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?

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.

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).

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?

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 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.

 

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.

 

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.