The Eyes of Experience

 

Illustration to Book of Job by William Blake

A DEFENSE OF POETRY
Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Poetry strips the veil of familiarity from the world, and lays bear the naked and sleeping beauty which is the spirit of its forms.”

Job 42:1–6

1 Then Job answered the LORD:
2 “I know that thou canst do all things,
and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
5 I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees thee;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”


The great theologian Mike Tyson said “Everybody has a plan until they get hit.”  Well, he might have been talking about boxing but that’s pretty good theology too.  There is a big difference between knowing about God and knowing God.  In the Bible, every time God appears to man the result is the same; fear and trembling.  It’s easy to think all of this is limited to old stories about other people, but God still does this, and it always stuns to silence when the infinite intersects with the finite.

In his book Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs writes:

At one point (or many), we all hit a similar wall when we realize that our perspectives are too narrow and limited and we’re called (or sometimes forced) to yield to a wider frame of knowing. In his essay A Defense of Poetry, written in 1821, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) said that poetry “purges the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being”. Something of the same is required in order for us to “see” God. The “film of familiarity” is wiped away and we’re allowed to see something anew. Job confronts the inadequacy of his former ways of framing the world. His new experience yields a wider, more comprehensive view of reality, of justice, even of God. It’s a gracious reframing of his world, his self, the God he thought he knew—something far more profound and expansive. Job’s vision changes everything.

Describe a time in your life when God revealed Himself.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 THEOPHANY

The word ‘theophany’ does not actually occur in the Bible. It comes from two roots which combine to give the literal meaning, ‘appearance of God’. In Scripture a theophany is a localized, formal and personal manifestation of God.

Two primary principles provide the context for theophanies: (1) Being omnipresent, God cannot be and is not limited to a particular place and time (1 Kings 8:27; Ps. 139:7–10; Is. 55:8–9). Therefore, theophanies do not abrogate his omnipresence.

(2) The Bible teaches that all of creation reveals God (e.g. Ps. 19:1–6; Rom. 1:20). God has designed and formed the creation in such a way that it mirrors his attributes, character and person. However, the fallenness of human beings prevents them from interpreting this general revelation properly (Rom. 1:21ff.). Therefore God has provided special revelation (Scripture) for the particular purpose of redeeming humanity. Theophanies are phenomena within special revelation.
So seeing God’s power in the forces of nature or seeing his beauty in the beauty of creation is not a theophany as such. Theophanies are always accompanied by verbal revelation which clearly identifies God. In theophanies God reveals himself to be known, i.e. he is personal.

That theophanies are redemptive in character can be seen from the first instance, where God appeared to Adam and Eve in the garden after the Fall (Gen. 3:8), and through the final form of Christ, God incarnate (Rev. 1:13ff.). Whenever God revealed himself in this manner it indicated some significant event in the advancement of his programme of redemption, such as a renewed pledge of faithfulness (Gen. 15), the imminent judgment of his enemies (Exod. 14) or the commissioning of his prophet with a message for his people (Is. 6).

The forms of theophanies

Theophanies occur in a variety of forms, including storms, fire and clouds and are usually accompanied by auditory phenomena such as a voice or thunder. There are often tactile accompaniments such as heat, coolness and earth tremors. There are instances in which the form is not described, and all we are told is that God appeared (e.g. Gen. 12:1; 17:1; 35:9; 1 Sam. 3:21; 1 Kings 9:2; 2 Chron. 7:12). In these cases, the content of the encounters is the guide to their significance. It is the words of God which, for the reader of Scripture, constitute the importance of the meeting, since the form is not reported to us. However, where the form is indicated, it is an additional pointer to the significance of the encounter (see ‘The Angel of the LORD’ and ‘The glory cloud’ below).

Dreams and visions may be considered as both distinct from yet similar to theophanies. Dreams involve an imprint upon the subject which is psychical rather than sensory (e.g. Gen. 28:10ff.). Nevertheless, the same principles apply. The form is adapted to the particular purpose of the encounter. Visions, it may be argued, are sensory, but they are in fact distinct from material theophanies. Both dreams and visions are more ‘flexible’ than theophanies because they are not bound to the space and time limits of material.

The glory cloud

The two dominant forms of theophanies in Scripture are the glory cloud and the Angel of the LORD. The most vivid appearance of the glory cloud was that which began at Mt Sinai (Exod. 19:16), where Moses received the Law of God, and continued through the wilderness period. It must have been massive both in size and effect, for the Israelites ‘trembled and stood at a distance’ (Exod. 20:18). This response was consistent with God’s demands in the situation, for the mountain was off-limits to the people (19:12, 21, 24). Only Moses and the leaders of Israel could ascend the mountain (24:9ff.). The significance of this can be found in the association which this thunderous, fiery presence would have evoked.

One association would have pertained to common perceptions of deity in Israel’s cultural context. The Canaanite deities Baal and El were associated with the thunderstorm and the mountains. As the chief deities in the Canaanite pantheon, they were thought to dwell in the mountains. Critics argue that this association with the God of Israel was an incorporation of pantheistic notions into Israelite religion, but in fact quite the opposite is the case. God, in effect, was coopting this association to declare himself the God above all gods. It was he, and not Baal, who was the true and living God. Rather than Baal, it was Yahweh (the LORD) who ‘makes the clouds his chariot’ and ‘walks upon the wings of the wind’ (Ps. 104:3). It was Yahweh to whom was due exclusive and complete devotion (Exod. 20:3).

A second association with the storm theophany, which constitutes a pervasive OT theme, is between the heavenly courts and the glory cloud. God’s throne was regarded as beyond the skies, concealed by the clouds and filled with light. Whenever Scripture provides a glimpse of God’s heavenly throne, this conception is affirmed (e.g. Is. 6). The significance is that God had established his throne presence in Israel’s midst. The connection was clear when the glory cloud took up abode in the Tabernacle and, subsequently, in the Temple. This presence brought the blessings of divine protection and justice and made ethical demands. Israel’s special responsibility to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6) was directly related to the immediate divine presence in their midst, beginning at Sinai and continuing in their life in the land of Canaan.

This understanding of the glory cloud would have been extended by the Israelites to prior theophanies. In particular we may think of the smoking oven and flaming torch (Gen. 15:17) which passed between the animal pieces as a sign of divine commitment to Abraham. Early Israel, as the original audience of Genesis, would have understood that the God who made the covenant with Abraham was the same God who manifested himself on the mountain and who would accompany them through the wilderness. The pledge, ‘To your descendants I have given this land’ (Gen. 15:18) would have been theirs too as they moved towards Canaan. The glory cloud theophany is identified functionally with the Holy Spirit (e.g. Neh. 9:19–20; Is. 63:11–14; Hag. 2:5). This identification is confirmed in the consummate descent of God’s glory/Spirit upon believers, the new abode of God (1 Pet. 2:5), at Pentecost, constituting the true Israel (Acts 2:1–4).

The Angel of the LORD

The other dominant form of theophany in Scripture is the Angel of the LORD, the appearance of a human form which is frequently identified as God. Not all appearances of this special angel are so identified (e.g. 2 Sam. 24:16). But in the vast majority of cases the identification is clear, variously made by explicit claims (e.g. Exod. 3:15), possession of divine attributes (Gen. 16:10), receiving worship (Josh. 5:14), accepting sacrifices (Judg. 13:19–23), being called God (Judg. 13:22) and forgiving/remembering sins (Exod. 23:21). Instances of the Angel of the LORD include Abraham’s encounter with the three angels near Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18), Lot’s visit in Sodom (Gen. 19), Hagar in the wilderness (Gen. 21:9–21), Abraham at Mt Moriah (Gen. 22:1–19), Jacob at Peniel (Gen. 32:24–32), Moses at the burning bush (Exod. 3:1–6, 13–16), Israel in the wilderness (Exod. 23:20), Balaam on the road (Num. 22), Israel at Bochim (Judg. 2), Gideon at Ophrah (Judg. 6:11–24), Samson’s parents (Judg. 13), Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kings 19:1–8), Elijah after Ahab’s death (2 Kings 1:3, 15), the Assyrians near Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35), Zechariah in his night visions and Daniel in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:25).

The fundamental significance of this figure is in the posture of a warrior, manifested for the protection of God’s people and for leading God’s army in battle. In the patriarchal period he was a defender on the clan level (Gen. 15:1), but from the period of the Exodus onwards he was the leader of an army (Josh. 5:14).

God’s condescension to a temporary human form communicated to Israel that he was their defender and protector. They were to see their need to trust in him rather than in the strength of their own numbers. They also were to anticipate the theophany par excellence which was to come in Jesus Christ. The Angel of the LORD as God taking human form quite naturally anticipated the permanent abode in flesh that God would assume at the incarnation. Both Jesus and the Angel are called ‘Lord’ (Gen. 16:7; John 20:28) and ‘God’ (Gen. 48:15–16; Heb. 1:8); they both claimed to be ‘I AM’ (Exod. 3:2–14; John 8:58), lead and guide God’s people (Exod. 14:19; Matt. 28:20) and are commanders of the Lord’s army (Josh. 5:13–15; Rev. 19:11–14). The parallels are substantial enough that the Angel of the LORD is frequently termed a ‘Christophany’—a pre-incarnate, temporary manifestation of the second Person of the Trinity.

Jesus Christ

Beyond his identification with the Angel of the LORD, Jesus Christ is the consummate theophany in that he is the permanent and complete joining of the divine and human natures in one Person. ‘The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). Surpassing all the theophanies of the OT, Christ came as the throne room of God (being the final Temple, John 2:19–21), a full manifestation of God (Col. 2:9) bringing God’s consummate Word to humanity (Heb. 1:1–3). As such he saves undeserving sinners, not through their own efforts but through his inestimable grace (Titus 3:4); he makes ethical demands of us to live in accordance with his character (Titus 2:11) and he leads the armies of heaven in the defence of his people and in the defeat of their enemies (Rev. 2:16).

Paul Douglas Gardner, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Characters: The Complete Who’s Who in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2001), 641–644.

The Reconciliation of All Things

ASCENSION Greek icon from the seventeenth century

MERE CHRISTIANITY
C.S. Lewis

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what [God] is doing. [God] is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently [God] starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is [God] up to? The explanation is that [God] is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but [God] is building a palace. [God] intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Colossians 1:11–20

11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.


In his landmark book The Philosophy of Moral Development, Lawrence Kohlberg sought to integrate reason and faith as the latter’s evolution of the former.  He recognized the shortcomings of his model and later added a seventh stage making room for what he called “religion.”  He struggled to explain how children grew to evolve morally, and ultimately attributed (at least part of) it to the shift from imaginary to imaginative thinking.

As Ken Kovacs wrote in his book Out of the Depths:

My mentor at Princeton Seminary, James Loder (1931-2001)—who was also a huge C. S. Lewis fan, who sketched images of Aslan for his children—suggested that we need to make a distinction between the imaginary and the imaginative. Something that is imaginary takes you out of the world, out of reality; it’s a flight of fancy, often escapist. An imaginative act, on the other hand, is an entirely different faculty. It was the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) who understood imagination as the capacity instar omnium, meaning equivalent to all in importance. As a faculty of the self, imagination has the capacity to create, order, and reorder the world. The imaginative act, thought, or word has the power to put you more deeply into the world, into a world transfigured, into the real.

 

Is your faith more imaginary or imaginative?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Stratification

A concept associated with the Third Wave of psychology, developmentalism, and theorists Piaget, Kohlberg, Fowler, and others. This framework for understanding human behavior describes various strata or stages of growth. Stratification emphasizes the value of humans as thoughtfully and purposefully interactive with their environment.

Distinctive patterns of behavior and thought are empirically observed in various domains at each strata. Physical, cognitive, affective, social, moral decision making, and spiritual development have all been observed as progressing through sequential strata. Based on the conclusion that humans are more similar than dissimilar, each strata is a level of temporary destination that should be fully explored and experienced before the individual progresses to the next stage.

Environment can be instrumental in facilitating or slowing the development inherent in human genetic structure. Each strata is experienced in invariant and sequential patterns. Stages exist across cultures, genders, and eras of time though timing may be different within these variables.

Bibliography

P. G. Downs (1994), Teaching for Spiritual Growth: An Introduction to Christian Education; J. E. Loder (1976), Foundations for Christian Education in an Era of Change, p. 31. Michael J. Anthony et al., Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 669–670.

Always Reforming

A Feather Never Sleeps by Josephine R. Unglaub

ALL THINGS NEW
Marilynne Robinson

Something I find regrettable in contemporary Christianity is the degree to which it has abandoned its own heritage, in thought, art and literature. It was the center of learning in the West for centuries because it deserved to be. Now there seems to be actual hostility on the part of many Christians to what, historically was called Christian thought, as if the whole point were to get a few things right and stand pat.

2 Corinthians 5:16–6:10

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

6 We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For He says:

“In an acceptable time I have heard you,
And in the day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
3 We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. 4 But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, 5 in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; 6 by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, 7 by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, 8 by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.


A preacher friend, describing his personal theology said “I believe the Bible, but I’m not mad about it!”  That’s a bit of an inside joke because religious people often earn a reputation for meanness.  How does that happen?  Well, it’s natural to be defensive when you think you’re being attacked, and the world is assaultive when it comes to Christianity.  The most logical reaction is to put up walls and fire back.

The problem with that of course is that you can’t advance when you are hiding in your fortress.  When we pray ‘thy kingdom come’, we are asking to be part of the process.  It’s messy business.  To be an effective Christ follower, you have to be relevant and that’s impossible without love.  Relevancy is directly related to relationship and relationships require vulnerability.

As Ken Kovacs says in his book Out of the Depths

The Church of Jesus Christ is not a museum. We’re not a historical preservation society. We’re called to reform—reformed by the Spirit who is calling us to a new day. We need to become roomier, building new homes in which the human spirit can thrive. We’re not called to preserve the past or live in the past. Christ is alive. Christ is at work within us, now.

Is religion relevant today?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

D I G  D E E P E R


Marilynne Robinson and Renewal

Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson

For ages people have drawn inspiration from greatness—from Horatio at the bridge to William Tell to George Washington. But heroism is out of fashion in our time. We don’t even believe in it. Our cynicism is so pervasive that the extent of our disillusionment is taken as the measure of our maturity.

Marilynne Robinson describes this turn of mind in The Death of Adam:

“When a good man or woman stumbles, we say, “I knew it all along,” and when a bad one has a gracious moment, we sneer at the hypocrisy. It is as if there is nothing to mourn or to admire, only a hidden narrative now and then apparent through the false, surface narrative. And the hidden narrative, because it is ugly and sinister, is therefore true.”

What has happened to us is that we’ve lost our sense of God. And when we lose God, we don’t just lose religion; we lose everything worth living for. But God wants to give it all back. He has a purpose for us yet, even in our brokenness. He says, “I created you for my glory. And I want to fill your life with an inspiring new sense of destiny.”

God intends to renew the whole universe (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). That’s his goal. Do you know where he begins? Right here with us, at two levels. Isaiah shows us the God who reforms people who have lost their purpose (Isaiah 42:18–43:21). Next he’ll show us the God who revives people who have lost their vitality (43:22–44:23). The renovation of the universe begins with us in reformation and revival. Reformation is the recovery of God’s purpose for us. Revival is the recovery of God’s life in us. God loves to renew confused and tired people.

Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. and R. Kent Hughes, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 277–278.

PERCEPTION IS THE POINT

Robinson discovered that one voice influential for those writers was John Calvin, a figure Robinson has been working hard to restore. In her preface to John Calvin: Steward of God’s Covenant (2006), Robinson bristles at the fact that the Reformer has been hidden under a caricature, known only as “an apostle of gloom dominating a gloomy city,” his legacy one of “repression and persecution.” Robinson instead finds three liberating themes in Calvin’s thought, and in the preface and an earlier collection of essays, The Death of Adam (1998), she articulates how they impress upon her literary vision.

For Robinson, Calvin’s theology centers on the belief that God has given individuals the ability to commune with and respond to him without the mediation of priests or bishops. “Perception is at the center of Calvin’s theology,” she observes; God willingly floods our senses with his grandeur in such a way that we can take it in and reflect it back, his glory “shining forth” as we participate in it. “It is as if we were to find a tender solicitude toward us in the fact that the great energy that rips galaxies apart also animates our slightest thoughts.” Think how elevated a vision of the human soul this is, Robinson suggests, and how far it is from how we often view ourselves.

At the same time, our ability to perceive God is deeply compromised. None of us sees clearly; indeed, none of us even desires to. All of us turn away from God’s presence, failing “to acknowledge what ought to be obvious,” Robinson writes, inclined instead “to indolence and selfishness, dishonesty, pride and error, cruelty.” She calls the notion of total depravity the “counterweight to Calvin’s rapturous humanism,” insisting that we can’t understand the one aspect of his thought without the other.

Working together, writes Robinson, these twinned elements of “our strangely mixed nature” mean that the passage of a soul “through the vale of its making, or its destruction” will be marked by halts and recoveries, each attempt to find meaning chastened by a recognition of limits. This almost exactly describes Ruth’s voice in Housekeeping, now traced to one of its sources.

Not everyone, however, carries this realization as a great weight, or senses a chance to find release. The doctrine of election, developed in Scripture but popularly associated with Calvin, is a third element for Robinson, who links it to Calvin’s focus on perception. True perception—“the radical understanding of the presence of God, and of his nature as manifest in Christ”—is something God must grant a person. It is not natural to our fallen state.

And because God grants such ability entirely according to his own mind, we are brought into a chastening—and, to Robinson, exhilarating—encounter with “the freedom and mystery of God.” Far from inducing a dulled passivity, such a doctrine leads to a deepening awareness of the grandeur of God and the fragile beauty of one’s neighbors. To borrow a phrase from Dickinson, it keeps believing nimble.

ct

Thomas Gardner is professor of English at Virginia Tech.

Keeping Perception Nimble: John Calvin Has Given Pulitzer Prize Winner Marilynne Robinson a Way of Seeing That Imbues Her Novels with the Grandeur of God,” Christianity Today (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today International, 2010)

Dreaming the Dream Forward

The Slave Ship
J.M.W. Turner
1840

AGE OF ANXIETY
W. H. Auden

We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

HARLEM
Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

John 2:1–11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”
4 Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”
6 Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. 9 When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 10 And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”11 This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.


Racism is not new, nor will it be eradicated in this age.  The inherent belief that one race is superior to another is rooted in the worse kind of idolatry.  It’s all a world of double standards, and they are a fearful thing. They allow you to hold diametrically aligned but contrasting views in the cradle of your mind with no moral angst whatsoever. It takes children a while to get the hang of it, but not long. The problem, of course, is that we all are guilty and remedy requires a hard lonesome fight against the resolute crowd.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was such a man.  As Ken Kovacs said in his book Out of the Depths,

Throughout King’s ministry the dream was expressed in his vision of the Beloved Community. King said, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” His words resound with the gospel; they echo Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God (or Kin-dom or Realm, even Empire of God). The beloved community is the dream—a dream that shapes our waking life. And if we’re going to enter into that community, if we are going to live from the dream, if we’re really going to get there and are serious about wanting to get there it will only come through change: qualitative change in our individual souls, in our hearts, change in the nature of our thoughts and feelings and quantitative change in our lives, in our actions, collective action strong enough that moves us off from dead center or the way things are. The status quo is often status woe, especially for those without power or privilege.

 

Why is it so difficult for us, both as a Church and as a nation, to talk honestly and openly about racism?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 Racism

A general definition of this social and personal vice can be framed as a belief that human groups can be validly grouped in races on the basis of their biological and cultural traits, which in turn determine their behavior and social value (Banks 74–75). The underlying assumption of this categorical organization of human groups by race is that some human groups are superior to others. This type of categorical distribution of human groups cannot (and should not) be understood without considering the connection between the social value assigned to each group and the social power of the group determining the categorical value—in this case, race. In other words, the roots of racism are found in the abuse of social power and location of the dominant group as, consciously and unconsciously, defining the value of certain human groups, categorized by race, by comparing them to the dominant group as the norm. In this way all other groups are judged based on the dominant group’s norm; thus, groups that do not fit the norm imposed by the dominant group are deemed inferior.

Interpretations of history and current practices show that some groups have had, and still have, unequal power in the decision-making process. For this reason, every decision made by the dominant group enhances, legitimizes, and reinforces their own norm, and in this case their categorical distribution of human groups by race disenfranchises, minimizes, and devaluates groups that do not fit the norm and/or are not part of the dominant group. Furthermore, the assumptions of the dominant group are not only false and morally pernicious; in a devastating way its evil manifestations also affect the identity and self-understanding of those who are considered inferior. Individuals in their process of self-construction and self-identity develop a picture of themselves primarily informed by their interaction with their social environment. Occasionally groups of individuals will be identified, either voluntarily or involuntarily, in subcategories, often named “ethnic” groups. A biblical example of this process is the naming and value distribution to the Israelites, Canaanites, Jews, and so on. In any case, persons’ social context and its interpretation heavily influence their identity and self-understanding. But when the interpretation of their social context is almost always defined and determined by the dominant group, the individual in this condition “accepts” this imposed reality and develops a self-consciousness, self-understanding, and identity of inferiority.

Sadly, Christians whose social location and power have placed them in a privileged position are not exempted from this self-centered and socially located practice. A clear example of the consequences of racism has been the use of the Scriptures in the affirmation of slavery as a valid Christian practice. This example shows that biblical interpreters and scholars, as well as Christian communities, are not exempt from falling into the trap of abusing their power and social location to determine the meaning and moral value of the Scriptures. They thus provide interpretations that affirm the practices of the dominant group and their self-centered motivations. Interpretations like these are often justified by allusions and exegetical work that intend to capture the “original” meaning of the text, by placing it in its social context and providing a careful examination of that context. But this approach does not consider the reader’s and interpreter’s social context and location, consequently imposing their own biases, and in this case their own categorical distribution of human groups by race. Perhaps a good way to avoid this self-centered practice is to spend the same amount of time and energy in exploring the social context and location of the person(s) in charge of the interpretative task, and in fostering reciprocal and meaningful dialogue with readers and interpreters from the global Christian community. In doing so, perhaps, one will become self-aware of one’s own limitations and bias.

Furthermore, contrary to this self-centered categorical distribution of human groups by race, the biblical creation narrative provides a solid ethical foundation for the affirmation of all humans. In the creation narrative it is clear that humans were created equal (Gen. 1:26–27). As bearers of God’s image, humans have the capacity and responsibility to reflect divine moral attributes in every action and decision, but particularly in relating to each other. In the same way that the three persons of the Trinity relate to each other in a harmonious and egalitarian relationship we, as humans, are called to reflect this type of relationship as we relate to each other. Additionally, God’s creation is a concrete expression and reflection of God’s goodness and holiness, in which humans and God live in perfect harmony and humans reflect God’s character by living in an egalitarian and harmonious relationship with each other. Humans, male and female, are blessed and given equal responsibilities to care for the earth, preserving and replicating God’s harmonious relationship with it (Gen. 1:28–30). Humans are created and called to enter into a just and equal partnership with God and with each other, in this way providing a living testimony and a reflection of God’s character. Thus, harmony and equality are signs present in God’s creation and implicit in the image of God imprinted in all humans.

When these signs and values are pursued and embraced by humans and expressed in their relationships with one another, they are striving to reflect God’s character and image as depicted in the creation narrative. But when these signs and values are ignored and/or neglected, global harmony and equality are replaced with systematic and structural oppression of certain groups by the dominant group. For this reason, racism is an anticreation tendency and a reality that has become inherent to our human condition and a manifestation of our sinful nature—selfishness and self-centeredness.

Nevertheless, the biblical narrative offers a solution to this inherent human tendency, by providing sufficient teaching that affirms the value of all races and the importance of equality among them, condemning self-centered interpretations and racial discrimination. Not only in the creation narrative do we find these affirmations; they are also present throughout Scripture and particularly in the morally shaping and formative stories. In the story of Abram’s call, God promises him and his descendants that all nations will be blessed through them, not few nations or certain ethnic groups but all nations. Isaiah, later quoted by Gospel writers, reminds Israel that the temple, the house of prayer, should be called a house of prayer for all nations, a statement that is later affirmed by Jesus in the cleansing of the temple. Perhaps the conclusion of this trajectory and affirmation of all races and ethnic groups as equal and valuable is found in Gal. 3:28 and Eph. 2:11–19. There Paul clearly follows the trajectory that begins in Genesis and culminates in Revelation with the eschatological gathering of all nations before the Lord. In the light of this holistic narrative projection, some of the passages that seem to provide a justification for slavery and racism (ironically Paul’s writings) should be read. Therefore, by exploring our own social-context location, by dialoguing with the global Christian community, and by following the trajectory of the all-nations-centered biblical narrative, we will be able to avoid the pitfalls of racist biblical interpretation. We will also be challenged to promote racial equality as we reflect God’s character and holiness—by living in harmony and treating with respect and dignity all humans, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background.

Bibliography

Bailey, R., and T. Pippin. “Race, Class, and the Politics of Bible Translation.” Semeia 76, no. 1 (2001): 1–40; Banks, J. Teaching Strategies for Ethnic Studies. Allyn & Bacon, 1991; Emerson, M., and C. Smith. Divided by Faith. Oxford University Press, 2000; Feagin, J., and H. Vera. White Racism. Routledge, 1995; Feagin, J., and C. Booher Feagin. Racial and Ethnic Relations. Prentice Hall, 1996; Felder, C. H., ed. Stony the Road We Trod. Fortress, 1988; Horsman, R. Race and Manifest Destiny. Harvard University Press, 1981; Mosala, I. “Race, Class, and Gender as Hermeneutical Factors in the African Independent Churches’ Appropriation of the Bible.” Semeia 73, no. 1 (2001): 43–57; Pagan, S. “Poor and Poverty: Social Distance and Bible Translation.” Semeia 76, no. 1 (2001): 69–79.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer et al., eds., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (London; Grand Rapids, MI: SPCK; Baker Academic, 2005), 657–658.

More Light, More Truth

Wisdom by Titian, 1560

LEAVES OF GRASS
Passage to India
Walt Whitman

O we can wait no longer,
We too take ship O soul,
Joyous we too launch out on trackless seas,
Fearless for unknown shores on waves of ecstasy to sail,
Amid the wafting winds, (thou pressing me to thee, I thee to me, O soul,)
Caroling free, singing our song of God,
Chanting our chant of pleasant exploration.

Away O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!

Sail forth—steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all

AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM
Alexander Pope

A little learning is a dangerous thing.
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring;
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

John 16:12–15

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.


When we say “God will not give you more than you can bear,” we usually mean troubles, but truthfully we are misquoting 1 Corinthians 10:13 where the subject is temptation.  It is interesting to note that Jesus said the same thing about knowledge.  John 16 reveals this from a conversation with His disciples the night before He was crucified: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  As Leon Morris wrote “There were vistas of truth they could not yet see.”

Light yields light, and the journey is everlasting. As Ken Kovacs said in his book Out of the Depths:

The same is certainly true of us today. The Spirit is still the guide and the teacher and the source of truth, who reveals and discloses to us things beyond our imagining, things beyond our seeing (1 Corinthians 2:6-10), beyond reason, things beyond the limited confines of what we know, whose wisdom leads us forward. We have yet to figure out what it means to really follow Christ, to bear the name Christian. We have yet to fully fathom the heights and the depths of God’s grace and what is being asked of us with our lives. Our hearts need to be as deep and wide as the oceans of God’s love. We have yet to discover what it means when we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”—we certainly haven’t arrived at that new world, that kingdom world. But that’s where the Spirit wants to take us, is taking us, will take us, is willing to guide us every step along the way, even if we don’t have a map, even if our maps are wrong. Trust the Spirit

 

How has knowledge matured into wisdom in your life?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 Knowledge

Knowledge, like being, is a term of comprehensive scope. Its comprehensiveness is, in a way, correlative with that of being. The only thing which cannot be an object of knowledge or opinion, which cannot be thought about in any way except negatively, is that which has no being of any sort—in short, nothing. Not all things may be knowable to us, but even the skeptic who severely limits or completely doubts man’s power to know is usually willing to admit that things beyond man’s knowledge are in themselves knowable. Everyone except Berkeley would agree that the surfaces of bodies which we cannot see are not, for that reason, in themselves invisible.

The consideration of knowledge extends, therefore, to all things knowable, to all kinds of knowers, to all the modes of knowledge, and all the methods of knowing. So extensive an array of topics exceeds the possibility of treatment in a single chapter and requires this chapter to be related to many others.

The Cross-References which follow the References indicate the other chapters which deal with particulars we cannot consider here. For example, the nature of history, science, philosophy, and theology, and their distinction from one another, are treated in the chapters devoted to those subjects. So, too, the chapters on metaphysics, mathematics, physics, mechanics, and medicine deal with the characteristics and relations of these special sciences. The psychological factors in knowing—the faculties of sense and mind, of memory and imagination, the nature of experience and reasoning—also have their own chapters. Still other chapters deal with the logical elements of knowledge, such as idea and judgment, definition, hypothesis, principle, induction, and reasoning, logic and dialectic.

The program which Locke sets himself in his essay Concerning Human Understanding is often taken to include the basic questions about knowledge. His purpose, he tells us, is “to inquire into the original, certainty, and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of belief, opinion, and assent.” Two other matters, not explicitly mentioned by Locke in his opening pages, assume central importance in the fourth book of his essay. One is the question about the nature of knowledge itself. The other concerns the kinds of knowledge.

It may be thought that certain questions are prior to these and all others. Is knowledge possible? Can we know anything? The man the skeptic challenges is one who thinks that knowledge is attainable and who may even claim to possess knowledge of some sort. But the issue between the skeptic and his adversaries cannot be simply formulated. Its formulation depends in part upon the meaning given knowledge and the various things with which it is sometimes contrasted, such as belief and opinion, or ignorance and error. It also depends in part on the meaning of truth and probability. It would seem, therefore, that some consideration of the nature of knowledge should precede the examination of the claims concerning knowledge which provoke skeptical denials.

The theory of knowledge is a field of many disputes. Most of the major varieties of doctrine or analysis are represented in the tradition of the great books. But the fact that knowledge involves a relationship between a knower and a known seems to go unquestioned. William James expresses this insight, perhaps more dogmatically than some would allow, in the statement that knowledge “is a thoroughgoing dualism. It supposes two elements, mind knowing and thing known.… Neither gets out of itself or into the other, neither in any way is the other, neither makes the other. They just stand face to face in a common world, and one simply knows, or is known unto, its counterpart.” This remains true even when attention is turned to the special case of knowledge about knowledge or the knower knowing himself. The mind’s examination of itself simply makes the mind an object to be known as well as a knower.

This suggests a second point about the nature of knowledge which seems to be undisputed. If knowledge relates a knower to a known, then what is somehow possessed when a person claims to have knowledge, is the object known. It does not seem possible for anyone to say that he knows something without meaning that he has that thing in mind.” Some sort of signal,” James writes, “must be given by the thing to the mind’s brain, or the knowing will not occur—we find as a matter of fact that the mere existence of a thing outside the brain is not a sufficient cause for our knowing it: it must strike the brain in some way, as well as be there, to be known.” What is not in any way present to or represented in the mind is not known in any of the various senses of the word “know.” What the mind cannot reach to and somehow grasp cannot be known. The words which are common synonyms for knowing—“apprehending” and “comprehending”—convey this sense that knowledge somehow takes hold of and surrounds its object.
That knowledge is a kind of possession occasions the comparisons which have been made between knowledge and love. The ancients observed that likeness and union are involved in both. Plato, for example, suggests in the Symposium that both the knower and the lover strive to become one with their object. “Love is also a philosopher,” Diotima tells Socrates, and, as “a lover of wisdom,” the philosopher is also a lover.

With regard to some objects, love and knowledge are almost inseparable. To know them is to love them. But this does not hold for all objects, nor does the inseparability of knowledge and love in certain cases prevent their analytic distinction in all. Like is known by like, but unlikes attract each other. Furthermore, according to one theory of knowledge, expounded by Aquinas, the knower is satisfied to possess an image of the thing to be known. This image provides the likeness through which knowledge occurs; and thus, Aquinas writes, “the idea of the thing understood is in the one who understands.” The lover, on the other hand, is “inclined to the thing itself, as existing in itself.” He seeks to be united with it directly. The nobility or baseness of the object known does not affect the knower as the character of the object loved affects the lover. This understanding of the difference between knowledge and love leads Aquinas to say that “to love God is better than to know God; but, on the contrary, to know corporeal things is better than to love them.”

The principle of likeness between knower and known does not go undisputed. On the contrary, the opposite views here form one of the basic issues about the nature of knowledge. The issue is whether the thing known is actually present to the knower, existing in the mind or consciousness exactly as it exists in itself; or whether the thing is represented in the mind by a likeness of itself, through which the mind knows it. In this view, the mode of existence of the thing outside the mind is different from the way in which its representative exists in the mind.

Berkeley, at one extreme, identifies being and being known. “As to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived, that seems perfectly unintelligible,” he writes. “Their esse is percipi, nor is it possible they should have any existence, out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them.”
At the other extreme are those like Kant for whom the thing in itself is unknowable precisely because there can be no resemblance between the phenomenal order of objects represented under the conditions of experience and the noumenal order of the unconditioned. “All conceptions of things in themselves,” he writes, “must be referred to intuitions, and with us men these can never be other than sensible, and hence can never enable us to know objects as things in themselves but only as appearances.… The unconditioned,” he adds, “can never be found in this chain of appearances.”

In between these extremes there are those who agree that things exist apart from being known without ceasing to be knowable, but who nevertheless differ with respect to whether the thing exists in reality in the same way that it exists in the mind. The several forms of idealism and realism, distinguished in the chapter on IDEA, mark the range of traditional differences in the discussion of this difficult problem.

For any Theory of what knowledge is there is a distinction between knowledge and ignorance—between having or not having something in mind. Nor does anyone confuse ignorance and error. The mind in error claims to know that of which, in fact, it is ignorant. This, as Socrates points out in the Meno, makes it easier to teach a person aware of his ignorance than a person in error; for the latter, supposing himself to know, resists the teacher. Hence getting a person to acknowledge ignorance is often the indispensable first step in teaching.

But though the difference between knowledge and ignorance and that between ignorance and error seems to be commonly understood, it does not follow that everybody similarly agrees upon the difference between knowledge and error. This much is agreed, that to know is to possess the truth about something, whereas to err is to be deceived by falsity mistaken for truth. The disagreement of the philosophers begins, however, when the meaning of truth and falsity is examined.

Truth is one thing for those who insist upon some similarity between the thing known and that by which it is known or represented in the mind. It is another for those who think that knowledge can be gained without the mediation of images or representations. In the first case, truth will consist in some kind of correspondence between what the mind thinks or understands and the reality it tries to know. In the other, truth will be equivalent to consistency among the mind’s own ideas.

The examination of this fundamental disagreement is reserved for the chapter on TRUTH. Here the identification of knowing with having the truth calls for the consideration of another distinction, first made by Plato. In his language, as in that of Aristotle and others, it is the difference between knowledge and opinion. Sometimes, as with Locke, a similar distinction is made in terms of knowledge and judgment; sometimes it is made in terms of knowledge and belief; sometimes in terms of adequate and inadequate, or certain and probable, knowledge.

The difference between these opposites, unlike that between knowledge and error, is not a matter of truth and falsity. There is such a thing as “right opinion,” according to Socrates, and it is “not less useful than knowledge.” Considering the truth so far as it affects action, Socrates claims that the man with right opinion “will be just as good a guide if he thinks the truth, as he who knows the truth.” The difference between right opinion and knowledge is here expressed by the contrast between the words “thinks” and “knows.” It does not consist in the truth of the conclusion, but in the way that conclusion has been reached or is held by the mind.

The trouble with right opinion as compared with knowledge, Socrates explains, is that it lacks stability and permanence. Right opinions are useful “while they abide with us … but they run away out of the human soul and do not remain long, and therefore they are not of much value until they are fastened by the tie of the cause”—or, in other words, until they are fixed in the mind by the reasons on which they are grounded. “When they are bound,” Socrates declares, “they have the nature of knowledge and … they are abiding.”

At this point in his conversation with Meno, Socrates makes the unusual confession that “there are not many things which I profess to know, but this is most certainly one of them,” namely, that “knowledge differs from true opinion.” It may be that Socrates claims to know so little because he regards knowledge as involving so much more than simply having the truth, as the man of right opinion has it. In addition to having the truth, knowledge consists in seeing the reason why it is true.

This criterion can be interpreted to mean that a proposition which is neither self-evident nor demonstrated expresses opinion rather than knowledge. Even when it happens to be true, the opinion is qualified by some degree of doubt or some estimate of probability and counterprobability. In contrast, when the mind has adequate grounds for its judgment, when it knows that it knows and why, it has the certainty of knowledge.

For some writers, such as Plato, certitude is as inseparable from knowledge as truth is. To speak of “a false knowledge as well as a true” seems to him impossible; and “uncertain knowledge” is as self-contradictory a phrase as “false knowledge.”

Others use the word “knowledge” more loosely to cover both adequate and inadequate knowledge, the probable as well as the certain. They make a distinction within the sphere of knowledge that is equivalent to the distinction between knowledge and opinion.

Spinoza, for example, distinguishes three kinds of knowledge. He groups the perception of individual things through the bodily senses, which he calls “knowledge from vague experience,” with knowledge “from signs” which depends on ideas formed by the memory and imagination. “These two ways of looking at things,” he writes, “I shall hereafter call knowledge of the first kind—opinion or imagination.” In contrast, that which is derived “from our possessing common notions and adequate ideas of the properties of things,” he calls “reason and knowledge of the second kind.”

The third kind, which he calls “intuitive science,” is that sort of knowing which “advances from an adequate idea of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the essence of things.” Knowledge of the second and third kinds, he maintains, “is necessarily true.” That there can be falsity in the first kind, and only there, indicates that it is not genuinely knowledge at all, but what other writers would insist upon calling “opinion.”

The several meanings of the word “belief” are determined by these distinctions. Sometimes belief is associated with opinion, sometimes with knowledge, and sometimes it is regarded as an intermediate state of mind. But in any of these meanings belief stands in contrast to make-believe, and this contrast has a bearing on knowledge and opinion as well. To know or to opine puts the mind in some relation to the real or actual rather than the merely possible, and subjects it to the criteria of truth and falsity. The fanciful or imaginary belongs to the realm of the possible (or even the impossible) and the mind in imagining is fancy-free—free from the restraints and restrictions of truth and reality.

Skepticism in its most extreme form takes the position that there is nothing true or false. But even those who, like Montaigne, deny certitude with respect to everything except matters of religious faith, do not go this far.

In his Apology for Raymond Sebond he concedes that if opinions are weighed as more or less probable, their truth or falsity is implied—at least as being the limit which an increasing probability or improbability approaches. Referring to ancient skeptics of the Academic school, he comments on the fact that they acknowledged “some things were more probable than others”—as, for example, that snow is white rather than black. The more extreme skeptics, the Pyrrhonians, he points out, were bolder and also more consistent. They refused to incline toward one proposition more than toward another, for to do so, Montaigne declares, is to recognize “some more apparent truth in this one than in that.” How can men “let themselves be inclined toward the likeness of truth,” he asks, “if they know not the truth? How do they know the semblance of that whose essence they do not know?”

In this respect Montaigne’s own skepticism tends to be of the more moderate variety, since, in the realm of action at least, he would admit the need for judgments of probability. But in all other respects, he takes a firm skeptical stand that nothing is self-evident, nothing has been proved. The contradictory of everything has been asserted or argued by someone. “There cannot be first principles for men,” he writes, “unless the Divinity has revealed them; all the rest—beginning, middle, and end—is nothing but dreams and smoke … every human presupposition and every enunciation has as much authority as another.… The impression of certainty is a certain token of folly and extreme uncertainty.”

The skeptical extreme is represented in the great books only through references to it for the purpose of refutation. Aristotle in the Metaphysics, for example, reports the position of those who say that all propositions are true or that all propositions are false, and who therefore deny the principle of contradiction and with it the distinction between true and false. But if all propositions are true, then the proposition “Some propositions are false” is also true; if all propositions are false, the proposition “All propositions are false” is also false. The skeptic may reply, of course, that he is not checked by arguments which try to make him contradict himself, for he does not mind contradicting himself. To this there is only one answer, which is not to argue with the skeptic any further.

From the skeptic’s point of view his position is irrefutable so long as he does not allow himself to accept any of the standards by which refutation can be effected. From his opponent’s point of view, complete skepticism is self-refuting because if the skeptic says anything definite at all, he appears to have some knowledge or at least to hold one opinion in preference to another. His only choice is to remain silent. If he insists upon making statements in defiance of self-contradiction, his opponent can do nothing but walk away.

“It may seem a very extravagant attempt of the skeptics to destroy reason by argument and ratiocination,” Hume writes, “yet this is the grand scope of all their enquiries and disputes.” He has in mind the excessive skepticism, or Pyrrhonism, from which he tries to distinguish a mitigated and beneficial form of skepticism. Referring to Berkeley’s arguments against the independent reality of matter or bodies, Hume says their effect is skeptical, despite Berkeley’s professed intention to the contrary. That his arguments are skeptical “appears from this, that they admit of no answer and produce no conviction. Their only effect is to cause that momentary amazement and irresolution and confusion, which is the result of skepticism.”

Here and elsewhere, as in his comment on Descartes’s skeptical method of doubting everything which can be doubted, Hume does not seem to think that excessive skepticism is refutable or even false. But it is impractical. “The great subverter of Pyrrhonism or the excessive principles of skepticism,” he says, “is action, and employment, and the occupations of life.” Extreme skepticism becomes untenable in thought the moment thought must face the choices of life and take some responsibility for action.

There is, however, “a more mitigated skepticism or academical philosophy which may be both durable and useful.” This, according to Hume, consists in becoming “sensible of the strange infirmities of human understanding,” and consequently in “the limitation of our enquiries to such subjects as are best adapted to the narrow capacity of human understanding.”

His own view of the extent and certainty of human knowledge seems to him to exemplify such mitigated skepticism in operation. The only objects with respect to which demonstration is possible are quantity and number. Mathematics has the certitude of knowledge, but it deals only with relations between ideas, not with what Hume calls “matters of fact and existence.” Such matters “are evidently incapable of demonstration.” This is the sphere of “moral certainty,” which is not a genuine certainty, but only a degree of probability sufficient for action. Probabilities are the best that experimental reasoning or inquiry about matters of fact can achieve. If probability is characteristic of opinion rather than knowledge, then we can have nothing better than opinion concerning real existences.

G. H. Hardy seems to agree with Hume on the distinction between mathematical knowledge and knowledge of reality when he notes that “a chair may be a collection of whirling electrons, or an idea in the mind of God: each of these accounts of it may have its merits, but neither conforms at all closely to the suggestions of common sense.”

The diametrical opposite to the extreme of skepticism would have to be a dogmatism which placed no objects beyond the reach of human knowledge, which made no distinction between degrees of knowability and admitted equal certitude in all matters. Like excessive skepticism this extreme is not a position actually held in the great books. All the great thinkers who have considered the problem of human knowledge have set limits to man’s capacity for knowledge. They have placed certain objects beyond man’s power to apprehend at all, or have distinguished between those which he can apprehend in some inadequate fashion, but cannot comprehend. They have indicated other objects concerning which his grasp is adequate and certain.

They all adopt a “mitigated skepticism”—to use Hume’s phrase—if this can be taken to mean avoiding the extremes of saying that nothing is knowable at all and that everything is equally knowable. But they differ in the criteria they employ to set the limits of knowledge and to distinguish between the areas of certainty and probability.

Consequently they differ in their determination of the knowability of certain types of objects, such as God or the infinite, substance or cause, matter or spirit, the real or the ideal, the self or the thing in itself.
For example, Plato and Aristotle agree that knowledge must be separated from opinion and even appeal to certain common principles in making that separation; but they do not define the scope of knowledge in the same way, as is indicated by their disagreement about the knowability of sensible things. Nor do Descartes and Locke, Francis Bacon and Spinoza, Hume and Kant agree about the knowability of God or of the soul or about the conditions any object must meet in order to be knowable. All alike proceed from a desire to be critical. Each criticizes what other men have proposed as knowledge and each proposes a new method by which the pursuit of knowledge will be safeguarded from illusory hopes or endless controversy.

In this last respect the moderns depart most radically from their medieval and ancient predecessors. At all times men have been interested in examining knowledge itself as well as in exercising their powers to know. But in the earlier phase of the tradition knowledge about knowledge does not seem to take precedence over all other inquiries or to be prerequisite to them. On the contrary, the ancients proceed as if the study of knowledge necessarily presupposed the existence of knowledge. With them the examination takes place because the mind is essentially reflexive rather than for reasons of self-criticism.

But beginning with Descartes’s Discourse on the Method, in which a method of universal doubt is proposed to clear the ground before the foundations of the sciences can be laid, the consideration of knowing is put before any attempt to know.

Sometimes, as with Descartes and Bacon, the emphasis is upon a new method which will at last establish knowledge on a firm footing or advance learning. Sometimes, as with Locke and Hume, attention is given first of all to the faculty of understanding itself.

“If we can find out,” says Locke, “how far the understanding can extend its views, how far it has faculties to attain certainty, and in what cases it can only judge and guess, we may learn to content ourselves with what is attainable by us in this state.… When we know our own strength, we shall the better know what to undertake with hopes of success; and when we have well surveyed the powers of our own minds, and made some estimate of what we may expect from them, we shall not be inclined either to sit still, and not set our thoughts to work at all, in despair of knowing anything; nor, on the other side, question everything, and disclaim all knowledge, because some things are not to be understood.”

Hume also proposes that a study of human understanding precede everything else, to “show from an exact analysis of its powers and capacity” what subjects it is or is not fitted to investigate. “There is a truth and falsehood in all propositions on this subject which lie not beyond the compass of human understanding.” No one can doubt that a science of the mind—or knowledge about knowing—is possible unless he entertains “such a skepticism as is entirely subversive of all speculations, and even action.”

Disagreeing with the principles of Locke and Hume, as well as with their conclusions, Kant does approve the priority they give to the question of the possibility of knowing certain objects. To proceed otherwise, as Kant charges most other philosophers with doing, is dogmatism. The use of the word “critique” in the title of Kant’s three major works signifies his intention to construct a critical philosophy which does not presume that “it is possible to achieve anything in metaphysic without a previous criticism of pure reason.” He does not object to what he calls “the dogmatical procedure of reason” in the development of science, but only after reason’s self-criticism has determined just how far reason can go. For Kant, as for Bacon, dogmatism and skepticism are the opposite excesses which only a critical method can avoid. Russell attributes to Kant his “having made evident the philosophical importance of the theory of knowledge”; and also his “having perceived that we have a priori knowledge which is not purely ‘analytic’, i.e. such that the opposite would be self-contradictory.”

These two different approaches to the theory of knowledge seem to result in different conclusions concerning the nature and scope of human knowledge. Those who begin with the established sciences and merely inquire into their foundations and methods appear to end with unqualified confidence in man’s ability to know. Those who make the inquiry into the foundations and methods of science a necessary preparation for the development of the sciences tend for the most part to set narrower boundaries to the area of valid knowledge. The two approaches also affect the way in which the various kinds of knowledge are distinguished and compared.

There are two sorts of comparison involved in the classification of kinds of knowledge. One is a comparison of human knowledge with divine, or with angelic knowledge and the knowledge of brute animals. The other is a comparison of the parts or modes of human knowledge according to such criteria as the objects to be known, the faculties engaged in the process of knowing, and the manner of their operation. Though made separately, those two comparisons are seldom independent of one another. As the nature of man is conceived in relation to other beings, superior or inferior to himself, his faculties will be rated accordingly, and his power as a knower will suggest the methods or means available to him for knowing.

Aquinas, for example, attributes to man the kind of knowledge appropriate to his station in the hierarchy of beings. Man is superior to the brutes because he has a faculty of reason in addition to the faculties of sense and imagination which he shares with them. Man is inferior to purely spiritual beings—the angels and God—because, since he is corporeal, his intellect cannot function independently of his bodily senses and imagination. Unlike the angels and God, he is not a purely intellectual being.

Accordingly, the essential characteristics of human knowledge are, first, that it is always both sensitive and intellectual, never merely sense perception as with the brutes or pure intellectual intuition as with the angels; second, that its appropriate object is the physical world of sensible, material things, with respect to which the senses enable man to know the existence of individuals, while the intellect apprehends their universal natures; and, finally, that the way in which the human mind knows the natures of things is abstractive and discursive, for the intellect draws its concepts from sense and imagination and proceeds therefrom by means of judgment and reasoning.

This analysis denies innate ideas. It denies man’s power to apprehend ideas intuitively or to use them intuitively in the apprehension of things. It can find no place for a distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge, since sense perception and rational activity contribute elements to every act of knowing. It affirms that knowledge is primarily of real existence, not of the relations between ideas; but it does not limit human knowledge to the changing temporal things of the material universe. Though these are the objects man is able to know with greatest adequacy, he can also know something of the existence and nature of immaterial and eternal beings.

Yet, according to Aquinas, even when man’s knowledge rises above the realm of experienceable things, it is obtained by the same natural processes and involves the cooperation of the senses with reason. The theologian does, however, distinguish sharply between knowledge gained through man’s own efforts and knowledge received through divine revelation. In addition to all knowledge acquired by the natural exercise of his faculties, man may be elevated by the supernatural gift of knowledge—the wisdom of a faith surpassing reason.

The foregoing summary illustrates, in the case of one great doctrine, the connection between an analysis of the kinds of knowledge and a theory of the nature and faculties of man in relation to all other things. There is no point in this analysis which is not disputed by someone—by Plato or Augustine, Descartes, Spinoza, or Locke, by Hume, Kant, or James. There are many points on which others agree—not only Aristotle and Bacon, but even Augustine, Descartes, and Locke.

These agreements or disagreements about the kinds of knowledge, or the scope of human knowledge, its faculties, and its methods, seldom occur or are intelligible except in the wider context of agreements and disagreements in theology and metaphysics, psychology and logic. Hence most of the matters considered under the heading “kinds of knowledge” receive special consideration in other chapters. The Cross-References should enable the reader to examine the presuppositions or context of the materials assembled here.

The cult of ignorance receives little or no attention in the tradition of the great books. Even those who, like Rousseau, glorify the innocence of the primitives, or who, like Erasmus, satirize the folly so often admixed with human wisdom and the foibles attending the advance of learning, do not seriously question the ancient saying that all men by nature desire to know. Nor is it generally doubted that knowledge is good; that its possession contributes to the happiness of men and the welfare of the state; that its pursuit by the individual and its dissemination in a society should be facilitated by education, by the support and freedom of scholars and scientists, and by every device which can assist men in communicating what they know to one another.

But knowledge is not valued by all for the same reason. That knowledge is useful to the productive artist, to the statesman, to the legislator, and to the individual in the conduct of his life, seems to be assumed in discussions of the applications of science in the various arts, in the consideration of statecraft, and in the analysis of virtue. In this last connection, the problem is not whether knowledge is morally useful, but whether knowledge of good and evil is identical with virtue so that sin and vice result from error or ignorance.

If there is a negative opinion here, it consists in saying that knowledge is not enough. To know is not to do. Something more than knowledge is required for acting well.

The more radical dispute about the value of knowledge concerns the goodness of knowledge for its own sake, without any regard to its technical or moral utility. Is the contemplation of the truth an ultimate end, or does the goodness of knowledge always consist in its power to effect results in the mastery of nature and the guidance of conduct? The utility of knowledge is seldom denied by those who make speculative wisdom and theoretical science good in themselves, even the highest goods, quite apart from any use to which they may be put. The contrary position, however, does not admit the special value of contemplation or the separation of truth from utility. To those who say that “the contemplation of truth is more dignified and exalted than any utility or extent of effects,” Bacon replies that “truth and utility are perfectly identical, and the effects are more of value as pledges of truth than from the benefit they confer on men.”

How knowledge and action are related is one question; how knowledge itself is divided into the speculative and practical is quite another. Bacon, for example, insists upon the necessity of distinguishing the speculative and practical branches of natural philosophy—concerned with “the search after causes and the production of effects.” Unlike Aristotle and Kant he does not use the word “practical” for the kind of knowledge which is contained in such sciences as ethics or politics, but only for the applied sciences or technology. Ethics and politics fall under what he calls “civil philosophy.”

Despite these differences in language, the way in which Bacon divides the whole sphere of knowledge closely resembles Aristotle’s tripartite classification of the sciences as theoretical, productive (or technical), and practical (or moral); and, no less, a similar threefold division by Kant. But Kant and Aristotle (and, it should be added, Aquinas) give a more elaborate analysis of these three types of knowledge, especially with regard to the principles appropriate to each, the nature of the judgments and reasoning by which they are developed, and the character and criteria of their truth.

We owe to Russell an important distinction that, surprisingly, was not made by any of his predecessors. It is the distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description. “When, for example, we make a statement about Julius Caesar,” Russell points out, “it is plain that Julius Caesar himself is not before our minds, since we are not acquainted with him. We have in mind some description of Julius Caesar: ‘the man who was assassinated on the Ides of March’, ‘the founder of the Roman Empire’.” Russell goes on to say that “the chief importance of knowledge by description is that it enables us to pass beyond the limits of our private experience.” Nevertheless, “what is known by description is ultimately reducible to knowledge concerning what is known by acquaintance.”

Mortimer J. Adler, ed., The Syntopicon: An Index to the Great Ideas, Second Edition., vol. 1, Great Books of the Western World (Chicago; London; New Delhi; Paris; Seoul; Sydney; Taipei; Tokyo: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990), 682–690.

Weighed Down With Worry

The Atlas Slave by Michelangelo, 1525–30.

THE HIDING PLACE
Corrie ten Boom

And so seated next to my father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, “Father, what is sex sin?”
He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case off the floor and set it on the floor.
Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.
I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.
It’s too heavy,” I said.
Yes,” he said, “and it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”

Luke 12:22–31

22 Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. 23 Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? 25 And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 26 If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?
29 “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. 30 For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. 31 But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.


I am always amazed to see how much a person ages when they become President of the United States. They seem to go in with dark hair and come out with grey. I can only imagine the knowledge they are forced to bear and how the grave responsibilities of the office must weigh on their minds. Politics aside, we should pray for our leaders every day.

That also helps me to avoid questioning God when I don’t understand His ways. We don’t have enough wisdom to manage our own lives, much less so the affairs of the universe. The Bible says we should look to God as our Father and seek His will in our lives. Jesus reminds us that God is King and the answer to every worry is to let God be God.

As Ken Kovacs wrote in his book Out of the Depths

According to Jesus, the antidote to worry is the kingdom. The kingdom is the core message of Jesus’ preaching. Now, it’s natural to be anxious and to worry. But Jesus wants us to direct our attention away from what we think we don’t have (scarcity) to what we already do have, which is God’s kingdom that is and is still coming, and then he reminds us and calls us to rest and trust in God’s providential care for all of creation, from the detestable ravens, to the lilies of the field, to every human being created in God’s image. For we are, as the psalmist said, the apple of God’s eye (Psalm 17:8). Jesus is drawing us out away from anxious obsessions toward God’s faithfulness and invites us to act from within that sense of trust. To be caught up in a constant state of anxiety and worry is lack of faith; in other words it’s a sign that we’re not fully resting in God’s goodness. I don’t think Jesus says this to judge us—nor do I say this in judgment—Jesus isn’t trying to make our lives more difficult, but wants to show us a still more excellent way.

 

How is it practically possible to eliminate worry?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

 

It’s nearly impossible to quantify the effects, both immediate and long-term, the events of World War II had on Christianity. As in any great conflict, the tenets of Christianity in Europe and North America were irreparably shuffled, and the Great War gave rise to some of the most revered Christian thinkers and writers in history.
Swiss theologian Karl Barth opposed the twisting of German Protestant beliefs into nationalism, sparking the inception of the Confessing Church, which opposed Nazi influence in Christianity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the founders of the Confessing Church, advocated the assassination of Adolph Hitler and was hanged in a concentration camp in 1945. In 1943, the BBC broadcast a series of talks from Oxford don C. S. Lewis, a collection that would later become Mere Christianity. French theologian Jacques Ellul was forced to hide in the Bourdeaux countryside and became a member of the French Resistance. Brother Andrew van der Bijl, who we talked about previously, waged a single-handed partisan campaign on occupying forces in the Dutch lowlands as a teenager. As the Axis powers fell—the echoes of a worldwide conflict, the horrors of genocide, the sheer crushing weight of the consequences—the church was left to grapple with what remained. Broadly, and particularly in North America, the church rejected pacifism, embraced Christian Zionism, and fascism fell off the map as a viable political option.
Through all this upheaval, there was Corrie Ten Boom, the youngest daughter of a well-regarded Dutch family from Haarlem. Two years after the Blitzkrieg tore through The Netherlands, the Ten Booms joined the Dutch resistance. Due to Corrie’s charity work and her family’s reputation, she became a connector for the resistance in Haarlem. The Ten Booms were able to procure additional ration cards, and for two years hid Jewish refugees in a specially-designed hidden room in their home.
The family was finally arrested in early 1944 due to a Gestapo informant, and Corrie and her sister were eventually moved to the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp in northern Germany. In December of that year, Corrie’s sister, Betsie, died. A few weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, Corrie Ten Boom was released from Ravensbruck due to a clerical error. Two weeks after that, all female prisoners of the camp around Corrie’s age were killed.
The Hiding Place, the story of the Ten Booms’ experience, became one of the most well-known books about the Holocaust and the underground lattice of dissenters who risked their lives to save the Jews.
 Dan Gibson, Jordan Green, and John Pattison, Besides the Bible: 100 Books That Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012).
Art: The Atlas Slave by Michelangelo, 1525–30.
It is one of the ‘Prisoners’, the series of unfinished sculptures for the tomb of Pope Julius II. It is now held in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence.

Making All Things New

Wheat Field with Reaper and Sun
Vincent van Gogh
Date: 1889; Saint-rémy-de-provence, France

CONFESSIONS
Saint Augustine of Hippo

I asked the earth and it answered, “I am not He”; and all things that are in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps and the creeping things, and they answered, “We are not your God; seek higher.” I asked the winds that blow, and the whole air with all that is in it answered, “Anaximenes was wrong; I am not God.” I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars, and they answered, “Neither are we God whom you seek.” And I said to all the things that throng about the gateways of the senses: “Tell me of my God, since you are not He. Tell me something of Him.” And they cried out in a great voice: “He made us.” My question was my gazing upon them, and their answer was their beauty.

Revelation 21:1–8
All Things Made New

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”


Vincent wanted to be a preacher.  On a pretty Sunday in 1876, he preached his first sermon.  It went well enough, but his eyes only began to sparkle as he described God’s beauty in the world.  He said

I once saw a very beautiful picture: it was a landscape at evening. In the distance on the right-hand side a row of hills appeared blue in the evening mist. Above those hills the splendor of the sunset, the grey clouds with their linings of silver and gold and purple. The landscape is a plain or heath covered with grass and its yellow leaves, for it was in autumn. Through the landscape a road leads to a high mountain far, far away, on the top of that mountain is a city wherein the setting sun casts a glory. On the road walks a pilgrim, staff in hand.

Not much came of Vincent van Gogh’s hopes for ordination. He pursued theological studies in Amsterdam in 1877 unsuccessfully before moving to Belgium to begin a ministry without it. By the end of 1879 he had become convinced that he was a failure and decided to take a break to figure it out.  He thought painting would help him relax until God’s will for his life became clear.

The Creator delights in creation, especially when it occurs in its pinnacle – that which he made in His image.

As Ken Kovacs wrote in his book Out of the Depths:

God loves to take what is old or worn or broken or useless or tired and transform it. God loves to take into Godself all the hate, all the sin, all the excruciating pain and mind-numbing, heart-freezing sorrow of human existence and then do something marvelous and wonderful with it, offering something new in its place. God loves to take all of our tears and our hurts and our regrets, our shame and our guilt and then do something extraordinary with them, transforming them. God takes on every death force in ourselves, in our families and relationships, our communities, nations, and world and decisively redeems and restores. That’s the goal, that’s the purpose, that’s what God is doing now and that’s the direction of God’s time. It’s the promise of the Christian experience.

I invite you to meditate on 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new,” this week and claim this vision for yourself; ask yourself:

What does this verse mean in this season of your life?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


You can read all the biographies you want about him, but through it all van Gogh will still not have revealed himself to you. For van Gogh to reveal himself to you, you need to look at his paintings. As the Greek Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras writes: “We know the person of van Gogh, what is unique, distinct and unrepeatable in his existence, only when we see his paintings. There we meet a reason (logos) which is his only and we separate him from every other painter. When we have seen enough pictures by van Gogh and then encounter one more, then we say right away: This is van Gogh. We distinguish immediately the otherness of his personal reason, the uniqueness of his creative expression.”

The difference between the arts and the sciences now becomes clear. When I see a painting by van Gogh, I know immediately that it is his. But when I come across a mathematical theorem or scientific insight, I cannot decide who was responsible for it unless I am told. The world is God’s creation, and scientists in understanding the world are simply retracing God’s thoughts. Scientists are not creators but discoverers. True, they may formulate concepts that assist them in describing the world. But even such concepts do not bear the clear imprint of their formulators. Concepts like energy, inertia, and entropy give no clue about who formulated them. Hermann Weyl and John von Neumann were both equally qualified to formulate quantum mechanics in terms of Hilbert spaces. That von Neumann, and not Weyl, made the formulation is now an accident of history. There’s nothing in the formulation that explicitly identifies von Neumann. Contrast this with a painting by van Gogh. It cannot be confused with a Monet.

The impulse to create and thereby give oneself in self-revelation need not be grand, but can be quite humble. A homemaker arranging a floral decoration engages in a creative act. The important thing about the act of creation is that it reveal the creator. The act of creation always bears the signature of the creator. It is a sad legacy of modern technology, and especially the production line, that most of the objects we buy no longer reveal their maker. Mass production is inimical to true creation. Yes, the objects we buy carry brand names, but in fact they are largely anonymous. We can tell very little about their maker. Compare this with God’s creation of the world. Not one tree is identical with another. Not one face matches another. Indeed, a single hair on your head is unique-there was never one exactly like it, nor will there ever be another to match it.

The creation of the world by God is the most magnificent of all acts of creation. It, along with humanity’s redemption through Jesus Christ, are the two key instances of God’s self-revelation. The revelation of God in creation is typically called general revelation whereas the revelation of God in redemption is typically called special revelation. Consequently, theologians sometimes speak of two books, the Book of Nature, which is God’s self-revelation in creation, and the Book of Scripture, which is God’s self-revelation in redemption. If you want to know who God is, you need to know God through both creation and redemption. According to Scripture, the angels praise God chiefly for two things: God’s creation of the world and God’s redemption of the world through Jesus Christ. Let us follow the angels’ example.

Global Journal of Classical Theology 1 (1999).

A Wild, Wondrous Journey

Christ in the Wilderness
Ivan Kramskoy
Original Title: Христос в пустыне
Date: 1872

FOUR QUARTETS
Little Gidding
T.S. Eliot

Every phrase and every sentence
is an end and a beginning,
Every poem is an epitaph – epitaph, as on a gravestone.

Any action is a step to the block, to the fire,
down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

Matthew 4:1–11
Temptation In The Wilderness

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”
5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’
and,
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ”
8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”
11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.


We live in an age that plays loose with facts.  It’s the devil’s playground.  From Genesis forward, the modus operandi of evil is to question the veracity of God, and the results can be devastating.  If Truth does certainly set us free, Truth untethered leaves us in bondage.  We see this interwoven throughout creation, and the coup de gras is always leveled at the imago Dei – the image of God which is the essence of man.

Speaking of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Ken Kovacs said in his book Out of the Depths:

The temptation is real in this story—and it’s serious. These are not trivial amusements trying to lull Jesus away from his work. He’s being tempted by desire, materialism, tempted by power, tempted by influence and glory, tempted by religion. He’s being tempted with an alternative narrative for his life, “If you are the Son of God….” If… Does Jesus know that he’s the Son of God? Is this what he’s really wrestling with in the wilderness? And if he consents, if he claims this identity, accepts this power, what then? How does one then live with such an identity, how does one make use of such power?

Who did God create you to be?  Has you journey to that discovery taken you through a wilderness?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

D I G  D E E P E R


T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot

(1888–1965), poet and critic. Born in St Louis, Missouri, he was educated at the Smith Academy, St Louis, Harvard (1906–9 and again 1911–13), the *Sorbonne (1910–11), and Merton College, Oxford (1914–15). He taught for a short time in Highgate Grammar School, London, and worked for Lloyds Bank; from this period his main interests appear to have been literary. Assistant editor of The Egoist from 1917 to 1919 and a frequent contributor to The Athenaeum, in 1922 he became the first editor of The Criterion, which he made a leading organ of literary expression until it ceased in 1939. In 1925 he joined the board of Faber, the publisher. He received many honours, including the Order of Merit and the Nobel Prize for literature (both in 1948).

Brought up in the American *Unitarian tradition, Eliot passed through a period of agnosticism reflected in his earlier poetry, e.g. Prufrock (1917) and Poems 1920 (1920). The expression of his sense of the emptiness of life reached its climax in The Waste Land (1922) and is also seen in The Hollow Men (1925). These early poems rejected the poetical tradition as it had developed in England since the 18th cent. and found inspiration in the 17th-cent. *Metaphysical poets and the 19th-cent. French symbolists. In 1927 Eliot was baptized in the parish church at Finstock, Oxon, and in 1928 he declared his viewpoint to be ‘classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and *anglo-catholic in religion’ (Preface to For Lancelot Andrewes). Henceforth much of his poetry, culminating in Four Quartets (1935–42), expressed his religious search, his struggle with faith and doubt, and his attempt to find fresh meaning in tradition; here he turned notably to *Dante, as well as to such mystics as St *John of the Cross and *Julian of Norwich. His influence as a poet was immense. His attempts at poetical drama were less successful, but also sought to communicate something of the dilemmas of faith, explicitly in Murder in the Cathedral (1935; written for the *Canterbury Festival of that year), but no less genuinely in his later plays, The Family Reunion (1939), The Cocktail Party (1950), The Confidential Clerk (1954), and The Elder Statesman (1959). He was also influential as a critic; many of his early essays were published in Selected Essays (1932; 3rd edn., enlarged, 1951), and his later essays collected in On Poetry and Poets (1957) and To Criticize the Critic (1965). He was deeply interested in the social implications of Christianity and discussed these in The Idea of a Christian Society (1939) and Notes towards a Definition of Culture (1948).

For more on his work Four Quartets see HERE

 

Desert Fathers and Mothers

This was a third- and fourth-century movement of Egyptian and Syrian Christians who left cities and villages to live in the desert. They were inspired by the wilderness formation of such biblical exemplars as Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus, and also of contemporaries such as Antony, whose fame helped spread this populist movement. While some individuals were drawn to self-glorification through excesses in self-denial, most participated in shared mentoring and worship, and some joined nascent monastic communities.

The movement was partly a reaction to the perceived decadence of the age and the moral laxness of the church after becoming the religion of the Roman Empire. Their response was a radical (from Lat. radix, meaning “root”) call for a return to the core fundamentals of Christian faith: repentance, prayer, fasting, silence, and compassion. In going to the desert, many felt they followed Christ’s command to “go, sell everything you have and give to the poor.… Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

The appeal of this austere countercultural movement swept across all levels of society, attracting men and women, rich and poor alike, scholars and illiterate, young and old. By AD 346 there were choices in the desert: one might opt for the eremitic life (to live alone as a hermit) or the cenobitic life (to live in community). The vast majority of the desert fathers and mothers were laity, not clergy. Living in caves or simple handmade huts, they soon attracted others, like John Cassian from Scythia, who observed the lives of the desert teachers and their disciples and wrote of their experience. This resulted in a new literary genre: the Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Apophthegmata Patrum) and the Lives of the Desert Fathers (Vitae Patrum). While sections of the Vitae Patrum are hagiographical, the Apophthegmata Patrum are probably very close to the actual wisdom of the desert as shared at the time—simple aphorisms and stories that have retained a freshness and wisdom throughout the centuries.

The movement may appear similar in its practices to Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, in which disciples gathered for spiritual guidance at the feet of a guru or Zen master. Yet it is not entirely so. While these Christian disciples would approach an abba (old man) or amma (old woman) to ask for “a word,” there was never any hidden, esoteric teaching imparted to a chosen few. Often the healing ministry of Christ was continued as the hungry, the poor, and the possessed came to the desert for help and intercessory prayer. Sometimes scholars might approach an illiterate monk for “a word,” or the sick reach out for a healing touch; a mayor might approach a woman of poverty for “a word,” and so on. The characteristic dynamic was one person seeking God’s presence, speaking to another person seeking the same.

The movement cohered in a shared commitment to the discipline and purity of leaving all to follow Jesus, rather than around any one elaborate doctrinal system. Nevertheless, the movement was thoroughly Nicene in its beliefs, the great Antony himself on occasion leaving solitude to publicly defend orthodoxy. It was a lean spirituality of the one thing; asceticism helped strip away all that was superficial without sacrificing orthodoxy itself.

Hesychia (silence) was practiced in order to hear God’s voice, in the spirit of the biblical exhortation to “be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). This was not to be simply a stubborn clamping shut of one’s lips, but rather expectant waiting and humble watching. As John Chryssavgis has explained, such “silence is fullness, not emptiness; it is not an absence, but the awareness of a presence.” Sleeplessness also helped one watch for Jesus. Fasting allowed one to be fed by every word that proceeds from God. Prayer was not scheduled activity, but continual striving toward God. Like the spiritual journey itself, it was that toward which one should always strive; though not always easy, it was always worth the sacrifice. As Amma Syncletica noted, “In the beginning, there is struggle and a lot of work for those who come near to God. But after that, there is indescribable joy. It is just like building a fire: at first it’s smoky and your eyes water, but later you get the desired result.” Yet common sense was the byword, preventing pride in one’s own accomplishments: “If you see a young monk by his own will climbing up to heaven, take him by the foot, and throw him to the ground, because what he is doing is not good for him” (Chryssavgis).

The desert fathers and mothers recognized the natural ebb and flow of the spiritual life. There is a social dimension, a time for mentoring and guidance, but there is a necessary time for solitude and discipline too. The Sayings show the teachers conferring among themselves, growing through dialogue and discussion, and then withdrawing into solitude and silence. The metaphor of withdrawing “into the desert” to be with Jesus has been crucial in the history of spiritual formation. The sayings and lives of the Fathers show how these Christians tried to live the Christian life with integrity and radical simplicity without being compromised by their culture, nor forgetting their commitment to care for one another. They continue to influence many diverse writers, from Roman Catholics Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen to Orthodox John Chryssavgis to evangelical Shane Claiborne.

For Further Reading:

D. Chitty, The Desert a City (1966); J. Chryssavgis, In the Heart of the Desert (2003); T. Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert (1970); Y. Nomura and H. Nouwen, Desert Wisdom (2000); B. Ward, The Lives of the Desert Fathers (1981); idem, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (1975).  Kelby Cotton, “Desert Fathers and Mothers,” ed. Glen G. Scorgie, Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 395–397.

The Call To Listen

Transfiguration
Fra Angelico
1440 – 1442

THE RULE OF SAINT BENEDICT

Listen carefully, my children, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.

Luke 9:28–36

Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. 30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. 33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.
34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” 36 When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.


Listening is difficult because it requires us to be focused and intentional.  We miss the mark when we think of it as passive and for many, it is simply being quiet as we wait for the other person to stop talking so we can say our piece.  It’s even harder to listen to God.  In her book Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life, Lonni Collins Pratt wrote this prayer:

Holy God, I believe there are masters of vision, masters of peace, masters of wisdom and joy and love for me to hear. But my inward ear has been dulled by all the nonsense it hears and the cacophony of my world. I don’t know where or how to start, but teach me to listen and help me believe I can actually hear you. Amen.

Building on this spiritual foundation , in his book Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs said:

If our first calling is to listen, then how do we do that? It’s been said that listening is a skill, something we cultivate. Listening is a skill, like all skills the more we practice them the better we are at using them. We can train ourselves to have better listening skills. Listening is an art, particularly the art of listening for what’s being said and what isn’t being said, listening for what’s behind the words of a conversation. It’s not surprising that truly listening is in short supply these days. It requires time. Listening is hard work. It can be exhausting. It also requires considerable energy and love and even courage.

Why courage? Because at least two other things are required: silence and surrender. Luke says, “When the voice had spoke, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent…” (Luke 9:36). In order to really listen it’s important for us to be silent. How can you listen if you’re talking? The talking can be the audible kind done with our mouths or the ongoing internal chatter that fills our inner brains most of the time that never seems to quit. It’s tough to listen to someone when there are competing conversations going on in our heads. Cultivating silence has always been a spiritual discipline, essential to the life of faith. This requires courage because we might not be happy with what we discover in the silence. What’s true for human relationships is true for divine-human relationships. Interior silence is required; how else are you going to hear the still small voice of Love?

Why is truly listening so hard?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


TRANSFIGURATION

The Transfiguration is described, with minor variations, in Matt. 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36. The fourth Gospel does not mention it. All three descriptions agree that Jesus, accompanied by Peter, James, and John, went up to a mountain (unnamed in the text but, according to tradition and the Geneva Bible, Mt. Tabor), where he and his garments were illuminated by a heavenly light and where he spoke with Moses and Elijah. The key verb in the narration (Gk. metamorphoō) is translated by almost all English versions as the exact Latin equivalent, “transfigured.” The only other biblical reference to the event is in 2 Pet. 1:16-18.

A. M. Ramsey has shown that two themes run through the Fathers’ treatment of the Transfiguration: the unity of the Scriptures and the future glory of Christ and his followers. The first emphasis may be seen in St. Jerome (Hom. 80, in The Homilies of St. Jerome) and St. Augustine (Sermons in New Testament Lessons, no. 28), but perhaps the most important figure here is Tertullian, who uses Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah to refute Marcion’s claims that the OT and NT are incompatible (Adv. Marc. 4.22). For St. Basil, the apostles present “were considered worthy to perceive with their eyes the beginning of his glorious coming [i.e., the Parousia]” (Hom. 17, St. Basil: Exegetic Homilies [1961]), but most commentators —Origen, Jerome, and St. Gregory the Great —tend to look instead toward the Resurrection. The major text in the Fathers’ treatment of the Transfiguration is beyond doubt the magisterial sermon of Leo the Great (Sermon 51, NPNF 12), which brings together all these themes and more.

Despite extensive patristic discussion of the narrative, the influence of the Transfiguration upon the English spiritual tradition has been negligible: the Western Church in general has given it little liturgical attention (in contrast to the Eastern churches, where it is exceeded in importance only by Easter), and only in modern times has the Anglican Church recognized it with a red-letter day; from 1549-61 it was altogether absent from the Book of Common Prayer. Nevertheless, there are some significant homiletical treatments, notable among them being the “Three Contemplations of the Transfiguration” by Bishop Joseph Hall (1574-1656). Hall imagines the words Moses and Elijah had for Jesus: “A strange opportunity … when his face shone like the sun, to tell him it must be blubbered and spat upon; … and whilst he was Transfigured on the Mount, to tell him how he must be Disfigured on the Cross!” (quoted in Ramsey, 140-41).

Specific and direct references in literature are likewise relatively rare. In Spenser’s “Mutability Cantos,” the poet finds himself unable to describe the magnificence of the Goddess Natura and makes this pointed comparison:

Her garment was so bright and wondrous sheene,
That my fraile wit cannot deuize to what
It to compare, nor finde like stuffe to that,
As those three sacred Saints, thou else most wise,
Yet on Mount Thabor quite their wits forgat,
When they their glorious Lord in strange disguise,
Transfigur’d sawe; his garments did so daze their eyes. (7.7.7)

Far more common than such a direct comparison is the use of the word transfigure to suggest glorification or illumination, much like the Ger. verklären. In fact, the chief influence of the biblical passage may be to give depth and resonance to the term transfigure that metamorphose, the more direct borrowing, lacks. Thus, in Spenser’s Faerie Queene Britomart has a dream in which she performs the rites of a priestess:

Her seem’d, as she was doing sacrifize
To Isis, deckt with Mitre on her hed,
And linen stole after those Priestes guize,
All sodainely she saw transfigured
Her linnen stole to robe of scarlet red,
And Moone-like Mitre to a Crowne of gold,
That euen she her selfe much wondered
At such a chaunge, and ioyed to behold
Her selfe, adorn’d with gems and iewels manifold.
(FQ 5.7.13)

Here the reference to the altered garments links the event quite clearly to the Transfiguration of Jesus; a linkage only slightly less direct appears in Emily Dickinson’s “Taking up the fair Ideal,” after the Ideal becomes “fractured”:

Cherishing —our poor Ideal
Till in purer dress
We behold her —glorified —
Comforts —search —like this —
Till the broken creatures —
We adored —for whole —
Stains —all washed —
Transfigured —mended —
Meet us —with a smile —

This poem merges the Transfiguration with the biblical metaphor of blood-soaked garments made clean and pure —especially common in the Protestant hymns on which Dickinson drew so heavily.
When Coleridge takes up the word transfigure, he assumes its resonances without referring strictly to the biblical event: in “Religious Musings” (1794-96) he describes a soul at first besieged and terrified by the spiritual dangers of this world, then calmed and assured, “refresh’d from Heaven.” Now,

… faith’s whole armor glitters on his limbs!
And thus transfigured with a dreadless awe,
A solemn hush of soul, meek he beholds
All things of terrible seeming; …

Thus the notion of transfiguration is accommodated to the Romantic doctrine of the Sublime.
Of the few direct modern addresses to the subject, Edwin Muir’s neglected poem “The Transfiguration” is noteworthy. Muir assumes the perspective of one of the apostles:

We would have thrown our clothes away for lightness,
But that even they, though sour and travel stained,
Seemed, like our flesh, made of immortal substance,
And the soiled flax and wool lay light upon us
Like friendly wonders, flower and flock entwined
As in a morning field. Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen
Since Eden locked the gate that’s everywhere
And nowhere?

Bibliography

Liefeld, W. L. “Theological Motifs in the Transfiguration Narrative.” In New Dimensions in New Testament Study. Eds. R. N. Longenecker and M. C. Tenney (1974), 162-79; Ramsey, A. M. The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ (1949); Reisenfeld, H. Jésus transfiguré (1947); Rudrum, A. W. “Henry Vaughan and the Theme of Transfiguration.” SoR 1 (1963), 54-67. David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

A World Of Distractions

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Pieter Aertsen, 1553

LET YOUR GOD LOVE YOU
Edwina Gateley

Be silent.
Be still.
Alone.
Empty
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Quiet.
Still.
Be.

Let your God—
Love you.

Luke 10:38–42

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”


We understand busyness. Contemporary life defaults to fragmentation, and every attempt at multitasking is an exercise in both frustration and futility.  We learn from scripture that this isn’t unique to our present age.  Jesus had three friends in Bethany who were siblings – Mary, Martha and Lazarus (who he raised from the dead.)  During one of his visits, Martha scurried about, attending to every detail while Mary rested at the feet of Jesus.  Martha took great exception to this and asked Jesus to instruct her to “get busy” and help.

In his book, Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs writes:

And what does Jesus do? “Martha, Martha”—did he take her by the arms, I wonder, crossing her path, holding her shoulders, speaking directly into her eyes? “Martha, Martha, stop. Look at me. Let me look at you”—as if to break the spell of the complex, discharging its energy—“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. This really isn’t about all the work and the chores, is it? You are worried, concerned, anxious.” The Greek here suggests that her mind was agitated. “You’re freighted with care, Martha.”

“There is only one thing needed,” Jesus said. When we’re worried and distracted, we’re pulled in ten thousand directions and pulled away from the one thing needed: to dwell lovingly in the presence of God, to sit at Jesus’ feet, to be attentive to him, to God, to the movement of the Spirit within our hearts. Or to put it a different way, this is a life grounded and centered in God. This is what matters most. This is what our souls hunger for. When we are distracted and worried, we get pulled away from the One who holds us and sustains us.

Is busyness a sin? Why or why not?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 Martha, Sister of Lazarus and Mary

Peters notes that “[t]he character of Martha as portrayed by Luke and John is remarkably consistent. She is practical, active and outspoken” (Peters, “The Legends,” 150). In Luke 10:38–42, Martha and her sister, Mary, received Jesus and the other disciples into their home. When Martha became frustrated that Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet rather than help her, Jesus told Martha that “Mary has chosen the better part” (Luke 10:42 NRSV). In John 12:1–8, Martha served during the dinner given in Jesus’ honor six days before the Passover (John 12:1–8). In this account, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet instead of serving with Martha. This may be John’s way of combining the account from Luke 10:38–42 with Luke 12:1–7, in which Mary anoints Jesus’ feet during a dinner six days before the Passover (Luke 12:1–7).

John—including Martha as being present when Jesus raised her brother, Lazarus—portrays Martha as an example of faith (John 11:1–44). When Martha runs to meet Jesus, both she and Mary are confident that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death (John 11:20–21, 32). Her acknowledgement that Jesus is the Messiah is one of the few in the gospel of John (John 11:27). Howard argues that the raising of Lazarus and the sisters’ faith in John point toward Christ’s resurrection (Howard, “The Significance,” 75–77).

Martha is often compared with her sister, Mary. Luke 10:40–42 is often viewed as a comparison between a good, prayerful woman and a bad, restless woman—Martha served men while Mary served God (Schüssler-Fiorenza, “A Feminist Critical,” 26–27; 32). Martha and Mary were also interpreted as examples of the active and contemplative states.

Throughout history, monastic authors often used Martha as an example of the inferiority of active life. However, Jesus only admonishes her for being “anxious and troubled,” not for being active (Luke 10:41). Some monastic communities interpreted this passage to mean that both manual labor and contemplative study are necessary for spiritual development and Christian leadership (Constable, Three Studies; Metteer, “Mary Needs Martha”).

Bibliography
Carter, Warren. “Getting Martha Out of the Kitchen: Luke 10:38–42 Again.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 58 (1996): 264–80.
Constable, Giles. Three Studies in Medieval Religious and Social Thought: The Interpretation of Mary and Martha, The Ideal of the Imitation of Christ, The Orders of Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Heffner, Blake R. “Meister Eckhart and a Millennium with Mary and Martha.” Lutheran Quarterly 5:2 (Summer 1991): 171–85.
Howard, James M. “The Significance of Minor Characters in the Gospel of John.” Bibliotheca Sacra 163 (Jan—March 2006): 63–78.
Metteer, Charles A. “ ‘Mary Needs Martha’: The Purposes of Manual Labor in Early Egyptian Monasticism.” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 43:2 (1999): 163–207.
Peters, Diane E. “The Legends of St. Martha of Bethany and Their Dissemination in the Later Middle Ages.” American Theological Library Association Summary of Proceedings 48 (1994): 149–64.
Schüssler-Fiorenza, Elisabeth. “A Feminist Critical Interpretation for Liberation: Martha and Mary: Luke 10:38–42.” Religion and Intellectual Life, 3:2 (Winter 1986): 21–36.
Yamaguchi, Satoko. Mary and Martha: Women in the World of Jesus. Maryknoll: N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2002.
Michelle J. Morris, “Martha,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

Barbara Bush and Mom

Barbara Bush passed into eternity today.  By all accounts she was a remarkable woman, but I am most impressed by her marriage of 73 years.  It reminded me very much of my own parents.  I wrote the following piece as a tribute to my mother several years ago when she also stepped into heaven.  May God bless and comfort the Bush family tonight and in the days to come.


Near the end of my mother’s lucidity, as we were having the difficult conversation about me taking over her care, she was both saddened and puzzled by the cruelties of old age.

She said, “In my mind I’ve always felt like a young girl”.

It was the truth.

The other true thing was that she only wanted to be Dad’s girl.

My parents started dating when they were teenagers and neither of them ever had another interest. Mom was 18 when they married and she was 80 when Dad died.

A marriage of 62 years seems long by any standard, but they would have gladly taken 62 more. Only the Second World War could keep them apart, and I still have all of the letters they wrote to each other because mom saved them all.

I’ve never seen two people more devoted, more sincere and more goofily in love. They lived large and it was all about swallowing their life together in big thirsty gulps.

A stroke left my Dad helpless for the last 10 years of his life. He was physically dependent on her in every way. He fought to get better at first, but eventually recused himself in resignation.

Mom was undaunted.

She had a stubbornness that clashed with my own, but I now know that God gave her that gift in reserve for those last years of Dad’s life.

She took over the finances, bought a handicap van and continued their active schedule of church, visits to friends and out of state vacations. She dressed Dad for company every day and made sure he was included in the conversation. She was thin and frail, but she never blinked at the physical demands of his mobility and care.

It was humbling to watch.

On the day my father passed away, I held his hand as he drew his final breath with my wife at my side and his wife at his – right where she was always.

When Dad died, Mom did too.

Oh, her body retained breath for 4 more years, but she was not present. The doctors called it Alzheimer’s but the truth is, Mom just stood inside her body and looked out of those blue eyes at a world without my father – then she turned around and walked away to the inside of her mind to sit among her memories.

I went to see Mom in the hospice the day before she died. When I arrived she was being fed by a worker, and she no longer thought I was her brother or father or high school teacher.

She simply wasn’t there.

My aunt called the next day saying Mom died peacefully in her sleep.

I knew the truth.

That night, her workers cleaned her and put her to bed, and there she closed her eyes. She opened them again at 2 in the morning when a strapping young man walked into her room and took his 18 year old bride by the hand, and the young girl jumped into his arms.

 

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Finding Your Way Home

The Lost Child by Thomas Sully, 1837

Luke 15:1–10

Parable of the Lost Sheep

Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying:
4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

Parable of the Lost Coin

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

1 Timothy 1:12–17

Glory to God for His Grace

12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.


The word “docile” has gotten a bad rap.  These days it’s usually equated with timidity – and therein lies the problem.  Western culture prizes arrogance.  It’s the bluster of prize fighters, political candidates and football stars.  The irony runs deep here because it usually means the self-promoter is no longer teachable.  Docile means pliable, or more specifically – teachable.  Its etymology is connected to “doctor” and “doctrine.”  The doctor (teacher) instructs the docile in doctrine.  Learning happens. Growth results.

In life, people are not usually truly docile until they are desperate.  If you have ever been lost in a foreign county you know what it means to humbly seek someone who can communicate meaningful directions.  The great problem with docility, however, is that people are often unaware of their own desperation. That is, they do not know they are lost.

If today you find yourself somewhat adrift, not exactly knowing where you are in life, then I have good news. God is seeking you.

As Ken Kovacs wrote in his book Out of the Depths:

You see, this is who God is, this a profound image of God that Jesus is placing before us. This is who God is and this is what God does. Indeed, God never rests until all the lost have been brought home. The lost might not know it or even feel it—when you’re lost, it feels like you’re all alone—but the Lord of Love is searching for you. You might feel that you’re not worthy of such love, that you’re beyond hope, beyond help, you might feel that, but that’s not the full story. The full story, the deeper, broader story is that you are worthy, worthy of God’s hot pursuit to find you and bring you back, up on his shoulders, rejoicing all the way home. There’s no judgment for getting lost, only rejoicing over being found. It’s a joy that the shepherd is eager to share with his friends and neighbors: Come and see who’s back! Look who is here! Look who’s home! This is what Scripture means by grace. Grace finds us when we’re lost, lifts us up, and then takes us home rejoicing. And this is what grace feels like.

Has God ever found you when you were lost?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 The Lost Sheep

Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep is recorded in two different forms in Matt. 18:12–14 and Luke 15:4–7. J. Jeremias sees Matthew’s version as secondary, reflecting a change of emphasis from Jesus’ original apologia for his association with sinners to an exhortation to Christian leaders to seek out apostates. In both forms the parable derives its power from the basic human experience of being lost and found, especially as this is symbolized by the plight of a gregarious animal cut off from the herd which gives it identity and life.

Matthew 18 as a whole concerns the community’s care for its members, who are not to be offended against in their weakness (18:1–9) and should be corrected and forgiven when they have erred (18:15–35). The parable of the lost sheep serves as conclusion and example of the former theme as well as introduction to the latter. The value of “little ones,” already stated in the introduction (v. 10), is exemplified by the actions of the shepherd seeking the lost and forcefully reiterated as the “lesson” of the parable: “It is not the will of your Father … that one of these little ones should perish” (v. 14).

In Luke’s version the author does not “introduce” the meaning of the parable but allows readers to discover it in their own experience. The Pharisees complain about Jesus’ practice of receiving and eating with sinners. Abruptly Jesus confronts them with a parable which traps them in their own expectations. The parable’s power resides in the imaginative shock of a shepherd abandoning his whole flock in the steppes to seek out the one lost sheep “until he finds it” (v. 4). (A Palestinian shepherd would ordinarily drive his remaining flock into a pen or natural enclosure, or turn it over to a neighboring shepherd lest it scatter or be ravaged.) This figure, then, illustrates the extravagant action of God himself, who rejoices more over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who need no repentance (v. 7). Jesus not only reveals the value of sinners but challenges his hearers to re-evaluate their conception of their own “righteousness.” This two-pronged truth is repeated in the three subsequent parables of the lost coin (15:8–10), the prodigal son (15:11–32), and the unjust steward (16:1–13).

According to St. Irenaeus the gnostics connected the straying of the sheep with the enfleshment of the aeons. Within the Church the parable was used sparingly, to vindicate reconciliation of Christians who had sinned (Apostolic Constitutions, 2.13-14) and reception of those lapsed in the Decian persecution (St. Cyprian, Ep. 46, 51). Tertullian, in his De poenitentia (chap. 8), uses Luke 15:4–7 to vindicate the Church’s practice of a second repentance for Christians; later, however, in his Montanist treatise De pudicitia (chap. 7), he denies this practice, there taking the wandering sheep to represent the heathen.

St. John Chrysostom, the first to treat the parable exegetically, notes (with reference to Luke 15:7) that the righteous are imperiled for the sake of the lost (Hom. 59, on Matthew). St. Augustine interprets the parable as manifesting the Lord’s extravagant zeal in seeking the lost, whom he identifies as all of humanity implicated in original sin (De peccatorum meritis et remissione, 1.40). For St. Thomas Aquinas (following St. egory, Hom. 34 on the Gospels), the flock represents all rational creatures and (following St. Hilary’s commentary on Matthew) the lost sheep the human race, strayed through Adam and redeemed by Christ, the Good Shepherd (Super Evangelium Sancti Mattaei Lectura, 1509-13).

The Reformers also used the parable rarely (Luther refers to it only twice). Calvin explains the angels’ eater joy as caused by God’s mercy shining more brightly in the liberation of a sinner (Harmony of the Gospels).

An extended literary parody occurs in the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, where Speed and Proteus trade witticisms about Speed’s relationship with his absent master Valentine. Speed responds to Proteus’s calling him a sheep by countering: “The shepherd seeks the sheep, and not the sheep the shepherd; but I seek my master, and my master seeks not me. Therefore I am no sheep.” Proteus replies: “The sheep for fodder follow the shepherd; the shepherd for food follows not the sheep. Thou for wages followest thy master; thy master for wages follows not thee. Therefore thou art a sheep.” “Such another proof will make me cry ‘baa’,” exclaims Speed, who then identifies himself as “a lost mutton” (1.1.69-110).

Byron, who makes a comic allusion to Luke 15:7 in the dedication to Don Juan (41-43), elsewhere refers to the same passage straightforwardly, observing: “He who repents … occasions more rejoicing in the skies / Than ninety-nine of the celestial list” (Morgante Maggiore, 466-67). Ira D. Sankey, while touring Scotland with American evangelist Dwight L. Moody, composed a musical setting for an obscure, posthumously published poem by Elizabeth Clephane, “The Ninety and Nine” (1874). In this well-known hymn the shepherd’s suffering in seeking the lost is implicitly connected to the Passion:

“Lord, whence are those blood drops all the way
That mark out the mountain’s track?”
“They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.”
“Lord, whence are thy hands so rent and torn?”
“They are pierced tonight by many a thorn,
They are pierced tonight by many a thorn.”

George Eliot, in her Scenes from Clerical Life, observes that for one who “has learned pity through suffering,”

the old, old saying about the joy of angels over the repentant sinner outweighing their joy over the ninety-nine just, has a meaning which does not jar with the language of his own heart. It only tells him … that for angels too the misery of one casts so tremendous a shadow as to eclipse the bliss of ninety-nine. (“Janet’s Repentance”)

In Galsworthy’s Flowering Wilderness, the misery of the penitent somewhat outweighs any attendant joy: “There was no rejoicing as over a sinner that repenteth. All were too sorry for her, with a sorrow nigh unto dismay” (chap. 31). Allusion to the parable takes a sinister twist in Shaw’s Saint Joan when Ladvenue, handing Joan’s recantation to Cauchon, exults: “Praise be to God, my brothers, the lamb has returned to the flock; and the shepherd rejoices in her more than in ninety and nine just persons.” Luke 15:7 provides the title for Morley Callaghan’s novel More Joy in Heaven (1937).

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

Removing Every Tear

Man of Sorrows by Guido Reni

Isaiah 25:6–9

6 And in this mountain
The LORD of hosts will make for all people
A feast of choice pieces,
A feast of wines on the lees,
Of fat things full of marrow,
Of well-refined wines on the lees.
7 And He will destroy on this mountain
The surface of the covering cast over all people,
And the veil that is spread over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death forever,
And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces;
The rebuke of His people
He will take away from all the earth;
For the LORD has spoken.

9 And it will be said in that day:
“Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us.
This is the LORD;
We have waited for Him;
We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

Revelation 21:1–6

All Things Made New

21 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.


The phrase “I’m sorry for your loss” became popular several years ago and unfortunately, it stuck.  People routinely say this now without really understanding that they are actually distancing themselves from the other person.  After all, it’s your loss – not mine.  A simpler “I’m so sorry” would be better.  To bear another’s sorrow is to move beyond sympathy, and even empathy to a place of coexistence.

As Ken Kovacs said in his book Out of the Depths:

Christ showed us that we experience God’s grace in the broken places, in the sorrowful, tearful, crying places. Why does it have to be this way? I haven’t a clue, that’s the way it is. God’s grace is known the strongest in the weak and hurting and broken places – which is precisely the point of this Table and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and why he invites us to share this meal. Here we remember our loss of him but also how he was known to us in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:35). But it has to be broken and then shared; then the meal takes on life, the life of Jesus who was broken for us and shared his life. It has to be broken and then shared; when lives break, when broken lives share, Jesus promises to be there too. An unwillingness to be broken and to share means we miss the Christ.

 

How can you bear the sorrows of another?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 The Man of Sorrows

The “man of sorrows” of Isa. 53:5 is identified also (in the so-called “servant songs” of Isaiah [42:1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12]) as the “servant of the LORD.” In exegetical tradition the same figure is commonly referred to as the “suffering servant.” The character and mission of the servant is described in his own words, in the words of the Lord, and in the words of those to whom he has been sent (the “we” of Isa. 53:2–6). The servant has been chosen by God to “bring forth judgment to the nations” (Isa. 42:1); he will work patiently, confident that the Lord will in time vindicate the shame and violent scorn which he must endure. The climax of his story comes in the final poem, where those to whom the servant has been sent recognize that this man of sorrows, who is “despised and rejected” by them (53:3) and apparently judged and afflicted by God, is nevertheless God’s instrument to atone for their sins. He is “wounded for … [their] transgressions” and, despite his own innocence, condemned to die on their behalf. The poem concludes with the reaffirmation that the servant will not suffer in vain and that his mission will succeed.

The identity of the servant has long been the subject of controversy. He has been identified as a historical individual: the prophetic author himself, an anonymous contemporary of the prophet, Moses, Jeremiah, Hezekiah, and Zerubbabel, among others. Early rabbinic commentary was unanimous in seeing the description of the servant as a portrait of the Messiah. (A similar messianic reference occurs in a talmudic legend in which Elijah tells a rabbi seeking the Messiah, “A man of sorrows himself, he ministers lovingly to those who suffer, and binds up their wounds.”) But the concept of a suffering Messiah was generally problematic for later Jewish commentators who, following Rashi in the 11th cent., chose rather to see the servant as the embodiment of Israel.

Andrew of St. Victor incorporates in his (12th-cent.) commentary on Isaiah Jewish exegetical identification of the suffering servant with the Jews of captivity, or possibly Isaiah himself, not even mentioning a messianic or typological reading (Smalley, 164). For other Christian exegetes, however, the suffering servant was readily identified as Jesus Christ. Christ himself understood his mission in the light of the servant’s atonement through suffering and patient endurance, and the early Church reinforced the connection. The description of the Passion and death of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels is colored by references to the “servant songs” (e.g., Matt. 8:17; Mark 15:28; John 19:9). From the patristic era to the 18th cent. Christian interpreters were unanimous in seeing the last of the “servant songs” especially as a prophetic witness to the death of a sinless Christ for the sins of humankind.

Martin Luther in his commentary on Isaiah indicates the familiar view of Isa. 53:3 as a predictive description of Christ’s “physical, open and extremely shameful suffering” (Works, 17.220). Calvin, in his commentary on Isaiah, posits the sorrow and suffering as itself the motivation for humanity’s rejection of Christ (4.114). In his sermon of 1 July 1627 John Donne refers to Christ as the type of all sorrow: “who fulfil’d in himselfe alone, all Types, and Images, and Prophecies of sorrowes, who was, (as the Prophet calls him) Vir dolorum, a man compos’d, and elemented of sorrowes.” In another sermon (25 Aug. 1622) Donne asks that he himself be allowed to “be vir dolorum, a man of affliction, a vessell baked in that furnace, fitted by God’s proportion, and dosis of his corrections, to make a right use of his corrections.” In “Palm Sunday,” Henry Vaughan writes of “the man of sorrow / Weeping still, like the wet morrow,” who “comes to borrow” the “shades and freshness” of palm branches on his entrance into Jerusalem.

Melville takes quite a different approach when referring to the suffering servant in Moby-Dick: Ishmael suggests “that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true—not true, or undeveloped. … The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows.” Yeats’s “The Sad Shepherd” contains echoes of, if not direct references to, the man of sorrows in its description of “a man whom Sorrow named his friend” and who, because he was not listened to, could not be rid of the “ancient burden” of his “heavy story.” Joyce, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (chap. 3), makes more traditional use of the image, as Stephen considers the contrast between the humiliation of the first advent and the glory of the Second Coming.

Other echoes from the “servant songs” occur in a variety of English texts. Wordsworth, in “Maternal Grief,” speaks of a small boy whose twin sister has died as suddenly “acquainted with distress and grief ” (Isa. 53:3). In his “Stanzas to Augusta [B]” Byron echoes the same passage: “Thy soul with my grief was acquainted. …” Perhaps the most influential use of the man of sorrows motif, however, is Handel’s magnificent setting of the final servant song in his Messiah.

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

Unlocking The Doors Of Fear

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio, Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam

John 20:19–31
Christ Appears to the Disciples (Thomas Absent)

19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Christ Appears to the Disciples (Thomas Present)

26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The Purpose of John’s Gospel

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.


Have you ever been paralyzed by fear?  The disciples certainly were after the crucifixion of Jesus.  It’s easy to understand.  They surely felt the terror of a similar fate for themselves, but they also must have felt orphaned and alone.  It’s powerful to understand how His return to them vanquished their fear.

As Ken Kovacs writes in his book Out of the Depths:

It’s precisely in such a context that we hear Jesus’ words to his disciples. God will not allow fear to have the last word. In fear the disciples try to hide themselves from a world that resists all the implications of the life-changing, liberating power of resurrection. But fear can’t hinder the new life Jesus extends to us! Resurrection life acknowledges the fear, but does not allow the fear to divert or destroy what God is doing through Jesus and through us. We’re given a truly remarkable image here. I love the way the resurrected Jesus appears within the locked room and stands among them there; he stands within the confines of their fear; he appears and stands in their place of greatest fear and says, “Peace be with you.” Even locked doors can’t keep him out. Christ’s boldness overcomes every barrier we try to erect in fear. We’re not meant to live behind locked doors. Within the confines of all our fears, Jesus continues to stand among us, unlocking our prisons of fear, and saying, “Peace be with you.”

The place of fear can become the place of presence, the place of peace, the place of resurrection. The text tells us that their fear was replaced with rejoicing at the sight of his presence. That’s what resurrection can do. That’s what the resurrected Lord continues to do.

How is fear the opposite of love?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 Peace Which Passes Understanding

St. Paul exhorts the Philippians (4:6-7) not to be anxious about anything but to make all their concerns a subject of thankful prayer to God, promising that if they do so “the peace of God which passeth all understanding” will keep (lit. “stand guard over”) their hearts and minds. The thought echoes Isa. 26:3: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee,” and takes up Jesus’ exhortation to have no concern over practical needs because “your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matt. 6:24-34). The peace Paul speaks of passes all understanding both in the sense that it is inconceivably great, beyond human capacity to comprehend (cf. Eph. 3:19, 20), and also in that it is far better than any “peace” which human “understanding” could bring. Notably, it is a peace which is found in the midst of trouble, not by escaping from it.

Commenting on Job 9:4 (Vg) in which Job observes that God is “wise in heart and mighty in strength. Who has resisted him, and had peace?” Wyclif says that “we are to see by this description of peace that it is achieved by conformity of [one’s] will to that of God.” He goes on to say that peace is not, as one might expect, a matter of temporal quietude free from attack or hostility; rather, it is just when the battle is raging most fiercely that one is most likely to experience the benefits of being at peace with God (Sermones, 4.25). A later Wycliffite writer takes up the theme, “þer be trew pees and fals pees, and thai be ful diverse”—true peace being grounded in God, false peace grounded in “rest with our enemies” when “we assent to þem withoute aʒen-standyng” (Arnold, ed., Selected English Works of John Wyclif [1871], 1.321).

In George Herbert’s “The Sacrifice” the O Vos Omnes hymn is developed with Christ drawing a contrast between himself and Barabbas: “And a seditious murderer he was: / But I the Prince of Peace; peace that doth passe / All understanding, more than heav’n doth glasse” (117-19; cf. Ruskin, Unto This Last, chap. 3). Herbert’s poem “Peace” makes the point that the “Prince of Peace” himself had no peace: “He sweetly liv’d; yet sweetnesse did not save / His life from foes” (25-26), and that he won peace for others at the expense of his own struggle and death (cf. A Priest to the Temple, chap. 34). In Vaughan’s “Peace” the poet speaks of a peace which is not to be found in this life, but in “a Countrie / Far beyond the stars,” sentiments echoed in an early 20th-cent. American sonnet by Joyce Kilmer, written while the author was soldiering in France during World War I (“The Peacemaker”). Aldous Huxley thinks hints of such peace can be derived from art: “Even from the perfection of minor masterpieces—certain sonnets of Mallarmé, for instance, certain Chinese ceramics—we can derive illuminating hints about the ‘something far more deeply interfused,’ about ‘the peace of God that passeth understanding’“ (Ends and Means, chap. 14; cf. Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey,” 96). In Black Boy Richard Wright tells of an unsuccessful application of the traditional interpretation in the home of his grandmother: “Granny bore the standard for God, but she was always fighting. The peace that passes understanding never dwelt with us.” Recalling the prophetic promise that in the days of the Messiah peace shall flow “as a river” (Isa. 48:18; 53:5), Margaret Avison writes that “Word has arrived that / peace will brim up, will come / ‘like a river and the / glory … like a flowing stream’“—an unprecedented, unimagined grace (“Stone’s Secret,” 20-22).

David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).

ART:  For a deep dive on The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio (1601-2), see HERE

 

Life-Giver


HOLY TRINITY
Dome fresco in the portico to the trapezium in the Dochiariou Monastery, Athos, sixteenth century

PENTECOST
Acts 2:1–21

Coming of the Holy Spirit

2 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The Crowd’s Response

5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. 7 Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” 12 So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”
13 Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.”

Peter’s Sermon

14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
20 The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.
21 And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the LORD
Shall be saved.’


Genesis 1:2 describes the Holy Spirit as “breath”, and thereafter our understanding of life is inextricably linked to breath. This Breath moved in the body of a humble girl and from God and mankind we received Immanuel – God with us. Jesus is the fullness of God in human form and our example of human life lived in complete harmony with God’s design.  He came to us then and now through the Holy Spirit.

As Ken Kovacs wrote in his book Out of the Depths:

Now, whether the Holy Spirit arrived in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension, as we have here in Acts 2, or, whether she arrived on Easter when Jesus breathed his Resurrection Spirit into the disciples, as we read in John 20, is the beside the point. They both point to the fact that something happened, that the presence, power, and purpose of the Holy Spirit was given to disciples to equip and empower and direct them for Christ’s ongoing work in the world. The Spirit was unleashed upon the world, blowing as a gentle breeze to comfort fearful disciples, assuring them of Christ’s ongoing presence, or, raging as a forceful, violent tempest to challenge, disturb, and ultimately thrust disciples beyond the confines of an upper room, locked away by fear, sent out beyond Jerusalem to a world waiting to hear the gospel, sent out to introduce the world to the presence of the Risen Christ.

 

Who is the Holy Spirit to you?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 The Holy Spirit

In Christian theology, the Third Person of the Holy *Trinity, distinct from, but consubstantial, coequal, and coeternal with, the Father and the Son, and in the fullest sense God. It is held that the mode of the Spirit’s procession in the Godhead is by way of ‘spiration’ (not ‘generation’) and that this procession takes place as from a single principle.

Christian theologians point to a gradual unfolding of the doctrine in the OT, where the notion of the ‘Spirit’ (ruach) plays a large part as an instrument of Divine action, both in nature and in the human heart. The Spirit of God is already operative at the Creation, brooding on the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). In early times, the Hebrews saw evidence of the Spirit’s action in deeds of valour and prowess. The Divine Spirit inspired the artistic skill of Bezaleel (Exod. 36:1 f.), the successes of *Joshua (Deut. 34:9), and the strength of *Samson (Jgs. 14:6). In particular the Spirit was bestowed on those appointed to communicate Divine truth and esp. on the Prophets (Is. 61:1 f.). He is also the chief power making for moral purity and holiness (Ps. 51:11). Above all, the Spirit was to be the possession of the coming Davidic King (Is. 11:2) and of the Servant of the Lord (Is. 42:1); and in the future time of fulfilled hope there would be a large extension of the Spirit’s activities and power (Ezek. 36:26 f.; Joel 2:28–32). In the later OT writings the Spirit was increasingly seen as the bestower of intellectual capacities. It is the Spirit of understanding which fills the devout man (Ecclus. 39:6) and conveys to him wisdom and religious knowledge (Wisd. 7:7 and 9:17).

Although Jesus said little about the Spirit beyond promising that Christians on trial would be assisted by the Spirit (Mk. 13:11; cf. Mt. 10:20 and Lk. 12:12), the Resurrection faith of His disciples was strongly marked by the experience of the Spirit and they interpreted this as God’s gift at the dawn of the coming age. This central conviction is epitomized in the quotation of Joel 2:28–32 in the Acts 2 account of St *Peter’s speech on the day of *Pentecost following the dramatic outpouring of the Spirit on the disciples. The rest of Acts represents the early Christian mission as guided by the Spirit (e.g. 11:12, 15:28, and 16:6 f.). On occasion the Apostles convey the Spirit by the laying on of hands (8:15–17 and 19:6).

The Gospels variously present Jesus as empowered by the Spirit at His baptism (Mk. 1:10 and parallels), driven by the Spirit into the wilderness (Mk. 1:12 and parallels), and performing *exorcism by the Spirit (Matt. 12:28). Lk. sees this endowment as the fulfilment of prophecy (Is. 61:1) and like Matt. 1:18 and 20 claims the operation of the Spirit in the conception of Jesus (Lk. 1:35). All agree with Jn. 7:39 that the Spirit was not more generally available until after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The OT view of this intermittently active but impersonal power of God undergoes two developments in the NT. The Spirit is held to be given to all members at their *Baptism, and, understood in the light of Christ, by St *Paul and Jn. the concept is personalized and given ethical content. In the discourses of Jn. 14–16 the Spirit is ‘another Comforter’, distinct from Jesus, whom He succeeds, but performing similar works and making present what Jesus had said and done. Paul can call the Spirit ‘the Spirit of Jesus’ (Phil. 1:19; cf. Rom. 8:9 and Gal. 4:6), and can associate this so closely with Jesus that they are almost identified (Rom. 8:9–11; perhaps 2 Cor. 3:17). The whole of Christian life is ‘in Christ’, or ‘in the Spirit’, ‘being led by the Spirit’.

Possessing the Spirit unites believers with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17) and has moral implications (1 Cor. 3:16 and Gal. 5). The Spirit is active in Christian worship (Rom. 8:26 f.; cf. 1 Cor. 14), proclamation and instruction (1 Cor. 2), and in moral discernment (1 Cor. 7:40). The gift of the Spirit takes different forms (1 Cor. 12; cf. Rom. 12), implying different roles and responsibilities in the Church. Finally the ‘first-fruits of the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:23; or ‘earnest of the Spirit’, 2 Cor. 1:22 and 5:5), possessed by and possessing believers, will be the means by which God raises them (Rom. 8:11) as spiritual bodies (cf. 1 Cor. 15:42–44).

The doctrine of the Spirit in a theologically elaborated form, though implicit in the NT, was not reached for some centuries. An important stage was reached in *Tertullian. The *Montanists (q.v.) showed the need to distinguish between true and false operations of the Holy Spirit; but despite the insistence of the Montanists on the Spirit’s activities, their strange conceptions of the operation of the Spirit do not seem to have left any permanent mark on the development of the doctrine. *Origen emphasized that the characteristic sphere of the Spirit’s operation was the Church, as contrasted with the whole of Creation which was that of the Word.

From AD 360 onwards the doctrine of the Spirit became a matter of acute controversy. A group of theologians known as the ‘*Macedonians’, while maintaining against the *Arians the full Divinity of the Son, denied that of the Spirit. The most considerable work which these discussions provoked was St *Basil’s De Spiritu Sancto. At the Council of *Constantinople of 381 Macedonianism was finally repudiated and the full doctrine of the Spirit received authoritative acceptance in the Church. In the W. this doctrine was elaborated by St *Augustine in his De Trinitate, notably by his conception of the Spirit as the Bond of Union in the Holy Trinity.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 788.

 

God Gifted

The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci around 1490

1 Corinthians 12:12–31

12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.


The wellness movement emphasizes a holistic understanding of man.  It reaches beyond physical health and aspires to that which is nebulously called mindfulness, thus attempting to bridge the body to the soul.  This is not new, of course; its roots are at least Platonic, and even Plato was predated by eastern thinkers who saw man as more garden than machine.

The irony runs deep here because man is contextualized correctly as a functioning member of the body of Christ.  He is singularly essential, yet unfulfilled unless joined to his complementary fellows.

In his book Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs wrote:

Many years ago I came across profound wisdom in a statement by Sören Kierkegaard (1813-1855)—that blessed Dane. Kierkegaard has been one of my theological heroes for a long time, a faithful and trusted companion on my journey. (His surname translated into English means, literally, “cemetery”—kierke, meaning “church” and gaard, meaning “garden” or “yard;” hence, “church yard” or “cemetery.” With a name like that you can only imagine what his childhood was like.) With searing psychological and spiritual insight, this is what he said: “Comparison kills.” When I first heard those words, many years ago, it was as if the hammer of Thor had struck me, and cracked me open, and released my soul. Kierkegaard said, “. . . the more comparison, the more indolent and paltry a person’s life becomes . . . comparison kills,” he said, “with its insidious chill.”*

He’s right. There are healthy forms of comparison, of course. But when we’re always comparing ourselves to others—what others have, what others are doing, what others are achieving—if we’re always looking outward, valuing what’s “out there,” more than what’s “in here,” within us, that which has already been entrusted to us by the Spirit, we are doing ourselves a great disservice and effectively rejecting God’s gifts in us. This is not the way toward life, this is not what the Spirit intends for our lives, this is not the way of Christ. Pathological comparison kills; with its insidious chill it slowly, ever so slowly over time kills our souls.

 

Where does humanism fit into a proper understanding of the Church ?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Soren Kierkegaard

*Sören Kierkegaard, “Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits (1847). The full quote: “. . . the more comparison, the more indolent and paltry a person’s life becomes. This consciousness is the straight gate and the narrow way. It is not the way as such that is narrow, although quite a few people walk along it single-file; no, the narrowness is that each one separately must become the single individual who must press through this narrow pass along the narrow way where no comparison cools, but also where no comparison kills with its insidious chill.”

Kierkegaard’s Writings, XV (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 152.

Soren Kierkegaard

b. in Copenhagen, May 5, 1813

A melancholy boy of deep religious inclination, who, attracted and repelled by Christianity, gave himself up to pessimism, from which the death of his father delivered him, leading him as a man to the study of theology (1840). But he conceived of it as pure subjectivity, and rejected existing Christianity as wrong, attacked Martensen, when the latter praised Mynster (1854), and was led into the bitterest attitude ag. Church and Christianity; d. Nov. 11, 1855. The subjective truth of the personality was the centre of K.’s system. The personality is the ethically existing, not the knowing, which must be capable of infinite suffering, though it is finite. To suffer is to be religious, which includes the paradox. The paradox or absurd is the contradiction between man, a sinner by his very existence, and man determining himself for faith, i.e. not likeness, but contemporaneousness with Christ, as shown, not merely in humility and inner suffering, but in actual experience of the hate of the world, which flies from truth.

(LIT.: Petersen, Sören Kierkegaards Kristendums forkyadelse; Martensen, Aus meinen Leben; Kierkegaard, in the various Cyclop.; espec. Nordisk Konversationslexikon.

Henry Eyster Jacobs and John A. W. Haas, eds., The Lutheran Cyclopedia (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899), 262.

Renaissance Man

This explains the ideal of the Renaissance Man, the individual who masters a wide range of fields in both the arts and sciences. And the supreme instance was Leonardo da Vinci—scientist, inventor, mathematician, engineer, and above all, artist. For Leonardo, the painter was a “god” capable of creating images at will. His Vitruvian Man (named after a Roman architect who calculated the body’s ideal proportions) expresses the neo-Platonic idea that the human being is a microcosm uniting the two realms of spirit and matter. “In the iconography of the day,” explains a historian, “the square was generally taken as symbolic of the earth while the circle was representative of the eternity of heaven.” In Leonardo’s image, then, the ideal human is “both of this earth and heaven . . . the unifier of the universe.”

Did this polymath fulfill the Renaissance goal then of overcoming “man’s dualistic nature”? Sadly no, says philosopher Giovanni Gentile. As an engineer and mathematician, Leonardo anticipated the mechanistic worldview that arose soon afterward in the scientific revolution—a vision of nature “ordered in a closed and fixed system, necessary and mechanically invariable.” Yet as an artist, Leonardo never stopped seeking to capture the ideal or the universal. In a poignant passage, Gentile speaks of “the anguish and the innermost tragedy of this universal man, divided between his irreconcilable worlds.” Standing at the threshold of modernity, Leonardo is a symbol of the modern mind and its tragic inability to find a unified truth.

Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (Nashville: B&H, 2010).

 

When Jesus Wept

The Angers Apocalypse Tapestry, The Tears of St John, Maine-et-Loire: Château d’Angers, c.1373 © Centre des monuments nationaux

THE CONVERT
G.K. Chesterton

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways, and heard what all men said…
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live

John 11:32–44

32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. 34 And He said, “Where have you laid him?”
They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”
37 And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”

Revelation 21:1–6

21 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.


There are times in all of our lives when our burdens seem too heavy to bear. Common fears and insecurities, though individually small, can become overwhelming when they pile upon our heart. Some, like the death of a loved one, are large on their own and though none of us are spared, we feel individually assaulted. In those dark days when our clouds deny the sun, it’s easy to believe that God is far and inattentive.

We take some comfort to read Jesus saying “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”, but it is His tears at the grave of Lazarus that reach us. Though the Lord knew He was moments away from raising his friend from the dead, His mighty heart was broken by the grief of Martha. Yes, the resurrection is coming and someday all pain will cease. There’s comfort in that knowledge, but beyond a promise of better days, our Savior comes to weep with us.

As Ken Kovacs wrote in his book Out of the Depths:

The point is this: the everlasting life that Jesus gives is basically the same on both sides of the grave! Jesus gives life on both sides of the grave! This means that we don’t have to die in order to know something of Christ’s resurrection life. With Jesus, “Life is changed, not taken away.”  This also means that until that day—when “all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” as the English mystic Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) loved to say—until that day we can be confident that the life of Jesus meets us in our places of pain and torment and suffering, that Jesus’ anger rages against all the things, all the forces of death that cause us to weep; he weeps for us, he weeps with us, and his life-giving presence fills all those places of grief and absence that we know about all too well in our lives. Our tears mixed with his tears. Our tears, when mixed with his tears, flowing together, can actually become the place we encounter the Lord of Life! This means we are people—saints!—that witness God’s new life in the midst of this dying world; God’s resurrection life bring us to life, even in this life marked by tears and pain and sorrow—this is the work of God making all things new!

The poet Emily Dickinson expressed this masterfully:

Savior! I’ve no one else to tell—
And so I trouble thee.
I am the one forgot thee so—
Dost thou remember me?
Nor, for myself, I came so far—
That were the little load—
I brought thee the imperial Heart
I had not strength to hold—
The Heart I carried in my own—
Till mine too heavy grew—
Yet—strangest—heavier since it went—
Is it too large for you?

How have your tears connected you to Jesus?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Julian of Norwich

She was, by her own description, a simple creature.  Shy and adverse to attention, she was a recluse of self-imposed sequestration. Her room was a cell from which she had limited contact with the outside world and though her writings were virtually unknown during her lifetime, she is a towering pioneer of English literature.

Emily Dickinson?  Yes, but 500 years ahead of her came Julian of Norwich.

Unlike Dickinson who apparently wrote continuously, Julian’s writing is limited to a single known book which has come to be called Revelations of Divine Love.  She just called it Showings.  The book is based on sixteen visions she experienced at thirty years of age: fifteen on May 8, 1373 and another on the following day. She saw visions of the sufferings of Christ and of the Trinity and then meditated on these visions for twenty years.  Her book contains the visions and her interpretations.

So why has this obscure little book from a reclusive woman so greatly impacted literature and liturgy?  For one, it is the earliest known writing of prose by a woman in the English language.  More significance lies in the power of her words.

In his work Seeds of Destruction, Thomas Merton wrote

“Julian is without doubt one of the most wonderful of all Christian voices. She gets greater and greater in my eyes as I grow older, and whereas in the old days I used to be crazy about St John of the Cross, I would not exchange him now for Julian if you gave me the world and the Indies and all the Spanish mystics rolled up in one bundle. I think that Julian of Norwich is with Newman the greatest English theologian.”

Beyond her theological impact, her life has influenced literature as well, including T.S. Eliot.  Eliot found Julian’s hopeful, simple view of the power of God’s goodness to be a microcosm of the church at large.  In Julian the rituals of the devotional life were extensible to the redeeming power of God’s love.  His masterwork Four Quartets cannot be fully understood absent an understanding of his references to Julian and others (including John of the Cross and the writer of The Cloud of Unknowing.)

Rick Wilcox

Life In The Spirit

Little Dancer, Fourteen Year Old
Edgar Degas
Original Title: Petite danseuse de quatorze ans
Date: 1881

THE MOOR
R.S. Thomas

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God there was made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In a movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.

Romans 8:1–11

8 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.


Over seven hundred years ago an unknown monk wrote an essay to his student who had asked for help with prayer.  That document, now known as The Cloud of Unknowing is among the oldest English language works, and it has been in continuous print ever since.  Listen to its rich prose:

You only need a naked intent for God.
When you long for him, that’s enough.
We can’t think our way to God.
That’s why I’m willing to abandon everything I know,
to love the one thing I cannot think.
God can be loved, but not thought.

The book speaks of seeking God through contemplation, by emptying your mind rather than filling it with thoughts.  In this sense, prayer picks up where our earthly abilities fail.

As Ken Kovacs writes in his book Out of the Depths:

Between now and the day when death has finally lost its sting and sin is swallowed up in love, we find ourselves in the midst of a cosmic struggle between two “minds”: the mind or mentality of the flesh (the attitude, the mind at odds with God) and the mind or mentality of the Spirit, the Spirit who embodied and extends the creative work of Jesus Christ. Paul believed that every person who is in Christ is not ultimately under the domain of the flesh, but under the domain of the Spirit. Indeed, to be in Christ, to be incorporated into him means that the Spirit is influencing us, actually dwelling within us, deep within the depths of our spirits. He wants them to know that there is another law at work in us, the indwelling-life of God’s Spirit is within us. It is active and dynamic and powerful and a force to be reckoned with.

In the meantime, how do we know if our lives are being shaped by flesh or Spirit? How can we tell? “For those who live according to the flesh,” Paul writes, “set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the things of the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


THE INTERIOR VIDEO

The woman could blow like silk across the stage or drive like a storm through the corps de ballet. To watch this world-class ballerina was to behold light and grace in human form. But if you would ask her about her own experience as source of beauty and inspiration you would see only a vacant stare of shocked disbelief. She would speak instead of an obsessive and torturously perfectionist mind that left her grinding her teeth. She described her inner state as a series of internal videos that constantly played and that she constantly watched. Her attention was routinely stolen by them.

What were these videos that played in her head? Usually something about how she wasn’t quite up to standard—not just regarding ballet but any aspect of her life. This accompanied another series of videos concerning her intense anger. The anger registered in her body as a clenched jaw and a physique completely free of any suggestion of fat. Deeper than the anger, though, was the fear: fear of what the critics might say of her dancing, fear that her husband might wake up one day and decide to leave her, fear of being alone.

There were a lot of videos about pain. The most debilitating concerned some very old pain from childhood. One day her mother walked into her bedroom as she sat looking at herself in the mirror. The mother said to her, “I hope you don’t think you’re beautiful.” She was indeed beautiful. In every season of life—as a young girl, an adolescent, a young adult, a mature woman—she was beautiful. But this beauty became a gag knotted behind her: for she believed she was ugly. When as a teenager she won a highly prized scholarship to study ballet, her mother said, “Why would they give you that? Everybody knows you’ve got two left feet.” And so, although she has danced to great acclaim all over the world, she believes she’s a klutz with two left feet. All of this plays in her head. Even if she isn’t watching the video and pressing rewind to watch it again, and then again, and yet again, the video still plays in the background, like that dirge music in malls and lifts. This video was the cage that kept her running in tight circles.

She did find solace. She took long walks out on the Yorkshire moors. If she walked long enough, her roiling mind would begin to settle. The expanse of heather was scented balm that soothed the throbbing anger, fear, and pain. She described how on one occasion her anxiety began to drop like layers of scarves. Suddenly she was aware of being immersed in a sacred presence that upheld her and everything.

While this experience out on the moors happened only once, it proved a real turning point in her life and drew her into the way of prayer. She knew from her own experience that there was something in her that was deeper than her pain and anxiety and that when the chaos of the mind was quieted, the sense of anguish gave way to a sense of divine presence. R. S. Thomas recounts this sentiment movingly in his poem, “The Moor.”

What both the ballet dancer and R. S. Thomas seem to realize is that our own awareness, our own interiority, runs deeper than we realize. If we turn within and see only noise, chaos, thinking, anxiety—what R. S. Thomas calls “the mind’s kingdom,” then we have not seen deeply enough into the vast and expansive moors of human awareness. When the wandering, roving mind grows still, when fragmented craving grows still, when the “heart’s passions” are rapt in stillness, then is “the mind’s cession of its kingdom,” a great letting go as a deeper dimension of the human person is revealed. From this depth God is seen to be the ground of both peace and chaos, one with ourselves and one with all the world, the ground “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This depth of silence is more than the mere absence of sound and is the key. As R. S. Thomas puts it, “the silence holds with its gloved hand the wild hawk of the mind.”

Followers of the Christian path have been singing this song of silence for centuries. In his Confessions St. Augustine goes so far as to say that the discovery of the various levels of silence is what it means to “Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Mt25: 21). St. John Climacus says, “The friend of silence comes close to God.” Meister Eckhart says, “The noblest attainment in this life is to be silent and let God work and speak within.” John of the Cross says, “The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence must It be heard by the soul.” In the Cherubinic Wanderer Angelus Silesius says, “God far exceeds all words that we can here express. In silence he is heard, in silence worshipped best.”

What is this silence? It is certainly more than the mere absence of physical sound. More important to realize, however, is that this ineffable reality that the word “silence” points to is not something that we need to acquire, like a piece of software we can install in the computer of our spiritual lives. It is pointing to something that is already within us, grounding all mental processes, whether precise, disciplined thinking or chaotic mental obsession.

Laird, Martin. Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (pp. 20-24). Oxford University Press.

 

Caring With A Shepherd’s Heart

The Good Shepherd, Catacombs of Priscilla, Rome

Psalm 23

1  The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
3  He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

John 10:11–18

11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. 17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

1 John 3:18–24

18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. 22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. 23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. 24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.


To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, Jesus isn’t safe, but He’s good. Like Aslan from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Jesus is King: He always affirms His sovereignty. Our modern impression of The Good Shepherd is undoubtedly correct in its understanding of Christ’s compassion, but we miss the mark when we think it means our Savior is somehow vacant of ferocity.

As Ken Kovacs writes in his book Out of the Depths:

The image of Yahweh as shepherd takes on flesh in Jesus who said, “I am the good shepherd.” He is more than a metaphor. He is the real thing. This is a very significant statement. Unfortunately, too often Jesus’ claim has been domesticated and made into something as docile as a well-behaved sheep. “Good” has been equated with “nice.” It’s sometimes (mis)understood as, “I am the nice shepherd.” But “good” doesn’t do justice to the text. It’s not that Jesus is a well-behaved shepherd who really knows how to do his job without offending anyone. The Greek word for “good” is agathos. In this text, John reads, kalos. Kalos means “noble.” Jesus is really saying, “I am the noble shepherd.” By “noble” Jesus is claiming for himself an identity and authority reserved for Yahweh. “Noble” refers to Jesus’ kingly rule over every other political and social authority. Jesus is being very intentional here. He is placing himself in that long line of shepherd-kings that began with David, who led his people with compassion and with power, with justice and with love. The Old Testament prophets promised that another shepherd-king would come, like David, who would lead the people with equity, justice, and peace. The shepherd is a metaphor of governance. By describing himself as the noble shepherd, Jesus is claiming for himself the very same symbol and image of Yahweh found through the Old Testament.

Is Jesus meek?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 The Good Shepherd

The title of Christ based esp. on His discourse in Jn. 10:7–18 and the parable of the Good Shepherd in Lk. 15:3–7 (cf. Mt. 18:12–14). The theme, which rests partly upon OT imagery (esp. Is. 40:11 and Ezek. 34), is taken up later in the NT, e.g. in Heb. 13:20 and 1 Pet. 2:25 and 5:4. In early Christian art Christ was frequently represented (e.g. in the *catacombs) as the Good Shepherd with a lamb upon His shoulders. The Second Sunday after *Easter has sometimes been known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’, on account of the traditional Gospel for the day, which in the RC Church is now used in only one year out of three.

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 694.

Yahweh as Shepherd

This pastoral image for Yahweh is not unrelated to other metaphors for governance, for a long tradition reckons human kings as shepherds of the flock—that is, the community (cf. Isa 44:28; Ezek 37:24). The image evokes a wise, caring, attentive agent who watches over, guards, feeds, and protects a flock that is vulnerable, exposed, dependent, and in need of such help.

The most important usages of the image of Yahweh as shepherd appear in the exile. The exile is said to be a time when the flock was “scattered”; that term is used regularly to refer to the exile. The work of the shepherd Yahweh is to gather the sheep in safety, often when they are exposed to serious danger. The imagery of the gathering shepherd is a powerful one:

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep. (Isa 40:11)

He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd a flock. (Jer 31:10)

The fullest exposition of the theme is in Ezekiel 34. In that narrative, commenting on Israel’s past and future, the shepherd-kings of the Davidic dynasty are indicted for being irresponsible shepherds, who by their neglect caused the exile (vv. 3–6; Jer 23:1; 50:6). Yahweh’s response to the crisis of the flock in exile is twofold. Major attention is given to the rescue of the flock, which royal neglect has placed in great jeopardy. Yahweh will act as a proper and responsible shepherd in order to recover the flock:

I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited part of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. (Ezek 34:13–16)

Yahweh will not only restore the flock. Yahweh will also attend in harshness to the “fat sheep” who abuse and exploit, who deny food to the “lean sheep,” and who trample the pasture (vv. 7–19).
In this assertion, the positive image of shepherd turns harsh and negative; the shepherd looks harshly on exploitative sheep, and distinguishes between strong, abusive sheep, and vulnerable, weak sheep. Thus the good shepherd attends especially to the most vulnerable sheep—in this case, needy exiles.

On the basis of this imagery, Israel appeals to Yahweh, “shepherd of Israel,” for help: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!” (Ps 80:1). On the basis of the same imagery, moreover, the most familiar Psalm 23 can be seen, not as an isolated poem, but as a full statement of a recurrent metaphor for Yahweh. In Psalm 23 Yahweh the shepherd is the subject of a series of life-giving verbs: lead, restore, be with, prepare, anoint. Yahweh does everything that must be done so that the trusting sheep may live; Yahweh provides what they cannot secure for themselves.

In the use of this metaphor, Israel also provides texts that speak not only about the shepherd, but also about the sheep. Thus Israel, as the flock of Yahweh, lives in glad trust of the shepherd:

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand. (Ps 95:7)

Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Ps 100:3; cf. Ps 79:13)

These psalms echo the confidence of Psalm 23. But Israel’s honest testimony also recognizes the jeopardy of the flock. Sometimes the trouble is the fault of Yahweh, who has been inattentive and neglectful (Pss 44:11, 22; 74:1); but sometimes the sheep have gone astray (Isa 53:6). Thus the imagery holds potential for a rich variety of reflections and affirmations concerning Israel’s proper relation to Yahweh, Yahweh’s inclination toward Israel, and the right ordering of the communal life of Israel.

This imagery functions in dramatic ways in the New Testament. Jesus is the good shepherd who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). Jesus comes upon a great crowd who were “like sheep without a shepherd,” for whom he has compassion (Mark 6:34). And clearly the parable in Luke 15:3–7 is freighted enough to make a statement about Jesus, surely enough to witness to the Shepherd whom Israel has long confessed and long trusted.

Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 259–261.

ART: The Roman Catacombs see https://literarylife.org/2017/07/03/paintings-in-the-roman-catacombs/

 

Presbyterians And Predestination

Genesis from The St. John’s Bible

Psalm 24

1 The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell therein.
2 For He has founded it upon the seas,
And established it upon the waters.

3 Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully.
5 He shall receive blessing from the LORD,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6 This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face.
Selah

7 Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
The LORD mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
He is the King of glory.
Selah

Ephesians 1:3–14

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. 11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.


RickJohn Calvin generally gets a bad rap for the brand of Calvinism that basically says that God predestined some people for heaven and others for hell.  While many people do believe that, it’s a bad reading of Calvin and a worse reading of the Bible.

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin wrote:

We are not to reflect on the wickedness of men but to look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, an image which, by its beauty and dignity, should allure us to love and embrace them.

John Calvin was a humble man, though Voltaire went on to call him the “Pope of the Protestants.” He saw every man as an image bearer of God and therefore immeasurably valuable. As Ken Kovacs writes in his book Out of the Depths:

The doctrine that consumed Calvin, and you can see it in the first ten pages of the Institutes, was the doctrine of creation. What I mean by this is not creationism, although Calvin believed in a literal reading of Genesis, but a view of the glory of God found in the created order, which, to the eyes of faith, gives profound witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. Calvin said, “There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice,” and, therefore, we are “not only to be spectators in this beautiful theatre but to enjoy the vast bounty and variety of good things which are displayed to us in it.” Calvin approaches this amazing world, the “theatre of God’s glory,” as he liked to say, with awe, amazement, or as he said, “wonderment.” God’s rule over the creation is sovereign. Our lives are held in the sovereignty of God. The beauty of creation overwhelmed Calvin, as did the beauty of God (yes, beauty), the God who has called, claimed, loved, and redeemed us in Jesus Christ. And so Calvin invites us to serve this God in the theatre of God’s glory, the world. Marilynne Robinson reminds us that “Calvin was a product of Renaissance humanism, a student of Greek and Roman classics who reread Cicero [106 BC-43 BC] every year, a writer of exceptional grace and lucidity in both Latin and French, a man of prodigious learning, who did not dwell on damnation but rather exulted in a sovereign but not at all distant God, a God whose glory was manifest in the goodness of the world and the potential of humanity.

Is predestination the same as predeterminism?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 Marilynne Robinson and John Calvin

Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson

“I want to overhear passionate arguments about what we are and what we are doing and what we ought to do. I want to feel that art is an utterance made in good faith by one human being to another. I want to believe there are geniuses scheming to astonish the rest of us, just for the pleasure of it.”

Marilynne Robinson, from The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought

John Calvin
John Calvin

“We have the love of God towards us testified also by many other proofs. For if it be asked, why the world has been created, why we have been placed in it to possess the dominion of the earth, why we are preserved in life to enjoy innumerable blessings, why we are endued with light and understanding, no other reason can be adduced, except the gratuitous love of God.

But the Apostle here has chosen the principle evidence of it, and what far surpasses all other things. For it was not only an immeasurable love, that God spared not his own Son, that by his death he might restore us to life; but it was goodness the most marvelous, which ought to fill our minds with the greatest wonder and amazement. Christ, then, is so illustrious and singular a proof of divine love towards us, that whenever we look upon him, he fully confirms to us the truth that God is love.

He calls him his only begotten, for the sake of amplifying. For in this he more clearly showed how singularly he loved us, because he exposed his only Son to death for our sakes. In the meantime, he who is his only Son by nature, makes many sons by grace and adoption, even all who, by faith, are united to his body. He expresses the end for which Christ has been sent by the Father, even that we may live through him: for without him we are all dead, but by his coming he brought life to us; and except our unbelief prevents the effect of his grace, we feel it in ourselves.”

John Calvin, from his commentary on 1 John 4:9

The St. John’s Bible

Genesis from The St. John’s Bible

The Saint John’s Bible is the first completely handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the invention of the printing press.

Beginning in 1970, master calligrapher Donald Jackson expressed in media interviews his lifelong dream of creating an illuminated Bible. Following a Saint John’s University-sponsored calligraphy presentation at the Newberry Library in Chicago in 1995, Jackson discussed a handwritten Bible with Fr. Eric Hollas, OSB, former executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Between 1996 and 1997, Saint John’s explored the feasibility of the Bible project, Jackson created first samples, and theologians developed the illumination schema. The Saint John’s Bible was officially commissioned in 1998 and funding opportunities were launched. The public was introduced to the project in 1999 and production was completed in 2011, with the final word penned in May 2011 and touch-up work completed by December 2011.

The Saint John’s Bible is divided into seven volumes and is two feet tall by three feet wide when open. The Bible is made of vellum, with 160 illuminations. The version of the Bible used is the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSV-CE).[1] A copy of the Bible has been presented to the Pope at the Vatican in several volumes, with the final volume being presented on 17 April 2015.[2]

The scriptorium of The Saint John’s Bible is located in Monmouth, Wales.

 

Love The One You’re With

The Cliff Dwellers by George Bellows (1913)

LOVE AFTER LOVE
Dereck Wolcott

The day will come
the time will come
when with elation

you will greet yourself
arriving at your own door
and each will smile at each others welcome

saying sit here, eat
you will love again the stranger who was yourself
Give wine, give bread
give back your heart to yourself

to the stranger who has loved you all your life
who you ignored for another
who knows you by heart

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes
feel your own image in the mirror, see it
Feast on your life.

Psalm 86

1 Bow down Your ear, O LORD, hear me;
For I am poor and needy.
2 Preserve my life, for I am holy;
You are my God;
Save Your servant who trusts in You!
3 Be merciful to me, O Lord,
For I cry to You all day long.
4 Rejoice the soul of Your servant,
For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.

6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer;
And attend to the voice of my supplications.
7 In the day of my trouble I will call upon You,
For You will answer me.

8 Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord;
Nor are there any works like Your works.
9 All nations whom You have made
Shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
And shall glorify Your name.
10 For You are great, and do wondrous things;
You alone are God.

11 Teach me Your way, O LORD;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.
12 I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And I will glorify Your name forevermore.
13 For great is Your mercy toward me,
And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14 O God, the proud have risen against me,
And a mob of violent men have sought my life,
And have not set You before them.
15 But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious,
Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.

16 Oh, turn to me, and have mercy on me!
Give Your strength to Your servant,
And save the son of Your maidservant.
17 Show me a sign for good,
That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,
Because You, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.

Romans 13:8–10

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.


We waste a lot of energy talking about self-esteem.  The human heart intuitively longs to give and receive a love based on the priceless worth of the soul which can only be realized in the union of the creation and its Creator.  We chase hard after self-esteem when self-worth is what we already possess.  Our value does not have to be earned.

As Ken Kovacs says in his book Out of the Depths:

Writing toward the end of his life, Carl Jung argued that the “acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life.” Then he addressed his concerns directly at the Church, targeting Christians who pride themselves on their virtuous life and good deeds, yet don’t know how to love themselves. The Church needs to hear this today; Christians need to wrestle with what he said because I think Jung gets right to the core of what’s wrong within Christianity and what’s wrong with so much of the Church these days— we have yet to fully embrace and embody the implications of the gospel.

Jung wrote:

“That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ—all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself—that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness—that I myself am the enemy who must be loved—what then?”

What is your understanding of loving yourself?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Carl Jung

Carl Jung

Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist, prolific writer, and founder of analytical (Jungian) psychology. Many consider him the father of psychospirituality for his distinct contribution to the psychology of religion. He was born Karle Gustav II Jung in a small town in Switzerland, the only surviving child of Paul Achilles Jung, a rural pastor of the Swiss Reformed Church, and Emilie Preiswerk. Jung was married (1903–1955) to Emma Rauschenbach until her death, and together they had five children.

Jung was influenced by the great philosophers Plato, Immanuel Kant, and Arthur Schopenhauer, as well as by his travels abroad and the world religions he studied extensively. In his early years, he was mentored by psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler (1857–1939), and later, by psychiatrist/neurologist/psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939).

The close friendship Jung had with Freud for many years did not survive their ideological differences. Among other things, Jung disagreed with Freud’s emphasis on sexuality as a prime source of motivation, his disdain for religion and the belief that it was a neurosis to be cured, and his theory of the unconscious.

Jung continuously wrestled with core concepts of Christianity, believing that life has a spiritual purpose beyond the material world, and that the heart of all religions is the journey of individual transformation (individuation). Yet to him the institution of religion distorted and obstructed true spirituality and healing, while the absence of religion was a main cause of psychological disorders. To this day, Jung influences psychology, the wider society, and Christianity with his theory of personality types and his concept of archetypes (universally recognizable symbols of personality).

Others of his famous concepts include the collective unconscious (versus the personal unconscious), the meaning and interpretation of dreams, the meaning and use of symbols and rituals, and the shadow (repressed weaknesses and instinct of the unconscious mind). He believed that if the shadow is not consciously acknowledged and integrated, it will become darker and impede healing and transformation. Jung paved the way for many different schools of psychology and psychotherapy, and created an indelible bridge between psychology and spirituality that still influences us today.

Art:  The Cliff Dwellers by George Bellows (1913)

Cliff Dwellers was exhibited in the 1913 Armory Show, which Bellows helped organize. The painter captures the colorful crowd on New York City’s Lower East Side. It appears to be a hot summer day. People spill out of tenement buildings onto the streets, stoops, and fire escapes. Laundry flaps overhead and a street vendor hawks his goods from his pushcart in the midst of all the traffic. In the background, a trolley car heads toward Vesey Street. Shadowing is evident throughout this painting as make out the distance of each building based on the light and dark shade of each one. This also helps make the crowd seem deeper than we can actually see.

The perception of such a large crowd contrasts with the immediate foreground, which leads our eye specifically to the subjects in this area and therefore displaying their significance to this painting. Looking further into the composition of Cliff Dwellers specifically in the system of colors used, The Paintings of George Bellows”, a commentary on most of Bellows’ work, states that: “Bellows continued to use Maratta’s system to select the palettes of the paintings through 1913… Cliff Dwellers, painted in May 1913, was the exception, representing his most complex exploration of the Maratta color system.” The significance of Bellows’ willingness to stray away from his usual system of color and choose a more monochromatic scale of colors, shows the audience how unique this piece of art is and how it differs from all other works not only in subject or theme but also in color. The painting, made in 1913, suggests the new face of New York.

Between 1870 and 1915, the city’s population grew from one-and-a-half to five million, largely due to immigration. Many of the new arrivals—Italian, Jewish, Irish, and Chinese—crowded into tenement houses on the Lower East Side—the area north of the Brooklyn Bridge, south of Houston Street, and east of the Bowery. Among them were thousands of Eastern European Jews, who found temporary or permanent shelter along streets such as East Broadway, the setting for Cliff Dwellers. The city had never seen this kind of density before. Within the context of Cliff Dwellers the audience is able to convey a sense of congestion, overpopulation and (primarily seen in the foreground) the impact of the city among the youth.

Within the book, The Paintings of George Bellows a historical account of how adamant “urban reformers” were during the early twentieth century as thousands of immigrants migrated to neighborhoods of New York. “The children in Bellows’s Cliff Dwellers, innocent as they appear, exhibited no effects of the requisite “Americanizing” process urban reformers considered crucial to the maintenance of social order.” Paired with the scrutiny heaped upon immigrants was the fact that they were made to live in conditions, which were made unbearable by the toll of industrialization within these areas. Small and dense were the living quarters of many who worked in similar environments in factories. Small, dense, dark, which can easily be seen within the painting and helps promote the idea of how industrialization has impacted the working class lifestyle. New York Realists were called by critics as the “revolutionary black gang” and the “apostles of ugliness.” A critic, referring to their depictions also conferred them the pejorative label Ashcan School which became the standard term for this first important American art movement of the 20th century.

For Further Reading: D. Bair, Jung (2003); J. Dourley, The Illnesses That We Are (1989); R. Hopcke, A Guided Tour of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung (1999); C. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ed. A. Jaffé, trans. R. and A. Winston (1989); R. Moore, Carl Jung and Christian Spirituality (1988).

Minoa Chang, “Jung, Carl G. (1875–1961),” ed. Glen G. Scorgie, Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 554–555.

To See With The Eyes Of Love

Relief from Abu Simbel in Egypt, Pharaoh Ramses is “crushing” one enemy while holding one beneath his feet

Matthew 5:38-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.


The world understands fairness to mean “getting even.” From the days of Hammurabi almost every code of justice includes the concept of retribution.  When we are enviably mistreated, our life becomes consigned to the bitterness of nursed grudges and imagined retaliation.  In worse cases, we even act on it and wage personal wars of various shades of violence.  Against this reality comes Jesus who tells us to turn the other cheek, and more so, to “be perfect.”  What are we to do with that?

In his book Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs writes:

Jesus says, “You have heard that is was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” Now, the Old Testament never says, “hate your enemy.” It does say something about loving your neighbor, which then led to the question – but who is my neighbor? The logic went something like this. Yes, Torah, the Law tells me I am to love my neighbor. But if I determine who is not my neighbor—if I define the limits of what constitutes “neighbor,” then that person is my enemy and I’ll be free to hate him or her, without violating the Jewish Law because he is, by definition, not my neighbor. Sure, I can love my neighbor. But those filthy Samaritans and those godless Gentiles, the Law does not apply to them because they’re not my neighbors, so I can hate them. Do you see their logic?

Jesus says, “But I say to you…” Here again, an anti-thesis, the gospel as contrary, the contravening of grace that sets the follower of Jesus off in an entirely different direction, with a different way, a different outlook, with a different logic, the unsettling logic of love. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus turns the Law on its head. He undermines the prevailing false logic of love reserved only for “neighbors.” Grace contravenes—breaks, flouts, disobeys, and even violates the normal way of doing things. Love your enemies—not just accept them, not just put up with them, not just tolerate them, but to love them. And even—to go an extra mile—pray for the very one who persecutes you.

Why does Jesus set the standard so high, so difficult?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Love of Enemy

The command to love one’s enemy (Matt. 5:38–48; Luke 6:27–38) is not exclusive to the Christian tradition. Jesus’ command forcefully summarizes, rather, a hope that has been common in many traditions from the wisdom of Babylon onward, namely, that hatred and revenge can be overcome. In Jesus, as in Greek philosophy, the aim is not a gradual overcoming of the idea of revenge but its elimination in principle. Already in Jesus’ own proclamation this radicalism has its basis in a reference to God’s turning in love to the world and humanity. In the Christian confession (Confession of Faith) this insight continues in the perception that God’s love for a hostile world, demonstrated by the cross and resurrection of Jesus, is the basis of all love of the enemy.

Since the proclamation of Jesus Christ aims to overcome revenge, it directly links love of enemy with renunciation of force. Jesus advocates herewith not only an ethos of mutual interaction but also a demand for a unilateral approach. The persuasive power of this demand lies primarily in the realism with which it applies to the situation of his hearers. Those of whom he demands love of enemy are first confronted with the fact that they have enemies. At the time of its formulation the demand can thus relate to the experience of the Jewish people, who were pursuing very effectively a strategy of nonviolent conflict resolution in their relations with Rome as an occupying power. The hyperbolic examples given by Jesus link such experience to the opportunities for freedom from force. Yet the demand of Jesus goes beyond this experience. Formulated in the most general way, it refers to the coming of the dominion of God (Kingdom of God). All enmity will then be at an end. This reference shows, however, that the experience of enmity and violence belongs to the old and passing world. Those who become followers of Jesus (Discipleship) have a share in overcoming this world.

The radical nature of the law of love of enemy does not lie in the extension of the circle of friendship to those whom one would normally regard as enemies. This application would simply be an invitation to render enmity innocuous. The point is that the enemy is now defined as one to be loved. The scope of the command is the religious and national enemy, as well as one’s personal enemies.

The Christian tradition has continually evaded the radicalness of this love of one’s enemy. The reduction of the commands of the Sermon on the Mount to consilia evangelica (evangelical counsels) works just as much in this direction as does their restriction to the area of private enmity.

The question of the political rationality (Reason) of love of enemy has reached its climax in the atomic age, thus revealing how dubious is the concept of a politics that regards the distinction between friend and enemy as normal (C. Schmitt). Expressing political enmity by the weapons of mass destruction makes it obvious that the attempt to gain one’s own security by increasing the risk of destruction for one’s enemy (the policy of deterrence) is bound to fail in the long run because it increases the danger of collective self-destruction rather than improving security. For a humanity that has now achieved destructive power over its own history, there is security only with the enemy, not against the enemy.

Such a policy of collective security is an insight of political reason; it forces us to see the political situation through the eyes of the enemy. This approach requires us to revise our picture of the enemy, the accomplishment of which must be a priority for the churches. The political form of loving one’s enemy does not consist in an illusionary denial of conflicts and clashes of interest but in an empathy that views these conflicts soberly and looks beyond them to find a sphere of common interests and possibilities of cooperation for the sake of peace.

Wolfgang Huber, “Enemy,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999–2003), 93–94.

Way Too Literal

The Last Supper, by El Greco (1541–1614),
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna

John 6:51-58

I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”


Much has be written about the content of Jesus’ teaching, but significantly less has been offered of His methods.  “Perhaps” as Herman Horne said “it is because of the feeling that reverence for Jesus as divine was inconsistent with the studies of His methods as a human teacher.”  It was, in fact His divinity that informed His methods.  John 2:24-25 says “…He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for he knew what was in man.”  Jesus’ surgical teaching techniques were employed to pierce man’s sin-clouded mind to reach his heart.  This was the Creator addressing His creation. This was God reaching the Imago Dei.

Rational minds often struggle with spiritual truth: metaphors are powerful bridges that Jesus employed with frequency.  In his book Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs wrote:

Being the consummate teacher, the rabbi, Jesus offers them a metaphor (bread as flesh/flesh as bread) to help them discover something of God’s mission in his life.  He uses a metaphor to reveal the truth.  But the religious leaders don’t understand.  Why not? Because they’re being literal.  As religious leaders they should have been more familiar with metaphor, how it works, how it helps to convey truth.  Instead, they respond the way many religious people do, then as now, by being too literal.  And it’s because they’re being too literal that they miss the message.  They couldn’t hear it.  And then they become angry and begin to quarrel amongst themselves.  This, too, is often what happens when we’re being too literal, especially in the world of religion and spirituality; we become frustrated. 

Literalism often hinders us from encountering truth; in fact, literalism is one of the besetting sins of our day.

Do you agree that literalism is a sin?  Why or Why not?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Fundamentalist Spirituality

Fundamentalism is “militantly anti-modernist Protestant evangelicalism,” in George Marsden’s term. Thus, its spirituality has mostly the same content as classic evangelical spirituality of the kind exhibited in the age of Dwight Moody. But fundamentalism took on a sharper edge in the institutional and ideological conflicts of its formative period in the early 20th century. Fundamentalism was a protest movement, a denominational renewal strategy, and a coalition of cobelligerents against liberalism. But as a spiritual tradition, it has had a few key commitments: truth, authority, and purity.

Fundamentalists lead with truth claims and consider the best test of authentic Christianity to be whether a person affirms true, biblical doctrine. Furthermore, the believer is under obligation not just to believe the truth, but also to “contend earnestly for the faith.” R. A. Torrey, whom Marsden called “one of the chief architects of fundamentalist thought,” frequently made the point that “Christ and His disciples attacked error.”
Closely related is the claim of authority. Fundamentalists emphasize submission to the absolute authority of the Bible as God’s Word. The literalism with which fundamentalism approaches the Bible entails that God’s will is generally so plain in the words of Scripture that any deviation is best explained as willful disobedience to God.

Following from these two commitments is the fundamentalist emphasis on purity. The church is to be composed of orthodox believers (that is, those who hold to a set of fundamental, or central, truths) with lifestyles of personal holiness rather than worldliness (that is, those who submit to the authority of God’s revealed will). The quest for purity has frequently led to multiple divisions within the churches, beginning with the attempt to drive the liberals from the old denominations, but usually ending up as an exodus of the fundamentalists from those bodies. Some fundamentalists insist on multiple degrees of separation, not only remaining visibly separate from liberals, but also maintaining separation from those who fail to separate.

Some elements of the fundamentalist spiritual temperament are related to the fortunes of the movement through the middle of the 20th century, as it lost most of its chosen battles within the denominations and the wider culture, especially in America. After the symbolic public discrediting of creationism in the 1925 Scopes trial, fundamentalists were increasingly excluded from traditional centers of prestige and influence. Since they already held that the church’s primary mission involves the spiritual tasks of evangelizing and making disciples, most fundamentalists found it natural to disengage from their cultures. Thus, the “militantly antimodern” leading edge of the movement has tended to reinforce a leaning toward privatizing and personalizing spirituality. However, because fundamentalism is a submovement within the larger stream of evangelical Protestantism, these distinguishing features only count for a small portion of fundamentalism’s spirituality. The bulk of the sermons, books, and magazines produced by fundamentalists are devoted to the standard topics of classic evangelical spirituality: conversion, prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship, personal holiness, revival, and trust in God.

For Further Reading: G. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (1980).

Fred Sanders, “Fundamentalist Spirituality,” ed. Glen G. Scorgie, Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 468–469.

 

What Is God Dreaming Through You?

Out Of The Depths
Ken Kovacs

The one who dreams through us is God—this is a bold claim, I know, but the text leads us to such conclusions. My own experience backs it up. Jacob didn’t have to ask for help; it just came. It was gift—sheer grace. He didn’t have a dream, the dream had him; it was given to him. And the dream spoke so clearly to his situation—telling him that his life is worthy of God’s divine protection and promise—“I am with you and I will guard you wherever you go.” The dream grants a future, grants him a telos. He didn’t have to worry about his future. When Jacob realized this, it provided him with the assurance he needed to fulfill the meaning and purpose of his life.

Genesis 28:10–19

Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously.” 


Is your life abundant? According to Henry David Thoreau, probably not.  In his masterwork Walden he said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  He might be correct, but that’s not the final verdict. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.”  He also said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”  If all of that is true, then why don’t most people draw near to Him?

In his book Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs said:

I think the knowledge and possibility of the “too much” overwhelms us and scares us, which is why we’re reluctant to go there, and why it’s easier to live on the surface with a superficial faith or why the Church gets sidetracked in soul-crushing debates or why we simply say to God, “Go away.” Perhaps we know that the more we acknowledge what’s within, when we become aware of our capacity, when we listen to the divine summons in the depths, the greater the responsibility. We’re conflicted, aren’t we? We might pray, “Be present in my life, God.” But we also hope, “But not too much.”

So yes, we are conflicted.  C.S. Lewis said it this way:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Ken Kovacs writes

There is so much more going on around us than we can imagine. There is so much more going on within us than we know. Our world is connected to another world, and that other world, so very close, as close as our dreams, is the source of life and grants meaning to our lives. What matters most in the life of faith is making that connection. The closing words at the end of E. M. Forster’s (1879-1970), Howard’s End, says it all: “Only connect.” Only connect. What matters most is the connection, the fluid movement between heaven and earth, up and down on that ramp. I think van der Post gets to the heart of what Jacob discovered in his dream: “No matter how abandoned and without help either in themselves or the world about them, men [and women] are never alone because that which, acknowledged or unacknowledged, dreams through them is always by their side.” By their side. And I would add, as I have learned, the one who dreams through us is also on our side. On our side.

 

 

 

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Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief

Created Good — For Good by Ken Kovacs

Ken Kovacs

“God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).  Not bad.  Not corrupt.  Not broken.  Not sinful.  Good.  Not good enough.  Not pretty good.  Good.  Actually, more than good.  Very good.  And not just part of creation.  All of it.  Everything.  The totality of all that is, including, humankind, male and female, created in the image of God—is good.

That’s essentially the sermon, today’s message.  That’s the gospel I want to proclaim today.  Simple, yet profound.  Staggering, really.  I want to lift up this one verse in this story, the first creation story in Genesis.  (There are actually two creation stories in Genesis, not one.)  And I want to draw your attention to one word “good.”

In order to flesh out the wider implications of this verse and this word, we need to step back and consider the book of Genesis.  There are some things that we need to know.  And because growing in knowledge always involves un-knowing or unlearning, there are things about the opening chapters of Genesis that we need to set aside.

The first thing we need to set aside is that the Book of Genesis, particularly the creation stories at the beginning, is not science. Genesis wasn’t written to give a scientific account for the creation of the world. This might sound confusing, since the word “genesis” suggests the beginning of something, and the text itself begins with those famous words, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).  The creation stories in Genesis, both of them, should not be read as theories of origins. And, they should not be read literally.

The second thing we need to set aside is the notion that Genesis is a book of history, providing an account of what actually took place.  The earth was not created in seven days.  The earth is old, hundreds of millions of years old.  Last Tuesday, I was in New York City to spend the day with my niece, Katia.  She’s almost four and she loves dinosaurs, like many her age. So we went to see the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History, of course. Walking around and under those dinosaur skeletons, considering their age, makes one feel very small and one’s life a mere blip in the history of the universe. It was a humbling experience, almost a religious experience.  Evolution cannot be denied.

What we need to know is that in the first two chapters of Genesis we find not one, but two contrasting creation stories. They come from two different periods in Israel’s history.  The second creation story begins at Genesis 2:4b, and is older than the one we find in chapter 1.  Chapter 1, the first creation story, was probably written in the sixth century B.C., and was addressed to Israelites during their exile in Babylon—this is essential to know.

You see, the authors of this story were not trying to make scientific claims.  They weren’t trying to refute theories of evolution, obviously—which is why we should not use this text to refute theories of evolution.  Instead—and this can’t be stressed enough—the authors of this story are making theological claims about Yahweh, about the Living God of Israel.  They are not trying to refute theories of evolution, but the alien theories or theological worldview of the Babylonians and their gods.  This story was written to a people in exile, people who had difficulty worshipping Yahweh in this strange land.  Doesn’t the Psalmist cry out, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1-4). How do we worship when we’re in exile?  Where is God?

Actually, scholars have shown that Genesis 1 was probably written as a liturgical text.[1]  It has order, rhythm, repetition that allows it to be used in worship, the worship of Yahweh in an alien land.  And in this liturgy, the worship service is making profound, extraordinary, radical claims about the nature of Yahweh, about Yahweh’s relationship to the world, about the people who believe and trust in Yahweh—all of this is being affirmed in an alien land, in a time of desperation, a time of crisis.  Where is God during this time of exile?  Is Yahweh really in control? Or are we at the mercy of other gods, hostile empires, alien philosophies, unfriendly cultures?  Walter Brueggemann says it so well, “This liturgy cuts underneath the Babylonian experience and grounds the rule of the God of Israel in a more fundamental claim, that of creation.”[2]  This text is addressed to a particular situation and makes this declaration: Yahweh—not the Babylonian gods—can be trusted, even when all the evidence around you might suggest otherwise. All the evidence can include exile, and sickness, poverty, unemployment, loneliness, lack of meaning, lack of purpose, every feeling of alienation and isolation, every human experience of abandonment.  Amid all of this, Yahweh can be trusted because Yahweh is the creator of the world and Yahweh is good and all that Yahweh creates is very good.

This is the bold theological claim that we find right at the beginning of the Bible.  Again, Brueggemann, beautifully captures the essential theme of Genesis, indeed all of scripture: “God and God’s creation are bound together in a distinctive and delicate way.  This is the presupposition for everything else that follows in the Bible.  It is the deepest promise from which good news is possible. God and [God’s] creation are bound together by the powerful, gracious movement of God towards creation. This text announces the deepest mystery: God wills and will have a faithful relationship with earth.  The text invites the listening community to celebrate that reality.”[3]

And the way God binds Godself to creation is through speech.  God speaks the universe into being, God said, ‘Let there be…”  “And there was…”  But the binding is strongest with human beings, created in God’s image.  God speaks only human beings and summons us to be good stewards of God’s good creation.  This is why the care of creation is an obligation for us as people of faith and why the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord is a grievous, disgraceful act for so many, especially people of faith.[4]  All of the good things created by God are given to human beings to extend the purpose of God’s good creation.  God and human beings are partners, creating and then sustaining the goodness of the creation, to ensure that creation fulfills its purpose.

Did you notice there’s no reference to sin or temptation or snakes or apples, mention of trees of different knowledge, no blame, no shame, no nakedness in this creation story, as we find in Genesis 2?  There’s no accounting for evil or the so-called fall.  Genesis 1 provides a very different theological framework for us.  I’m not suggesting that we can forget about Genesis 2 or cut it out of the Bible.  Sin is real, evil is real, our alienation from God, ourselves, from our neighbors is all-too-real in our lives and in the world.  We need to take sin and evil seriously and never underestimate their destructive power.

But, I wonder, if too much emphasis upon sin, too much preaching about total depravity, too much anxiety about possibly breaking God’s moral commands, too much worry about being good, hinders us from hearing the good new embedded in this text, right at the beginning of the Bible, the “presupposition,” as Brueggemann says, for all that follows in the Bible, including the life and witness of Christ.  Yes, sin is real and each of us have fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), but we are also created, called into being, in and through the goodness of God.  The world exists because God is good! You are here because God is good!  God is compassionate and full of grace.  All of the pain and suffering and sorrow and challenges of your life, notwithstanding, it is by virtue of God’s goodness that this world exists and our lives within it.  God is good.  God expresses God’s goodness by being trustworthy, faithful.

And when we know God as faithful, as trustworthy, as good we can relax and dwell and thrive in God’s good creation as the objects and subjects of God’s benevolence. It means we can rest in God’s beneficence, which is what the Sabbath was given for and remains for.

Sabbath is time set apart to rest and dwell and delight in God’s goodness.  It’s a time to give our anxious worrying about the future a rest.  It’s a time to refrain from grasping and achieving and controlling and managing and struggling and striving and working, in order to rest and abide and take delight in God’s goodness and the goodness of creation.  Indeed, theologian Jürgen Moltmann suggests that the culminating act of the creation story is not the creation of humankind, on the sixth day, but the creation of the Sabbath on the seventh day.  We were created to enjoy the goodness of God on the Sabbath and through Sabbath enjoyment experience the blessing and renewal of our lives, the renewal of all things.[5]

What we have in the opening of Genesis is a theology of blessing.  Three times the term “blessing” is used: of living creatures (v. 22), of human creatures (v. 28), and of the Sabbath (2:3).  By theology of blessing I don’t mean financial or material blessing or the heresies of the so-called prosperity gospel (although our financial resources and material possessions should be viewed as a form of blessing and, better, used to bless others).  This theology of blessing is  distinct from a theology of salvation, often found throughout the history of the Church.  A theology of blessing “refers to the generative power of life, fertility, and well-being that God has ordained within the normal flow and mystery of life.”[6]  Creation, itself, is God’s life-giving act of creating and recreating the world. This act of blessing flows through creation and our lives within it.  God blesses and blesses the creation.  All is given in goodness, in blessing, again and again.  You won’t find a similar theology of blessing in any other text of the ancient Near East.  This understanding of God’s goodness and blessing emerged from Israel’s experience with God.

God’s creative blessing is directly related to the good—and here we step into the world of aesthetics, away from ethics.  Five times God declares his creative work as “good.”  And then in verse 31, God declares the whole creation “very good.” The “good” here does not refer to a moral quality, but an aesthetic quality.  A better translated could be “lovely,” or “pleasing,” or my favorite: “beautiful.”

“God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very beautiful.”  This shift of meaning toward the aesthetic changes everything.  It moves us away from a moralistic view of God and the Bible toward the aesthetic, toward a celebration of the good as beautiful.  This was central to John Calvin (1509-1563) theology and the Reformed tradition, but it got lost over the last five hundred years, sadly.[7]

What if we saw our lives as created beautiful, created for beauty, created to make something beautiful of our lives and the world?

A sixth century mystic, Pseudo-Dionysius wrote, “Beauty is the source of all things…. It is the great creating cause which bestirs the world and holds all things in existence by the longing inside them to have beauty…It is the longing for beauty which actually brings them into being.”[8]

Today is Trinity Sunday.  The Revised Common Lectionary intentionally links the first creation account in Genesis 1 and the Great Commission in Matthew. The Triune God, who called everything into being, continues to call and send disciples to embody the gospel.  The good news of God is this: We were created good, for good, to do good works. We were created to bless the world.  We could also say we were created beautiful, created for beauty, created to do beautiful works, created to bless the world through beauty, through the cultivation of the beautiful.  Karl Barth (1886-1968) said, “God is beautiful.”[9]  And, we are created in the image of this beautiful God.

Being a disciple, sharing the gospel, then, means striving after the good, striving after, moving toward, the beautiful. Jesus himself said, “I am the good shepherd” (Jn. 10:11, 14).  The Greek in John is kalos, which doesn’t mean “good,” but “beautiful.” “I am the beautiful shepherd,” Jesus said.  To follow him is to follow after beauty.  We are called to follow beauty, to discern where beauty and goodness lead us.  And, didn’t Paul write to the Ephesians, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Eph. 2:10)? “Good works” here could be translated as God’s “poem,” or created as God’s “work of art.”  We are God’s work of art.  And we aren’t we given gifts of the Spirit, according to Paul, for the benefit of the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:17)?

Beauty, like goodness, attracts us, calls to us, lures us in.  Goodness, like beauty, exists.  It comes with creation.  Ann Belford Ulanov, former professor of religion and psychology at Union Seminary (NY), suggests that if we project out upon the world images of goodness and beauty, if we follow after the good and the beautiful, if that’s what we hope for and bring to the world around us, then goodness and beauty will have a way of emerging in our lives.[10]  If our image of God includes goodness, beauty, then our lives will reflect this image of the God we worship and we will discover the goodness, the beauty of our lives.

So, what if we opened ourselves toward the good, the beautiful?  What if we could better trust the good, see the good within us?  What if we decided to strive after the good, the beautiful in every aspect of our lives? What if we were intentional about receiving the good and the beautiful into our lives.  Just imagine how would transform the work of the Church and shape our personal outlook upon the world.  Consider how it would inform our actions, our choices. What if we sought the good and the beautiful for others?  Isn’t this, too, directly related to the gospel? Isn’t this what Jesus embodied in his beautiful life, and why God sent the Spirit, so that we can beautify the world? Isn’t this what we’re sent to do?

Of course!

So, you beautiful people, let us go—in the name of

the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

Ken has been pastor of Catonsville Presbyterian Church since October 1999.  Prior to coming to CPC, he was associate pastor/ acting head of staff at the First “Hilltop” Presbyterian Church, Mendham, NJ; and assistant minister at the St. Leonard’s Parish Church, St. Andrews, Scotland (UK).  Ken is a graduate of Rutgers College (B. A.), Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and the University of St. Andrews (Ph.D.), St. Andrews, Scotland (UK).  He also studied at Yale Divinity School, Yale University.  Ken serves on the board of trustees of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary, Atlanta, GA; and is on the board of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians. He just completed a five-year term on the General Assembly’s Committee on Theological Education.  Ken enjoys reading history, writing, traveling, listening to classical music, playing fetch with his cat, Angus, and all things Scottish (yes, including haggis).

ENDNOTES

[1] Brueggemann, Genesis (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 29ff.
[2] Brueggemann, 25.
[3] Brueggemann, 22.
[4] Some Christians, however, are more skeptical about climate change, see.
[5] Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God (HarperSanFrancsico, 1991), 276ff.
[6] Brueggemann, 37.  Brueggemann is drawing upon Samuel Terrien’s The Elusive Presence (1979).
[7] Belden C. Lane, Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
[8] Pseudo-Dionysius, The Divine Names, cited in Lane, vii.
[9] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II/1 (1970), cited in Lane, vii.
[10] Ann Belford Ulanov, from a talk given to the Jung Society of Washington at American University, Washington, DC, 3rd June.