Teacher, teach me

[A Bishop] must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.
Titus 1:9

his passage is about a Bishop or “Elder” or “Overseer” in a congregation, but it is true of all of us to the extent that each of us may be the only Christian another party engages with. Please hold that in mind…

One of the oddest things about our world today is how in touch we all are, and yet, at the same time, how out of touch we are with each other. I had an odd experience a few months ago that underscored my sense of the Church’s borkedness. (yes, I used “borked” there) In one conversation in Colorado there was blowback from an event that had happened 4 years earlier in my San Francisco parish and the “real story” behind another event. It’s all hearsay as far as I can tell, although it took me the better part of a month to come to that inner peace. In that one conversation is was made clear that if the right questions had been asked it would have resolved most of the issues. (I confess, that as the highest lay official at my SF parish, I felt some guilt over not asking those questions in a timely manner – they are pointless now.) How much of that chain of events was caused by one silly action – a bad catechesis – blows my mind.
Failure to hold on to the faith, failure pass it on in a sound manner, is so yuge. Because: God didn’t give us a book. He gave us a Church. The Church has seen fit to give us a book – but Orthodox and Catholic clergy vow to not read or teach that text in any way contrary to the Tradition. That vow should apply to all of us. If we don’t pass it on as we got it, it stops moving. There’s no way to just pick up a book and guess at it.
Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 
Luke 17:1b-2
Again, this isn’t just about clergy: for in our time we are all teachers of the faith. I certainly am with my blog posts (which only get 30 or so readers) – and I stumble a lot and I’m mindful of how careful I must be: and you, gentle readers, who have been with me throughout my 20 years of electronic journalling know how many turns I can take. If you pass it on wrong, they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on and so on. To make it more complex, our internet will share it with millions even if you only whisper it in secret and scandal will go forth.

As teachers – all of us – in our daily life we are responsible for passing that faith whole in our relationships with friends and family, with coworkers, with kids that see us as role models. Yup… a lot. 

How can we be mindful?

Remember, Remember

Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from evil.
II Thessalonians 3:1b-3
I cannot do justice to the reading from II Maccabees.  Please listen to Bishop Robert Baron’s homily on that text.
Paul is spreading the kingdom through an empire. He asks that we should pray for the word of God to speed on and triumph. The Greek word here is “Logos”, ie Jesus. Paul is inviting Christians to subversion. The greeting on the street is “Caesar is Lord”. Caesar was a stabilizing force, a center around which the empire turned. When Caesar was strong, as with Augustus, there was strength in the empire, and peace – albeit with more than a bit of militarism. When Caesar went nutty as in the case of Nero or Caligula the whole thing fell apart. When Caesar is the strong center, he’s very popular. When he’s a nutter: they kill him and get a new one. Jesus is Lord forever. That’s a subversion the Romans can’t handle. It’s an existential threat.
However, if Jesus is only about a political goals: peace, stability, justice, love, happiness… then why not drop all the rest of this crap? All this can come from Caesar and we can all work it out. Let’s just admit that we’re all going to the same place and pull together for the common good! That’s not what Christianity is about. For starters, none of those things come from Caesar. That’s not what God’s way has been about since well before the Holy Maccabee Martyrs (of whom we read today, although their feast day is on 1 August on both the Eastern and Western calendars). God’s always been subverting things: it’s his reign or nothing, really. That’s why Christians do everything as “sojourners” rather than as native citizens in this world. 
We should pray for our leaders and we should honor and obey them as long as they command nothing against the Word of God. But political action, per se, seems out of the question because the work of the Kingdom of God is, itself, seditious. Saying “Jesus is Lord” means Caesar is not. Saying “Jesus is Lord” means “I don’t really care who is president, because we are all sinners and I answer to God, alone.”  Come the Revolution!
And those for whom Jesus is not Lord are not working to the same ends. We may coincide for a time, but their goal is not our goal. Their god is their belly, their end is destruction.
On Tuesday, we do not vote as citizens of the USA, but as members of Christ Kingdom who happen live here. We have a duty to subvert rather than support, a duty to make manifest God’s kingdom in the laws and procedures of this land in anyway possible.  Peaceably. At the same time, putting into practice St Paul’s teaching: that we should pray for the word of God to speed on and triumph. It’s not effective to use the system to get what we want: look at the history of Republican-appointees on the Supreme Court and pro-abortion decisions. We are lying to ourselves if we think we can get anything done playing by their rules.  But we can subvert: we can use their rules against themselves.
I had an argument once that ended with the other party saying “yeah, but all truth is relative in different shades of grey.” That begs all sorts of questions, but it’s possible to subvert that rule set.  “That’s just your truth, Brian.” I said, “My truth only comes in black and white.”  He was totally stunned into silence. When people get exotic about God not being “Really” a Father and being beyond gender, I ask “Does God not have the freedom to pick his own pronouns?” Certainly, they may deny the reality of revelation in either case, but then, at least, you know you’re talking to materialists and you can get on with the subversive work of the Gospel. Word games are theology: we worship the Logos of God.
I pray the Word of God will speed on and triumph.  At least, I pray, he will hold the trump card in this election.
Peace.

I got mine. There’s just enough.

Philippians 4:10-19
Luke 16:9-15

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:12-13

One of the things that drives me bonkers about modern charity drives is how we unfavorably compare people in need to ourselves: “Here’s a child, her family lives on only $1 a day.” They don’t tell us anything about the local economy there: they want us to say, “Goodness! It takes me at least $5 a day to buy Starbucks and then another $30 or $40 a day to feed myself. Then my kids. Then there’s the animals we house with us not for food, but because the kids like them… $1 a day!” Thus we give out of guilt and become affirmed in the goodness of our wealth at the same time. I would be interested to hear it presented this way: “Here’s a child, her family lives on only $1 a day and while they need, really $3 a day, they do pray for you who live, easily on $100 a day and still complain that you want more.”

Paul has learned the real secret of “facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want” from Jesus: “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations.” By “mammom” we mean “riches” and by “riches” we mean a superfluity, an excess: more than is needed. The Fathers everywhere affirm the rightness of private property and – most often in the same breath – counsel against a superfluity. St Gregory of Nyssa and others go so far as to insist that “superfluity” means having two shirts or two pair of shoes. Goodness knows you really can only wear one. Right? That extra pair of shoes you are not wearing today should be on the feet of someone who has no shoes. The extra clothes hanging in your closet now belong to someone else. There is no allowance for “but I need that in case I have to go to a business meeting”.

In commenting on this passage the Fathers all seem to recognise that will will have a superfluity of stuff: it’s what happens when you work and juggle our lives in frugality as we are also counselled. The end will be our needs are met plus an excess. Hear, then, blessed Theophylact on this:

Those then are called the riches of unrighteousness which the Lord has given for the necessities of our brethren and fellow-servants, but we spend upon ourselves. It became us then, from the beginning, to give all things to the poor, but because we have become the stewards of unrighteousness, wickedly retaining what was appointed for the aid of others, we must not surely remain in this cruelty, but distribute to the poor, that we may be received by them into everlasting habitations. For it follows, That, when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

St Gregory the Great says, “But if through their friendship we obtain everlasting habitations, we ought to calculate that when we give we rather offer presents to patrons, than bestow benefits upon the needy.” In other words, the rich won’t care so much if we give them presents from our superfluity: but the poor will. He says also, “In order then that after death they may find something in their own hand, let men before death place their riches in the hands of the poor. ”  When I first visited a local parish, I was told “we end the year with about $1000 left in the bank, after all the donations have been tallied and given away.”  And I thought, that’s a good thing. We’re not saving “for a rainy day”. We’re using the poor as our bankers.

One thing we take comfort in, in America, is our “Social Safety Net” even if it is very weak. When asked for Christian Charity we reply, to modify the words of Scrooge, “Is there no medicaid? Have the section 8 houses closed?” But St Augustine seems to stand against that: “Now some misunderstanding this, seize upon the things of others, and so give something to the poor, and think that they are doing what is commanded. That interpretation must be corrected into, Give alms of your righteous labors.” Your taxes are your taxes: but you still must give alms.

Entrust your riches into the hands of the poor for safe keeping… and most of us, if you are reading this on the internet, are rich. Protip: ask for the prayers of the poor when you give them your money.  The Bible says the pray of a poor man will go to heaven as speedily as an arrow!

We think of our superfluity as our own, maybe for surety against a day of want. Yet Paul says that day of want is part of God’s plan for us, no less than the superfluity: we are to turn to God in all things, riches or want. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We imagine our superfluity proves our success – this is part of the so-called “Protestant Work Ethic”. If one is rich, one must have God’s blessing to be so, we argue. This the very rich are very blessed and “must be doing something right”. Quite the contrary: if they have hoarded all their superfluity they are, in fact, doing everything wrong, unnatural, not even human. St Ambrose says “Riches are foreign to us, because they are something beyond nature, they are not born with us, and they do not pass away with us.” When we think like them – demand wealth of “my own” – we “are those who justify yourselves before men…[and]…what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

Paul knows, “I can do all things through Christ”. We tend, however, to measure our success by the World’s standards. When we want something we demand “justice” or “our rights”. We just want our fair share, we just want what’s coming to us. Is that so wrong? Yes.

AD 2016: The Election Year of Mercy

From the Facebook Feed of
ElectionDayCommunion2016.com

Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 16:1-8

The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness.
Luke 16:8a

Do you find this passage confusing? It’s one that usually stumps me when it comes up in the lectionary. Here’s my go for this year: If this is a parable of the Kingdom, then the Rich Man is like God and the Steward is like a priest who has many sins of his own as he hears the confessions of the people. Mindful of his own sins, and of how it is that God is being merciful to him, he is also merciful to those who come to him; giving them light penances, and generous pardon.

Such mercy is also our own business. We name this and claim this in the Lord’s Prayer, right? Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Yes, the man in the parable is forgiving debts owed to his lord rather than to himself, but all sin is against God, is it not? “Against you, you alone have I sinned” says the Prophet David in Psalm 50. Even when we sin “at” another person, it is the icon of God, the presence of God himself that receives the offence. It is God against whom we always sin. This is a realistic view: the Church teaches we are all sinners. It also teaches that I can not judge the sins of my neighbor. Rather I must acknowledge that my sins are the cause of my destruction – and be merciful to my neighbor.

The Fathers say that he who covers another’s sin will find his own sins covered. He who uncovers another’s sins will find his own sins shouted from the housetops. That’s an interesting proposition in this election cycle, no? I have Facebooked in Anger about the sins of at least one candidate. I can imagine my readers coming up with all sorts of theological justifications for why we should broadcast the sins of XX or XY to the internet – as if the talk show hosts are not already doing that for us. But the reality is that all the candidates (especially the one you don’t like the most) are merely sinners like me. Dare I say, like you.

It also seems as though there are enough haters in this world without Christians adding to the pile. We – and they – fit into St Paul’s description of “many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ.”

I’m not good at this, mind you: I think one is just dragging us down to despotism yelling and screaming and the other is smiling whilst doing the same. Neither of them will do anything to stop the killing at home, abroad, or in utero. And, being sinners, both are part of the hedonistic and usurious culture of immodesty, sex, and greed that gives rise to that killing at home, abroad, and in utero. Truly, “their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” In other words they are garden variety sinners of today, modern in every way and needing salvation. And in a system built on lies, calumny, gossip, and rancor, it behooves a Christian to remember that we are only forgiven as we forgive. That is the bargain we make with the God who loves everyone – especially the candidate you like the least – with a love so great that it cost him his life.

Certainly: to point at real sin and name it sin is not to commit a sin. But: preach, brothers and sisters, don’t make it a political point. We are all sinners. Most of the things we allow in our society will damn people to hell. It is real love to say so and call people out of that, although it will gain us no popularity, nor political strength. It is in fact, a sin of our own if we fail to do so. But it is not charity – it is sinful, in fact – to make political hay and call it theology.

Getting Gold for Dung

Philippians 3:3-8a
Luke 15:1-10

Rejoice with me, because I have found my…
Luke 15:6 or 9

Jesus tells us two parables saying, Look, some things are very important to God and he shows us in two ways: the lost coin and the lost sheep. The coin we understand, I think: If I only have 100 pennies and one is missing then I need to find the other. It’s gone: I can’t go buy a cup of coffee being one penny short. I won’t be able to exchange it for a paper $1 bill, because who would give me a dollar for ninety-nine pennies? Tearing up the house means no more bother than having to put it together again. The sheep, though, seem different: because leaving the ninety-nine alone, unguarded “in the desert” means that they could wander off as well, no? And, after all, properly tended the sheep will make more – that’s what animals do. Just wait, next year there will be more. Pennies don’t breed. So, searching for a penny seems safe, as it were whilst the sheep business is markedly risky.

Jesus is hanging out with sinners again and eating with them. As in an episode of Southpark, the crowd stands around and “Rabbles” although in the Bible everyone “murmurs”. Murmur! Murmur! Murmur! Murmur!

He is accused of “receiving” sinners. The Greek verb used (προσδέχομαι) implies reciprocity: it’s a mutual hugfest, really. They are taking him in and he is welcoming them. It’s a synergistic dance.Yet remember: God is always the leader in the dance. They are drawn to him, they are welcomed when they get there.

So it is with us, here and now, of course. Some sinners in the world are like the Lost Coin: they’re just around the corner, maybe still in the Church, just not quite connected. It’s like they’re on the inside. There’s a cleaning under the bed and a finding of the little sparkles among all the dust bunnies. The Lapsed come home at Christmas, you know.

Some, however, are more like the lost lamb: we’ve gone so very far away that God has to go to extraordinary lengths to bring them home. But so far he will go. And happily. He may have to wander far in the wilderness; there are pits and peaks, valleys and rivers to navigate. The sheep are there, but it’s harder to find them all, surrounded by their natural beauty and the glories of the world. These sheep left the church a long time ago, or were never inside at all. Some of these went astray from the very beginning: they were never even part of the House of the Israel of God. They are surrounded and engulfed by the false beauties and deluded by the illicit half-lights of the world. Yet God only made one humanity: he never intended a division, only an icon. As the Fathers say: there is only one Human Nature. Many persons share in the human nature – including, by virtue of the Incarnation, God the Son – but the nature itself, is one. And that is how far God has gone to get us: into this messy world and beyond, into Hell itself.

In Philippians Paul says, having listed his right to claim authority among his own people (elsewhere adding to this list that he was a student of St Gamaliel), he says, “All the things I have gained I count as loss for Christ.” Meaning they were wasted time, if I had known Jesus 30 years ago. And he goes further and says in fact, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as dung that I may gain Christ.” Paul made his own finding rather more like the sheep than the coin for he had even engaged in persecuting the Church. Fallen into a pit, God had to appear to him and say, “look, here’s the way out…” That’s how far God will go. And further.

Will you come home? Will you count the wilderness or the dusty floor to be lost energy and wasted time? Will you count it all to be dung so that you can come home, finally?

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.