Dies Irae

Wisdom 3:1-9
Romans 5:5-11
John 6:37-40

God hath tried them, and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace he hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust he hath received them, and in time there shall be respect had to them.
Wisdom 3:5b-6

All Souls Day: the day we set aside for these prayers in the Western Rite, although, actually, pretty much the entire month of November is set aside for these prayers – masses for the dead are said nearly every day. Individual order (eg, the Benedictines, the Cistercians, etc) will have days celebrating “All Saints of our Order” followed by days of prayer for “All Our Departed Brethren”. In parishes, the departed will be remembered by name. Some will go to a cemetery for prayers at gravesites. In the Eastern Rites, there are four such days throughout the year, called “Soul Saturdays” – they were, in part, brought into the Church from pre-Christian Slavic tradition. They serve the same purpose.

The only real difference between liturgical East and West on this teaching is that the West (at least in the Anti-western mind of the East) seems to posit a specific place. Dante draws this more evidently – a third placement of souls between Hell and Heaven. But the Roman Church teaches Purgatory is a “state of being“. In that I think East and West agree: it’s a thing in us. A state of being. The East teaches, really, there’s only one place to go after death: into the presence of God. But for some of us that will be joy, peace, bliss, and all light and love. For some, that very concept of all that light and communion will be hellish. But we will work it out, as a long-ago friend of mine said, “roasting in the unending fires of God’s love for us.” That’s it. Right there.

God hath tried them… As gold in the furnace he hath proved them Humans do not like to imagine a love so pure that it purifies them; or, more correctly, we do not like to imagine we’re not pure enough for that love. There are parts of me that must go. Maybe there are parts that I wrongly imagine are a central part of my “identity as me” that will burn away. Right now, where I am, these parts of me feel as if they “really are me”. But if they are misconceptions, if they are constructs based on false or even sinful understandings of what God wanted a human being to be, then “roasting in the unending fires of God’s love for us” will fix it.

When we hear that God is calling us to be our true selves what we vainly imagine is “my true self is this dude right here right now.” We imagine our choicest sins are, in fact, ourselves. “I AM WHAT I AM: PROUD TO BE A (fill in the blank),” as if we could really be anything other than the image and likeness of God’s purity, God’s love, God’s charity. Anything less is missing the mark, anything less is sin. When God tries us, proves in the furnace, he removes all the dross: the egotism, the prideful actions, selfish ideas of sex, failed conceptions of love; it all goes away and frees our self, finally, to be.

In the 16th Century, the English Christians produced an act of devotion called “The Jesus Psalter“. It, together with the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin, sustained the Church through the persecution following the English Schism. It’s a collection of devotions centered around the recitation of the name of Jesus. By the end of the recitation one will have said the Holy Name more than 450 times together with an increasingly abstract set of prayers. It’s starts out with “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus: Have mercy on me.” The tenth petition, is “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus: send me here my purgatory.”

Jesus, send me here my purgatory, and so prevent the torments of that cleansing fire, which, after this life, awaits unpurged souls. 

Vouchsafe to grant me those merciful crosses and afflictions, which Thou seest are necessary to break off my affections from all things here below. 

Since none can see Thee that loves any thing but for Thy sake, permit not my heart to find here any rest but a seeking after Thee. 

Too bitter, alas! will be the anguish of a separated soul that desires, but cannot come to Thee, clogged with the heavy chains of sin. 

Here then, O my Savior, keep me continually mortified in this world; that purged thoroughly by the fire of love, I may immediately pass into the everlasting possessions.

That is purgatory – both here and hereafter – in both the East and the West: those merciful crosses and afflictions, which Thou seest are necessary to break off my affections from all things here below. It is the place where we, mere mortals, can find our perfection. That is only in the light of God’s love for us.

Today we pray for the souls in purgatory and our prayers avail much. We are all part of the same church: the Saints, the LIving and the souls in Purgatory. We all pray for each other. This is the meaning of the Three Days of the All Hallows Triduum. Christ the King rules over us all: on Earth, in Heaven, and in Purgatory. To not pray this day – and every day, in fact – for the souls of the departed is to cut off the larger part of our Church not-yet in heaven. To limit our prayers to a few lucky stiffs who happen to be walking on the surface of this orb is to have a really tiny, tiny Church.

12b or Not 12b?

Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
I John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12a

For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.
Matthew 5:12b

The Eastern Rite (both Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic) sings this Gospel passage – the Beatitudes – every week at Liturgy (at least in the Slavic traditions). That singing does not include the second part of verse 12. That part of the verse does not show up in any of the assigned readings in the traditional Byzantine lectionary. Likewise, neither the Gospel assigned for this feast of All Saints Day in the older, Extraordinary Form (the Latin Mass) nor the Gospel assigned for today in the Novus Ordo Mass include verse 12b. It would seem it’s never assigned to be read (although someone reading from a Bible, rather than a pre-printed text, might accidentally read to the end of the verse). I can’t find it in any of the traditional lectionaries, so I’m going to talk about it.

Please chew on it first: they persecuted the prophets that were before you. The “they” in that verse is other Jews. Israel enjoyed having prophets around – because, Hey, look! We have real prophets and you don’t! – but they never really liked listening to them. They killed them or drove them into exile. Even when they were around to rescue Israel from some bad folks, the Prophets got themselves killed when they started explaining why the bad folks were there in the first place.

The why was sin, mostly. All of Israel was involved in sin so God let bad stuff happen to them. The prophets said so, the response was “How dare he say that? Kill him!” Jesus basically says, “When things get really sucky, you know you’re doing something right because they did this to other folks whom I also called to speak up in my name.”

I have no doubt that nonbelievers do and will continue to persecute believers, but “so persecuted they” with  “they” meaning other Jews seems to read to me like a prophecy that some, at least, of the coming persecutions will come from people who wear the name of “Christian” at least in the eyes of the world.

There are Church people out there who think that “Christian” means doing what a “good” gov’t says. (That is defined as “agrees with me”.) Christians in England met a lot of persecution from politically-active Church people. The Queen, herself, was a nice Church Girl, of course, but she killed faithful Christians at the drop of a feather, making holy and pious martyrs out of some of the best minds in her country. She even killed one of my ancestors. An icon of the 40 Martyrs of England, slain by that nice Church Girl, is at the head of this post. (There is an excellent fictionalized account of this period written by another convert to Catholic Church, Robert Hugh Benson, called Come Rack, Come Rope.)

There are people out there who think Christianity is about being nice and giving social services, not about getting saved and certainly not about contravening prevailing misunderstandings of humanity or sexuality. These are not Christians, properly understood, but they are Church people. They are quite happy to ditch the rest of us if they can have their pretty music and their nice buildings. One Anti-Christian Church Girl spent a lot of her denomination’s money filing lawsuits against Christians. It came as quite a shock to Christians how willing she was to punish them. They never read 12b, I think.

Countries behind the Iron Curtain gave us millions of martyrs in the last century (Orate Pro Nobis!) but they, as it were, saw it coming.  We’re blind to the fact that we’re surrounded by people who want to use the “How to Boil a Toad” method of killing the Church. Some of them are just being anti-Christian, but a good few are sitting in the church down the road preaching a different gospel. They just imagine they have it right, finally, after 2000 years of error. The rest of us need “reeducation”. They don’t know that trying to kill the Church is how you make it grow, but that doesn’t do us much good in the short term. Boiling is still boiling. We’re not in a place to fight back: turning the other cheek and all that. We may be called to be the blood of martyrs watering the seed of the Church. But if we’ve never read 12b it’s a surprise. I afraid we’ll all chicken out. Some folks seem to think one candidate for president will be worse, in this regard, than the other. But I think not, I think both could be rather nightmarish to their “not-supporters”. Both, it is to be noted, are Nice Church People.

On All Saints Day, it helps to remember how we got the feast: the Church realized there were so many martyrs that she couldn’t celebrate them all properly. To be honest, your host thinks the Martyrs of England, slain by a nice Church Girl, may be our proper model be the reader Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or elsewise. I think they may even be pertinent for some Muslims, Jews and other religious folks. I say this regardless of who gets elected: because regardless of who gets elected, the Gov’t wins. The Gov’t over the last 50 years has been taking power to itself not granted by the Constitution and using that power against decent, God-fearing people. It has done this regardless of who gets elected, regardless of their state policy. When it all crystallizes, it won’t be pretty regardless of who is in power.

We may (or may not) be about to enter a new growth spurt, if you will. Do everything else in the Gospel, but read 12b. Make wise choices and don’t be surprised.

Holy Martyrs of England and Wales, pray to God for us!

Source for the painting at the top and this key:

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Philippians 2:1-4
Luke 14:12-14

When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends nor thy brethren nor thy kinsmen nor thy neighbours who are rich; lest perhaps they also invite thee again, and a recompense be made to thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind. 
Luke 14:12b-13

Many Orthodox Churches have lunch after the main liturgy on Sunday, this is a great boon since those who take communion have been fasting since midnight. At Holy Trinity in San Francisco it’s a huge meal, cooked by volunteers. At St Raphael’s in Asheville, it was a potluck every week of good, down-home cooking. It was most often the largest meal of the week for me – very helpful when I was earning minimum wage. Father Joseph told us one day that, in fact, it was not simply for breaking the communion fast: rather the meal after the liturgy, called Trapeza by some (really, that’s the name of the dining room in a monastery), is intended to be more communion: a sacred breaking of bread as a community. The Sacrament is not for everyone, but the Table Fellowship is. It’s the Agape Meal of the New Testament, itself a continuation (and evolution) of a Jewish tradition called a Chavurah, which may or may not be related to the hellenic practice of the Symposium (as described by Plato). I say “may or may not” because it could be a direct connection, or it could be just a thing common to Mediterranean culture. To this sacred meal the Early Christians added the rite of communion, but by the middle of the first century it was already being broken away from the meal function.

Most other traditions of Christianity have dropped this meal entirely which is sad: it was, really, a sacramental practice for the community. The meal itself is not “the Body of Christ” but it is the Body of Christ gathered around the table. It was a time of actual communion with the Body for those who could not share in the sacramental Communion at the Altar. As we used to say at St Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, “The feasting continues…” Other traditions, (almost everyone) have the “Coffee Hour” which can be more or less food, more or less formal. At St Mary the Virgin Church in Manhattan, back in the 1980s, at least, it involved a full tea service with Church Ladies pouring into china cups and a gentleman named Charles, IIRC, selling glasses of sherry. I do miss sherry after Mass…

Other traditions have huge potlucks often: once a month or once a quarter. However I find the further away from “sacramental” you get the further away you get from sharing food in community. That’s not always the case, although I think some communities are really rather sacramentally-minded without realizing it.

So, following Jesus command to not hold feasts for ourselves: let’s fantasize about what would happen the next time your religious community holds some kind of official food function… and you bring all the homeless people you passed on the way. As well as those you passed on the way that didn’t want to come to church, as such, but showed up about an hour later waiting for the meal part. Maybe you handed out little cards with the address and time – and a reminder it happens every month or every Sunday at the same time.

How blessed would everyone be?

(I find people are happy to feed the homeless as long as they’re out of site. What about announcing your scheduled meal on the reader board outside? That’s just really scary.)

Yaya knows… she knows…

Wisdom 11:22-12:2
II Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10

And therefore thou chastisest them that err, by little and little: and admonishest them, and speakest to them, concerning the things wherein they offend: that leaving their wickedness, they may believe in thee, O Lord.
Wisdom 12:1-2

Yayas see everything. Everything. One of the things I was taught in Orthodoxy was “if you miss a liturgy for a month, you have excommunicated yourself and must go to Confession.” It makes logical sense. Once, I missed liturgy for three years. Then, feeling homesick, I was standing, one Sunday in the line to kiss the cross at the local greek Parish. The nice woman in front of me said “it’s nice to see you back, why do you not take communion?” YaYas see everything, you understand.  And I told her I was sort of a “Lapsed Orthodox” just here for praying and she laughed.  As I kissed the Cross and Father Chris’ hand YaYa said, “He says he’s an exorthodox, Father. Tell him there’s no such thing.”  Father Chris called me later that week and said, “I expect to see you at the Chalice on Sunday.” And I said, “What time is Confession?”  He said, “In time, when you’re ready. Come to the Chalice.”

Among some Orthodox there is a tendency to stay away from Communion because “I’m not good enough”. There is, of course, little within the Church’s teaching to back that up: when is anyone ever “good enough”? In fact, the whole point of Communion is to give us bread for the journey, strength for the road. That’s why it’s called Viaticum: “via” goes “cum” with, or “on the road with”. Father Chris knew what the Church knows: healing comes from communion. It doesn’t precede it. To have Christ on the road with you is a requirement, not a reward.

Our scripture readings make that clear. In the book of Wisdom, we see God holding off judgement and whispering advice in love to move away from sin. In Thessalonians, Paul knows he’s got a church filled with sinners: he’s praying for them to grow into the fullness of their vocation. (Wherefore also we pray always for you: That our God would make you worthy of his vocation and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness. II Thessalonians 1:11) That means they are not there yet. Paul is loving them forward into God’s grace.

But most bigly (double plus bigly? we’re going to need training in this new English) dig God’s grace in the Gospel: Jesus coming to the household of Zaccheus before he converts, before he claims faith, before he repents – he just wanted to look a minute. And Jesus yells up, Zacheus, make haste and come down: for this day I must abide in thy house. (Luke 19:5) Jesus brings him into Table Fellowship and because of that there are miracles. Some of my Orthodox friends would point out here that Jesus responded to Zaccheus desire to seem him by self-revelation yet notice: Jesus was surely on the way there already. Z only heard he was coming and so then climbed a tree. Jesus is always ready to respond because he’s always there, like Yayas. We have a synergy here, in our salvation, but God is always the leader in our dance. All creation responds to God’s prevenient Grace.

Some of my more-progressive, Protestant friends make of such texts arguments for Open Communion (for everyone, even the non-baptised). I’m not willing to toss out 2000 years of Christian tradition as if we finally figured it out now. That’s simply Chronological Arrogance. Yet the point of our fellowship, of our embracing the stranger is to use that embrace to draw the stranger into sojourning with us, and from thence to full, Fellow-Citizen in the Kingdom. We can’t do that if we want to wait until “them” is pure enough to become, at least, half-way like us. We need to go out and get ’em while they’re not and draw them in by prayer, by love, and by hospitality, like Jesus or your Yaya.

Propped Up and Breathing

…to live is Christ: and to die is gain…
 Philippians 1:21b
A few years ago I had a sleep-study done.  I can snore enough to wake the dead, see. And it was bothering my housemates and, in fact, it was bothering the people upstairs. So… I had a sleep study. Bill Cosby has an excellent description of his father’s snoring. He says the whole house breathes in and out with his dad and every once in a while, there will be a pause… and the whole family is like gasping for breath.  Then Dad takes a breath and AHHHHH the whole family breathes again. So I kind of imagined that would be what it was like for me. Every once in awhile.  But no: evidently I was stopping my breath and nearly dying 80 times every hour. So I got a CPAP breathing machine to wear at night. 
A friend of mine telling me about his CPAP reported how it had changed his life and he wished he could take it to the office just to keep the extra oxygen flowing to his brain. Since I’m pedantic, I had to clear it up: that’s not how a CPAP works. The machine just keeps you inflated, as it were. You have to keep breathing yourself! A CPAP is not a breathing machine, it’s more like a prop to keep your lungs open. You still have to keep alive. To get more oxygen at work, Bro, just breathe more. You’re awake… breathe.
This verse (along with Galatians 2:19-20) is the Mystery of the Faith as far as I can tell. St Paul wants to go be with Christ full time – but knows that his people, the Church, can’t do very well with his departure just yet. So he notes: to stay here (to live) is Christ and to leave (die) is to get my “final reward”.  Get that: to live, to be here, to keep doing the thing you’re doing, is Christ. In other words: to keep going is to bear my Cross.  To be fully alive (to be fully living in and through Christ) is an ongoing process of self-death and being Christ.
The Scriptures speak of all creatures having the breath in them, yet God has Life, the real Life – not just breathing. So, it’s totally possible to breathe your way through the world and die. Humans are designed to live the life of God. We are crafted in his image, we are made with a God-shaped gaps in our being and yet we want to (or I will, anyway)  do anything to avoid plugging into the real Power Source. We will make anything into a CPAP to help us not-stop breathing. It can be work, or money, or politics, or sex, or drugs, music, jogging, flying airplanes, whatever. Roller coasters and scary movies are good examples, too. We use it to “feel alive”. We have to catch our breath and we have to feel the adrenaline rush or the endorphins. We can even make it into an addiction. Sex and “adult entertainment” can be made to get more and more twisted as we get more and more bored with the old stuff. So we need a stronger hit next time. But man, I feel alive. O mighty CPAP, just keeping us propped and feeling something.  
We never notice that we’ve stopped working, just sort of hovering at the edge of things, feeling the breath come and go. But hey, I’m only dying 80 times an hour.
God is life. If we stop pretending all that stuff is living… and just plug in, grok, God’s right there.  Letting all that stuff go will not just “feel like dying”. No: it is dying. It’s dropping the puedo-life of this world completely in exchange for the real thing. 

You Ain’t from Round Here, is You?

Ephesians 2:19-22
Luke 6:12-16

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners…
Ephesians 2:19a

I move a lot. At fifty-plus, I’ve still never been in the same place for more than 4 Christmases. It’s not like I don’t try: but life in the lower-middle class (or upper lower-class, whatever) is lived from paycheck to paycheck. My last layoff left me stranded in the middle of one of the most expensive cities in America. My only defense was more mobility. That is one thing I can do. I’ve been doing it since I was born: never spending too much time in one place was a skill my mother learned from her father, the train-riding hobo. Mom and Dad were both in the Air Force: moving was a given.

Someone coming from outside to “here” for the first time or recently is a stranger. We’ve never met him before and he smells funny. Someone who has been around for a while – but ain’t from here – is a sojourner. You can be a sojourner for a lot of time if you’re in a small town. In a big city it won’t take as long before you “become” a native. In and after college, I lived in NYC for 12 years, with 8 different addresses.  At the point when I had been in SF for the same amount of time (with 9 different addresses) I began to feel sort of like an SFer. SF, however, is very different than a small town in Alabama.  In the latter they will know – nearly forever – that you’re not from there: you stay a Sojourner all your life. At your requiem, the old ladies will say, “He was nearly like one of us, weren’t he?”  In SF, a new generation of newbies shows up every couple of years. You’re the relative native in no time at all.

A friend of mine, who was an Episcopal Priest, once said he had gotten use to the idea there was no home for him in this world. I am with him on this – based only on my moving experience, although San Francisco and Asheville, NC, feel most like home to me. (If you ask me, yes, generally I feel rather sympathetic to refugees of any sort or condition.)

The Church, says St Paul, is rather more like San Francisco than that small town in Alabama. One might be a neophyte, still learning things, but from the mystery of Baptism, one already stands at the the One Table of our One Lord, Jesus, both God and Man, surrounded by Patriarchs, Prophets, and the Pious of all ages, especially the Most Blessed, Ever Glorious, and All Holy Virgin Mary. We are all in it, together.  We don’t get to say, “You’re not good enough because you came from some other place.”  We don’t get to say “you can’t pray in that language” and we don’t get to confuse our country – the “Holy” Mother or “Holy” Father Land – with the kingdom of God and thus make other countries into something less than our “holy” place.

The Apostles (today we remember, especially, St Simon and St Jude) came from one, tiny place and went all over the world. Wherever they went, they had to create/plant/bring Church with the Eucharist, the Apostolic succession and teaching. Whenever Christians came together at the table of the Lord, they were Home.

That is how it is for us – or it should be. We’ve got some growing up to do: when a headline reads “to understand our country, you must look at our church” and then spends pages of space discussing the political situation – with nothing about Jesus at all – you know you’re in the wrong place. It can’t be church married to the politics like that. It’s just an arm of the state. Is outrage! And anyone who has visited such a place knows that the “natives” make all the strangers learn to be natives, not of the Kingdom of God but of that earthly “holy” mother, that sojourners must grow to pretend to be natives looking down on others, and people confuse working out their salvation with dressing up in folk costumes for the highest holy day of the year:  the annual Parish Food Festival.

In the world we are strangers to each other. In the Table Fellowship of God we are fellow-citizens: that makes us brothers and sisters to each other and, in the world, we are only Sojourners, now. We’re just here, just passing through.

Come home. Time to leave the childish foolishness of the world behind and go to Church.

Needed Armor in the Year of Mercy


Ephesians 6:10-20
Luke 13:31-35

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12

The readings from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this week have seemed to confirm a lot of social norms. I hope my postings from the last couple of days have showed otherwise: God wants us to be like leaven, making little changes here and there, taking what is good, moving forward. Paul didn’t want to overthrow all of the culture of Rome: yes there were some things wrong with it, but Paul didn’t blame the Romans for that problem. In fact, over and over, the Apostles and the tradition of the Church seems to say mankind would have been ok, prepped for the Gospel “with the law written in our hearts”, but for one thing: demons. There is no god, Zeus, but there is a demon that has made us imagine that deity. There is no goddess commanding sexual immorality as her worship, but there are evil spirits doing so.

To win all the Romans away from the demons, Paul and the other Fathers needed to baptize the culture – bringing into the Church what was godly – but also to liberate it from demonic immorality. To change the world, you must change hearts. Those hearts are not corrupted by self-abuse: demons do it. Paul really seems to believe if you change people’s hearts, all this other stuff (which is not even fit to be named among the saints) will just stop. Model Christian charity in your relationships and soon, people will ask why your relationships are different. When people see their brother or sister in Christ is this person they have maltreated, they will stop treating them thus.

We wrestle not with flesh and blood, with the person, the icon of God standing in front of us, rather we approach them with mercy. Pope Francis has named this the Jubilee Year of Mercy for the Roman Catholic Church, but God’s mercy is not limited to one year only, nor is it a special project needed only in the Catholic Church. We all need to be reminded of God’s mercy. The person you see attacking you is not the source of the attack. We should not be moved into a defensive posture – Jesus is our armor and he has already won the battle! Rather we should be moved by pity for this person who is being spurred by the demons like a horse by a vicious rider. It matters not if the attack is from courts, various sexual errors, or being yelled by “radical atheists”. The party in front of you is only a tool: not the source. Inside their soul is being killed too – just as yours is if you are moved by anger.

When we realize that the attack coming at us is not coming from this person here and now, but from demons who have deluded that person into saying or doing things, then we can be open to show God’s mercy and win a new brother or sister from the demons. Attacking other humans is right out. We do not wrestle with flesh and blood. It’s the spiritual powers that we’re fighting. These are not destroyed by logical argument or by yelling and screaming. You do not win fights with demons by posts on Facebook or angry tweet storms: but you can drive away a person God has given you to love. We need to woo our human brothers and sisters away from the demons. This may be by steps in a logical argument, or by emotions. Bishop Robert Barron says to show them the Beautiful parts of our faith and let them fall in love – we can get the teaching and morality later.  This is, I think, St Paul’s teaching as well. 

Notice what we are given (in verses 13-17): truth (a title for Jesus), righteousness (a title for Jesus), peace (a title for Jesus). Then there is faith (which I would read as my trust in Jesus) and my salvation (in Greek, wholeness/healing – which is only by communion with Jesus) and the sword of the Spirit, the “Word of God” although here the Greek uses not “logos” but “rhema” meaning the teaching of God. What weapons we are given, mostly, are all Jesus and our faith and communion in him. It’s not very martial at all unless you’re a demon. For our defense in the world – where we wrestle not with flesh and blood – all we are given is Love himself. All to proclaim the Gospel to those around us.

This verse has been on my mind a lot lately and here it comes up in the daily lections for mass. Why, you might ask, has this verse been on my mind? This seems even more important to say as the election is looming up in front of us. Even the candidate of the “other side” is a human being created in God’s image. How much more so his or her supporters who disagree with you on every side, who call you names, who even question your faith because of your political choices. At the end of the day, only the demons will profit from two persons, created in God’s image, having a huge fight in person or on line. But if you bring that person into a healed communion with you, in Jesus’ name, then you have gained a brother, and saved his soul and yours.

Mercy.

Self Will is Wrong Will

Ephesians 6:1-9
Luke 13:22-30

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ.
Ephesians 6:5

This is one of those hard places in the Church’s tradition. In fact this whole chapter from Ephesians is – yesterday I totally ignored the obvious “Wives submit yourselves to your husbands” on purpose. I wanted to come to this verse where Paul, to modern eyes, says “there’s nothing wrong with slavery” and that very point has been taken by both Abolitionists and slaveholders.

And they’re both wrong.

Paul is talking to a small sect of specific persons – what you think? Maybe 30,000 in all the empire? This is not a revolution, yes. This is brewing one. As with marriage – in fact, as with most of Roman Culture he encounters – Paul is subverting it but not, yet, overthrowing it. He’s making sacraments out of the whole thing so it can be changed.

Paul has come across a social custom – slavery – about which we can guess his attitude (see the entire epistle of Philemon) and he has this problem. The first Christian in a house may be slave or free, male or female, young or old. Paul wants the entire household to come into the Church but he knows if he sends someone back preaching revolution there’s just going to be a lot of slammed doors. In fact, even after the whole family converts (see Philemon, again) revolution won’t happen instantly. It takes a long while for Christians to grow into the fullness of the Kingdom and even then it will only be “as far as they can bear it” because individual humans can only get so far in this life. So: slow and steady wins the race.

Paul started this train of thought in Chapter 5, verse 21. “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And then he begins to speak in culturally appropriate ways not as commands but as examples… Wives obey your husbands. Husbands reverence your wives, children obey your parents and respect your elders, parents don’t abuse your children, and today’s lines, slaves obey your masters and masters do the same to them (verse 9 – and also, again, 5:21). It’s important to realize that, in Church, it could be the slave that was the priest – or even the Bishop. No matter who they are in the world, at the table of the Lord, they are all in it together.

Have you ever read CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy? I’m thinking especially of of the third book, That Hideous Strength just now. There’s a character, Mrs Ivy Maggs, who is a housemaid. At the beginning of the book, in fact, she’s cleaning the house of the Heroine. As the plot develops (no spoilers), Mrs Maggs becomes quite important and, because of her developing Christian faith, the Heroine must learn that it is quite possible for a housemaid to also be one’s equal, one’s superior and, one’s friend, and finally one’s sister, all the while still being a housemaid.

Paul is walking the Church at Ephesus through this process. We only get one snapshot, but we see him doing the same thing in other places, other epistles. Paul is using if you will, Identity Sacramentalism: each person’s cultural identity – slave, wife, children, etc – becomes a teaching sacrament aimed at the powerful. This is possible because, in Christ, each person is an icon of God. How do you paint the icon of God as a slave? How as a housemaid?

The question is how to apply it now, today? It’s 100% true that mutual obedience is still the path of Christian virtue. Self-will leads only to one place…

We live in a world of “Demand Your Rights” and “Overthrow the Oppressors!” “Eat the Rich!” “Not in my backyard!” “We are the 99%!” Paul’s solution to this problem is evangelism. As the Tao te Ching says, “Water flows to the lowest place and fills up the valley”. By being the lowest we conquer. No protests, no revolutions, no overthrow. But subversion.

And self-will is not that. Decidedly not that.

How to Make it all Rise.

Ephesians 5:21-33
Luke 13:18-21

The Kingdom of God is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.
Luke 13:21

I heard a preacher once get this horribly wrong. I knew he wasn’t a baker as a result of hearing his take on this. He pointed out that in those days “leaven” wasn’t powdered yeast like we buy in the store. It was a moist goop that you saved for ever because you might not be able to get more – and your family needed bread daily. So you needed leaven daily.  His theory was that this woman had used up all her yeast on these three measures of flour and the point of the parable was how extravagant God is. But any baker knows this is exactly what you do with traditional leaven – what we would call sourdough today: you pour it all in… you stir it up and you let it rise… then you take a pinch of the dough and set it aside as the leaven for tomorrow. (You don’t use just a pinch of the old leaven to start a new loaf because all of the leaven needs to be “fed” as it is call, to keep it burping away. Once the whole loaf is active, then you set aside a cup or so for tomorrow)

That’s what the Kingdom of God is like.

A little leaven is all it takes to “leaven the whole lump” as St Paul says in Galatians. Remember Jesus is talking to 12 guys on a dirty road one day, or, maybe, a couple hundred in a field one day and pops off with some version of “We’re going to change everything”. It went from 12 guys to billions and billions of people throughout history. In the first 300 years it took over essentially the known world. In the next 800 years, nearly everything. It went from being something know one ever heard of to being the thing everyone had to respond to – either yes or no.

I’m not here to debate the content of the truth: but rather to note it’s like a little yeast. You’re still free to say no…

But the bread is rising.

Once upon a time there was essentially only one Christian in all of the East – and he had to run away and hide in the Roman west: heretics had taken over and everyone was killing the orthodox Christians. The last one – Maximus the Confessor – by his death, saved the Catholic Faith in the east. All it takes is a little leaven. Ireland was converted entirely without bloodshed by faithful missionaries: a little leaven. St Raphael of Brooklyn travelled the width of the country (by train) several times, teaching the faithful and encouraging them to pray in their homes and keep the traditions. A little leaven.The Russian sea chaplains that visited the Russians in San Francisco and gave them the Sacraments created from their ships and created the Oldest Orthodox Community in the lower 48 – a Little Leaven. Benedict XVI made explicit the existing permission to use the traditional Latin Mass to the entire Catholic church and began a huge outreach that has even affected the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite with the “Reform of the Reform” – a little leaven. Mother St Teresa, Dorothy Day, Blessed Cardinal Newman. All just a little leaven.

One traditional prayer for the morning asks God to use me to bless each person I come in contact with throughout the day, “whether through the word I speak, the prayer I breath, or the life I live.” We can be leaven in so many ways.

It only takes a little – and the whole lump will rise.

You, what are you doing? It only takes a little.

Peppercorn Rent

Ephesians 4:32- 5:8
Luke 13:10-17

Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving.
Ephesians 5:4

This is so very hard for me. Moving away from the secular world into the Christian one, one realizes how much of modern, secular culture is predicated on sexual content. We can make some obvious comment here about “adult” entertainment, freely available on the internet, if you wish. But that is only a symptom. It’s all-pervasive hypersexualism.

Paul seems to indicate that it was present in Ephesus in the first century and that the Resurrected Christ called people out of that. How do we live into this new method of communication?

So, I find myself in conversations where I want to drop an F bomb, as the saying goes, and I have to stop. I catch myself nearly using a sexual innuendo or tossing out a sex-ladened joke, even one that is clean.

I watched a “Christian Comedian” the other day who – without using one bad word all night – carried on contrary to the Apostle’s counsel for nearly two hours, with evangelicals laughing. When he grabbed on to some man’s bicep and started to comment about how big it was I nearly lost it because come on… are we all so desirous to blend in that we don’t care even if it’s homoerotic humor? We can be just like you heathens… but we do it for Jesus. Paul says, “No, you don’t.” Paul wants all that humor and levity and coarseness and filthiness to be replaced with thanksgiving. Now, I confess I got no idea what means.

In the South we don’t gossip: we offer prayer requests: “Samantha, I need you to pray for my friend Louis, bless his heart. His wife has been dating the butcher and Louis just found out. His kids are all still in the house and Louis has found out that all them are really the Butcher’s too, and he’s been loving on them for 15 years, the oldest one, and youngest one just last year. And, dear Jesus, you’d think he might have known something with all their red hair, but his Daddy’s Momma had red hair so he thought was just in the family. So she done kicked him out of the house and the butcher’s moved in and Louis is staying with my wife and me, Jesus help him. ” And I can imagine St Paul’s advice here would be applied with equal gusto, “Lord I thank you that she is so hot…” Of course all that is levity and silly talk. And I can’t seem to help myself either.

I love the quote above – that swearing is just “peppercorn rent” to the devil who is really in charge. How do we move away?

But I’m working hard at getting the sex talk out: what’s so frustrating is, being aware, how common it is, how many times you have to say “not going to say that” or “just going to ignore that”. It happens at business meetings, on the bus, in church (both in the first and second person). I have a good friend who gets a seriously pained look on his face when it comes up at Church and I find myself taking comfort in his look, because at least one other person hears what I hear.

Can we step away from the sex talk? Or the use of irony and sarcasm? Can we stop the making fun of, and the verbal abuse of others at least in the first person? Can I?