Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Crucifixion (Good Friday, Cross, Faith, Truth, Power)

Holy Week 2006
Presented at Berkely Seminary at Yale Divinity School
St. Luke's Chapel

Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life.”

How many times, in the Gospels, when Jesus starts to say something, does he begin with the words, “Truly, I tell you”?

“Truly, I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”...“Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”...“Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”..."Truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”

All four of the evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—are agreed: Jesus claims to speak truly. But of the four, it is John who writes most about truth, who depicts Jesus saying, “Truly I tell you,” the most—and it is John who has Jesus going one step further: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” In John’s gospel, Jesus does not just speak truly—Jesus is truth, the true Word of God made flesh in the world.

“Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life.”

If Jesus speaks truly—if he himself is truth—how can his words be tested? What standard can be brought to measure his claims? Is there another, competing truth that trumps the truth of Jesus? Only if Jesus speaks falsely is there a truth that can be brought against him, that will prove him to be a fraud and a liar. If Jesus speaks truly—if he is, indeed, the truth—there is no truth beyond himself that could challenge or test him. So how then, is he to be tested? How will we see if his words are true? How can we prove that he is a liar, a deceiver who will lead us astray? How can we rid ourselves of this inconvenient man, this righteous man—the very sight of him is a burden to us!

“Let us test him with insult and torture. Let us condemn him to a shameful death.”

If we cannot defeat him with truth, then there are other ways, easier ways really. We can beat him and mock him, belittle him, dress him up in robes and a crown, make a spectacle of him: “Hail, King of the Jews!” We can make him small and silly, flog him till he can barely stand, watch him bleed, just like we do. He’s no different from us, really, he’s just a man—just one man, and there are many of us. There are enough of us to do away with him. Truth or no truth, it doesn’t matter—he will die like any other man.

“Here is your King! Shall I crucify your King?”

What do we do in the face of an inconvenient truth? What happens when the truth confronts us with a reality that is painful and unpleasant, when it questions our lives and the ways we’re living them; ways we really like, ways that we don’t want to give up? How do we justify ourselves; how do we evade the truth; how do we make it go away?

“Away with him! Away with him! Crucify Him!”

Truly, it’s all very easy. The best way to stifle the truth is to deny that truth is even possible. During Jesus’ inquisition, Pilate asks, “What is truth?” This is the first step toward dispensing with truth: ask what it is in a dismissive way, question whether we can ever really know truth in the first place. Ask a philosopher about how to define truth and you’ll hear a lot about coherence theories, correspondence theories, pragmatist theories, minimalist theories—but you won’t hear a definitive answer to your question. Truth is subtle and difficult to grasp; it’s a tenuous, fragile thing, easy to call into question, easy to dismiss when it’s convenient. And what are you left with, once you’ve convinced yourself that the quest for truth is an impossible task, far too difficult to bother with? What do you put in the place of truth?

Pilate has the answer: in the absence of truth, you have power. Pilate says to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” In the vacuum left after the death of truth, there’s lots of room for power to play. There’s a whole mess of degenerate post-modern, post-structuralist, post-colonial, post-whatever theory that wants to say just that: there’s no such thing as truth—truth is just a mask for power. And there is, ironically, a certain measure of truth in this kind of thinking: we sinful creatures do try to claim truth as a way of justifying how we use power. But if we’re going to get away with it, we have to get rid of the one who is the Truth: we have to crucify him.

And once we have discredited, humiliated, and killed the Truth, we are free to make our own truth. The chief priests quibble with Pilate about the inscription over Jesus’ head: “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” And what is Pilate’s answer? “What I have written I have written.” The priests and Pilate both want to make their own truth, the truth that is most convenient for them, that serves their interests best. Neither inscription is quite right, but Pilate has the power to make his stick: “What I have written I have written.” Truth doesn’t matter; the truth can be met with power, it can be changed with power. “Do you not know that I have power to crucify you?” Isn’t that exactly what the Cross is: Power set against Truth?

Good Friday is the day that Power clashes with Truth. And what happens? Power wins—the Truth dies. “He said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

“Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance.”

How much can he take? How far can we push him? How many lashes with the whip, how many blows about his head—the thorns digging into his brow—how many hours on the Cross? How many sins can we heap on him, how many evil deeds can we make him witness, how much hurt can we inflict on each other while he looks on? How long will he suffer our wickedness to continue, how long will he tolerate the pollution of his creation, how long before his mercy is exhausted and his gentle nature gives way to wrath, a wrath we know is there, the wrath we know we deserve?

He takes it all. Everything that the world can throw at him, every drop of hatred and rebellion and falsehood is wrapped up in those two hard wooden beams that twist his body into shapes that should never be, and he takes it all, even unto death. We killed him, yes, but did we really think we could break him—that the one who resisted the Father of Lies would succumb to our temptation?

Despite the pain of the Cross, despite the burden he carries, he does not lash out: his gentleness holds; his mercy endures. He bears the weight of the world’s sin and he carries it down in death to the Pit. On the Cross, Jesus’ death swallows up death—evil is turned against evil, the Kingdom of Satan is divided against itself and cannot stand. And as the dead man’s arms are stretched out on the cross, the living God, who created heaven and earth, stretches himself out through that death into the realm of death and darkness, into the far reaches of sin that his divine nature abhors, and takes the whole sick, confused world into his loving embrace.

“Great things are they that you have done, O Lord my God! How great your wonders and your plans for us!”

The victory is won; the power of death is broken; the unchallenged reign of sin is over. And yet, the man is still dead; he is taken down from the Cross and laid in a tomb. His task is not fully completed—the world is still feverish from its illness—the people do not yet know and share the salvation he has worked for them. How will they learn of this Good News? Who will proclaim it to them? How will they know that they no longer need to wrestle each other with power? He must return to them, he must let them know that Truth lives, that they have not been abandoned to always pit power against power, one so-called truth against another.
He will return to them, and he will give them a gift to help them clear their minds. He will give them back the instrument of his death. He will give it back to them, not as it was before, not as a sign of the judgment of death, but as a sign of the judgment for truth. He will claim it as his own, sanctified and made glorious, a Holy Cross given to the world to show that the living Truth can bring great good out of great evil, that God redeems power and turns it to right ends.

The truth will still be elusive, and the temptation to replace it with misguided power will not fade away, especially for those who wish to follow him. Seeing through a glass darkly, they will always be tempted to seize a part of his truth and use it as a weapon against others, to substitute what they wrongly desire to be true for what it is actually true. They will say, “The scriptures are clear, Jesus wants this,” or they will say, “The Holy Spirit is doing a new thing” so that the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit say only what they want them to say. They will need to learn, again and again, to cast their truths before his Cross, to let their desire for power come under his judgment of truth. They will need to humble themselves as he was humble, to find their righteousness in his righteousness, and they will need to remember to pray in the brilliant shadow of His Cross. Let all of us gathered here, all of us so in need of Christ’s Cross, pray so now.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Syllabus: Teaching Paul in One Class Period

Mary C. Moorman
Proposed, Southern Methodist University
Fall 2006

Required Reading:

1. The Holy Bible: Acts 1-10, The Epistle to the Galatians.
2. E.P. Sanders. Paul: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2001.
3. N.T. Wright, Saul the Persecutor, Paul the Convert and Good News for Israel. From What St. Paul Really Said. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Class Outline:

I. Paul the Jew: Explore the contemporary Jewish expectations and tenets that Paul believed.
a. Covenant
b. Obedience to the Law/sacrifice as covenantal bond; here emphasize themes of -
i. Monotheism, sin, and moral responsibility.
ii. Cultic sacrifice for atonement.
iii. "Hilasterion."
iv. Concepts of inclusive substitution in Israel’s theology and practice.
c. Messiah as Covenant Keeper; here emphasize relevant lore on the nature of the Messiah.

II. From Persecutor to Preacher of Christ: Explore the defining beginnings of Paul’s Theology on the Damascus Road.
a. Define "Christophany" and its relevance to Paul’s self-identification as an “apostle.”
b. Discuss the Damascus Road experience, as interpreted by Paul in Galatians, and by Luke and the church community in the book of Acts.
c. Explain Paul’s re-evaluation of the Cross and Jesus’ Messiah status on the basis of His Resurrection.

III. Jesus of Nazareth as Israel’s Messiah- Implications: Grace become universal, inclusion of the Gentiles, Climax of the Covenant.
a. Paul’s reading of Jewish promises in the Gospel narrative.
b. Paul’s reading of the Law and the Gospel.

IV. Paul’s Message Then and Now: Universality of Sin, Liability to Judgment, and Salvation/Justification in Christ. Briefly discuss Paul’s theological legacy in the history of the Church, focusing on these themes:
a. Grace as the sheer gift that seals God’s Covenant.
b. Cross as the revelation of the God who loves sinners and Gentiles.
c. The Scandal of the Gospel of the Crucified Messiah.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

James 1 (Speech, Words, Conduct, Tongue, Sin, Responsibility, Talk, Charity, Repentence, Submission)

Fr. Lee Nelson
Presented to the Parish and People of St. Francis Church – Dallas, TX
The Feast of St. Patrick, Bishop and Confessor

Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

From the Epistle of Saint James, I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

The story goes that
on a misty Friday morning
in the cool October air
of Arkansas
- in the fall,
an old man rowed his fishing boat out into the middle of the lake.

He breathed easily as the oars cut through the water, glad of the peace and quiet.

As the sun began to sear through the layers of the mist, turning night into day, he heard the distant slam of a truck door.

He knew it was a truck because of the sound it made, the way the aluminum roof popped up. Besides that – no one drove cars in these parts.

A few minutes later, he heard the unmistakable sound of an Evinrude Outboard Motor, how he detested motor boats.

Pulling up to the port side of the old man’s craft, breaking through the mist, cutting the engine as he did, was the local game warden.

“Mornin!” Yelled the game warden.

“Humpf,” grunted the old man.

“Reckon’ the fish ought to be biting this fine morning.”

“Mmmm hhmmmm.”

“Say. You got a license?”

“Mmmm hhmmmm.”

“Well, gist remember – no trotlines or trawlin’ and the bag today is 7 – largemouth or small.”

“Mmmm hmmmm.”

The old man reached into his pocket and pulled out his old walnut pipe, tobacco, tamper and lighter. Shoving a plug of tobacco into the pipe, he lit it and began puffing away.

“Say, I don’t see that you’ve brought any tackle!,” hollered the warden.

“Uh uh.”

“Just here to enjoy the fine morning then?”

“Uh uh.”

As he grunted the old man pulled a pine box out from under the seat in the stern. On the pine box was some red stenciled lettering – marking the box.

T. N. T.

As the old man pulled out a fresh stick, the game warden was indignant.

“What in tarnation are you doin!?”

The old man did not respond as he stuck the fuse into his pipe, the fuse flaring immediately.

As the game warden continued his shouting, the old man lobbed the stick of dynamite into the lake, opposite the warden.


Flop, flop, flop, flop, flop. The fish began to rise to the surface, and the old man pulled his net from under the seat in the bow, gathering them as the warden – astonished - hollered.

“Don’t make another move! You’re under arrest! Poaching by means of explosives is illegal in this state and punishable by a three-thousand dollar fine and jail time.”

The old man withdrew another stick, stuck the fuse in his pipe, and lobbed the stick directly into the warden’s boat.

Said the old man, pulling the pipe from his teeth,

“Are you here to talk, or are you here to fish?”


“Are you here to talk, or are you here to fish?”

We do an awful lot of talking – we have talk shows, talk radio, talking heads, talking points, and you can talk shop, turkey or terms, while being the talk of the town.

We chat, gossip, rattle, tell tales, tell stories, chew the fat, and spill the beans.

Often, we think that talking is a good replacement for action, in other words, if we talk enough, then people will think that we’re actually doing something – even when we’re not.

Opposite that, we think that talking is a good replacement for listening and for hearing.

The great tragedy of it all is that we have lost, in a sense, our ability to hear and to act.

It is in this light that I wish to bring to light the following section from the Epistle of Saint James:

let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely
hearers who deceive themselves.”

In our haste to speak, and slowness to listen, we commit two essential faults. The first includes actions and words which are out of alignment with the action of God and His word. The second includes failure to act and failure to speak in accord with God’s commandment and word.

The first faults are classically defined as sins of commission. The second are classically defined as sins of omission – those things which we leave undone.

The first are well-defined – they are the “don’ts” of the Christian life, a life lived in accord with God’s perfect law. The Ten Commandments, the Commandments of Our Lord, all define action that is broken in the act itself. Idolatry, dishonor of mother and father, murder, adultery, theft, deceit, and covetousness – all are actions taken wrongly.

But, about this you need not be reminded. Most of us know all too well our own sin. The problem is not that we don’t know that we’re sinners – every Christian should know that.

The problem is that we keep at it, committing sin after sin – we all have our habitual sin, and it is our ruin.

The kind which we often forget are those sins of omission, when we omit right action, and in the omission of righteous action, sin.

The woman broken down on the side of the road with no cell phone, the orphan, the widow, the homeless man, the victims of hunger – all decry in union with Our Lord, our lack of action.

Perhaps you know the justifications for this: the blind eye is turned and the reasoning is, however false, that you are powerless anyway and there wasn’t anything that could have been said or done. That if the lady had a cell phone she wouldn’t be stranded, that if someone would only adopt the orphan, care for the widow, etc. etc. – there wouldn’t be a problem. And like the high priest and the publican, we walk right by the man injured on the road, and let Good Samaritans do our acts of charity for us.

If there is a sickness in the Church today it is twofold.

First, we have denied our responsibility to those in need, and have, through selective reading of the Scriptures and selective hearing of the Spirit of God rejected our duty to Christian charity.

The author Jim Wallis recently wrote a book called “God’s Politics.” In it he describes the work of a graduate student in biblical theology who took up a pair of scissors and cut out every verse in the Bible calling for justice for the poor and oppressed, the widow and orphan.

What was left was a tattered and torn Bible, missing most of the Prophets, much of the Gospels and almost all of Deuteronomy and Numbers.

Wallis travels the country, speaking in churches, holding up this bible, and says “This is your bible.”

So, we are plagued by selective hearing.

Second, we have, after the mentality of corporate America, begun to “outsource” works of charity, far more content to write a check than give or our time.

So, in short, in addition to the multitude of sins which we commit by our own action, we have the multitude of sins which we commit by our in-action.

This is where James speaks most clearly:

“Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

Thus, the first step is to put away the sin, more appropriately to allow Jesus Christ to penetrate our hardness of heart and put away our sin, no longer grasping at it, hanging on to it.

But, we all know how long that lasts – not very, right?

Seems like every time I say – “well, I’ll never do that again.” Less than a week later – there it is.

This especially happens with my particular habits.

Ought we give up on repentance?

Absolutely not!

Without repentance – no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The apostle Paul tells us that repentance leads to salvation and brings no regret.

James upbraids us to – in addition to repentance – to receive with meekness the implanted word which has the power to save our souls.

The part often missed is “with meekness.”

The key to meekness is submission. Submission to God’s righteousness and no other. Measuring ourselves not by our own standards, but by His. No excuses.

The meek man says “tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

The meek man listens to God.

The meek man puts away his rationalism, his emotionalism, his desires and will, and submits to the judgment of Almighty God, that “implanted word.”

He looks into God’s perfect law and he perseveres.

He is not the hearer that forgets, he is the doer that acts.

He is not all talk.

And when the trials come, the weakness, the temptation and the struggles, he leans upon meekness.

He does not speak his words, for that is proper only to God.

It is God who speaks.

It is with a word we were brought into being: “let us make man in our image.”

And it is with His Word that we are redeemed.

“Forgive them, Father” and “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Our talking, our seemingly endless talking, cannot save us, it cannot perfect us in any way whatsoever.

“Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Suffering and Glory: Sharing in the Doxa of the Cross (John 12, Glory, Suffering, Grain of Wheat, Lent)

Fr. Lee Nelson
Presented to the Parish and People of St. Francis Church – Dallas, TX
The Feast of St. Patrick, Bishop and Confessor

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

These are the words of the Savior, not before His ascent to the Mount of Transfiguration, not before His Blessed Resurrection, not before His ascension to the right hand of the Father, but on the night of the Passover, on the night He would be handed over to suffering and death, on the night He would be betrayed.

But after these words, He says still more:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me; the Father will honor him.”

Honor and the following of Jesus to the Cross. Honor and suffering. Suffering and glory. Suffering and glory are an odd pairing in the eyes of this unbelieving world.

Suffering is a thing to be avoided. In the modern world, we like to think that we have indeed done away with suffering, but retained the glory. We like to think that we can have honor without cuts and bruises, indeed honor without wounds. This is possibly best seen in the Middle East, especially Iraq, where we want to believe that honor and glory can come without cost. This is invariably not so.

As well, we can look to the ever-growing appeal of euthanasia, of so-called “civilized” capital punishment, without pain, and even those dentists who anesthetize for even the simple check-up.

And yet, Jesus tells us that the means of His glory, what we will now refer to using the greek term, doxa, is the Cross. It is not merely the Cross which brings glory, but also the events of His Passion. He sweats blood, he agonizes, he perhaps suffers the worst pain of all, the pain of abandonment. And yet, this is how the Son of Man is glorified.

It is this which leads St. Paul to write to the Galatians: “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

But it is not merely the suffering of Our Lord which I wish to focus on tonight, it is rather the call He issues to those who would be faithful to Him – the call to join Him in His suffering, the call which says “If anyone serves me, he must follow me;” It is a following which leads to Cross, it is a following which leads to humiliation, torture, despair, and rejection.

Why must we follow Him in His suffering? That is the first question.

The second question is how we must follow Him in suffering. But, we will turn to that question later.

Why suffering?

Saint Paul writes to the Romans: “…we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” For Saint Paul, the necessary means of glorification with Jesus Christ at the right hand of the Father is conditional upon our suffering with Him. He says that the sufferings of his time are truly nothing compared with the mysterious glory of eternity with God. In a sense, one could say that suffering prepares the human person for glorification.

But, there is a bit of history and theology which needs to be brought to the fore. In the 7th Century, a theological battle arose which would pit Emperors against monks, princes against popes, bishops against bishops.

The battle centers upon the definition of the Council of Chalcedon, which stated clearly the following:

“Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.”

This has been referred to through the ages as the Definition of Hypostatic Union. Hypostasis in Greek means “person.” Thus, it is the teaching of the Council that the two natures in Christ are united in one Person. Both natures are complete and full.

Now, this was in the year 451. Any controversy which there had been had seemingly disappeared. Yet, in the years following, the debate turned hot.

The debate, in fact centered upon Christ’s agony in the garden. And this is where the question of suffering comes to the fore.

Jesus is kneeling in the garden, sweat dripping from His brow, and he says: “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.”

The Church Fathers had long struggled for an apology on this question: how can there be two wills in Christ, both a human and divine, when one seems to be opposed to the other?”

Cyril of Alexandria had answered the question in this way. Here, I quote from Robert Louis Wilken in The Spirit of Early Christian Thought. Cyril represents a shift in exegesis:

“”Now is the Son of Man glorified.” This text was perplexing because it identified Christ’s suffering with glory. Jesus had said “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” How can this be? According to the Scriptures, the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, is encompassed by glory. If the Son of God is already crowned with glory, how can he be said to be glorified now? Texts of this sort received little attention in earlier commentators, and Athanasius seems to have avoided them. Cyril, however, does not balk at the identification of suffering with glory, and in his commentary on John plunges ahead to meet the challenge presented by the words of the gospel. When Saint John uses the term glory [or doxa] in this context, says Cyril, it can only mean that Christ is glorified as man, which, he adds, is something different from being eternally glorified as the Son of God. Further, the evangelist indicates that this glory is greater than the glory associated with his miracles. Armed with this insight Cyril turns to the heart of the matter, that the significance of the passage is that Christ’s glory is found in his suffering.”

Thus, suffering for Cyril is not merely an unfortunate element of the life of Christ, but is instead the “necessary fulfillment of the Incarnation.” In essence, it is the human nature of Christ which makes him unique, and his triumph over death is made possible by simply the sort of human being He was.

Cyril sums it up: “If he conquered as God, to us it is nothing; but if he conquered as man we conquered in Him.”

Yet, many were saying in those days that Christ could not have a human will, but rather the divine will “trumps” the human. Of course, this brings up the question: “How could the teaching of the Chalcedonian Council be true, that Jesus Christ is fully man and fully divine if his human will is secondary or subjugated to the divine will, or if his human will simply does not exist?”

Many attempts were made to answer the question.

But, it wasn’t until a lowly Byzantine Monk named Maximus came to the fore that the problem was lent any clarity.

Maximus was born in Constantinople in 580 and educated in the same city. By age 30, he had become secretary to the Emperor. He was an intellectual force to be reckoned with, but he found the imperial court dissatisfying. In 614, he resigned to enter the monastery at Chrysopolis. In the Eastern monastic tradition, it is not unusual for a monastic to move from monastery to monastery, unlike in the West, where the Benedictine Rule prescribes life-long stability. Thus, Maximus moves around a bit, first to the Monastery of St. George and later to other monasteries.

614 is a year of some note, however. It is the same year in which Jerusalem was dominated by the Persians, a precursor to the Crusades in later centuries. In the following decades, the Persian army made its way toward Constantinople, demolishing the ancient churches as it went. Maximus was thus forced to abandon the monastic foundations surrounding the Bosporus and head to Carthage in North Africa by way of Cyprus.

Maximus is perhaps the first to make an effective apology and exegesis of Our Lord’s request that the cup pass from his lips. Most of the Church Fathers had, up to this point, understood the words to be hypothetical. Yet Maximus asks the question, do the words “Not my will, but thine…” make sense without “let this cup pass from me.” He says that, in fact, Christ did drink the cup in perfect obedience. For Maximus, the words “let this cup pass from me” express perfect obedience and assent to the Divine Will of the Father, that in His person, He conforms his human will wholly to God’s will. It is thus his conclusion that there is not “one energy” or “one working” in the Son, but two without contrariety between them, while the distinction is preserved.

Thus, the suffering of Christ only can make sense in that His human will is conformed to the will of the Godhead in complete obedience, accepting the suffering, accepting the shame. We ought not be confused on this point, though it may seem to be picayune.

If the wholeness of Christian theology hinges on an iota, that found in the heretical homoiousios as opposed to the orthodox homoousios, then we as orthodox catholic Christians cannot be confused either. Since the Reformation, it has been opined by many that God the Father submitted His Son to the pain and suffering of the Cross. No human will there. Yet the Church Fathers, especially Maximus issue the call to us to know and understand that Jesus wills his own suffering in His human nature and will just as much as His divine corollaries.

Maximus writes:

“If the Word made felsh does not himself will naturally as a human being and accomplish things in accordance with his human nature, how can he willingly undergo hunger and thirst, labor and weariness, sleep and everything else common to man? For the Word does not simply will and accomplish these things in accordance with the transcendent and infinite nature he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit… For if it is only as God that he wills these things, and not as himself being a human being, then either the body has become divine by nature, or the Word has changed its nature and become flesh by abandoning its own divinity, or the flesh is not all in itself endowed with a rational soul, but in itself completely lifeless and irrational.”

We are often fond of saying that the God’s plan of salvation was dependent upon Mary’s utterance of the words: “fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” or “be it unto me according to thy word.” This fiat makes possible the Incarnation of the Word, the Word made flesh. This “yes” of Mary is worthy of our genuflexion, yet it is not wholly indicative of merely God’s initiative in salvation, but also of man’s cooperation. Might I argue, however, that this is not supremely so in Mary, Our Blessed Mother, but that it is rather supremely true in Our Lord Jesus, who says “not my will, but thine?”

In this one phrase, Christ wills the salvation of mankind, not merely as the Divine Son of God, co-eternal with the Father, but as a man also!

In this, He has shown us a new way of being human – new life to the fullest!

If we wish to be perfect, as He bids us to be, we must indeed follow Him in His suffering. St. Augustine says “we can recognise this cup on the lips of Christ, when he says, Father, if it can be so, let this cup pass from me. It is about this cup that the martyrs said, I will receive the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.”

Another notable bishop, closer to our own day, Robert Terwilliger wrote: “Martyrdom is theology with blood on it.” We must suffer, dear friends, because Our Lord suffered. We must suffer because of the same dissenting theological conviction which He had. We must follow Him to the Cross!

Maximus most certainly knew this, for he is known not as a theologian, but as a Confessor and Martyr. In AD 640, the authorities in Constantinople, including the Patriarch issued a decree entitled the Ekthesis which stated that the two natures in Christ were united in a single will, representing the monothelite heresy. The emperor Heraclius died in 641, and was succeeded by Constans II, who “not only accepted [the Ekthesis] but also began to impose the teaching on the empire.” Thus, in the Eastern Church, the official teaching was monothelite.

But, in the Western Church, the Bishops of Rome had taught, with Maximus, the two wills in Christ, and in 649, the Church elected Martin I to the Chair of Peter. Four months after his enthronement, Martin called a council at the Lateran basilica to discuss the monothelite controversy, and Maximus came to Rome as a key figure.

Important to note is the fact that Maximus was never ordained to any order – he was a layman. Yet, he rose to authority in the council, which issued a decree defending the Chalcedonian Definition and defending also the doctrine of two wills. The decree was then sent to the Emperor in Constantinople. He was not amused.

He immediately sent soldiers to Rome to arrest Pope Martin, but the Roman guard held. Several more years later, and the Imperial soldiers penetrated the guards of Rome and arrested Martin, now laying ill in St. John Lateran. They came in with lances and swords and spears and handed Martin an imperial order that he had been deposed. He was taken to Constantinople in chains. After being held for three months, he was tried for treason against the Emperor. They took him to the courtyard, where they tore the pallium from his neck and led him through the streets in chains to exile in Crimea. Meanwhile, the Church in Rome gave him the ultimate humiliation, electing his successor while he was still alive, and in 655, Martin died a martyr from starvation, cold and mistreatment, the last Pope to be named “martyr.”

Maximus suffered a worse fate. He was imprisoned and tried for treason. The authorities had his right hand cut off and his tongue ripped out, sending him to exile on the shores of the Black Sea where he died. At his trial, he said “I have no teaching of my own, only the common teaching of the Catholic Church. For I did not promote any formula that could be considered my own teaching.”

Thus, the how of suffering. I daresay that we, as Catholics, once cozy members of the Episcopal Church, left alone to do as we please, will not be allowed to do so any longer. We will lead lives of exile, we will lead lives of persecution. The all-encompassing “they” may seek to cut out our tongues for proclamation of the truth as found in the Catholic Faith. Not only this, but we suffer the sufferings common to all mankind. We suffer the uncertainty of global economies. We suffer the ever-growing list of ailments – cancers, heart diseases, airborne viruses. We suffer from chronic depressions, from want, from broken checking accounts, from marginalization. And yet, if we follow the example set before us by Our Lord Jesus, we will find glory in these sufferings.

We are to say with Him: “not my will, but thine.”

If we are to make sense of suffering, so integral to the Christian life, we need look no further than the Cross. In this, we might say from the hospital bed, or the depths of chemotherapy, or common ridicule, we might say with St. Paul, that these sufferings are nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us.

For we await the glory, the doxa of Heaven, for which the God-Man suffered and died to bring us. He did so, not as God only, but as God and Man, made manifest.

Mark 7, Isaiah 35: Dealing with what we’ve been dealt (Suffering, Healing, Guilt, Restoration, Truth, Redemption)

September 9, 2006
St. Matthias Church
Dallas, Texas
Fr. Will Brown

In today’s readings we see the Lord manifested as healer… as the physician who gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and who loosens the tongues of the mute. Such healing was one of the hallmarks of Messiah, foretold by Isaiah in today’s OT reading: “Behold, your God will come… he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Isaiah 35.4f).

And in today’s gospel reading, we read of a man who experienced first hand the healing power of the Messiah. Listen again:

"And they brought him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they besought him to lay his hand upon him. And taking him aside form the multitude privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looing up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, “Eph’phatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly."

Now, always bear in mind the following. This is a central message of the Gospel of Christ: things are not as they seem. Things are not as they seem. Ostensibly, we have here a straightforward story about the power of Christ to heal infirmity; and it is that. But Christ is not just what he seems to be. He seems to be a healer, a prophet, an itinerate Rabbi from Galilee. And he is those things. But he’s not just what he seems to be. Who is he really? What is he really? And what is he really doing? What is he really teaching? Here’s a hint: his mission on earth was not merely to heal some sick people and get you to behave better. The point of the Evangelists telling the stories of Christ’s healing in the four gospels is not so that we will think “Wow, that’s neat; I should be nicer.”

If you want to know what’s up in the Gospels, if you want to know the background story, a good place to start is the prologue to the Gospel of John. There we are told who this guy is – and knowing who he is will put us on the right track of figuring out what he’s really up to when we read an edifying but seemingly innocuous story about Jesus healing someone or saying something interesting. The prologue to John’s Gospel tells us where this healer came from, and it starts at the beginning. THE Beginning. “In the Beginning,” it says, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.”

Jesus is the “Word of God” … That means that he’s God’s perfect and definitive self-expression. He is the life that is the light of men. And when he walks around Galilee, teaching and healing, as he does in today’s gospel lesson, he is shining in the darkness. And people then, as now, are befuddled and don’t get it; they misunderstand him; some say he’s a Samaritan and has a demon; some say that he was just an interesting and benevolent sage; and some conspire against him, mock and revile him, and nail him to a cross… because they don’t understand who he is, where his power comes from, or what he’s really up to. And sometimes we don’t understand, or we forget, or we begin to have our doubts.

The human predicament – our predicament – is a congenital blindness and deafness. Each of us is born into it, to one degree or another. It is the separation of God that mankind thrust himself into at the very beginning, when Eve listened to the beguiling serpent telling her that she would be a more authentic and enlightened self if she took matters into her own hands and ignored the loving mandate of God. That was the beginning of our congenital predicament, of the congenital blindness of humans to the presence of God, and of our deafness to his Word. And notice that Eve is complicit in her own being beguiled. What the snake says to her sounds good, she engages the temptation, and then she acts on it. And that’s how all sin works: we are both victims and perpetrators: we are victims of temptations, inclinations, and predispositions that come to us through no fault of our own – from our culture, from our families, from our genetic makeup. [Some people inherit genetic predispositions to alcoholism. I’ve known a number of gay men, and not a single one of them had a good relationship with his father as a child. Some people have mothers who never held them or abused them, and they turn into misogynists, or become abusive themselves. Its impossible to overcome the baggage of sinfulness we inherit. And you see people like that and you say how could they help it?] But we become complicit when we assent to those temptations, when we indulge our inherited screwed-upness. We become guilty when we say yes to the serpent whispering in our ears, and when that yes is translated into action, when we wallow in the darkness and pass it on to others.

But thanks be to God, the True Light that enlightens every man has come into the world, the Light that shines in the middle of our world’s darkness -- and our world’s darkness has not overcome it. And the Word of God has become flesh and dwelt among us. You see: Christ is the Light of God that enlightens every man, and the Word of God that, when we hear it, when we hear him, he effects our understanding of God and of God’s love for us. For what is a light but something that you see? And what is a word but something that you hear? So Christ as the Light of the World is able to open the eyes of the blind, to shine into our darkness; and as the Word of God, is able to open the ears of the deaf, to speak himself into our silence. And by doing so, by healing us of our inability to perceive God, he restores us to the condition that we have not known since before the Fall, before Adam and Eve sinned, and were removed from the presence of God.

In Christ we are able to see beyond mere appearances, beyond the trite reality of how things only seem to be. We are able to see the glory of God shining through the fissures in the surface of the physical world. It is Christ – and Christ alone – who enables us to sing with the Angels: Holy, Holy, Holy… Heaven and earth ARE full of thy glory. Understand? We can’t see that without Christ [We proclaim that the heavens and earth are full of the glory of God; but can we see it? If we look out the window do we see it full of the glory of God? Or do we see Taco Cabana? See, we’re still touched by the darkness…] And without Christ we can’t hear the groanings of the Holy Ghost brooding over the silent surface of our formlessness and void. That is the real blindness and the real deafness he has come to heal: and that is what we can see and hear, with the help of the Holy Spirit, too, beneath the surface of today’s Gospel reading.

To be succinct: like the deaf man in the gospel, we have been touched by Christ, and the healing of our insensitivity to the presence of God, who has formed the chaos of our former selves, in the waters of Baptism, has begun in us. Christ has spoken with authority into our lives: let there be light. Let light shine in this darkened, sin-stained heart. And our task now is to collude not with the temptations and darkness that still break upon us from our fallen contexts, that keep us from seeing what we claim to believe is really there, the heavens and the earth full of the glory of God, despite appearances. Our task is now is to stop cooperating with that inherited darkness, and to cooperate instead with the work he has begun in us; to use the light he has given us, to shine it in the recesses of our consciousness where the darkness still creeps in. And this cooperation – no longer with the works of darkness, but with the Word of God in Christ through the agency of the Holy Ghost – this collusion with God undoes sin, and breaks the cancerous power of spiritual blindness and deafness that humans pass on to one another. This cooperation with God’s redeeming work – by allowing his will to determine our actions, by giving in to him, rather than giving in to sinful habits and propensities – this is how we turn back toward him, and retrace the steps of our expulsion from the Garden, back into Paradise. This is what St. James is talking about in today’s epistle when he says that we must “be doers of the word” – that we are to be Christ’s collaborators, first by collaborating with his work in us, and then by collaborating with his work in the world. (And that’s why in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus first opens the deaf man’s ears, so that he can hear the word, and then touches his tongue, so that he too can be a proclaimer of the Word.) Then James says if you look into the perfect law, that is Christ, if you look at the perfect law and persevere, by being a doer that acts, not just a hearer of the gospel, but a proclaimer of the gospel, you will be blessed in what you do. You will be blessed. That’s a promise of God. You can take it to the bank.

And that’s our task, brothers and sisters, until the Lord returns: to persevere in collusion with Christ’s healing, enlightening, proclamation of God’s love and redemption. To collude with that work in ourselves, by hearing and re-hearing his word, and then to collude with that work in the darkness of the world by proclaiming it ourselves, until he comes again with power and great glory, and there’s no darkness left to hide in.

Syllabus: Intro to Judaism

Proposed, September 2006
Southern Methodist University
Mary Moorman

Intro to Judaism

This course will focus on significant themes in the history of Judaism, the historical development of Jewish identity, and the unfolding of the Jews’ relationship to God and community. The readings, lectures, and discussion sessions will combine historical and conceptual analysis of constant themes identifiable throughout the Biblical, Rabbinic, Medieval and early modern periods, particularly with regard to relational encounters with the Gentile world and cultures. We will rely heavily on the Biblical texts, on themes from rabbinic law, and on the commentary of celebrated figures in modern Jewish thought. These themes will concentrate heavily on aspects of the integrated systems of Jewish law, theology, and worship as progressive constants of Jewish life among different social contexts. Each student is also expected to attain a basic level of comprehension in the written Hebrew alphabet by the end of the term.

The course will be based on one weekly lecture, and one weekly discussion for the analysis of reading material and film presentations. Each discussion meeting will be facilitated by the assigned moderator and oriented around a paper presented by the assigned presenter, whose commentary will be evaluated by his peers. For extra credit, a course blog will be available for ongoing discussion of relevant issues. It is assumed that each student is prepared to participate actively in all facets of the learning of this critical material through timely and critical readings, and through regular and active class attendance.

Course Requirements

Weekly Comments. 30% Each student is required to submit weekly comments, questions, personal reflections, and identification of major issues by drawing on and citing the assigned materials in detail. These commentaries are to be no more than one page in length and are submitted by email each Monday.

Mid Term Examination. 20% The mid term examination will consist of two components:

A) The exam will provide an extensive list of terminology pertaining to Jewish life, of which each student will select and define twenty terms in a concise sentence that demonstrates conversational grasp of the vocabulary.

B) Each student will demonstrate written proficiency with the Hebrew alphabet.

Final Paper. 25% Each student will write a ten-page exegesis/interpretation paper based on the text of Psalm 47. The paper may alternatively develop a statement of that Psalm in light of a theme addressed in the course. The top three of these papers will be submitted by the instructor for review at the Journal of Jewish Studies.

Final Exam. 25% The Final Examination will have two components:
A) Identification. Each student will be expected to read/translate a set of ten Hebrew words and then to elaborate on their significance.

B) Brief Essay.

Extra Credit (up to 15%)

A) Participation in ongoing course blog discussions.

B) Upon careful reflection, a student may opt, if he wishes, to participate as an observer in any of the Jewish high holy days falling within the term, whether at an appropriate Synagogue, a Jewish student center, or with a Jewish family or group of Jewish friends. Successful completion of the extra credit assignment will involve completion of a 3-5 page report detailing the observances of the day, and the student’s response to them, to be posted for commentary on the class blog.


Required Texts.

Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews. Harper & Row, 1987.

The Holy Bible.

Milton Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf. Behrman House Publishing, 1996.

A Better Hebrew Primer and Home Workbook (Hebrew alphabet and basic grammar) from Torah Aura Productions.

Available in Course Packet and on Reserve

Jon D. Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity. Yale University Press, 1995.

Rabbi Ephraim ben Jacob of Bonn. The Akedah, translated from Oxford MS 1154, no. 205(=A); Berlin MS 9, no. 124 (=B); Selihot MS 446, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, no. 172 (=N).

Neil Hecht, comp. Selected Materials in Jewish Law. Boston: Boston University School of Law, 2002.

Theodor Herzel, The Jewish State. Filiquarian Publishing, 2006

Leslie J Hoppe, Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ. ( The Catholic Biblical Quarterly April 30, 2000)

Jacob Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Studies in Jewish-Gentile Relations in Medieval and Modern Times. Greenwood Press, 1961.

Hillel Levine, Economic Origins of Antisemitism.
In Search of Sugihara. Free Press, 1996.

Jacob Neusner, Religion and Law: How through Halakah Judaism Sets Forth its Theology and Philosophy. Scholars Press, 1996.

David Novak, Halakah in a Theological Dimension. Scholars Press, 1985.

Law and Theology in Judaism. KTAV Publishing House, 1974.

Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial: On the Legends and Lore of the Command to Abraham to Offer Isaac as a Sacrifice. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, Satan in Goray. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.

Elie Wiesel. Night. Hill and Wang, 2006.

Elie Wiesel. The Trial of God: A Play. Schocken, 1995.

Elie Wiesel. Wise Men and Their Tales, portraits of Biblical, Talmudic, and Hasidic Masters. Schocken, 2005.

Film: Abba Eban, “Heritage, Civilization, and the Jews” Monumental Series, available for viewing through university facilities.

Course Agenda.

Week 1. Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.

The Calling of Abraham and the covenants of the Patriarchs; the Akedah in Jewish identity; the acceptance of the Law by Jacob as a gift for the nations.

Issues. What is the nature and meaning of the Jewish “covenant” with God, in light of the fundamental narratives of the Jews?

Film. Part 1.

Required Reading:
o The Book of Genesis
o Spiegel, Shalom. The Last Trial
o Rabbi Ephraim ben Jacob of Bonn. The Akedah
o Jon D. Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son
o Johnson, 1-24

Week 2. How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth!
The Implications of the Exodus; the Law given at Sinai; Torah and Jewish Worship

Issues: From the foundational narratives, how should we understand the concept of God’s “kingship” over the “nation” of Israel?

Film. Part 2; also “Covenant and Constitution”

Required Reading.
o Deuteronomy 3 and 4; Psalm 137; Psalm 119; the Book of Leviticus
o Johnson, 81-125
o Selections from Jewish Law.

Week 3. He subdued nations under us, 
peoples under our feet.
National Heroes and their ethic: sex, lies, and violence?
Joshua, David, Solomon.

Issues: Violence in Israel and the merciful God- a quandary?

No Film

Required Reading:
• The Book of Joshua, I, II Kings
• Selections from Jewish Law.
• Johnson, 40-59.

Week 4. He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved. Selah.
The Prophets

Issues: How do the prophets respond to tragedy? How does Jewish suffering relate to God’s promises to the Jewish people? Is there a possible reconciliation between the idea of being God’s chosen people and the historical experience of exile?

No Film

Required Reading.
o The Book of Isaiah.
o Selections from Neusner and Novak: Religion and Law, Halakah in a Theological Dimension, Law and Theology in Judaism.

Week 5. God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets. Diaspora and the Shaping of the Tradition.

Issues: How did the culture of “Judaism” emerge from the nation, culture, law, and worship of national Israel?

Film. Part 3

Required Reading
o Johnson 59-166
o Steinberg, As a Driven Leaf

Week 6. Midterm Exam

Week 7. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
Judaism and its worship between Christianity and Islam.

Issues: Was the development of Synagogue worship influenced by the growth of Christianity and the spread of Islam? If so, was this influence for better or worse in terms of Jewish identity? How has Christianity, as the offspring of Judaism, historically responded to Judaism?

Film. Part 4

Required Reading.
o Johnson, 169-230.
o Singer, Satan in Goray
o The Gospels of Matthew and John; The Epistles to the Hebrews and to the Romans.
o (Extra credit: Levine, Economic Origins of Antisemitism)

Week 8. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.
Messianism and Modernization.

Issues: What is the nature of Jewish Messianism and hope in relation to modernization and the life of the Jewish Ghetto? What is the relationship, particularly in this period, between Jewish Messianic piety and the development of scholarship among Jews like Maimonodes?

Film: Part 5.

Required Reading.
o Johnson, 233-305
o Hoppe, Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ.

Week 10. God reigns over the nations; 
God is seated on his holy throne.
Emancipation and Franchise.

Issues: Did the Jews fulfill their divine mandate to act as a righteous “pilgrim nation” among the nations in the European context? If so, how?

Film. Part 6

Required Reading.
o Johnson, 311-420.
o Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance.

Week 11. The nobles of the nations assemble for the people of the God of Abraham.
The Shoah, its Precedents, and its Echoes.

Issues: What trends in world history and attitudes led to the attempted genocide of the Jewish people in the 20th Century? What were the most significant influences shaping these attitudes? What theological/philosophical/liturgical wealth did the Jewish people draw upon in order to maintain their identity and prayer during times of horrific suffering, and how do such practices reflect the Jewish history and theology?

Film: Part 7 or Schindler’s List

Required Reading.
o Johnson, 423-514
o Each student will choose one of the assigned Wiesel texts for careful reading.
o Levine, Sugihara.

Week 12. For the kings of the earth belong to God; He is greatly exalted.
Zionism, the state of Israel, and the modern Diaspora.

Issues: What are the modern controversies surrounding the state of Israel? What are the sources of this controversy, whether religious or political? What are some ideas for conflict resolution? What are the major threats facing faithful Jewish life in the modern world?

o Johnson, 519-581.
o Katz, Tradition and Crisis.
o Herzel, The Jewish State
o One article on modern Jewish life in the USA/Europe, to be chosen personally by each student.

Week 13. Course Paper

Week 14. Final Examination

Psalm 47

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.

1 Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.
2 How awesome is the LORD Most High, 
the great King over all the earth!
3 He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet.
4 He chose our inheritance for us, 
the pride of Jacob, whom he loved. 
5 God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.
8 God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.
9 The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted.

Hebrews 11: At Home on the Frontier (Abraham, Calling, Vocation, Trust, Courage)

October 2005
Mr. Stewart Everett
Marquand Chapel, Yale Divinity School

A year and a half ago, in May of last year, I loaded up my car and left. From New Haven, Connecticut I drove ten hours to Sandusky, Ohio where I stopped for the night. From Sandusky, Ohio, I again drove ten hours the next day to Worthington, Minnesota. Stopped. From Worthington, Minnesota I trucked twelve hours to Billings, Montana. Stopped again. And from Billings I drove the last two hours to Bozeman-my destination. All within three days. Although I had been to Montana many times before, this occasion was different. It was new. I was driving 2000 miles across the country. Something that I had not done before. I was going to be working and living on a ranch outside of Bozeman for the entire summer. It was a land I knew well, but one I had not known alone-which I was. For years, Montana’s ethos and rivers and mountains had cried out to me to come and take part. At least, for more than a week or two at a time. And so I went.

The Frontier. Many images come to mind: the 1800’s, covered wagons, wooden houses made of sticks and brown logs surrounded by miles and miles of grassland, open and spacious, horses, hunting game for supper, backwards intellect, and church going folks. Television shows like Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie also feed into the common notions that we have about the Frontier. We indeed are familiar with the pictures of cowboys riding off into the sunset and how difficulties can be overcome with the support of family and a little patience. But the stories of the Frontier are more often filled with tales of tragedy. Fear and lawlessness. Murder. Looting. Heartache….Loss. After Lewis and Clark made their exploratory journey West, Americans began to seek refuge from their present lives in the lands beyond the Mississippi. Such refuge came at a high price. As American expansion moved further west, conflict between new settlers and the Native American tribes increased as they fought over the rights and privileges of land and human decency. As Kathleen Norris says in her book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, “The fact that one people’s frontier is usually another’s homeland has been mostly overlooked.” The Frontier was often not a pretty place.

There are two main definitions of Frontier. The first is of the very kind that I have been speaking of here, defined as a “typically shifting or advancing zone or region especially in North America that marks the successive limits of settlement and civilization.” The second definition regards Frontier simply as: “the farthermost limits of knowledge or achievement.” Frontier is that which is unknown to us, but yet that which we still seek.

This second meaning echoes in the words of the writer to the Hebrews in our passage for today. Here in chapter 11 we have the heroes in the “Faith Hall of Fame,” or the legends of the faith frontier. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets are all listed among what the writer refers to in Chapter 12 as the “great cloud of witnesses.” What a great phrase. But Abraham is the one who stands out here. He is the one that “obeyed when he was called” to journey towards a place which God would give to him. A frontier that was foreign. A place that he did not know the where’s or the who’s or the why’s until he arrived there…in Caanan. Although Abraham might’ve been sure about the Who, the where’s and the why’s actually didn’t get much better for him and Sarah. They still had to live in tents once they arrived in Canaan. On top of that, and as verse 11 reminds us, Abraham and Sarah were told that they were to have a child in their old age. This child was destined to live much the same life as well as his child after him, for they were all heirs of the same promise. Now here’s where the first definition of frontier slides into the second. Abraham’s physical journey to unknown Canaan acquires the furthermost limits of knowledge or achievement-in his case, the promises.

What is striking about this story in a nut-shell of Abraham comes to us in verse 13: “All of these died in faith WITHOUT having received the promises.” WITHOUT having received the promises. “But from a distance they saw and greeted them,” the writer to the Hebrews says. Abraham and his child Isaac and further descendents were open and accepting of God’s promise of a new land and a new people. And this was made possible through and by faith. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,” chapter 11 begins. “The conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.” By faith. The short phrase “by faith” is used 18 times in this chapter. Not only to speak of Abraham’s faith but to all the others in salvation history who responded to God’s voice when God said go. All the others who were strangers and foreigners “seeking a homeland.” Abraham and Sarah’s lives were disrupted from all that they had known-family, customs, beliefs. I’m sure more than once Abraham thought to himself, “Should we go back?” Hebrews tells us that ultimately they did not, for they desired the “better country.” They desired God’s country-even though they had no idea of what it would look like. Indeed, Abraham is set up as an exemplary model of faith. He believed in the promise of God, the “city”, the homeland, even when he was unable to see it. He believed in the God who was calling him to the unknown lands of the frontier.

Of course, another young fellow was called by God to set out for an unknown place. The Gospel of Luke reports in chapter 4 that after Jesus is rejected in Nazareth, he leaves, saying that “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” He then travels to Capernaum, by lakeshores, other cities like Nain and Bethsaida, and up and down mountains to pray and eventually to Jerusalem. According to the Gospels, he never returns to Nazareth after leaving. No longer any place to permanently rest his head. Or have some security about where his next meal would be coming from. “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose,” Jesus says. As the Gospels move along in their narratives, we see that Jesus began to understand himself in another light-in terms of his death. Thus, death was to be new territory for him-anxiety driven to say the least. Christ’s death was new territory for God, for the faith of those mentioned among the “great cloud of witnesses” were all contributing to and surely a part of the salvation history, which culminated in Christ’s death on the cross. Never had God been such a part of the events in the world. Never before had the frontier held such a new meaning. Such a new hope.

The Frontier. The unknown. The scary. The exciting. The timid. The restlessness. The weak. The strong. The incarnate. The calling. Yes, the calling. For it seems that God’s call to us and the Frontier go hand in hand. Even if we do not like to use the word “calling” or vocalize God’s presence in such a way, at the very least, it is about a sense of doing what we know to be right, like Abraham, even if there is no logic behind it whatsoever. Hebrews 11:15 says that “If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return.” That’s logic. Do what you know. Be comfortable where you are. Go back. Seek for yourself first. That’s logic. To seek unknown lands, lands totally out of our reach and range is definitely NOT the way to go.

But we know that not to be the case. And so I ask, “What is your frontier?” What unknown lands have you been prompted to seek? Is it a frontier of active social change, being in the line of fire, fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves? Is it stepping out to mend a broken relationship with a family member? Is it leaving a well paying job where all things were familiar and the money good to come to divinity school in order to serve the church or the academy? Is our frontier one in which we cannot name-as in the case of Abraham-but know that there is a reason? Some purpose? Some promise? Might our frontier be that of standing at the side of someone we love dearly who faces their own frontier? If anything is clear here in this passage of Hebrews, as well as the words of Jesus when he says to “Take up your cross and follow me,” it’s that we do not always know where God wants us to be or to go. And like Abraham, we may not know until we get there, wherever “there” may be. What is crucial to God is our faith to move towards frontier. To go. To take up the cross and follow. God requires movement. Inactivity doesn’t fly.

Again, writer Kathleen Norris says in Dakota that “the high plains, the beginning of the desert West, often act as a crucible for those who inhabit them. Like Jacob’s angel, the region requires that you wrestle with it before it bestows a blessing.” Like the West, as Norris describes it, our frontiers are those that are to be “wrestled with.” Decisions that we have to make in any given part of our lives are often very difficult. We have to think. We have to ponder. We have to doubt. As we strain to grapple with the person we are to be and with that in which we are to do. Like Abraham, we look at God’s promises from afar and greet them, and make the choice, by faith, to step out towards the frontier. For hopefully, whatever the frontier may be, we will come to know it as a “bestowed blessing,” as a place that “has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Amen.

Mark 1: This is My Beloved Son, who Went into the Wildernss (Lent)

April 2006
Fr. Lucas Grubbs
Christ Church
New Haven, Connecticut

Mark 1:9-13

And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And immediately the spirit drove him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; but the angels ministered unto him.

I ask you now, where is your Hell…without even blinking you can probably answer that question even faster than where do you find heaven. I speak to you in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Today’s Gospel reading from Mark is easily one of the most forgettable of all Gospel readings. At a mere five verses we run the risk of not even noting its subtlety, its power and its profound observation of who the evangelist is showing Jesus to be. We aren’t touched by a miraculous healing, nor are we challenged by the words of Christ, or the growling of John the Baptist as in other descriptions of the Baptism of our Lord. But listen now…as we see how the Spartan writings of Mark reveal a Christ who both is the “up” of the world, and also the “down”. A Christ who is above us and below, and a Christ who walks among us in every direction- How Jesus of Nazareth of Galilee demonstrates to us in a mere handful of versus a blueprint of the human condition, and what we are going to have to do about it if we have any hope for survival.
There is a term I am sure many of you are familiar with in religious imagery and architecture: It is that of the axis mundi. The axis mundi is that which visibly or invisibly connects heaven and earth. In Christianity, perhaps the most common of all axis mundis is the Cross of Christ. Firmly planted upon the Earth yet even in its bloody and agonizing purpose, soaring toward heaving and through its power becoming the perfect link that unites you and I to God in our earthly flesh. Christ himself is the living axis mundi, the man who is God robed in flesh. Here, in Mark’s statement, we are privy to an image of Christ who not only links heaven and earth, but who goes beyond both of them in order to show us how to live.

Here every single realm and state of creation opens up before our eyes, and we stand humbled by this majesty. First, Christ sets forth an example for us in humbling Himself to the earthly ministry of John the Baptist in his Baptism; Christ enters the waters of Baptism here to prefigure his going into the depths of Hell. God’s love is so great, so deep and wide that even the gates of death and Hell cannot triumph over him. If we understand our own Baptism as a dying unto sin when we enter the waters, it is because Christ has already gone before, to sanctify death, to stare it down, to empty out its growling and ugly mouth before it can overcome us with its power. In the waters of death and chaos, Christ becomes our new ark of Salvation; His going down into the waters give us a hint of what must come before. That is his death.

And so here in this brief passage from Mark, Christ has already pulled the rug out from underneath Satan and Hell. The depths of death have dropped out from underneath him in his Baptism and there would appear that there is only one way left to go- Up: And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Here is our axis mundi, here is the Christ who has gone into the depths and now, with the glorious opening of heaven, links both heaven and earth. But you see, because he has gone further in death, the axis mundi has grown much more complete. Not only are heaven and earth connected in Christ, but the depths of Hell and all the cosmos are laid open to his power and love. Nothing will escape the power of God in His Christ. One of the constantly reoccurring answers has been that Jesus indeed decended into Hell to redeem those who had been separated from God for whatever reason, be it in this life or the next. Indeed, we believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, he decended into Hell, the third day he rose again from the dead. Our Hell here perhaps, or the Hell beyond…no matter, God’s reach in love spans unto everywhere and eternity.

But lest we get too far ahead in the Gospel story, we must remind ourselves that this is just the beginning of Christ’s ministry. Jesus prefigures his death in Baptism, and his resurrection perhaps in the breaking open of heavens power on earth. But he does not go, no he does not yet go. What comes next in this very Gopel passage is this. “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts.”

Ok, let us pause here for a moment. All this talk of supernatural heaven and hell is well and good. We are Christians and we as a church believe in Hell and hope for heaven. But what about now? We also have an Axis Mundi in Christ that not only fills Hell with Love, and soars to heaven in glory. Again our Axis Mundi is cruciform. The vertical up and down of Christ would not be complete with out the horizontal "X" axis of the arms of the cross and his arms of Love. What value in our lives would this story have if Christ did not go into the wilderness, the flat lands, the ordinary time of our lives? However you conceive of Hell, and whatever you hope for in heaven, these are of lesser importance to what we must ask now. What must we do now, we ask? How are we to live? We can and should draw great strength and inspiration from the cosmic power of Christ in both heaven and Hell, but unless we put this to the test here and now these become mere background stories. Now is the time we must take our part in this. Now is the time we must enter the wilderness with Christ, for fear not he has already gone before and walks with us always. The difficult work of redemption has already been done, but Christ still will not rest. No, he goes into the wilderness, our personal and savage wilderness, to be as intimately close to us as God was intimately close to humanity in Jesus.

I ask you now again, where is you own personal Hell? You know you know where it is without even having to think long and hard I’m sure. You probably know where your personal Hell is more quickly than you personal heaven. Our Hell on earth is caused by the storm winds of our sins and failings, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Our Hell on earth might be caused by the sins of others rendered upon us. Sometimes the innocent suffer the effects of the Hell of others. And let’s be honest about it, sometimes there is no sense whatsoever of fairness in this. There are those among us today who are feeling the effects of sin and sorrow, no doubt about it. Perhaps even every single one of us. There are those in our very neighborhood who suffer for reasons we don’t always understand…how hunger and sickness and poverty can continue to exist even among the learned streets of downtown New haven, I think all of us are at a loss to explain. Lest we even mention the desperation of those beyond our borders.

But there again, we must know that because Christ descended into Hell to redeem its icy grip, and then continued and does continue and will continue to walk among us on this vertical plain of earth, therein lies our Call. Christ is our example, Christ is our hope, Christ is our help. This weary plain we now walk upon indeed resembles Hell from time to time. But take heart. Christ shows us that in love, and with God we might just be able to face this with grace, and help those in need as well. We walk the wilderness, horizontal axis of this world, but we do not do it alone. Christ is our Blueprint. Cling to him. Pray to him. Emulate his love in everything you do. In this, the difficulties we face, and the hells we experience are sanctified. And from him, and in him, we walk ever more closer to Resurrection, and heaven. Amen.

Mark 1: Prepare the Way of the Lord (Advent)

December 2005
Mr. Wallace Marsh

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: "BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY; THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, 'MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.'" John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. And he was preaching, and saying, "After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. "I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."


There is no fancy birth narrative,
no angels,
no dreams,
no Joseph and Mary,
and no stable.

All we have is a voice in the wilderness…
Prepare a way for the Lord.

This is how Mark begins his Gospel.

The day after Thanksgiving,
I found myself traveling into the wilderness
I went to the Appalachians to meet a close old friend for a day of hiking.

Our intentions were good,
but neither of us arrived at the park when we expected.

The reason for our delay…the traffic.

Both of us,
oblivious as we are,
didn’t take into account that in every city,
including small town America,
there was bumper to bumper traffic
because of Christmas shopping.

Suddenly I began to have visions about how the month will unfold.

I will finish up exams, and by the time I get home
Will have a few days to spontaneously
make last minute purchases
and get them under the tree.

Then and only then will I be reminded that once again
I have failed to “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

There seems to be a void.

Contemporary Culture proclaims Christmas
as a season to camp out in parking lots
for the latest and best buys,
and the gospel proclaims
a radically different message.

In the Church, the reason for the season
is the celebration of a birth of a child,
a child who ultimately gives his life
for the sake of our sins.

It is in the spirit of his gift,
the gospel,
that we should give.

I am not sure that an impulsive purchase,
or wrongly chosen sweater conveys the
gravity of Christ’s gift.

Throughout my day in the wilderness,
and on the long return trip home,
I wondered what Christmas would
look like if our (own) gifts were truly gifts.

And then it came to me…
A story I heard many years ago
preached from the pulpit by a former colleage.

The story is titled: A Christmas Story, and is written by the mother of this family. Here is what she writes…

It is just a small white envelope, stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so. And it all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties, and so forth, and reach for something special just for Mike.
The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Mike loved kids… all kids… and he knew them well And that’s when the idea for his Christmas gift came.

That afternoon, I (made a gift) anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I place an envelope on the tree, with a note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me.

His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year, and in all the years to come. Each Christmas thereafter, I followed the tradition: One year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game. And another year giving a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground a week before Christmas, and on and on. The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas.

It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their father lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

The envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn’t end there though. You see…we lost Mike to cancer last year. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree. And in the morning….it was joined by THREE MORE!!! Each of our boys, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their Dad.

The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further, with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers’ take down the envelope. My Friend’s, the spirit of Christmas is about the “good news” of Jesus Christ, our greatest gift. It is about Christ coming to us, saving us, and equipping us with the power to make his kingdom a reality here and now. During this season of Advent (a time of waiting), let us Prepare a way for the Lord, so that we may both receive and give in the spirit of Christ. AMEN.

Mark 6: What We Need in the Stormy Midnight (Fear, Doubt, Courage, Disciplehship, Faith, Trust)

August 2006
St. Matthias Church
Dallas, Texas
Fr. Will Brown

Mark 6: "When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." 51Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened."

In last week's gospel lesson, we left the Apostles in a state of exhaustion. They had come back to the Lord from their mission among the people, and they had come back tired and hungry. And just when they think they've nothing left to give, the Lord reminds his hungry servants that they have still got five pieces of bread and two fish. And the Lord is able to turn a snack for twelve into a meal for five thousand. Jesus shows them that he is able to take their meagerness and turn it into life-giving abundance.

In today's gospel lesson, we see that the disciples didn't get it. They understand that Jesus has performed a miracle – the gospel of Mark up to this point is full of Jesus' undeniable miracles – but they don't understand the deep meaning – what CS Lewis called the "deep magic" – of the miracle. They don't get it. They seem unable to see the feeding of the five thousand as anything but a magical picnic. They can't get past the miracle's surface, to the Mystery of the poured-out substance of the Son of God that is the bedrock and the import, the significance, the real magic of the miracle.

And so Jesus performs another miracle. After sending the disciples away in the boat, Jesus goes up onto the mountain to pray. The disciples, perhaps, wondered how the Lord was going to join them. After all, they had taken the boat, the only boat, and its miles overland. And it's the middle of the night. How was Jesus going to reach them? And on top of that, a storm has arisen. So there are the disciples… struggling against the wind, battling the waves. And the passage says that "about the fourth watch of the night," just before dawn, Jesus "came to them, walking on the sea." Just like that. [Stop.] Oh, so that's how he's going to find us. Okay.

But once again, the disciples don't get it. They're terrified. They think Jesus is a ghost. There's a curious sentence in verse 48. It says Jesus "meant to pass by them." Why? Why did he mean to pass them by? I mean, they're in real trouble. I think this is a symbolic way for Mark to tell us that they don't recognize Jesus, and so Jesus is going to walk right past them as though they were strangers. Not only do the disciples not recognize Jesus as their friend and teacher, the guy they've been following around for some time now, but more than that – just as they hadn't recognized the deeper significance of the feeding of the five thousand, just as they hadn't seen the message of God's abundance underneath it… so also here, struggling in the boat, while they recognize something extraordinary is going on, they can't see the deep magic – the real miracle – underneath the surface. They can't see the mystical significance of what's really going on. They can't see the rootedness of this miracle in God's own being. Not only do they not understand that this is Jesus walking to them on the sea, but they don't even understand who Jesus is to begin with.

Seeing their fear, and hearing their cry, and once again, no doubt, having compassion, Jesus gives them a big hint. He says to them "Take heart, it is I; have no fear." This is a profoundly unfortunate translation. The Greek says: tharseite, ego eimi, meh phobeisthe. The middle phrase there, ego eimi, means "I am." It's the same phrase used in the Septuagint when on Mount Sinai Moses asks God to whom he is speaking. "Yes, hello? This is Moses, to whom am I speaking?" "I AM!!!" It's the same phrase here. Jesus is telling the disciples, and he is telling us, who he is. He's telling us that he is God. And as with much of the rest of the gospel teaching, its oblique; its indirect; its veiled under a layer of double-meaning and symbol. Why does Jesus do it like that? Why doesn't he just come out and explain things straightforwardly? Why can't he just say "Okay guys. Here's the deal. I am the only Son of God. I am the Eternal Word. I've come here to save you from your sins, and to give you a share in my infinite self," etc. Why doesn't he just do that? Why does he have to take five loaves and two fish and give thanks, and feed five thousand, and then walk on water and speak in parables and utter cryptic messages about who he is? I mean, this is important stuff! What if we miss it? What if we misunderstand it?

[NB: For one thing, he's packaging propositional truths about himself and his identity in life practices. I.e. he's giving a lebens form to himself, to make himself comestible, so to speak, to his disciples. If he just said "I am the Eternal Word. I am the only-begotten of God," that may seem at first to be direct and straightforward, but what really does that mean? What is an "eternal word"? What is it to be the "only-begotten of God"? He's mercifully wrapping all this stuff about himself in life practices, in things we can get hold of. He's giving us handles on himself. He's providing little points whereon we can attach ourselves to him. Etc. And that's also why we, in turn, don't just hold up a sign that says "John 3:16" and consider that to be enough. Instead, we do what he did. We wrap all these propositional truths about Jesus in life-practices. When we gather together, we don't just read true sentences about Jesus. We do do that, but that's not all we do. E.g. we also take bread, bless, break it, give it, eat it, etc. We walk around, we swing incense, we sprinkle water on ourselves, etc.]

The short answer is: ask Father Duncan. Just kidding. I think Jesus teaches this way for the same reason that "he meant to pass by" the disciples in the boat, when he came to them walking on the sea, in the darkness, in the chaos of the storm. He wants to provoke a response in them. And he wants to provoke a response in us. Because salvation won't work in our lives until we need it, until we need him, until we, like the disciples, are terrified and cry out in the tempestuous darkness of our lives. And its not that God is strict or tricky. To borrow another one of Jesus' symbols: salvation is like seed. God scatters it liberally, all over the place, near and far. But if it falls on concrete, it just won't take. There's nothing for it to latch on to. It can't take root and flourish. Rather, It has to fall on soil that is prepared to receive it, soil that has been broken-up and opened, so that the seed can enter in and take root. Just so, its not that our Lord is just withholding salvation by revealing himself in obscure symbols, but the deepness of his difficult self-revelation is gracious. It's a double mercy. The difficulty and the obscurity of it causes us to struggle to get at it, and our struggle to understand, our struggle to know who Jesus is showing himself to be, is the preparation of our hearts to receive the secret, the mystery of Who he really is, and the mystery of who we really are in him. In one stroke the seed is scattered and the soil prepared.

That is the process we see unfolding for the disciples in the Gospel of Mark. Their hearts are slowly being broken-up and opened to receive the fullness of the mystery of Who this Wonder-Worker really is, and of who he is calling us to be. At the end of today's gospel lesson we read "And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand… but their hearts were hardened" (Mk. 6.52). Pretty soon in Mark there is a very noticeable shift in the narrative. Soon after chapter 8, Jesus will abandon all of his miracles and teaching ministry in Galilee; he will turn his face toward Jerusalem, and go there to suffer and die. And only then, on the other side of death and resurrection, will the pieces begin to fall into place for the disciples. Only then will they look back on all the miracles and obscure sayings of their Master and understand the Mystery of the Gift of the eternal Word, the Only-begotten Son of God, the secret of his very own substance poured out for them. Then they will look back and remember that hour before dawn, in the middle of a storm on a lake, when Jesus came to them walking on the water. Then they will understand not just that he walked on water and silenced the storm, but they will understand why. Because the disciples cry out to him, and because he is the Lord of the wind and the waves. Because the wind and the waves and the disciples themselves were brought into being through his power, and obey his voice. They will see who it really is that suffered and died: the Lord of all Creation, who was in the beginning with God.

And that's what we need in each of our stormy midnights. For here we are too: his disciples, storm-tossed, straining at the oars and reaching the point of exhaustion, surrounded in our lives by darkness and buffeted by the winds of chaos, or the waves of sickness, or family trouble, or difficulties at work, or financial trouble or loneliness – or menaced by sinful habits that we find loathsome but can't seem to change. How often do we feel trapped by this or that, struggling at the oars of our weakness, hemmed in by the rising tide, in danger of drowning. It is into this context that our Lord comes to us, piercing right through the turbulence and the darkness with his supernatural stride. And what attracts his attention is your cry for help, your recognition of the real danger posed to your soul by the darkness and temptation that surrounds you day by day. But thanks be to God that Jesus will not pass you by when you cry out to him in your heart, in prayer. He will come to you. And he will get into the buffeted, rocking boat of your life. The winds will cease. And he will begin to open your heart to the mystery of his life and his death in you, and to the true meaning of your life and your death in him. But let that mystery begin to unfold in your heart, or to unfold anew, today with his words: whatever your darkness, whatever winds of affliction beat against you, whatever waves of sinfulness threaten to pull you under: Take courage. Don't be afraid. I AM. AMEN.