Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Tag: peace

September 18, 2022 – The Glory of Christ’s Work

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

For ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’—Acts 17:28

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.—Isaiah 2:4

More thoughts for meditation

“But if it beseems Him to unite Himself with the universe, and to be made known in the whole, it must beseem Him also to appear in a human body, and that by Him it should be illumined and work.”

“Inasmuch as He holds in one all things at once, and is in fact not only in all but also in the part in question, and there invisibly manifests Himself.”

“Christ alone is worshipped as one and the same among all peoples; and what the weakness of the idols could not do — to persuade, namely, even those dwelling close at hand — this Christ has done, persuading not only those close at hand, but simply the entire world, to worship one and the same Lord, and through Him God, even His Father.”

“Who then is He that has done this, or who is He that has united in peace men that hated one another, save the beloved Son of the Father, the common Saviour of all, even Jesus Christ, Who by His own love underwent all things for our salvation?”

In the final two sections of the treatise, Athanasius confronts the refutation of the Gentiles, and offers an exhortation to look forward to the Second Advent and Judgment of God.

He begins his argument positing that Greek theology does not preclude the possibility of the Word, the Logos, becoming flesh. That because God is in the universe at all, God can also be within the bounds of a human being. Being in the universe is as much of a condescension for an infinite God as it is to be in the flesh. He even uses Plato, “who is in such repute among the Greeks,” saying he allows for the incarnation. The finality and completeness of worshipping Christ elevates him above pagan idols and Gods.

Athanasius then turns to make a moral argument, suggesting that the moral impact of Christianity, including “lulling wars,” is evidence of the reality of the incarnation. What other God can make this claim? This is a charge for Christians today to ensure that we also lull wars, and do not provoke them, that we are known as people of peace and not conflict. For Athanasius, that witness encourages and breeds faith, even among the Gentiles.

Suggestions for action

“And you will also learn about His second glorious and truly divine appearing to us, when no longer in lowliness, but in His own glory — no longer in humble guise, but in His own magnificence — He is to come, no more to suffer, but thenceforth to render to all the fruit of His own Cross, that is, the resurrection and incorruption; and no longer to be judged, but to judge all.”

Athanasius ends his influential treatise with a warning of the coming judgment, but also the Second Advent, where Christ will return, this time in glory instead of humiliation. We are still in the in-between time as we await Christ to return again. May we await the return of Christ and the good things that are being prepared for those who “live a virtuous life, and love the God and Father, in Christ Jesus our Lord: through Whom and with Whom be to the Father Himself, with the Son Himself, in the Holy Spirit, honour and might and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

January 29 — We ache for him who yearns for us

This week, we’re exploring Julian of Norwich’s Showings. She was a fourteenth century Christian mystic who chose a solitary life in a small cell attached to a church building. People who chose this vocation were called anchorites because they were called to anchor the church and community in prayer. Others were allowed to come to the window in her little stone fortress to receive prayer and counsel. As far we know, Julian lived inside there until her death, through a time in European history that was racked by war and disease that affected her personally.

Besides being the first woman writer in English whose work survives, Julian’s contributions are theologically ground-breaking. Instead of a focus on sin and judgment like the church of her day, her experience of God is marked by love and joy. Sin is real for Julian, but it is not the preeminent reality. Jesus is the preeminent reality, with the mysterious but confident assurance that all will be well. Her experience of Jesus is matriarchal at times, not denying the traditional patriarchal understandings of God, but adding a nurturing and re-birthing dimension to them that helps us understand our resurrection life now, and our life with God as beloved children.

Today’s Bible reading

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as children, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Romans 8:22-26

More thoughts for meditation

From Julian’s Showings:

God wants us to be enfolded in repose and peace.
Only then shall Christ’s spiritual thirst be satisfied.
This is his thirst:
His desire to love us
Which shall continue until the last day,
When we shall be completely gathered
Into his joy and happiness.
He yearns to integrate us into himself in bliss.
For we are not yet as fully immersed in him
As we shall be.

Christ Jesus is both human and divine.
Because he is divine, he is supreme happiness,
So he was from the beginning,
So shall he be until the ending.
This happiness can neither increase or diminish.
Because he is human,
He, though divine,
Suffered and died out of love to bring us to bliss.
And he takes joy in these deeds of his humanity.
For he told me;
It gives me joy, bliss, and eternal delight
To have suffered for you.
This is the satisfaction he receives from his work.

As Christ is our head,
He is glorious and invincible.
And as he is the body is which we are all conjoined,
He is not yet wholly glorified or invincible.
He still carries that same thirst
Which he had upon the cross.
And he shall continue to suffer it
Until the last spirit has been brought to join him.

Because he yearns for us, we in turn ache for him,
And no one comes to bliss without such an ache.
This thirst springs from God’s eternal goodness
Just as compassion does.
So he is compassionate towards us
And desires to possess us.
But his wisdom and love
Will not allow the end to come
Before the time is ripe.

Suggestions for action

Recall some recent moments when you felt some yearning for wholeness. Were you able to connect your own yearning with that of God yearning for you in turn? Have you had any moments of peace and rest recently? Recall them now and spend a few moments savoring them. See if in your recollection you can make them even more peaceful. And imagine how much more peaceful you might be in the future.

Pray: Thank you, Lord for the glimpses of peace and rest you have provided today. Help me to know your longing for me, and aid my desire to turn to you above all else. In my sorrow give me assurance that you suffer with me, and that eventually we shall be together in complete happiness.

December 29, 2017 — Seek the peace of the region

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Jeremiah 29:1-14

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Image result for philadelphia regionMore thoughts for meditation

The people who were carried away into Babylon were told to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” They were to settle in and have families and work the land. But they always knew they had somewhere else for which they were destined. They knew God was going to bring them home. Even if they were not so prosperous now, even if they were exiles in a foreign land, they knew they had a future.

This piece of faith logic is better than the general philosophy of our day, which says anything that happens to us is what we get, and anything we make of what happens to us is what we will have. We are taught that we are the promise of the future. How does that appear to be working these days? Even if it appears to be working, it is not true, anyway.

We are exiles in the Philly region. For most of us, it feels like home and we have already found ways to seek the peace and prosperity of our territory. Others of us feel like we just happen to be here and don’t have much of a vision; you might not even love where you are at! Regardless of how comfortable we feel or how we arrived where we are, the Lord is with us. That’s why we can settle in and do good, even though we know we are, ultimately, on the way home.

Suggestion for action

Trusting God for our future takes a change of mind, right? Do any of us have the innate capability to do what the scripture (and the Holy Spirit) calls us to today? Even if we did have the capability, we would still have the world in opposition to trusting God for our future, because it decidedly does not. Trusting God for our future requires resistance to what the world teaches us in every class, in every business plan, in 80% of the laws and with 80% of the ever-present advertisements. Let’s pray for each other, since changing our minds and not having them changed back is hard.

Do you think an end-of-the-year inventory would help you think about trusting Jesus to lead you through the place you will be in 2019? Write down the ways you think you trusted in yourself more than God in 2018. What are significant examples of being lead by fear, or self-centeredness rather than by the Lord?

December 10, 2016 — God’s longing for peace

Today’s Bible reading

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” — Luke 2:8-14

More thoughts for meditation

And on earth peace…this is the great yearning of our God – for peace among us.  We grieve God with all our fighting, personal and political. Christians are people who carry the good news of peace, of love for enemies, of reconciliation. We serve the Prince of Peace.  It’s a tall order.  In Advent, we remember again the announcement that the angels made about the culmination of love in a baby who invades our violent world and bears the full weight of its destruction for us. We need to remember again and again when we may feel the urge to dominate or win the argument or exercise our rights or a thousand other titles we give to this part of us that seeks our own way.  Peace the angels declared.  We sing it over and over at Christmas.  Will we dare to live into a new day in which we live peacefully?

When Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876) wrote the Christmas carol, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” he wanted to draw our attention to the angels’ declaration of peace. It was 1849 in Massachusetts and the strife that would soon become the Civil War was brewing across the U.S.  Notice the full lyrics below.  This is the one popular carol that doesn’t bother to mention the Savior’s birth!  He focuses solely on the peace of the message that contrasts with the war that rages so readily on earth.  He’s pointing out the contrast.  This carol has been called one of the earliest social gospel hymns written in the U.S. because of this focus on peace. All the verses of this radical call for peace are rarely sung. That’s a shame because it captures God’s longing for peace and the tremendous loss we bear in our warring. Let’s hear the angels sing this Advent.

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold!
Peace on the earth, good will to all,
From heaven’s all gracious King!
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing.
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world hath suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the Age of Gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Suggestion for Action

Where might God long for peace in your life?  Listen to this shortened version and ask God this question.