Your Faith has Made You Well

The below text was preached as a sermon for the Sunday Morning Eucharist Service at Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Opelika, AL, on 28 October 2018.  A podcast recording this sermon is available on PodBean.

“And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And the blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.”  Mark 10:50-52 (ESV)

 

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Christ Healing the Blind

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in your sight; O LORD my rock and my redeemer.

Is there anyone here who has difficulty seeing? How about anyone who is required to wear glasses to drive? Is there anyone here who is literally or legally blind?

For all of us, whether you deal with loss of vision or other physical impediment, I rejoice that new bodies await us after Christ’s Return, and that these and all other infirmities will be removed so that we may enjoy the Creation as God intended, in perfection and without physical ailments dulling our senses. Amen.

While I will mainly be focusing on the Gospel reading for today, this is one of my favorite Lectionary arrangements, because there appear to be clear connecting lines of application between all of the readings. I encourage you to come back and read all of the readings again later this week and see what fresh insight or questions come to you.

We are told throughout the Gospels that Jesus performed many miracles of healing, and that restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, and mobility to the lame were the remarkable signs that he worked that got people’s attention. The Gospels contain several separate accounts of restoration of sight, and our Lectionary – the three-year cycle of readings which we read every Sunday during the worship service – captures two of them, the other being the account of the man born blind whom Jesus healed by spitting in his eyes.

What is so great about restoration of sight? Why is it that all of the Gospel writers included more than just one account of the blind being made to see? Why not just one and then lump the rest in with the many other healing works Jesus did? Why does our Lectionary make a point of recounting these and other healing miracles?

To answer these questions, it is important to consider what it means to be blind. Specifically, let us consider Bartimaeus. We don’t know much about Bartimaeus, beyond his name and that he was a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus. Mark does not say that he was born blind, and textual cues make it reasonable to assume that he was born with his sight, and lost it at some point – through disease, trauma, or perhaps just due to age. The way the crowd treats Bartimaeus, as well as other blind men approaching Jesus, tells about his social status; the crowd believes that he is beneath the notice of Jesus, and rebukes him, hoping to cause him to scurry off.

Just for a moment, I want everyone in here who is wearing glasses to take them off, but keep your eyes open and try to take in what’s going on at the front of the Sanctuary. If you don’t wear glasses, or if you wear contacts, close your eyes. I’m not about to ask you to consider anything very deep right now, this isn’t a segue into some sort of meditation. I only want you to briefly consider what it’s like to have your vision degraded or taken away. What is your immediate concern? If you were never allowed to open your eyes or put your glasses back on, what would that mean for you?

This is something like what Bartimaeus lived with. We don’t know whether his blindness was total, or if it was “merely” debilitating. He certainly couldn’t do any meaningful work, otherwise he wouldn’t have had to resort to life as a beggar. Standing up here, I am having to alternate between squinting, hoping that I have correctly memorized what I’ve written, and get close enough to the paper to make sure I’m on the right track. My life would be severely altered faced with the kind of reality that Bartimaeus lived with.

You may put your glasses back on and open your eyes.

Thanks be to God, that we live in a time that unless we have serious disease or trauma affecting the eye, most causes of vision problems can be corrected. Thanks be to God that Jesus, the Great Physician, healed Bartimaeus and the others recounted in Scripture of their physical blindness and gave them the gift of sight.

But this was never just about restoring sight to the blind, or opening up the ears of the deaf, or loosening the tongue of the mute.

Each of these works were important personal ministries from God the Son to the people he ministered to, but that is not the chief reason why the Gospel writers chose to capture them in their accounts.

Think back a few moments – having experienced a brief time of failing vision, what is the chief impact to you? Is it not that your ability to perceive the world around you is degraded?

In Mark’s Gospel, the account of Bartimaeus is the second of two sight restorations that occur on either side of Jesus providing key instruction on what it is to be his disciples. During this time, Peter has enjoyed favor after confessing Jesus as the Christ but has also been rebuked for speaking against the plan of salvation, in denying that Jesus would be handed over to the Gentiles and killed. Jesus has repeatedly predicted his death and resurrection, and the disciples have been reluctant to hear it. Peter, James, and John have seen Jesus Transfigured on the Holy Mountain. Finally, the disciples have been taught that to be first they must become last.

All of these events showcase particular areas where Jesus’ disciples had impaired spiritual senses regarding the ministry and purpose of Christ’s mission on Earth. All of them were physically seeing and hearing and walking with Jesus, but spiritually they were poor in sight if not totally blind; their ears were dull if not fully stopped up; their legs took halting steps when they didn’t collapse under them.

Jesus’ healing act regarding Bartimaeus is also instructive. In the earlier account in Mark, the first healing doesn’t appear to “take” – Jesus has to repeat laying his hands on the man. In contrast, we aren’t told that Jesus laid hands on Bartimaeus at all! The extent of the healing act is that Jesus tells Bartimaeus that his faith has made him well, and his sight is immediately recovered. The difference in the two healings is striking – why did Jesus apparently need a second try with the one, but barely needed to speak to Bartimaeus to heal him?

The answer of course is not that for some reason Jesus had to perfect his healing on the first man. Rather, this healing prefigures the spiritual healing that Jesus will perform through his instruction to the disciples, and the healing of Bartimaeus is the final instruction in this block of training – if you have faith, you will be made finally and perfectly well.

So, what does this mean for us?

We all have spiritual blind spots. Just as our physical eyes can become degraded or damaged, our spirits, which start out enthusiastic and open to the Word of God, can over time become heavy with the cares of life, cares which rise up like spiritual cataracts taking our sight off of the big picture. For we who are baptized and remain faithful to Christ Jesus, that is the extent of it, we don’t have to be worried about losing our spiritual sight altogether. Nevertheless, we should always strive for the removal of those blind spots, seeking our healing by faith in Jesus.

What are spiritual blind spots? What are things that degrade our vision of Jesus and his Kingdom?

Anything that seeks to take the place of Jesus as Lord of our Life, even if only for a season, fits the bill. These can either be things that steal our focus from what God calls us to do, or they can be things that blot out and make it difficult for us to see that call. Our lives are full of things clamoring for our attention, and sometimes we pay attention with God-colored lenses (meaning that we rely on God to inform us about these abstract things), and sometimes we attempt to approach God while wearing glasses that are shaded and smudged (meaning that we interpret our view of God based on the cares of the world that are stealing our attention).

Moving from abstract talk to specifics, let me give a couple of examples, which I think are especially applicable for our culture and moment.

Just as Fr. Ben preached a couple of Sundays ago, money is a major blind spot that most of us at some level struggle with. And our culture makes it very easy for us to miss what the Scripture says, by setting up monetary security as the lower bar of wealth. This is a sneaky work of the world against us, because it becomes very easy for me to say that because I still pay student debts, I’m not really financially secure. But Scripture clearly teaches over and over that God desires those who have to give to those who do not have.

I really want to exclude myself from that hard teaching, but the Spirit won’t allow me to. The fact is that I make decent money, and even with our current circumstances, there are still small luxuries that I know I am holding too tightly to when I should be looking for ways to serve others with the financial blessings that I do have. When I try to dodge out of the way of what the Scripture teaches me about how to handle money, seeking to not even let the words stir any kind of concern, then my spiritual senses are dulled, and I do not perceive the world rightly.

In this country, in this state, in our communities, politics is a blind spot that leads many into tragic conflicts and disagreements and steals our sight off of God’s works of wonder and love. We live in what seems like it must be one of the most divided times in the recent history of our country. Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, a dyed in the wool capitalist or a bleeding-heart social liberal, the inclination to look for someone to rally behind who will lead us to electoral victories and right the wrongs we identify in our society is very strong.

It was the same for our forebears in faith, the disciples – part of the reason for their blindness was that they saw in Jesus not the Savior of mankind, but as just another – albeit divinely favored – earthly king who would restore Judah to its rightful place in the politics of Palestine and the surrounding countries. They were blind because they did not see that for Jesus to become that great ruler would actually be a hindrance to the salvation mission; for, contrary to the wisdom of the world, might does not make right and oppression cannot be overturned by oppression, but wounds are healed through mercy and sacrifice and the justice of the only One who can mete out Justice.

Likewise, we are blind when we put our trust more in politicians or platforms than we do in the might and mercy of God in Jesus Christ. I do not speak only to the right or to the left: there are Christians on both sides who come very near to falling into this trap. We must always be careful to keep concerns about the powers of the world in their proper place – informing our politics based on the whole witness of the Holy Spirit to the Church, and not informing our image of God based on our politics. When we despair over the “other side” gaining ground in the political arena and allow that to dampen our joy or incite us to bitterness about the state of the world, we reveal that we trust too much in princes and chariots and not in the Lord Our God.

How are we to overcome these and other areas of blindness in our lives?

A couple of weeks ago, we heard that “with man, it is impossible; but with God, all things are possible.” Today, we have heard Jesus tell Bartimaeus that “your faith has made you well.” This is the Gospel: that despite our spiritual infirmities, if we have faith in God, His will and His Word, we will be healed and made whole before Him. Jesus’ statement to Bartimaeus is not a one-off curiosity in the mystery of miraculous healings; instead it is an instruction and assurance to us just as surely as it was to the disciples who walked with Jesus.

This faith comes not from willing yourself into belief; rather, it comes from prayer and remembering the promises of God to His people. God has shown His character from the beginning of the world as a loving and merciful Father. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, related the same truths both in teaching crowds and through personal acts of ministry and charity. I know for my part that when I look back on my life I can identify specific examples when God reaffirmed and renewed my faith in Him. I expect it is the same for most if not all of you.

Having this faith, therefore, I encourage you to reflect on the areas in your spiritual life where your vision is smudged of blurred. Ask in prayer for Jesus to heal those cataracts, and to remove the distractions from your sight which impair your ability to see Him fully.

In closing, I echo the writer of Hebrews in encouraging all of us to greater things, saying that “Though we speak in this way,” bringing up the hard and uncomfortable truth that we are all afflicted with spiritual wounds and ailments which apart from faith in Jesus lead to death, “yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Grace and Peace to you in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Good Shepherd and Great Physician. Amen.

Blessed: The Poor In Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3, ESV

This is part 2 of a 10 part series on the Beatitudes.  For the first post in the series, click here.  For a list of the series posts, click the Beatitudes category tag in the post information.

Last post I talked about what it meant to be “blessed” in the terms that Matthew is recounting from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  As a quick review, to be “blessed” in contemporary usage is to have divine favor, while the Greek word makarios (which is translated as “blessed are…” in the Gospels) can also be rendered as “happy are…” or “envied are…”  For the last option, I suggested that you could re-render that as “you should yearn or desire to be like” if using the word “envy” sounds like permission to commit the sin of Envy.

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A beggar kneeling at Charles Bridge, Prague.

This post will focus on the first statement: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This is one of six permanent or eternal qualities that Kingdom citizens are to desire, yearn for, or seek to possess, and are blessed when they realize that desire, yearning, and seeking.  A Kingdom citizen is to never stop seeking after this state, and once they possess it, they are never to give it up.  We will look more into the permanence aspect further in the post.

I asked what it means to be “blessed” last time; now I ask: what does it mean to be “poor”?  Jesus says later in Matthew that “you always have the poor with you.” (Mt. 26:11 ESV) In the Mosaic Law, God tells Israel not to show partiality on account of someone’s wealth (or lack thereof): “…You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great…” (Lev. 19:15 ESV) So from the Word of God in two witnesses (the Word made flesh and the word given as Law), we know that there will always be poor people and that we are to treat them with the same personal dignity as someone who is wealthy.  Jesus’ statements are clearly about the indigent or monetarily poor, from the context of Matthew 26:11, and it is probably safe to say that the Law is primarily referring to the monetarily poor as well.  But is that what Jesus means in Matthew 5:3?

Do the monetarily poor possess the Kingdom of God because they are without wealth?  Are they in a state of being “blessed” in this way?  If you’ve ever encountered impoverished people who talk about money making schemes or who have placed playing the lottery in such esteem that buying a ticket becomes a near discipline for their life, then it would be hard to think this way.  The indigent poor are deserving of our care, help, and respect because they are fellow Image bearers, not to mention the specific commands throughout Scripture to render these things.  They are not, however, in possession of the Kingdom of God solely based on their lack of wealth.

When Jesus says, “blessed are the poor” he goes on to add “in spirit,” making this statement clearly not about monetary wealth.  It is definitely possible for a monetarily poor person to also fit this bill, and I might say that it is more likely that such an individual is more likely to be “blessed” rather than to be “seeking to be like” or “desiring to be” or “envying after” the poor in spirit; but if so it is not because of their lack of goods – otherwise, the Gospel would have had a single command, sell everything and beg on the street!

To understand what it means to be “poor” in the context of this Beatitude, we have to understand that “in spirit” piece.  The Kingdom isn’t a race to the bottom, where the most destitute or the pinnacle of indigence is assured a seat at Jesus’ right hand.  Rather, it is the most complete and utter monarchy, where the citizens are fully aware and openly accepting that they are absolutely dependent on their Ruler for life, for success, for health, for deliverance from harm and evil.  Jesus gives another analogy later in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as in other discourses: that of children looking to their fathers – or, more properly, their Father in Heaven.  We have all been children and remember times where we were unable to complete tasks, or when we were unsuccessful at something, or when we were sick, and we had to rely on our earthly parents for succor, shelter, and encouragement.  This is the type of spiritual dependency that Jesus is extolling and pronouncing as Blessed.

Neither is the Kingdom nor the King harsh in this picture of spiritual destitution – our God does not require us to be broken so that he may throw us a crust in patronizing magnanimity.  He requires us to be broken precisely so that He may lift us up.  In this way, we are to emulate the vast majority of the indigent poor, who look for assistance from more wealthy and advantaged persons to provide for them in their weakness.  They approach others humbly and ask for what can be spared, most times expecting nothing more than pocket change if anything at all.  Just as the beggar on the street knows intimately that they do not deserve even pocket change by their own merit, we know that we do not deserve God’s mercy, but we trust in His promises to deliver us from sin and suffering.

So, to be spiritually poor is to be utterly dependent on God:  for our life and as we approach death; for our health and through the trials of illness; for our well-being and in the midst of suffering; for our successes and in the midst of our failures; to provide us peace and to see us through storms.  Because the fact of the matter is that we are this dependent – yet most of humanity regards all of these things as being totally in our control.  Most of the ills, blasphemies, heresies, schisms, and just plain brokenness that has harried the human race throughout history is due to the deception that we are the captains of our own ship.  Even being able to confess this is not the full antidote – I am intellectually aware of the reality, and yet when I pray for help it is most often as if I am asking for assistance to something I could do on my own but would be easier if God helped me, not begging for direction and intervention with something that is monumentally too big for me.

Why is it that I say that this is a permanent, or eternal quality of citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven?

For me, the largest clue for why this is true is the closing of the statement: “…for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Not “…theirs will be the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Those who are poor in spirit, utterly dependent on the reign of the triune God, possess the Kingdom in real time.  They do not await their citizenship – it is already granted to them.  In their possession of the Kingdom, they do not lose their quality of being poor in spirit.

I want to quickly divert here and say that if you are a baptized Christian and struggle with pride of life – as I and many others do – then I am not saying that you are not a citizen yet.  St. Paul makes quite clear that Christians are at different maturity levels in different areas.  He also makes quite clear that those who confess the Name and Lordship of Jesus are counted among these Blessed because no one can make that confession except by the Holy Spirit, and none have the Holy Spirit without membership in the Body of Christ.  Indeed, by earnest confession and prayer we make strides to put pride in ourselves to death and replace it with dependence on God in Christ.

I believe that what in this life – working in this fallen created realm – is a spiritual humility akin to monetary destitution and indigence will be transformed into a different kind of humility before God.  In writing this post, I cannot think of what exactly that transformation might look like, or even if there are earthly examples that we might use to gain an understanding in this life.  What I can think of that might approach this are the best examples of relationships between mature children and their earthly parents; or between loyal subjects and just rulers.

What I do know is that eternity in the Kingdom won’t be one endless realization that “I’m not worthy!”  Citizenship is predicated on the acceptance that I’m not God, and that I was created for His purposes not mine, which is its own kind of honor – the Creator of the cosmos chose of His infinite will and power to create me in His Image to accomplish His purposes, and desires that I will come into a relationship with Him.  But at the end of it all, being poor in spirit is utter realization that I am not God, and that, whatever I may think in this life, I am subject to His will for my life.  How this is accomplished is through confession that Jesus Christ is Lord and seeking to live a life governed by his teachings – in essence, to be a disciple of Christ.

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Blessed

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:1–12, ESV)

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What is it to be “blessed”?  I think this question is at the core of understanding the importance of the Beatitudes to Jesus’ earthly ministry.

This post serves as the introduction to a ten-part series on the Beatitudes.  For the following nine posts, I will be examining each of the Beatitudes and writing about why the qualities Jesus talks about are blessed, and how we should approach each of these statements.

Some of these are qualities that Christ-followers are called to emulate and seek after at all times (to be poor in spirit, to be meek, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, and to be peacemakers), while others are qualities that are temporal (to mourn, to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness, and to be reviled and slandered).  Six are eternal qualities of citizens of the Kingdom, and three will pass away after the Kingdom comes in its fullness and restores Creation to what was intended from the first breath of God to call light out of darkness.

So, what is it to be “blessed”?  As someone who has lived in the South nearly all my life, I have heard some variation on the phrase “bless your heart” more times than I can count.  It is a cultural joke that generally stems from the time-honored wisdom of mothers everywhere to “say only nice things” about people.  I usually hear it when the blessee has done something worthy of pity, or that a “less nice” person would scoff and laugh about.

Is this what Jesus means?  No, and we should be quick to banish the possibility from our minds.

The modern English dictionary has several definitions for the word “bless.”  In modern usage, “bless” can mean to invoke divine favor upon someone, to express reverence for God, to express gratitude for an act or a gift.  The modern definition is definitely tinged with a deep historic embedding of Christian thought in the formation of the modern language.  In Jesus’ day, a “blessing” was a word of acceptance, a proclamation that the person doing the blessing stood behind the person being blessed.  In the days of the Patriarchs, the rights to rule over the household were conferred through blessing (reference Isaac unknowingly blessing Jacob instead of his firstborn, Esau, to find out how important this was in their culture).

The Greek word being rendered as “blessed are” in each of the statements in the English translation of the Beatitudes is the word makarios, which means “happy, blessed, to be envied.”  In addition to reading the Beatitudes as “Blessed are…” you could also read them to say “Happy are…” but it is also appropriate to say “You should envy those who are…”  Or, maybe, to avoid confusion with the sin of Envy you could render it “You should yearn or desire to be like those who are…”

As I said above, there are six qualities that are blessed which are permanent attributes of Kingdom citizens – to be poor in spirit (humility), to be meek (gentleness), to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, and to be peacemakers.  These are the attributes that we are to strive for, to yearn after.  I would say that it is especially appropriate to render these six statements as “You should yearn or desire to be like those who are…”

There are also three qualities or experiences which are temporal, and which will be removed when the Kingdom comes in its fullness to restore the creation to what the Creator intended:  mourners will be comforted and mourning will cease (Revelation 7:17); the persecuted will possess the Kingdom of Heaven and persecutions will come to an end (Revelation 21:4); finally, those reviled for the sake of the Gospel will rejoice to be counted like the prophets, and the revilers will be made to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ (Philippians 2:10-11).  To me, rendering these statements by Jesus as “Blessed are” or “Happy are” is especially appropriate, because it highlights that the merciful hand of God is with those who mourn, and divine favor is upon those who suffer for the cause of righteousness.  These are qualities and experiences which all Kingdom citizens will possess or face at some point.

What further contrasts these three from the other six is that while the permanent attributes are characterizations of the Kingdom citizen, the three temporal attributes are either consequences of the Fall or reactions by the fallen world to the encroachment of the Kingdom.  Mourning results from death and loss, which results from the sin of Adam.  Persecution, revulsion, and hatred are reactions by the parasitic hold of sin on the world against the truth and health of the Kingdom.

You will note that I keep referring to the Beatitudes as qualities or experiences of Kingdom citizens.  The Beatitudes form the first part of the discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew (a similar sermon is found in Luke, and contains a shorter but similar list of blessings).  The focus of Matthew’s gospel account is on what Jesus’ message means for the Jewish people, and it is steeped in references to Judaism, to the teachings that grew up with the rabbinical traditions.  Part of the backdrop of the culture during Jesus’ ministry was a kind of Jewish nationalism that looked for a strongman Messiah who would kick out all of the Gentile oppressors (such as the Roman Empire) and restore a righteous kingdom on earth at Jerusalem.  There were multiple rebellions during the time by people looking for the fulfillment of the words of the prophets in mighty men.  Some of these people flocked to Jesus because they thought he was setting the stage for his own populist uprising that would restore the line of David to kingship in Israel.

In many ways, the Sermon on the Mount reads to me like a manifesto of what it actually means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The beatitudes are like Jesus’ response to people saying, “we want to see God’s kingdom here and now!” with Jesus responding “Okay, but just so you know, this is what that looks like!”  This reading has one significant potential for error: it can seem like Jesus, through the Beatitudes, is laying out a checklist for what someone outside the Kingdom needs to do to get inside the Kingdom, like what someone outside the United States might be expected to do to be legally allowed to live within the United States.  This is not the case.  Therefore, I insist on calling the statements in the Beatitudes “qualities” and not “acts” or “works.”  The Beatitudes look for the blessed to be meek, not to act meek.  One is the truth of a person, the other is hypocrisy.  The Beatitudes are not what someone must do to become a Citizen; rather, a Citizen is already in possession of the Beatitudes.

Another way to think of the qualities enumerated in the Beatitudes, especially the six that I call “eternal” qualities, is to view them in the same way as the fruits of the Spirit.  Just as the fruits of the Spirit are qualities that evidence a transformed life – rather than being acts or deeds that in themselves transform that life – so too are the qualities enumerated in the Beatitudes evidences of those who are already members of the Kingdom of God.  I’ve tried to come up with secular parallels to this, using my hypothetical immigrant to the United States, but everything I come up with is rooted in the deeds of the one seeking citizenship – there are no uniquely “American” qualities that I can enumerate, if I’m being objective and putting aside patriotism for the sake of this essay.

Over the next several months, I invite you to explore each of these qualities with me.  If, during your examination, you find that there are particular areas you struggle with or are especially difficult for you – do not be discouraged or overly dismayed!  Our God has blessed us with a Comforter that speaks to us in our weaknesses to build us up, to urge us to growth.  I find that I especially struggle with purity and against apathy towards injustice, as well as against pride in myself.  But I know by faith that my prayers for mercy and acceptance are heard, and I now rarely see a day that goes by where some kind of growth is not evident to me.  The Way of the Cross is not an easy or quick road, and our walk along it will not be finished in this life.

It is my hope that this series will bless you as you join me in examining that which Our Lord has called “blessed.”

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A New Direction

After allowing this blog to lie fallow since just before Easter due to several convergent circumstances, I have decided that time enough has passed since the last time I wrote a reflection on the Word of God.  This blog post is not a reflection, but more of a “what’s coming” post.

First, some behind the scenes information on the author:  I work full time as a Network Engineer for one of the largest employers of professional services in the United States.  Because of this, I do a fair amount of travel.  The past couple of months have been especially travel-full, and one stint was to an area where internet connectivity is very much a commodity.  So, shortly after Easter my attention was turned toward preparing for various work trips.  This has taken its toll on my “free” writing time, and after a couple of weeks of not getting a chance to write a reflection, I made the decision not to stress myself out about it and just take a break.  I have written a piece in the interim for Rookie Anglican on icons in Christian worship, which I encourage everyone of every stripe and opinion on imagery to read.

Over the coming weeks and months, it is my intention and desire to write a series of posts on the Beatitudes, the nine statements by Jesus in the opening of the Sermon on the Mount which illustrate what it is to live a blessed life in anticipation of the Kingdom of Heaven.  This blog will therefore become untethered from the Lectionary for Sundays in the ACNA – at least during this season.  This is ultimately for self-serving reasons – it allows me to not feel pressure to get a homily-length piece up every week.  Instead, my intent is to have slightly longer reflections on each of the Beatitudes up every two to three weeks.

It is my hope that this change both allows me to post more regularly, and that by focusing on this core teaching of Jesus Christ, my readers are helped and encouraged in their striving to live the Blessed Life.

As always,

Grace and Peace in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

(Year B, Good Friday, March 30, 2018; Psalm 22)

15       My mouth is dried out like a pot-sherd;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; *
and you have laid me in the dust of the grave.

16     Packs of dogs close me in,
and gangs of evildoers circle around me; *
they pierce my hands and my feet;
I can count all my bones.

17     They stare and gloat over me; *
they divide my garments among them;
they cast lots for my clothing.

(Psalm 22, BCP 1979)

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I don’t normally write about the psalms, tending to focus more on the Gospels and Epistles.  However, I feel strongly that it would be a disservice to overlook Psalm 22, as it has the most explicit description of Our Lord’s crucifixion found in a prophetic work.

I am writing this a few hours after having followed the two great traditions of Christian observances on Good Friday – giving a truthful confession seeking earnest reconciliation and repentance, and participating in the Stations of the Cross mini-pilgrimage around my church’s sanctuary.  I am writing a few hours before participating in one of the most solemn and somber liturgies of the Christian year, when we commemorate Our Lord’s death and burial, having been betrayed and falsely charged on Maundy Thursday, shortly after instituting the Lord’s Supper.  The graphic for this piece is Station 12 of my parish’s Stations of the Cross which are set up in our sanctuary.

Before becoming an Anglican Christian, I had a very… strained relationship with the psalms.  I didn’t understand their purpose, why they were in the Bible.  I couldn’t make heads or tails of what they were trying to tell me, or what I was supposed to “do” with them.  Of course, at the time, I saw little profit in the Old Testament other than as history of the people Jesus came from.  With that general view of the Old Testament, it’s little wonder that my view of a book of abstract poetry was limited and (shamefully) dismissive.

Anglican (along with Orthodox and Catholic) worship forces the participant to consider the whole of Scripture, including the psalter (the collection of psalms).  More than that, it forces one to interact with the Scripture, and with the Author of Scripture – our prayers are two-way: The Scripture speaks to us, and we respond in our collects, petitions, intercessions, and thanksgivings.  The psalms fit into this process both as God speaking to us from Scripture, and us taking up the petitions of the prayers as the voice of the Church, though some of the psalms are primarily one or the other, and other alternate, like a dialog.  This is part of why, I believe, the popular mode of reading the psalms in prayer is responsively – the back and forth nature reminds us of a dialog.

It didn’t take long for me to realize my great error in dismissing the psalms, and never was the sin more apparent than when I first read Psalm 22 – as I said, this is the most explicit description of the crucifixion found in the Old Testament, and it describes a mode of torturous execution that would not be present in Palestine until several centuries after the psalm was written.  Not only that, it describes precisely the events that are recorded in the total of the crucifixion account, when referencing all four of the canonical Gospels.  Details like lots being cast to divide Jesus’ garments among the soldiers, the nails piercing hands and feet, the crowd jeering him for his inability to save himself – all of these reveal the prophetic voice and intent of the psalm.  David was never so surrounded, even in his flight from Saul; he was never pierced by nails in his hands and feet; his clothing was never divided amongst captors.

Most telling though, is when Jesus makes reference to the psalm from the cross in his dying breath: “Eloi eloi lama sabacthani!” which is the Aramaic translation of the opening verse of Psalm 22.  I didn’t catch this even after I first read the psalm, but this exclamation, which I had taken to be merely an outcry to God, also served the purpose of putting the psalm in the minds of the crowd, if their hearts and ears were opened.  In the synagogue, the psalm would probably not have been referenced by its number, but by a phrase early in the text.  A vestige of this is retained in the psalters of the historic Church, where a “title” in Latin or Greek is present, which is usually the first few words, or maybe the opening phrase of the psalm.  So, in effect, Jesus is not only crying out to God, he also calls upon the faithful to recall this psalm of David so that they would have the truth revealed to them.

When I realized this, I was struck by the importance of this psalm and the depth of prophecies potentially contained in all the psalms.  I was also reminded of Jesus illuminating all the Scriptures concerning himself to the pair of disciples on the Emmaus road – which included the psalms and the prophets.  Last year, in partnership with my Vicar, I led a study which examined the presence of Christ in the psalms.  This internal integrity between the psalms, the prophets, and the narrative accounts in the Gospels of the suffering and death of Our Lord drove away certain doubts that I had battled with when I viewed the Old Testament as just a history book.

On this Good Friday, I ask and encourage you to engage with the psalms, and especially Psalm 22, 40, 69, and 110.  If you have the time, I also encourage reading Psalm 119 in its entirety; this psalm talks about the speaker’s deep love and obedience to the Law of Moses, a depth of love and a thoroughness in obedience that is seen in only one man in the whole of Scripture – Jesus the Messiah.

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.