that the spirit of Uncle Charlie is alive in some Platonic wonderland of fishing without having a body, or fish or even rivers? That Aunt Sally is even now sewing and bossing around the children, even though she has no body to sew with, nor fabric to sew, nor needles, unless they are some kind of “heavenly fabric” which in fact is pure imagination? Let’s be serious for a moment: just what is Grandma Heaper experiencing right now? Is she living a bodily kind of life eating liver and chicken necks and playing King’s Corner even though she has no body with which to eat?

We need bodies to eat with, to drink with, to play with, to run with. If there is no body then we can have awareness and perception and thought, but not true bodily experience. Take the resurrection appearances of Christ. When he appeared to the disciples he had to prove that he was not an incorporeal spirit by eating with them, by allowing them to see and touch His beautiful wounds of our redemption. Jesus would not be eating fish if he’d left His body in the ground.

What is to Come

In the first Odd Thomas novel by Dean Koontz the character Stormy believes that this life with all of its struggles and hardships is the easy part, the trial run for the adventure, the real battle that is waged in the next. It’s basic training for what will come, she says.

There is truth to that, though not in the way it first appears. The next life will have no sin, no suffering for the redeemed of the Lord. Sorrow and sighing will flee away, Isaiah 35 tells us. With an eye to verses like that, it is impossible to think that this is basic training for the world to come. This is the war, then is the rest. And Scripture speaks this way as well. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Eph 6:12-13 ESV)

Yet…this life is training for what is to come, and our preparation now means everything then. Here we begin to worship the Lord, then we will live in worshipping the Lord. Here we begin to love, there love is made complete and perfect. And refusal now means refusal then. For this life is the beginning of repentance and faith, and if that fails us now, it will fail us then. Our Lord calls us to carry our cross and follow Him now, and if we refuse now, we will refuse then. While there is no sin in Heaven, repentance must continue, for repentance is turning away from ourselves and turning to God in its barest sense; we won’t have new sins to repent of in the next life, but our repentant lives will continue.

Here we practice. There we serve.

Whereof We dreamed as Children…

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

(Ecc 12:12 KJV)

There’s a sequel to Winnie-the-Pooh and House at Pooh Corner. We can add to the thought above that there’s no end to the making of money by publishers. Yet the trustees of Milne’s estate have approved the book. But they also approved the Disney adaptations, as well, so we’ll have to see just how faithful the book is to Milne’s original.

The AP article about the release says, in part:

In the final chapter of “The House at Pooh Corner,” Christopher Robin asks for understanding, “whatever happens,” and makes Pooh promise he won’t forget about him, ever. Pooh does, and Milne then makes a promise of his own to the reader: Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them, there will always be a little boy and his bear playing in an enchanted place.

The book addresses topics such as the necessity of growing up and moving on, Nikolajeva says, and she believes that if Milne had wanted a sequel to the books, he would have written it himself.

“The whole point is that the boy has to go away from his childhood, from this very idyllic pastoral world of his childhood,” she said. “This is an absolutely perfect ending, and doing anything beyond this is pointless.” (source)

I agree with that final sentiment, but it is very sad, this end to childhood and leaving the “idyllic pastoral world.” It’s hard to say goodbye, yet St. Paul writes it is necessary: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1Co 13:11 KJV) It is the way of life, growing up, being a man. Of course, St. Paul was using this as an illustration of the shadow-world we now inhabit as compared to the glory and reality of the Kingdom of God.

But still…What of the idyllic, pastoral world of childhood? What of the innocence, the play, the delight in life and and exploration? Must it pass away? Must our lives be given over to work, to seriousness? Must we leave the nursery?

Our sadness of leaving the nursery behind, of saying “goodbye” to Pooh is spiritual, and true. We know that our homeland awaits, which is the incarnation–the antitype– of childhood in the fullness of idyllic, pastoral life. The Kingdom of God is innocence. It is delight. It is friends who understand, whose differences are cherished, whose loyalty and life go beyond understanding, where Christ is all in all. It is that place whereof we dreamed as children: to run and never tire, to soar on wings of eagles. The tears we feel saying goodbye to Pooh are tears of longing and repentance, tears acknowledging the world of grown-ups is broken.

I believe St. Paul’s words about knowing and understanding, but I cling to the words of Jesus, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3)

On the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

"The Visitation" from <em>Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry</em>

"The Visitation" from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.  And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:  And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.  And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.  And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. (Luke 1:40-45 KJV)