Saturday, October 10, 2020

Right Living and Manifesting the Kingdom



During my evening prayer, many things came together. First, one of the Psalms had this to say:

"Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked." (Ps 82)

 So, how does He do this? Well, I suppose God could snap His fingers and wipe out the wicked or zap their butts with a lightning bolt, but no, there is a better way. A point of Orthodox theology is "theosis." It is the transformative process of becoming like God. We are supposed to give God a hand, so to speak, to take on the injustice in the world. But we can't become like Him unless we are humble. This is exactly what Jesus did while on Earth. We often make fun of the Apostles because they often didn't get it. But it's the process of theosis unfolding on the pages of the Gospels. Of course they didn't get it. We don't either! But they eventually got it all right. They all died as martyrs, except St. John, who died a very old man.

 Anyways...

 The Gospel reading for tonight's prayer was Matthew 18:1-4. Who is the greatest in the Kingdom? No one can enter the Kingdom unless he humbles himself and becomes like this child. This doesn't mean to become childish and ignorant and play video games until you die of old age. It means become humble and trust God in everything. And when someone is humble and trusting, they are usable to God.

 New testament reading continues this theme, Philippians 2:6-11.

 Jesus humbled Himself and emptied Himself to become like us. This is called "kenosis." As St. John of the Cross puts it, we put aside our own will for the will of God in all things. We are to be obedient to the commandments of God, as Jesus is. Humility and kenosis go together. Without these two ingredients it is impossible to grow in faith. Yes, impossible.

 Of course, through this whole process, we often go kicking and screaming. Through the trials and suffering we bear, we are humbled. Of course, some people never accept this humility. The whole process involves suffering and it is truly the cross we must carry at Christ's instruction. (If you would follow Me, take up your cross daily....)

 Keep in mind this stuff doesn't happen if you study a lot or think a lot or know a lot. The cross brings you suffering, typically in your body, but not necessarily so. But either way, then you really know something in a whole new way and you know how to live. It changes your life. You know where the Kingdom is and how to live in it.

 There are a few people in the Gospels that Jesus tells us about that did those things that are in the previous passage in the Psalms. We can read it in Mt 25:31-46. Jesus says they did these things for Him! Wow. And here I thought "spiritual" stuff was the "other world" only.

Oh, no. True spirituality marries the spiritual with the physical world. And so, well, you know the story, these people fed the hungry, visited the prisoners, etc. And the funny thing was, Jesus said they were the ones going to Paradise while the people with their heads stuck in the spirit, were not. And they seemed to know who Jesus was as they spoke with Him, but it didn't matter. Or as the saying goes in my church, "Matter matters." There ARE some things that we must do!

 Or perhaps, a better way to put it, how do we really get to know the Lord? By reading it in a book? Well, that's a good start, but as we continue on the road, we might try to feed Him, visit Him in prison, invite Him into our homes etc. Jesus is the guy on death row. Jesus is the hungry, homeless person on the park bench getting sneered at by all the people as they leave the church building. Jesus is the illegal immigrant who needs a place to spend the night.

 Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, tells us, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness."

What is righteousness? It's right living. It's doing what is right. It's living the way Jesus invites us to live.

And certainly, not all the world's problems are the fault of Christians, but it seems to me, we've turned a blind eye to a lot of injustice that has benefited ourselves the last 50-75 years.

 And you know me, I am totally against all the riots and destruction and killing going on today and the political nonsense. But I can't help but know that the best way to fight evil is to just do good and to help those who suffer from injustice. Long ago, we gave all the responsibility to help the poor to the government and we complain about every penny spent while we buy $30,000 boats, $60,000 cars, and $400,000 houses, and fill it all with expensive toys that will be in the landfill before the end of the decade.

Yes, the likes of Trump and Pelosi are just nuts. They are nuts. But who are we? I think a lot of us are mad because we want to spend those tax dollars on more junk, while those without basics like health insurance suffer. It's as if we do not care about those who suffer. This is not righteousness (the right way to live).

 Anyways, I'm not trying to condemn anyone here, just trying to share some thoughts. So, what I am trying to say is, if our thoughts and actions were more in line with what many of us say we believe (i.e. the Kingdom of God, Jesus, or however you like to put it), I don't think we would be in this mess.

 Please pray. Pray for every single scoundrel you have. Pray for everybody. Don't leave anyone out. And try to find a way to help one person, preferable someone you or our culture might deem as "undesirable." Our country needs a lot of healing. This is going to take a long time. If someone offers you an easy fix, like "Vote for me and I'll fix it," it's a lie. It's the same old power groveling we've had for the last 5 or 6 decades.

 God bless everyone.




Saturday, September 26, 2020

Christian Spirituality VI – Manifesting the Power of God

 


I have been very slow to write these days.  Work life, social obligations, and family commitments have kept me away from the keyboard.  I used to get irritated by this, but am I really going to change the world?  No.  I’ll do well to change myself.  I think this should be the goal of each of us, right?  Ultimately, this is what our tradition teaches us and what many saints have said.

 I have two blog essays for you to read today:

 https://www.pravmir.com/creating-christian-counter-culture/

 and

 https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2020/09/24/from-desire-to-necessity/

 And I have a quote for you to ponder:

 “Don’t you dare scorn people because they’re sinners.  And don’t be vindictive, because that will only worsen their wounds.  Far better to advise them in such a way that they can either cease their wickedness or at least try and keep it within bounds,” St. John of Kronstadt.

 I can’t say enough of the essays that I am recommending to you.  We must really be serious about living our Christianity, the teachings of Jesus.  In my view, we are assimilating more and more of the Culture of Death into our living or unliving of our Christian faith.  I won’t say more about these essays except to say that these two concepts are at the core of rebuilding a Christian culture.  And by this I don’t necessarily mean to “take over the country again.”  I wonder if we ever were a truly Christian culture.  I have written before, and others too, on how Christianity replaced paganism as the religion and culture of ancient Rome.  It was quickly watered down and lost its ability to truly convert souls in the West, but it maintained some of this authenticity in the East and continued to influence the Eastern Empire, what we now call the Byzantine Empire almost up to the Reformation.  So, make of the essays what you will.  I think it is something that your soul has to digest and ponder and live.  That will take time, years perhaps. 

 I’d like to comment of the quote by St. John. 

 Many of you know I have not subscribed to any television services for many years.  I recently cancelled my subscription to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.  I am not against news or entertainment.  I am against being propagandized and attempts to convince me what will make me happy, or to tell me what is right or wrong, or that my faith, my Church or God needs to get with the times.

 I read the news in my paper.  So much of it is slanted to make you think certain things.  Those on the right have their own outlets for news that say exactly the same thing, it’s just from a different perspective on who is right and who is wrong.  Both sides claim, “We are good.  They are bad.  It is ok to hate them, because we are for the truth.”  Or some version of that.  Elections are the same.  “Vote for me because the other person is evil.”

 To me, the Kingdom of God is coming into focus a little clearer these days. 

 Back to the quote.  What this quote highlights to me is that somewhere in the distant past, we made a crucial error.  Ancient Christianity taught, and the Orthodox Church still holds, that sin is not a breaking of the law, rather it is a wound, a breaking of relationship with the Almighty, it is a response to something in our past that was contrary to justice and now we lash out in anger or sadness etc.  In other words, if I may quote Catholic Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr, “We can either transform our pain or transmit it.”  He is talking about healing and taking our woundedness to the Lord. 

 What has happened in our country is we are lining up on two sides claiming we are right and the other side is wrong.  And the result is the burning and destruction of our nation.  It won’t matter which side wins, injustice will be the result.  The solutions offered by either side will be worse than what it replaces.

 It is a lot easier to win than to be healed.

 Somewhere in the past, we made sin a breaking of the law.  It is much easier to measure, isn’t it?   “How am I doing with God?  Oh, I didn’t break any commandments today.  I must be doing well.  And look, I am blessed!  I got a new job last year so I can buy a new car and a bigger house.  Now my neighbors will like me even more.  I’ll be more popular!  And I will be more happy!”

 We like to put the thermometer in and it gives us a number, a reading to tell us how we are doing. 

 Much of our modern American Christianity is exactly that: “Thermometer Christianity.”  The attitude is all law.  Jesus gets punished by God because He ends up hating humanity because of our sins.  He has to punish us, but He comes up with the idea that Jesus can take this punishment and satisfy His anger and wrath.  Now, all we have to do is “accept” Jesus.  This legal transaction nullifies everything else.  Even if I am a terrible, unjust person, I go to Heaven when I die because I have satisfied the law’s requirements and accepted Jesus.  And those who don’t accept this legal transaction of “accepting Jesus” are condemned to eternal hell.  And to prove all that, I’ll stick the thermometer in to see how I’m doing.  I unconsciously select a few laws that I sort of obey and look, my temperature is 98.6.  But look at those sinners!!  They are hot with fever!  They are going to roast in eternity!

 This is so much easier, isn’t it?  It is also easy to understand who is saved and not saved.  And I can rest myself on the high moral ground of “I’m saved.”  I can look down on the masses of the poor unsaved souls and weep over them as I gleefully smile to myself that someday, they are going to get their just desserts.

 And so, my world view is quite simple.  I can write off the unsaved.  They are going to hell anyway, right?  It’s ok to steal their land, rape their women, treat them with injustice, because if God loved them they wouldn’t be the way they are.  And of course, the secular crowd has their own version of this, it is just a secular gospel with secular laws and ideas of what constitutes justice.

 Healing and transformation is much messier and difficult.

 I truly believe that much of the present day turmoil is a rejection of this “I’m saved and you’re not,” mentality.  It is a rejection of the legal transaction method of salvation.  In other words, somewhere along the line, we turned Jesus into the mascot rather than the God He truly is.  We made Him small and controllable.  We made Him into a puppet that we could use to show us who we could hate and still sit on the high moral ground.  Our culture at large is telling the religious culture that this is a sham.  And of course, the religionists return the favor towards the secular people.

 Just as rulers have used fear and hatred to fuel revolutions since the dawn of time, we too today, are being played.  Each side is telling us who to hate and why we need to fear them.  And so, we can use any means to destroy them. 

 Next time, I will have a few more words to add about a possible way out of this mess.

 Peace to all. 

Dionysius the Little

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Christian Spirituality V – Plugging into the Power


 


Power is a big thing in our culture.  Even throughout history, people have striven to be on top, exert power and influence over others.  In doing so, the ultimate symbol of power: money, can be accumulated and used to gain even more power and influence.  For us in the West at least, the currency of power is often measured in money.  And also political power is huge.  We put much emphasis on political power.  Today, we see the ravages to our culture by those who are fighting about political power.

 So, what about Christian power?  What do we make about statements like, “The Kingdom of God consists not in talk but power?”  1 Corinthians 4:20. And 1 Corinthians 1:18, “The cross is…. the power of God.” 

 As someone who has never had much wealth, I would say that a Christian with a lot of wealth is of no concern except that he has a means to spread his own heresy a lot easier than the poor.  If God blesses you with great wealth, wonderful, but remain humble.  Having a lot of money is not a great thing, not for a Christian in my estimation.  You are better off poor so you can tap into REAL power, the power of God.  Yes, you will suffer, but this is where we encounter God most directly and surely.

 The secular powers fight with each other for power.  This should not be so amongst us Christians.  As I said, if you have it great.  Maybe you can use your wealth to feed the poor or improve your local school or something.  And as Christians, this needs to be part of our way of life as well!  We must love others and pray for them.  A good list to begin is the one Christ speaks of in the final judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46.  We must do these things.  And it does not take great wealth to accomplish these tasks, only a dedication to the Gospel and a loving, merciful heart.

 So, next, what is a gospel?  We talk about the Christian Gospel as “Good news.”  And it is, but this is not the full definition.  The ancient kings had “gospels.”  A gospel was the good news of the king’s victory in battle over all the enemies.”  So, using this, what can we say about the Christian Gospel?  Yes, it is Christ our King and the good news of His victory in battle over the enemy Satan.  And if we are to be His followers and be true to His Gospel, we must understand that we too are called to battle, called to take up arms in the fight against our enemy, Satan. 

 This can involve many things, but primarily it is our lifestyle and the attitude with which we situate ourselves in the world.  Do we seek secular power?  Or do we want to live in a manner that imitates Christ and His saints?  If we choose the second, there is a wide gulf of understanding Who Christ is.  And here is where we get into the chief cause for the 40,000 or so Christian denominations.  Yes, it is about doctrinal differences, but even these are so much about Who Christ is and who we are and how we are to live the Christian life.

 So much of what I see today is the teaching that if you go to church and believe in Jesus, all will go well with you and you will go the heaven.  Just believe and God will work miracles in your life.

 I want you to spend time with that phrase and compare it with the podcast by Fr. Tom Hopko that I wrote about in a previous essay.  If that is Who Jesus is and if that is what we believe, then I don’t think we will ever encounter the power of Christ and the Cross.  We will only deal with secular power and call it Christ.  And then we will neglect the work and the battle that the Gospel calls us to. 

 Why is this important?  Because I think this is partially the fault of the kind of America we have created today.  By and large, there are many Christians who look down of other Christians, who look down on the poor, have political beliefs that are contrary to the Gospel, and have become very judgmental.  I think we can do better.  Even the idea of fasting escapes us or works of mercy, let alone their disciplines.  The only time we fast is when we want something.  We use it to talk God into something.  This is so strange, so selfish.  We need to get back to the basic tenants of the Christian life which while we cling to those liberating doctrines and teachings, we often forget that Christianity is a lifestyle. 

 Last time, I mentioned that at a church meeting someone denied that we needed to suffer.  So here, I will give you an incomplete list of verses, mostly from the New Testament, that encourage us in the face of suffering and to carry our cross.  But again, this isn’t the whole Gospel, only a part of it, but if we what to experience the power of God in our lives, we cannot climb down off our cross.  We must embrace it as Jesus embraced His. 

 I will leave you to ponder the following texts from Scripture.  Especially if you doubt that there is anything good in suffering.  In and of itself, suffering is an evil.  With Christ, suffering is a vehicle to a different way of seeing and understanding.  It was said, “Christ did not come to end suffering, but to fill it with His presence.”  However, dear reader, don’t think that we must go out of our way looking for suffering.  Oh no!  It will come to us.  And when it does, let us not run from it, rather let us look for Christ in our suffering and let Him direct us in dealing with whatever situation we find ourselves in and seek His will.  This is where we encounter most profoundly, the power of God.

  

Isaiah 30:20-21, And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide Himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.  And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”

Hosea 4:3, …therefore the land shall mourn and all who dwell in it languish…

Hosea 4:18, …they love shame more than their glory.  (Comment, the prophets point out our sin and what will happen if we don’t clean up our act.  This entire chapter really lets us have it.  I would say that when we fall far away from the Lord and when we love shame more than our glory that comes from God, that is perhaps a profound form of suffering that we may not even realize until we are up to our necks.  I am thinking of the Prodigal Son here, just like you and me.  Yes, even the land mourns.

Luke 9:23, If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

Luke 14:33, Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  (Comment: Can you live without your prized possessions?  See how this can be a suffering, a very difficult thing to attain?)

Luke 21:19,  By your endurance you will gain your lives.  (Comment: salvation or anything else in the spiritual life is not easily or quickly attained.)

John 16:33, …in the world you will have tribulation…

Acts 14:22, …through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God.

Romans 1:16, I am not ashamed of the Gospel.  It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.

1 Corinthians 1:17, For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  (Comment: eloquent speakers can fill stadiums with fancy words.  The true message of the cross, and our share in it, will never be popular.  Beware when someone tickles your mind with his or her words.)

2 Corinthians 1:9, We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. 

2 Corinthians 4:7-10, We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed….always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Philippians 1:29-30, It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine.  (comment: notice the word conflict.  Yes, the Christian life is a battle.  What are some of the things they did to St. Paul?  This is to be our life too, to the degree that we can do it.  But remember our weapons are not guns and knives, they are things like prayer and love, fasting and mercy.)

Colossians 1:24, Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions… (Comment: What is lacking?  Our suffering, our taking up of the Cross.  Jesus cannot do it for us.  We have to have “skin in the game” so to speak.)

1 Thessalonians 3:3-4, (Let) no one be moved by these afflictions.  You yourselves know that this is to be our lot.  For when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction.

1 Timothy 1:11-12, For this Gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, and therefore I suffer as I do. 

2 Timothy 1:8, …take your share of sufferings for the Gospel in the power of God.

2 Timothy 3:12, Indeed all who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution...

1 Peter 4:1, Since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.

1 Peter 4:13-14, Rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings.

1 Peter 4:19, Let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.

1 Peter 5:8-9, Resist him (Satan) firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.

 

Peace to all. 

Dionysius the Little

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Christian Spirituality IV – The Power and Kingdom of God




From Father Stephen Freeman: “One of the more unusual icons is the "Anapeson" ("Christ Reclining"). In various versions, it depicts Christ as a child, asleep (I love that His head is resting in his palm). The Ukrainian version (on the left) presses the point. It is Christ asleep, reclining on the Cross, with the instruments of His betrayal and torture and the events of Holy Week, stretched out before Him. I am reminded of Christ asleep in the boat while the storm rages and the disciples are afraid. Jonah was asleep in the boat as well. It is an image of the peace of God.

 “There is an old Anglican hymn that says, "The peace of God it is no peace but strife closed in the sod. Yet, brethren, pray for but one thing, the marvelous peace of God."

 Most of us were brought up with the notion that if you loved God and went to church and prayed, you would be spared or protected from bad events in your life.  Conversely, if trouble befell you, then for sure you were far away from God and maybe even being punished.  From the perspective of the Kingdom of God, this is not exactly how things work.  Reading the lives of the saints would quickly teach us that very often it is those who are the closest to God, and who live in His Kingdom, who suffer the most.

 How can this be?

 For whatever reason, God has ordained to those who suffer to enter the Kingdom of God.  Acts 14:22 says, “…strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God.”  St. James tells us, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials,” in James 1:2.  St. Paul tells the Philippians, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake,” Philippians 1:29.  To the Church in Colossae, St. Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.”

 There are many more I could include here, but I hope you get the picture.  First, suffering is going to be a part of the human experience on this planet. When it comes, rejoice.  This suffering can do many things for us.  Among them is to make us humble.  And it is through humility that we can gain the mind and attitude of Christ.  If we can suffer and still maintain our joy in Him, we know we are on the right path!  There is nothing lacking in the suffering of Christ, except to say we have to join our bodies and our lives to the cross as well.  We can’t keep Christ at an arm’s length!  For the Gospel to affect us, to enliven us, to show power in us, we have to let Christ in, deeply. We have to live the life that Christ lived, otherwise it’s all fake.  We have to join ourselves to Him in the most intimate ways and you can’t get more intimate than to share in your suffering. 

 After all this, St. Paul reminds all of us, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let all men know your forbearance.  The Lord is at hand.  Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 4:4-7.

 Two more verses tell me how this “fits together,” how suffering and the Kingdom of God are linked one to the other:

 “For the Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” 1 Corinthians 4:20.

 “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” 1 Corinthians 1:18.

 St. Paul even remarks that he preaches only Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).  Note that he often remarks about his own sufferings.  Why?  Because he takes some kind of sadistic joy in this or perhaps he is bragging?  No.  He is showing us the example of a Christian life.

 Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily! (Luke 9:23-26).

 Now, it is easy for us to understand that the Cross of Christ was real.  It was made of wood.  He was literally nailed to it.  What about the cross you and I are to carry?  While there have been some people, even today in Muslim world, who have been nailed to a cross and crucified, this is not the norm in the West today.  Our crosses are different, but some of them are still physical crosses.  The cross can be a physical ailment, poverty, a spouse, a neighbor who gets on your nerves, or maybe it is your job that you don’t like at all, but you continue to do it because it is supporting your family.  One thing we learn from the Church, our crosses in life are tailor made for us by Christ for our salvation.

 Remember, the cross is an instrument of torture, but it is also the instrument by which we are saved. 

 When we encounter the cross, we recall virtue.  Even in the midst of the suffering of whatever our cross is, we remain joyful, faithful, and trusting God while being kind to others.  Heroic?  Perhaps.  But we can’t do it on our own, which is entirely the point here!  This is where we intimately encounter Christ!  Here we experience the power of God because we know it isn’t ourselves who is able to do it!!

 Remember, the cross does not hide Jesus’ divinity, it reveals it!  The cross, and Jesus’ death on it, also reveals His love for us, His solidarity with us, and His compassion, among other things.

 Now, go back and think of the two podcasts I had you listen to.  The Temptation of Christ was to save the people without a cross, or to begin a “cross-less Christianity.”  Christ did not fall for it.

 But look around.  We have pretty much made a cross-less Christianity, haven’t we? 

 I remember some twenty years ago, when I worked for my local Catholic Church.  I had a meeting with some of our people.  I read a few passages from St. Peter’s first letter about suffering.  I distinctly remember some of the members actually laugh and scoff at this idea of suffering.  They even said, “This was 2,000 years ago.  It has nothing to do with today.”

 I tried to reassure them that it had everything to do with today.  The cross is still our instrument of salvation and to reject the cross is to put our salvation in our own hands and to basically tell Jesus, we can do this alone without your help. 

 The danger here is we become like the people in the story of the pigs.  We end up telling Jesus that we like our life as it is.  And we tell Him, “Get out of here.” 

 I am not saying that living the cross, living the Christian life is easy.  It is not!  This is why the Church tells us that we must repent daily.  We must constantly be watchful.  We will fall, maybe seven times a day, but we get up again and start over.

 I will have more for you on this topic next time.  Until then, may the Lord bless you and keep you.

 Dionysius the Little.

 

An update to this article.  I was just informed by my priest and pastor that the cross in front of our church was vandalized.  Someone took a hammer to the marble and severely damaged it. 

My heart is warmed by the comments that have been posted on Facebook.  Most of the people mention that prayers are needed for the offender and that we all need to show mercy.  No one has mentioned one word of violence or anything negative.  May the Lord bless each member and family of our church.  To us this is a big thing!  We have no idea who is responsible for this or what they might try to do next week.  But we are choosing to pray and be merciful. 

Here you have my whole article in two paragraphs.  God bless you.