Memorial

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Most all of us hold life to be precious.  It is, if nothing else, instinct to try to preserve our own lives.  We also tend to value the lives of those we know, and especially those we care for.  When life ends, here below,  we often memorialise it.  We establish cemeteries, and mark “resting places” with stones to keep the name and memory of our departed “alive.”

Why stone?  It lasts. Wooden markers are nearly as temporal as the remains they mark, and while they have been used, they are often replaced with more “permanent” stones.  This is not all that is left in such places, however.  In Western society flowers, a symbol of love, beauty (and yes transience), are also common at grave sites.  But such tokens shrivel, and are easily blown away.  The people of Israel are a desert people, as well as the people of promise.  Many Jews shy from flowers for the reasons above, and instead leave a small stone on graves.  There are several reasons for the practice. In a desert burial – to place an additional stone on a grave shows respect to and protection of the remains.  It also is a mark that one’s thoughts and vigil at the grave that will not easily vanish (like flowers).

Memorial is important, as we see that with the memory of a life, that life continues to have resonance. That is why we also build memorials other than grave sites.  We even establish days of remembrance such as Memorial Day and Armistice Sunday.  January 27th is one such day.  It is Holocaust Remembrance Day.   It marks the murder of some 6 million people in an unprecedented genocide.

But how do we act at funerals, gravesides and memorials?  Increasingly cultural appreciation of life is waning.  It is evident in the “me” focus of life.  “I matter, you don’t.” You only need visit a cemetery to see the beer cans left by party-ers, who found the quiet unsupervised grounds “inviting.” The graffiti on public memorials to war dead. And, the tourist selfies taken at Holocaust death sites. These I find especially troubling, as they are not photos of sorrow, and shared loss, but self-indulgent displays  of “the me.” [see  yolocaust.de  but be warned it is graphic and disturbing]. Similarly,  I remember visiting the Ravensbrück memorial in Amsterdam and seeing that a local school had used the memorial as a storage space for their coats and lunch boxes while the students conducted a sports day on the nearby green. I have also seen the granite slab around Ghent memorial is Belgium used as a tent pitch by the homeless.

When we abuse to memories of life, I worry we will soon devalue life itself. Life is a gift; in Genesis 2:7 God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Let’s not cast gifts of love aside.

Padre

Oh Emperors and Kings

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Ezekiel 31: 1-12a (NIV) reads:

“In the eleventh year, in the third month on the first day, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his hordes: “‘Who can be compared with you in majesty?  Consider Assyria, once a cedar in Lebanon, with beautiful branches overshadowing the forest; it towered on high its top above the thick foliage. The waters nourished it, deep springs made it grow tall; their streams flowed all around its base and sent their channels to all the trees of the field. So it towered higher than all the trees of the field; its boughs increased and its branches grew long, spreading because of abundant waters. All the birds of the sky nested in its boughs, all the animals of the wild gave birth under its branches; all the great nations lived in its shade. It was majestic in beauty, with its spreading boughs, for its roots went down to abundant waters. The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it, nor could the junipers equal its boughs, nor could the plane trees compare with its branches— no tree in the garden of God could match its beauty.  I made it beautiful with abundant branches, the envy of all the trees of Eden in the garden of God.  “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because the great cedar towered over the thick foliage, and because it was proud of its height,  I gave it into the hands of the ruler of the nations, for him to deal with according to its wickedness. I cast it aside,  and the most ruthless of foreign nations cut it down and left it. Its boughs fell on the mountains and in all the valleys; its branches lay broken in all the ravines of the land.”

The prophet warns Pharaoh of his pride, and that of his people.  Egypt was one of the great empires of the ancient world, and they knew it.  So God offers an object lesson to them through Ezekiel.  “You may be great, but so was Assyria.” Assyria was like the greatest tree in the garden.  All the others were dwarfed by its glory.  But God brought down its pride.

Learn the lesson Egypt (or any other arrogant land).  And did Egypt listen? Perhaps the answer is found in a 19th Century poem:

“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias [Pharaoh – my emphasis], King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”Percy Bysshe Shelley
Food for thought, O emperors and kings.
Padre

Habakkuk

Short Answer: The people of God shall live by hope, from which faith grows.  But what is the question? Habakkuk carries out an animated appeal to God in chapters 1 and 2. Habakkuk begins by bemoaning the state of Judah. It was full of corruption, the Torah was forgotten and leaders failed to stop idolatry.  God responds with, “Babylon will come and teach Judah a lesson”.  Shock of shock.  Habakkuk pleads, “But they are worse than we are.”

In the prophetic voice Habakkuk is shown that Babylon and their like [Rome, Nazis, etc.] worshiped power and evil empires are examples to the godly, for in the end they contain the seeds of their own destruction: Greed, Injustice, Pride, and Idolatry [the worship of the first three].

God, not Habakkuk has a plan. No matter what personal struggles, economic turmoils, or international conflicts may surface; it is not evil that is in control – despite how it may seem to Habakkuk or ourselves.  Habakkuk is not to look at the external of the world, but is rather to trust in God. God has a plan, and Habakkuk fails to see it.

So is suffering just going to go on and on?  How is that reassuring – God? Here we have a parallel with message of Job [While Job’s questions were personal, and Habakkuk’s national – they amount to the the same thing -“Why?”]. A question God does not directly answer.

Rather He says, “Trust me.” God is in control – “Let all the world be silent.”

With that Habakkuk is shook by the encounter with God:

16 I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

It took a personal encounter with God, for Habakkuk to take his eyes off the situation, and to put them back on God. Despite the evil, God is still God. It is not by our works, or even our worries, that we can have hope. God sees what we do not.  Our eyes are not to be on the “evil” about us, but on the God who controls all. That is where hope comes from, and with it the faith in Him who cares.

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Padre

Distraction

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“O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not forget me.” The prayer of General Jacob Astley before the Battle of Edgehill has become famous. It is a true reflection of the pressures of life (much less war). We often get caught up in the bustle and rush of life, and our thoughts are captured by “the immediate,” often at the expense of “the important.”  Jesus mentioned this in the parable of the sower: Matthew 13:22 “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” While I am not suggesting that if the cares of the world distract us we are necessarily “thorny soil,” but rather that even Christians can fall victim to such distractions.

Distraction has long been a challenge to people of faith. There are several Jewish proverbs, which warn about wandering minds while in prayer or Torah study. One such story draws a bigger perspective of how we should focus on a life of service to God in general: “Rabbi Chaim of Krosno on observing an acrobat balancing on a rope high above the ground. He pointed him out to his disciples and said, ‘If that man would think about the money he would earn with his act, instead of concentrating on his rope, he would surely make a mistake and crash to his death. So, shouldn’t we concentrate on our service to G‑d in the same way?’” In our lives, we often lose the focus on what matters. Let us today, make time for those moments of prayer, study and service.

Padre

Mission Songs 2

I have recently written about the songs that inspired Victorian Christians to leave hearth and home to go and proclaim the gospel to the world. J.M. McCaleb is another missions advocate who penned a hymn on the missions theme. His “The Gospel is for All” was written  in part to challenge churches to view the worldwide call of the gospel as a priority. Many had become insular in their faith, preaching to those within the fold, or focusing only to their “near neighbors.”

His song challenges [bold type is my observations]:

“Of one the Lord has made the race
Thro’ one has come the fall
Where sin has gone must go His grace
The gospel is for all”

[All men are in need of the gospel, where sin is salvation is needed].

“The blessed gospel is for all
The gospel is for all
Where sin has gone must go His grace
The gospel is for all”

[Here the refrain, re-emphasizes the point].

“Say not the heathen are at home
Beyond we have no call
For why should we be blest alone?
The gospel is for all”

[He questions the assertion that charity (and the Word) starts at home, and that the blessings of god are for our selves alone].

“Received ye freely, freely give
From ev’ry land they call
Unless they hear they cannot live
The gospel is for all”

[We who have received the Good News and have been blessed by God’s promise, did so happily.  But (as in the previous verse ) others too have the need for it, who else can share it with them unless it be us?].

Whether at home or far afield, let us remember today the world has the need of Christ.  We who are the inheritors of the promise have a duty to share it “going into all the world, making disciples.”  The call of Jesus (and of McCaleb) is clear to us to remember “The gospel is for all.”
Padre
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Titles

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People like titles.  I have previously written about a professor who insisted on the title “Doctor” being used. To be fair, I also had one sociology lecturer who in contrast would only respond to ” {name withheld} You old fart”. But he was trying to make a point of the dangers of deference in an academic setting and its impact on free exchange of ideas.

But, (as per what seems to be becoming my theme of the week) attitude and pride seem to be a greater issue than names and titles themselves. Jesus reflected on this in Matthew 23: 5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (NIV).”

Some titles are honorific (British school children address their teachers as “Sir” or “Miss”), others social niceties (“May I help you madam?”), some convey levels of attainment (“Captain”, “Major”), and yet others power (“Mr President”, or “Your Majesty”).  Titles do serve a social purpose, but in the context of Matthew above, I don’t see Jesus objecting to a father being referred to by their offspring as “Daddy” nor acknowledging that A, B, or C is “my teacher. ” It seems more that the issue of humility should be remembered and the desire to be so “honoured” should be tempered by the realization that even instructors have an ultimate teacher.  It is almost as if He was making a point about capital letters. Yes, a man can be a rabbi, father, or instructor – those are adjectives, but the nouns used as hierarchical tags are dangerous.  We all have jobs to do and roles to play, but mounting airs about them diminishes our appreciation of Who it is that gave us those skills, talents and positions in the first place.

Okay, I often joke that I have six degrees and no common sense (both are true), and that I have more letters after my name than in it (again true), but that isn’t “who I am.” I am a fellow pilgrim and while I use the tag “Padre” for this blog, that is a carry over of an honorific used (I hope lovingly) from my chaplaincy days.  All in all though, I take greatest assurance in being called “brother,” for in so doing it shows I am a “child of God.”

Padre (padre)

When Experts Fail

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In today’s world, people put a lot of trust in “experts.” But, what are experts? One critical view is that they are “ex” meaning past or “use to be-s”, and a “spurt” is just a little drip under a lot of pressure. Jokes aside, experts are said to be “authorities” in their given subject or field. But is that the case? Authority means having power, control or rule over something.  So, do educational gurus control what happens in the outcomes and learning of every student, in every classroom, in every situation? Obviously not, insight maybe, but control – no. And, do doctors have control over health? Influence – perhaps, but control no. We use the term authority too lightly in our definition.  Experts have knowledge and even skill – but only God has power.

Jesus said: “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering (Luke 11:52 NIV).” The scribes and Pharisees knew the Law, but it was God’s Law not theirs. They had no power over it, but rather in their belief they did, failed to even “master” their own understanding, much less show others the way.

Experts, are in the end fallible humans.  Their intentions may be noble, but if they let that knowledge or “authority” blind them to the real source of power, negative consequences can result (see Luke above).

So what can we mere mortals do?  What happens when our “experts” fail us?  We need to refocus our trust on He, who can make the difference.  It is often not easy.  The hurt,  and foiled expectations we have placed in MAN, may well have made us resistant to hope in HOPE itself.  But God is faithful: “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments (Deut 7:9 NIV).”

When the experts have failed let us not only remember the promise above, but the example of the father who sought help from Jesus for his child in Mark 9:22-24 (NIV): 

“‘But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”

Lord , let us have such an attitude (especially when the “experts” fail).

Padre

Easier for a Camel

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Mark 10:25 makes a remarkable observation by Jesus: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (KJV).” This on the surface would seem to indicate an entire class of people excluded from the promise of God.  It is not, however, as simple as that.  Wealth per se does not seem in itself to be the obstacle to salvation.

Look at Barnabas in  Acts 4: “Joseph who was surnamed by the apostles Barnabas (which means, Son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field which belonged to him, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet (vs 36-37).” Here is a man of property, and he is praised.  And why praise?  Because of his attitude of service and giving.

It seems here is the problem of many “rich” of the world – greed.  The living for one’s wealth rather than using the wealth for living (in this life and the next).

We find a clear example in Luke 16:19-31 (RSV):

“There was a rich man [enough said], who was clothed in purple and fine linen [but Luke shows how rich] and who feasted [not just dined]sumptuously every day.  And at his gate [yes, a walled house – not just a door] lay  a poor man named Laz′arus, full of sores,  who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table [the rubbish]; moreover the dogs [not domesticated but scavengers and incidentally the rivals of Laz’arus for those scraps]  came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz′arus in his bosom.  And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz′arus [look, his attitude of condescension towards Laz’arus  still hasn’t abated -even in hell] to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz′arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’  And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him [again, Laz’arus spoken about as if not present, and still as a servant or unworthy] to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’”[My brackets and comments].

It wasn’t that the rich man was rich, but what he did with his wealth.  He lived a life of conspicuous wealth in royal purple and conformable linen, feasting to excess yet with no seeming concern for the poor man dying at his gates.  This attitude of entitlement in life, followed him into death, and it is that arrogant self-centredness that is what made his lot.

Wealth does not damn people. It is their love of that wealth above that of their fellow man, and of God the giver of that wealth that makes that needle so narrow for their camel-sized pride.

First, let’s be aware of who is at our gates today. Then, in humility, seek camel-sized gates for our needle-sized egos – not the other way round.

Padre

To Sing of Mission(s)

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Christian missions and the Victorian era seem to be forever linked in people’s minds. Whether Stanley’s “Doctor Livingstone, I presume,” or just a vague cultural recognition of crosses and pith helmets- missions captures our imagination.

But these 19th Century saints were driven by more than a desire to discover exotic lands. They say themselves as heirs of what has been referred to as Paul’s “Macedonian Call:”

” And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them (Acts 16:6-10 ESV).”

They felt “the call” to preach the gospel! They saw the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) as a personal instruction: “Go ye means go me.”

The church music of this era reflects the urgency of that call. Charles H. Gabriel’s Send the Light is a great exampleIt reads in part – “We have heard the Macedonian call today,
“Send the light! Send the light!” And a golden off’ring at the cross we lay, Send the light! Send the light!” They heard the call, they were prepared to make the offering of themselves. And why? Gabriel explains it -“Let us not grow weary in the work of love,
“Send the light! Send the light!” Let us gather jewels for a crown above,
Send the light! Send the light!”  It is a work of love and it is putting ones heart where one’s treasure is – and that is in heaven.

Shall we send the light today?  The challenge and mission wasn’t just for the Victorians.

Padre

Ecce Homo

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In John 19 Pilate’s words were recorded by the author in Greek. Since there was no authorial translation,  we can assume that the phrase “Behold the man” Ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος was spoken in Greek by Pilate. It is widely understood, that Greek was the language of commerce in the eastern empire, and Pilate as an administrator would have known and used it.

Here is the reasoning behind this observation. In Matthew’s account of the crucifixion the Vulgate transliterates Jesus’ Aramaic words in 27:46 from their Greek transliteration into Latin script. It would be presumed that Matthew believed his audience would need the words explained so goes on to translate them as well. The Vulgate again follows this and translates the transliterated words into Latin.

Since the original and the Latin Vulgate translate Pilate’s words in John 19:5 without comment (as do modern translations) it seems Pilate used Greek so he could be understood by the onlookers.  And as that was the case John had no reason to explain the phrase to his Greek speaking readers. So why am I, an evangelical Protestant going on and on about the Latin version?   Simply that it is used in many popular depictions (such as the film The Passion of the Christ, 2004) . They have the words in Latin “ecce homo.” This a cultural and translational mistake.  Such points can be seen as splitting hairs, but if we want to get a true picture of the biblical narrative some jots and tittles matter.

So the crowd crying out in Greek and/or Aramaic – “Crucify Him” are faced with this humble beaten man in His crown of thorns. And the Roman judge exhibits Him, the work of his figurative hands, but of their unjust calls  – proclaiming in the common tongue of all gathered “Ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος – Behold the man.”

Let us behold that scene and that sacrifice in our lives, hearts and thoughts today.

Padre