Archive for April, 2020

ANF: The Martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs

April 30, 2020

The ongoing saga of my life-long effort to read through all the Ante-Nicene Fathers’ writings….

This brief writing details the prosecutorial examination particularly of Justin Martyr, Chariton, Charito (a woman), Euelpistus, Hierax, Paeon, and Liberianus.  Each one freely acknowledges their faith in Jesus Christ under examination, knowing full well the punishment for this is death.  Even when this is pointed out to them they refuse to recant their faith.  They are sentenced to scourging and then decapitation.  The translator notes this seems to ignore  the possible or likely Roman citizenship of these people, but also points out that, as per Acts 22, sometimes Roman citizens were not protected from certain laws.

The translator also notes another variant on this document where Justin Martyr is said to die by drinking hemlock, the traditional fate of Greek philosophers who went astray in their teachings.  However there is no way to prove or disprove this account and it is considered by many to be a false ending designed to give greater honor to Justin.

ANF: Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection

April 29, 2020

The ongoing saga of  my life-long effort to read through all of the Ante-Nicene Fathers’ writings….

The title is pretty self-explanatory.  These are some writings attributed to Justin Martyr as part of a longer treatise regarding the resurrection and the implications of bodily resurrection for believers.  He addresses several confusions, questions, or arguments regarding the doctrine of bodily resurrection from the dead, including whether our bodily members will discharge the same functions after our resurrection as they do now, and whether those who deal with malformations of body parts will be resurrected with the same.  In case you’re curious, Justin doesn’t think our bodily members will necessary perform the same duties after the resurrection as before, and he believes any physical disabilities or limitations in this life will be corrected in the next, based on Jesus’ healing of blindness, deafness, lameness, etc.

He then moves on to argue that the doctrine of bodily resurrection is consistent with the teachings of Greek philosophy, and addresses the relationship of the body and soul regarding sin.

Although this is incomplete, it is valuable for what an early Church Father thought regarding the bodily resurrection, and is good evidence this doctrine was firmly in place and being taught in the early Church.


Changing the Rules Mid-Game

April 28, 2020

When we began all of this COVID-19 panic the week of March 16th, 2020, the goal was fairly clear.  We need to take drastic measures to flatten the curve, or in other words, avoid the spike in serious cases that might overwhelm our hospitals and urgent care facilities as happened in Italy.  At the time, this seemed like a reasonable course of action.  We trade off some civil liberties temporarily in order to slow the spread of this new virus.  The idea was that it would be a short-term matter.  Stay at home.  Yes, you might lose your job.  Maybe your business won’t survive.  But the survival of humanity seemed to hang in the balance.

So we stayed at home.  We social distanced.  We washed our hands.  We treated each other like garbage as we fought and hoarded.  But, hey.  Everybody wants to live, don’t they?

Well, it worked.  We flattened the curve.  Or at least according to some sources we have.  Other sources vehemently deny this.  But regardless, even common sense can see that we are not being overwhelmed with massive caseloads of severely sick and dying people.  Although there are some hot spots where there have been more serious cases, even those places really haven’t been overwhelmed.  Although there are people at risk with this virus (as with any virus), that number seems drastically lower than we feared in mid-March.

At this point many people are beginning to say that given the situation, we should begin easing restrictions.

What they – and the rest of us – are going to find out is that it’s a lot easier to give up civil liberties than it is to reclaim them.

California Governor Gavin Newsom now insists that “We are not going back to normal until we get to immunity or a vaccine.”  That’s a much different demand than flattening the curve.  The fact that he has to state it this way demonstrates that we have indeed flattened the curve and now those inclined to keep a tight hold on the reins have to find other reasons to do so.

He’s also stated that for some organizations – including religious organizations – restrictions will not be eased for months.

That is not what we all somewhat begrudgingly or eagerly agreed to back in March.  It isn’t what we agreed to as over 25 million people filed for unemployment this month.  It isn’t what we agreed to in voluntarily suspending religious services.  It isn’t what we  agreed to, weighing the damage done to the indeterminate future through massive additions to our government debt and the destruction of many small and even medium or large sizes businesses – perhaps even industries.

Now citizens need to get up and start figuring out how to retrieve the civil liberties we so easily and fearfully gave up seven weeks ago because the longer we allow them to be suspended, the harder they’re going to be to get back.  If we ever get them back.  Because certainly there will be some new reason to extend states of emergency and other measures even if the COVID-19 pandemic plays itself out (as it obviously is doing all over the world).

The curve has flattened.  It’s time for leaders to put the people back in charge of determining how they remain safe while rebuilding their lives and businesses.


Reading Ramblings – May 3, 2020

April 26, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday in Easter ~ May 3, 2020 ~ COVID-19

Texts: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Context: Last week’s readings stressed the passive nature of our role in salvation. God literally does everything, including providing us with faith itself. Our utter dependence on God to do everything for us in the realm of salvation should naturally translate into an equally trusting and accepting role in allowing our Lord to guide our lives in the ways He knows are best for us. Yet we have remarkably difficult times with this! It is so easy to insist that we know best, our choices are best, our ways are best even when they directly contradict the Word and wisdom of the God who created and redeemed us! Even, in fact, when we know full well that what we want is not best at all. It’s simply what we want. God’s graciousness to the waywardness of his people is remarkable, to put it mildly!

Acts 2:42-47 – It isn’t as though these people had no homes. No lives, no jobs, no routines. But all of those things are recast when the good news of the resurrected Son of God is received. When life itself is on the line, how attentive people become to the nature of their salvation. Keep six feet apart? No problem. Stay at home? No problem. We’ve witnessed how dramatically lives change when confronted simply with fear. What then, to be confronted with hope? Not with the threat of sickness or death but rather the promise of healing and life? Astounded by the goodness of God in Jesus Christ, the early believers voluntarily changed their lives radically so that this Savior was the center of their life. Not simply intellectually or spiritually but practically as well. They discovered a whole new family, or a whole new depth of family. They reprioritized their time and assets to keep Jesus at the center of their lives in faith. An encouragement and reminder to all of us not simply in times of pandemic but in all times, that our lives should reflect our must fundamental truths and beliefs!

Psalm 23 – The quintessential summary and description of the Christian life. What does God not provide to us? Food? Water? Health and protection? Guidance at all levels of life? Companionship more intimate than any human relationship? His abiding presence not simply to our moment of death but into death and beyond it with us? Salvation? Peace? Eternal joy? Freedom from all our enemies – including sin, Satan, and death itself? It isn’t as though God has demonstrated himself to be trustworthy! Yet how we often balk at the imagery of sheep! How often we’d rather be a lion or a wolf, fending for ourselves on our own terms! Thanks be to God who is the true Good Shepherd, guiding us back to the fold even after our times of rebellion!

1 Peter 2:19-25 – Trust and obedience in God take concrete forms. We are not free, at a certain level, to innovate, trusting in our estimations rather than in his Word. Peter has begun spelling out what this looks like precisely because it doesn’t always look and feel the way we think it ought. Shouldn’t the God who created us and saved us be chiefly concerned with our happiness? Shouldn’t fairness be one of his great concerns in our lives? Shouldn’t we, above all people on earth, expect our lives to glow with God’s blessings and glory but in ways defined and dictated by a sinful and broken world? Certainly much of American Christianity in the past few decades has decided this – preaching wealth and health and prosperity if we just name it and claim it. Assuring us God wants the same things for us that we want for ourselves, and on our terms as well! Perhaps these preachers and their followers should spend more time on 1 Peter than on Jeremiah 29:11. Not that Jeremiah is wrong, but rather we need to hear his words in light of Peter’s, and visa versa. As a reminder and example we have no less than our Lord and Savior himself, who offered himself up to the worst of the world’s treatment rather than expecting to revel and bask in glory and honor and comfort. The certainty of God’s love for us is in no way diminished by the sinfulness within us or around us, and Christians would do well to remember our defeated enemy continues to flail and thrash futiley against his coming judgment and condemnation. Certainly life will be hard at times for the people of God. Hard even to death itself. But these are minor things compared to the love of God in Jesus Christ that endures for eternity!

John 10:1-10 – Countless voices and powers seek access to us every day. Our Alexas and Siris listen not simply when we call their names but all the time, seeking to learn more and more about us so they can better optimize what they offer to us for sale. Politicians promise us the moon for our vote and our tax dollars. Many Christians see their churches as constantly demandingn money for various programs or projects, sometimes without bothering to see whether the people themselves want or need them. The companies we work for seek the balance, paying us as little as possible in return for as much as possible, saving the lion’s share of profit for upper management or stockholders. Everywhere we turn, somebody is trying to get something from us, for purposes that are oftentimes only incidentally of value to us. We are easy prey.

Contrast this with the Good Shepherd. The one who comes not to demand but to offer. Not to take but to sacrifice. Who needs nothing from us because we have nothing to offer, but is willing to give all He has so that we might have life in him, and have it abundantly! We know this voice, a voice so different than any other voice in our life. A voice of infinite patience and calmness, infinite love and kindness. This is the one and only Good Shepherd. And we are most assuredly his sheep. What comfort that should bring us! Do we feel lost? He searches for us and will find us! Do we feel weak and weary? He will sustain us and carry us when we have no strength left to go on! Are we afraid of the predators around us or the illnesses and aging of our bodies? His rod and staff are our comfort, having defeated even death itself so we no longer have anything to fear!

Giving and Taking Away

April 25, 2020

Last night as I checked my e-mail before bed I noticed a message from our county regarding sheltering in place restrictions.  Curiously, the title of the e-mail and the message is County Modifies Stay at Home Order: Municipal Golf Club Opens April 25.

It certainly sounds like good news!  It links (I hate when e-mails contain hyperlinks to resources but then you can’t actually click on them because the message is really an image rather than text so you have to manually type out the link in another window!) to this document.  The document mentions golf clubs in passing but it’s hardly the emphasis by any means.  The document explains an easing of stay safe at home orders and which businesses are now allowed to re-open given social distancing and other precautions.  It all sounds good, until you look through the attachments where the details are spelled out.

And really, the main thing that is spelled out has to do with faith-based services.  Faith-based services and golf courses are both included in Appendix A as allowed to open/meet, and both have the most detailed specifications on what they have to do in this regard.  Faith-based services are Appendix A, Item 19, subsections a, b and c.  Here, faith-based services are only allowed if they are either online or meet the following criteria:

  1. Are only outdoors
  2. Everyone stays in their cars (no more than five to a car, all from the same household)
  3. Six feet minimum  between cars
  4. Nobody leaves the vehicles they came in
  5. Nobody is allowed to use a restroom on site
  6. Nothing – including food items – can be transferred to vehicle occupants

Such restrictions are nowhere imposed on any of the other businesses and organizations listed.  Particularly galling to me is the specification about nothing being transferred to vehicle occupants, and food items being specifically mentioned.  I don’t know how else to interpret that other than a prohibition on Holy Communion.

I can walk into a McDonalds and maintain social distancing and they can hand me food to eat.  I can walk into a grocery store and pick up produce that has been passed by or even touched by perhaps countless other people.  Yet there is no provision that a church could meet the social distancing requirements as well as safe food handling requirements?

For the first time (at least locally) I feel as though the restrictions are being focused specifically on religious organizations.  Certainly many other places are also affected and I disagree with that as well.  However to curtail religious freedoms that are Constitutionally guaranteed when similar curtailments are not placed on other organizations seems blatantly discriminatory at best and illegal at worst.  To tout the freedom to golf while essentially denying the Constitutional freedom to worship is twisted.

Some may not see how these restrictions are discriminatory or a violation of Constitutionally protected freedoms.  Understandable, and I’m sure that there will be a diversity of opinions even among Christians on this interpretation.

It is forcing us to change how we worship.  I believe this is intentional, even if intended only for a temporary period of time (an indeterminate period of time, however).  It is is a recognition that worship, unlike grocery shopping, is a communal experience.  I may bump into someone I know at Trader Joe’s and stop for a chat.  But in worship I know I will  see other people I know and love and that is part of the intention.  While American Christianity has done much to disintegrate the communal nature of the faith through a lop-sided emphasis on Jesus-and-me theology and personal salvation, at its purest worship is the place where our righteousness through Christ before God the Father draws us  back into proper relationship with one another and this isn’t just a theoretical or theological speculation but something that is lived out.   It’s tangible.

Ironically one of the reading’s for next Sunday is from the end of Acts 2 and describes how the Christians lived in light of faith in Jesus as the Son of God raised from the dead for their sins.  It is a beautiful passage but also an inherently communal one.

And it is this communal nature of worship that is being gutted by the restrictions mentioned above.  And it is compounded with the absurd elevation of freedom to golf over freedom of religion.

I – and many other churches – have voluntarily suspended worship services.  I don’t believe the government either State or Federally has the right to force us to end our worship services.  I have voluntarily suspended them.  Voluntarily agreed to limit our Constitutional rights in the interest of public safety.  Our congregation has the space and the ability to meet the social distancing requirements imposed on other organizations.  We can provide the hand sanitizers and soap and water.  We can begin worshiping again while still agreeing to the questionably arbitrary demands of the State that we substantially modify how we worship.  And frankly, nearly all of my members are of an age where they may opt not to attend just yet – which is their freedom in the Gospel.

But it’s a Gospel freedom, not a State-controlled freedom.  And Christians throughout history and around the world have understood there is an important distinction between the two.  To prohibit us from worship and the Sacraments when we’re free to go to Burger King or the grocery store or the golf course is inexcusable, and it will be interesting to see how other religious leaders react to these mandates.


Have a Laugh. Or 100.

April 23, 2020

Need a bit of good news in the midst of the non-stop barrage over COVID-19?  Maybe a bit of nostalgia in for good measure?  Then this is a must read-listen-view.  A collection of pivotal comedy routines, jokes, gags, and the men and women who made them famous.  How many of them do you recognize?  How often do you laugh while watching or  hearing them again?  Great entertainment here!

Fair warning, not all of them are family friendly.

Good to Remember

April 22, 2020

I’m working my way slowly through Irenaeus’ Against Heresies.  I came across this beautiful reminder in Book 1:

For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can but little, diminish it.

Something for all preachers to remember and apply regularly either for humility or comfort!


Words & Looks

April 21, 2020

Your eyes can deceive you – don’t trust them.

– Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Hope


I don’t like the way he looks.

I don’t like the sharpness of his suit.  I don’t like the angularity of his face.  I don’t like the gelled hair.  Everything about how he looks and sounds puts me off.  I don’t trust him despite the Bible in his hands.

Or perhaps because of the Bible in his hands.

Perhaps you’ve read about him as well.  Or maybe you’ve just looked at him.  The Louisiana pastor gaining some publicity/notoriety for his refusal to cease worship services, for his suggestion/challenge to Christians to donate their stimulus checks to church workers, and more recent allegations that he threatened a protester outside of his church.

How do we discern truth?  Through our eyes?  Through our preconceptions about what is right and proper?  Are we willing to listen, to read, to sort through things to come to a better understanding of what is being said and what it means?  If you think you’re impartial, you’re probably fooling yourself.  And there’s a difference between being a good, quick read of people and character and knowing what’s happening in a particular instance.  Old dogs occasionally learn new tricks.  A wolf in sheep’s clothing may still be able to speak pretty convincingly as a sheep now and then.

I don’t have an interest right here in deciding whether this guy is right or wrong, good or bad.  But I try to recognize my impulse to write him off as such pretty quickly, and my  eyes are good accomplices towards that end.  I have to be careful in what I trust to guide me in my discernment.  Sometimes the easiest tools aren’t the most reliable.





April 20, 2020

Nearly every Sunday morning of my life has followed a pattern centered around gathering with the people of God for worship.  The exceptions to this pattern are just that – infrequent exceptions often linked to travels or illnesses.  For almost the last ten years that pattern has become more fixed and predictable.  Up at 6:00 am, showered and dressed and then to my local coffee shop to pick up tea and a bagel.  Usually to the office by 7:00 am, there to finalize the details  of the sermon for that morning or devotional fodder for my congregants in the following week.  Last minute printing of materials.  Then worship at 9:30 am and Bible study afterwards at 11:00 am.  Home by 12:30 pm to begin the process of decompression and relaxation.

It’s not a complicated routine but it works for me.

But yesterday morning was different.  The result less of choice than a matter of restrictions and challenges both political and technical so that there was no need to follow my routine, a routine that has largely survived even the COVID-19 challenges of the past five weeks.

Without the ability to proclaim the Word of God even in a video, I finished sermon and devotional notes Saturday night and e-mailed them to my parishioners.  I could sleep in two hours later than usual, have breakfast with my family, discussing the sermon together before heading up to the office a little before 11:00 am to lead a Zoom Bible study.

It was wonderful in many little ways – extra sleep that translated into extra energy for time with my family later in the day.  But as nice as that was, I would much prefer to have had my normal routine.  To gather with the people of God to give thanks for his watchfulness and care during this tumultuous time.  To be invited to his Table to receive the gift of his Son in with and under the bread and the wine of Holy Communion.

I don’t take the current suspension of that privilege and blessing a light thing.  But it is something I will accept, as God’s people have accepted many difficult things throughout the history of creation – difficult things brought about ultimately by sin and brokenness, a sin and brokenness we participate in actively and passively, individually and corporately.  It’s a privilege and blessing I will engage in again as soon as possible, but how that decision is made is a difficult confluence of sacred and secular, preference and permission, wisdom (hopefully!) and watchfulness.  It’s a fascinating process to watch how other pastors navigate this time of social distancing and sheltering in place.

I’d gladly give up my relaxing Sunday morning exception to do what I’ve been Called to.  But I can give thanks for small blessings in the midst of great weirdness.

Reading Ramblings – April 26, 2020

April 19, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-14; 1 Peter 1:17-25; Luke 24:13-35

Context: The grace of God is the gift of God. It is not something we demand or earn but something freely offered. The readings all focus in on this reality, whether it’s two followers of Jesus who receive him when they thought He was dead and gone, or the psalmist emphasizing God’s grace when he turned to God, or Peter’s injunction to the crowd on Pentecost Sunday to simply repent and receive. The tradition in the 3-year lectionary cycle is to draw readings in the season of Easter from the Book of Acts rather than the Old Testament as normal, and we are also spending our time in 1 Peter this Easter season in a sort of lectio continua fashion.

Acts 2:14a, 36-41 – We’ll hear most of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost Sunday and Holy Trinity Sunday, but here we see the conclusion of that sermon. First the crowd was cut to the heart. More than an intellectual assent, and more than an emotional response. It wasn’t simply logic and it wasn’t simply emotion. Rather, Peter’s Holy Spirit-inspired words convicted these people, personally, of the need of a response. What Jesus did requires a response from everyone who hears about it. There is nobody who can stand to one side of the account and say it has no direct bearing on them. There is nobody Jesus did not die for. There is nobody who can say his empty grave doesn’t matter to them. It matters to everyone, and the crowd on Pentecost recognizes this and their response is one bordering on despair – what shall we do? If the Son of God died not just for you but because of you, what hope can possibly remain? The same hope that remains today – to accept that his death for you and because of you is God’s gift to you. Receive the gift! It truly is for you!

Psalm 116:1-14 – God listens and responds. Always. The crowd crying out in anguish to Peter’s sermon has the ear of God attending to them. And if you have the ear of God the Father always inclined toward you, could there be any other response but to be in constant joy and praise and thanksgiving of this reality? God’s attentiveness to our needs has truly rescued us from the reality of death. We need not fear death – or anything else in life – because we know God has conquered all things on our behalf. This should not make us reckless or careless – we still are sheltering in place and practicing social distancing! – but it should leave us at peace knowing God is with and for us always, in sickness and in health. Verses 12-14 make me that much more anxious for us to gather again together and sing those words in praise and thanksgiving to our God!

1 Peter 1:17-25 – God turns us to him so we can hear his offer of grace and salvation in the Son of God through God the Holy Spirit. And in faith we can call upon God the Father knowing He hears us and we are never out of his eye. But He has saved us not just from something – sin and corruption and death, but for something – holiness. The life of faith is the growing up into the holiness. But that honor – to grow in holiness – was bought with a terrible price. With the very blood of the incarnate Son of God. It is his sacrifice that makes our holiness possible, that wins our forgiveness and freedom from death and Satan. Our lives should be lived out in this reality, which should in turn guard us against the desire to live sinfully as we once did or might be inclined to were we not followers of Christ.

Luke 24:13-35 For such a well-known story, there is difficulty in knowing where exactly the village of Emmaus was or is. The traditional place – renamed Nicopolis during the Byzantine Empire and afterwards renamed an Arabic variant (‘Imwas) of the name Emmaus – is much farther away than Luke states. Luke states it as being 60 stadia away from Jerusalem, or about seven miles. Emmaus-Nicopolis however is roughly 19 miles away, and it would have been a very difficult thing for the two men Jesus accompanied on the road to accomplish the return trip the same evening.

Another possible site is 30 stadia from Jerusalem rather than 60, and is recorded by Josephus as a place given to Roman military veterans after retirement. The distance is not right, but one explanation could be that Luke’s distance refers to the total round trip distance covered by the two men rather than the one way distance. The Roman road leading west from Jerusalem to two different Emmaus’ is still visible today though it has fallen into disrepair.

Many people hear this story and want to know how it was the two men did not recognize Jesus sooner. Luke simply states that their eyes were kept from recognizing him. The Greek is more forceful – their eyes were held back or restrained from recognizing him. It wasn’t that Jesus was not recognizable but they were deliberately prevented from recognizing him, presumably a work of God the Holy Spirit. But why?

The passage we read in John last week about Doubting Thomas emphasizes Jesus’ physicality. He was not a spirit or a vision or a hallucination but an actual physical person they could touch. Likewise, Jesus travels a good distance with the two men. Nothing in his manner suggested to them He was anything but a human being – physical. Kicking up dirt and dust as they walked, gesturing, perspiring. All very physical. It is only when He breaks bread they realize who He is – their eyes are freed to see him for who He is, and of course this is how Jesus is best and most fully known – in his sacrificing of his body for you and I, his body broken by death on the cross for you and I, a sacrifice and brokenness embodied in the Sacrament of Holy Communion as instituted by Jesus on the night of his betrayal.

Literally as the two men see Jesus breaking the bread they are freed to see him for who and what He truly is, the one who was sacrificed and broken but now lives. Not as a ghost or a spirit or a wishful imagining but as an actual resurrected person.

So it is for you and I. Jesus is not just an idea or a concept for us to intellectually evaluate and critique. He is an actual person of flesh and blood that we are invited into a relationship with. A person we can only know best in terms of what He has done for us in giving his life and taking it back up again.