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?

Who has the better parties?

Ecclesiasticus 35:12-14, 16-18
II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself…
Luke 18:11

We live in an age of self-disclosure and self-description or so we tell ourselves. The Pharisee was only describing himself. It would have been valid, don’t you think, if he had left off only the part deprecating the poor publican. He was perfectly right to be proud of what he had done – he’s not an extortioner, not unjust, doesn’t commit sexual sins, he follows the rules, and even gives over and above the required donation, he tithes from everything. There – again, except for his deprecation of the other party – is a pretty awesome dude, no? He might even show up on Oprah these days, or at Joel Osteen’s place. He could be part of any version of the Prosperity Gospel, no matter where it’s preached (again, minus that beating up on the poor publican). Were he to run for office in our world, we might only have a campaign advisor tell him to stop with the negative ads. We like someone who can blow their own trumpet under the spotlight.

The Greek almost puts it in scare quotes: it says “he stood thus: moving toward himself, praying.” Later (verse 13) using the same word for self (auton) the Publican is described as “striking the breast of himself.”

Looking around my blog… noting how much of it is “moving to himself” instead of “striking the breast of himself” and, even, aware that if he was striking his breast on the blog it would just be showing off…

Thing is: the publican really was doing self-disclosure. Not our modern Self-Disclosure, but the real thing. He knew himself, he knew that he was the problem in the equation, not the solution. Apart from his political stance (you have to suck up to the Romans to get this job) we know nothing about him: for all we know he tithed, was sexually pure, did not extort money, and was quite just in his dealings with people. We know nothing else about him except that he’s a tax collector. We learn most about our own biases (and the biases of Jesus’ first century audience) when we judge the publican.

It was in knowing himself correctly – ie in relation to God and others – that he was saved. It was in right relationship, in humility before God and man, that this man went down from the Temple justified. I bet dinner parties were something at his house: friendly, warm, welcoming. Of course no one wanted to go because he voted for the wrong party and – worse – that party had won the election! (But we’re gonna get them – and this guy too, damn him! Just wait and see…) so no one went to his house when he threw parties. But I bet he was a great host.

Now the other dude, I bet his parties were pretty awesome too, and maybe you’d covet an invite because all the right people would be there (and they voted for OUR SIDE and eventually we will win cuz God votes for us too)! But I bet he makes you wear bowties – and it’s not even dress up fun, but he makes you wear them because that’s what you do. You’ve got to know which fork to use on the starter. He will quiz you on what you had for lunch, because to be kosher you have to stay away from the other (Milk or Dairy) for X amount of time and if you don’t follow the rules you can stay – of course! I invited you – but, you know, I can’t feed you: we’d all be impure then. They were stage-perfect parties, but I bet no one had any fun.

It is in humility that we come into right relationship. Not because we need to beat ourselves up – there is a false humility too, wears well on your false self – but because that’s who we really are we are: humility, from humus, earth. We are Sons of Adam – the Earth Creature. This is, I think, why God won’t ignore the pleas of the Fatherless and Widow – they know where they are. They have no pretension. Of course they, too, can have a bloated ego, demand their rights, etc, etc. But before God we don’t have rights: we have awe and humility. And before our fellow man: the image of God, we should have the same. Humility is the foundation of prayer (as noted yesterday), it is also the root of all the virtues. We can not love or serve without first being humble. Then, truly, the prayer of the lowly pierces the heavens. (Pro Tip: when ever giving alms, ask for prayers… cuz they will get heard long before yours.)

We live in an age of self-disclosure and self-description or so we tell ourselves. But if we fail at right relationship, how can we know ourselves? The true self is a communion, a dance of self-emptying service before the Other. If I am not in that dance, then my self-description is in error, it is a false self that I describe and feed. The Pharisee wasn’t “into himself” but rather faking it. Apart from God, the only real Self in the picture, there was only the Publican in the Temple that day. The rest was smoke and mirrors.

Freedom of Choice.

Ecclesiasticus 15:9-20
Revelation 10:1-11
Luke 11:1-13

If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish.
Ecclesiasticus 15:15-16

There is this debate between the Church and most Protestants (Wesleyans excluded) about this idea that you can pick fire or water: “whichever you wish”. Calvinists teach that you can do nothing, at all: God either picks you or he doesn’t. Wesleyans, together with the tradition of the Ancient Church expressed in Rome and the East, offer the Good News that God’s grace is all around us.  Think, if you will of air… we are made to breathe air. It’s there: and, once we get the first gasp, we just keep going until we die. God is like that: there, present. Forming our hearts to desire him at all turns. And right there, is the choice… you can breathe… or you can die.

Suicide is painless. It’s always an option. But it’s never God’s choice.

Jesus is right there: Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Luke 11 9-10

Now a Calvinist will insist that not everyone will knock and anyone who knocks is already saved… but you can walk away.  You can decide to try things that are not part of the game. It’s even possible to blame it on God:

Do not say, “Because of the Lord I left the right way”; for he will not do what he hates.  Do not say, “It was he who led me astray”; for he had no need of a sinful man. The Lord hates all abominations, and they are not loved by those who fear him. It was he who created man in the beginning, and he left him in the power of his own inclination. Ecclesiasticus 15:11-14

I was born this way (I can hear Lady Gaga singing now).  This must be the way God wants me to be.  Humphrey Bogart’s character in The African Queen would agree:  He says, as Charlie Allnut, “What are you being so mean for, Miss? A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it’s only human nature.” To this theological claim Katherine Hepburn, as Rose Sayer, offers this reply: “Human nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”  Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches!  “Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him.”

We are frail and faulty. God knows this. ” For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man.” But he has given us a way out. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Asking and receiving the Holy Spirit, we can move on. We can not blame God for our sin, because ” He has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and he has not given any one permission to sin.”

The way up is on our knees and that requires access: first, we must kneel. “Humility is the foundation of prayer.” We can not be proud of our sin, our success, our politics, nor our position.  But in humility we can move on.

Of course, our real problem, as American Christians, especially, is we equate “keeping the commandments” with something called “Works Righteousness” and we will ask (even if we are not Protestants) “If we can keep the commandments by our choice, then what is the need of Christ?” That would be a whole other essay, so, only basic response now: keeping the commandments has nothing to do with “getting into heaven”.  Salvation is not a “get out of hell free” card. Jesus is not a fire escape. The commandments, as such, are there to show us how we fail to live up to God’s life. Keeping them is not a matter of obeying the rules – but of participating in God’s life by which we live the commandments within ourselves. When we are living in God, death is a transitus only to a more-full living of that life. We can’t get there by keeping the rules. But, again, that’s a whole other essay.

Daily Readings 14 – 21 Dec AD 2013

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material. Each MP/EP link will take you to a complete office, needing only the daily psalter or, for MP, the Martyrology link.


  1. Saturday Conception 8va (Advent Feria) – MPEP – Martyrology
  2. 3rd Sunday of Advent  (Octave Day of the Conception) – MPEPMartyrology
  3. Monday Advent Feria VI O Sapientia (St Eusebius of Vercelli, BM) – MPEP – Martyrology
  4. Tuesday Advent Feria V before Nativity O Adonai  – MPEP – Martyrology
  5. Ember Wednesday Advent Feria IV before Nativity – O Radix – MPEP – Martyrology
  6. Thursday Advent Feria III before Nativity – O ClavisMPEP – Martyrology
  7. Ember Friday Advent Feria II before Nativity – O Orient MPEP – Martyrology
  8. St Thomas the Apostle (Ember Day Advent Feria O RexMPEP – Martyrology