Thursday, October 23, 2014

Feast of James of Jerusalem, Brother of our Lord


Grant, O God, that, following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Icon written by Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, friend of Padre Mickey's Dance Party
Let’s talk about siblings; not everyone has brothers and sisters, but if you do, I have a question: Did you always get along with your brothers and sisters? If your family is like most families, I would say 'probably not.' Usually there is some sibling rivalry in a family and there can be some competition between the children; competition for the attention of the parents, competition in the area of school work, competition in sports and winning awards. I am the eldest of four children, and the birth order is boy-girl-boy-girl, and there is eighteen months between my sister Melanie and I and eighteen months between Melanie and Jim and then four years between Jim and Marcella. Melanie and I are close in age and close in interests and close in abilities. We are both musicians, we both work in churches, and we have similar tastes in art, literature, music and politics. We are both rather competitive and always have been so. When I was trying to learn my multiplication tables, Melanie was right there paying attention and actually learning them. That's just normal sibling rivalry. Maybe your relationship with your siblings is similar, and maybe they think that you overshadow them or you thing that they overshadow you. I think that this is pretty normal in sibling relationships. But imagine having a brother who calls himself "the Son of Man," who wanders around the country, attracting crowds, healing the sick, bringing sight to the blind, preaching forgiveness of sins and proclaiming the coming of the Reign of God. Talk about overshadowing! How do you compete with someone like that?

Today is the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, the brother of our Lord, Jesus Christ. James was one of Jesus' four brothers, but we don't know about birth order; some traditions each that the brothers and sisters mentioned in the gospels were Joseph's children from a previous marriage or that they were actually Jesus' cousins. These are good explanations for those who believe that Mary was "ever virgin." Personally, it seems more probable to me that Joseph and Mary had a normal marriage and produced several children. From what we read in the gospels, it seems that Jesus and his family didn't really get along that well; do your remember the story of Mary sending his brothers after him because the family was worried that he was crazy? Did Jesus say to his brothers, "Tell Mom I'll be there once I'm finished talking with these folks"? No, he said, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? Everyone who works for the Reign of God is my mother and sister and brother." That answer wouldn't have gone over well with my mother! We don't know what James told his mother back home about what Jesus was doing; we don't know if he told her that Jesus was alright and that he was only doing the will of God. We know that Jesus wasn't well received back home because everyone knew him, but we don't know if his brothers and sisters were part of the unreceptive group. We do know that James was an important leader in the Early Church along with Peter, and we know from Paul's writings and from the Acts of the Apostles that James was the head of the Church in Jerusalem. It was James whom Paul visited when in Jerusalem, and it was James who, after hearing of Paul's mission to the Gentiles decided that the Gentiles would not have to adhere to the Mosiac covenant and be circumcised but adhere to the Noachian covenant, avoiding sexual promiscuity, not eating food sacrificed to idols, and not eating meat from animals which had been strangled, or meat which still had blood in it. We also know that James was one of those to whom Jesus appeared after the Resurrection.
According to Clement of Alexandria, as quoted by Bishop Eusebius, the first historian of the Church, James was the first bishop of Jerusalem. James was a very important figure to the Jewish Christians and his importance is reflected in chapter 12 of the Gospel of Thomas, an early gospel which was not accepted by the Church. It is a collection of sayings of Jesus, and chapter 12 reads: The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."

According to the Jewish party in the Early Church, James represented Israel, and this is reflected in that passage. James was called the Just or Righteous because of his strict adherence to the Torah. According to Clement of Alexandria, James was: Holy from birth; he drank no wine or intoxicating liquor and ate no animal food; no razor came near his head; he did not smear himself with oil and took no baths. He alone was permitted to enter the Holy Place (Holy of Holies in the Temple), for his garments were not of wool but of linen. He used to enter the Sanctuary alone, and was often found on his knees beseeching forgiveness for the people, so that his knees grew hard like a camel's from his continually bending them in worship of God and beseeching forgiveness for the people. Because of his unsurpassable righteousness he was called the Righteous and bulwark of the People. If it is true that he entered the Holy of Holies, then James was a High Priest of the Temple, which was an important position within the community, both Jewish and Christian (It would also mean that he did take baths, as a ritual bath on the part of the priest is an aspect of the Yom Kippur liturgy). According to Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, James was well respected by Jews and Christians because of his righteousness. Some traditions, especially those of the Ebionites, a first-century Jewish-Christian sect, taught that James performed miracles just like Jesus.
I mentioned earlier that the family of Jesus wasn't always supportive of his ministry; we know from scripture that they worried that he might have been a bit crazy, and his brothers were sent by their mother to bring him home. Was James one of the brothers sent to fetch Jesus? Did he think that his brother was behaving strangely by wandering all over Galilee healing and preaching? We don't know what James thought at the time but we do know that he came to accept his brother as Lord. According ot St. Paul, Jesus appeared to James after the Resurrection, and if James had harbored any doubts about his brother's ministry, rest assured that they were swept away by this appearance! The experience was so life-changing that, although James remained a strict follower of the Torah, he also became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, the first Church. James, just like his brother, was a strong defender and supporter of the poor, as was the Jerusalem Church. The name Ebionites, can be translated to mean "the poor." Paul collected donations for the poor, and these funds were sent back to James and the Church in Jerusalem.

Jesus was executed with the support of the religious authorities of Jerusalem, and according to both Josephus and Clement, as quoted by Eusebius in Historia Ecclesiastica, James, the brother of Jesus, was also murdered as a result of pressure from the religious authorities. According to Eusebius, James' example and his righteous life had convinced others, even members of the ruling class, that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and the Scribes and Pharisees were afraid that all the people would accept Jesus as Lord. So, at the Feast of the Passover during the year 62, the Scribes and Pharisees asked James to stand on the Temple parapet so that everyone could see and hear him tell the facts about Jesus, since, as the Scribes and Pharisees said, "the people have gone astray after Jesus." James stood on the parapet, and the Scribes and Pharisees shouted to him: "Righteous One, whose word we are all obliged to accept, the people are going astray after Jesus who was crucified; so tell us, what is meant by 'the door of Jesus?'" And James answered in a loud voice, "Why do you question me about the Son of Man? I tell you, He is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and He will come on the clouds of heaven." And many people believed, and began to shout, "Hosannah to the Son of David!" So now the Scribes and Pharisees were worried and thought, "we really made a mistake putting him up there. We better throw him down so that they will be frightened and not believe him." So they began to shout, "Oh no! Even the Righteous One has gone astray!" and someone pushed James off the parapet and he fell down to the ground. Then they said, "Let us stone James the Righteous" because he was still alive after his fall. While the stones rained upon him, James got to his knees and prayed aloud: "I beseech thee, Lord God and Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing." While the stones were falling like rain upon James, the descendants of Rechab, a priestly family, shouted, "Stop! What are you doing? The Righteous One is praying for you!" Then one of the mob took a fuller's club, which was used to beat out the clothes, and brought it down on James' head, and James died a martyr's death. According to Eusebius’ version of the story, James was buried on the spot, by the Sanctuary, until the destruction of the Temple. According to this account, some believed that the siege of Vespasian and the Jewish War, which culminated in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, were the vengeance of God for the murder of James.

Icon written by Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, friend of Padre Mickey's Dance Party
Back in 2002 there was quite a stir caused by an announcement by Hershel Shanks of the Biblical Archeological Review that an ossory, or bone box, had been discovered which was dated to the first century and bore the inscription Ya'akov bar Yosef akhui diYeshua which translates as James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus, in Aramaic. After years of accusations that the inscription is not authentic opinion has changed and, according to the July/August 2012 issue of BAR, it is now considered authentic. This is quite a find!

The word 'martyr' means 'witness,' and James was a witness. He witnessed his brother's ministry, and he was a witness of an appearance of the Resurrected Jesus. His life was a witness to the people of Jerusalem; his strict adherence to the Torah was proof of his righteousness, but he was also able to understand that the Law was not for all, and he realized that the Law would be a burden for the Gentile converts. He understood that to work for the Reign of God meant to speak for, defend, and support the poor, and he did this as Bishop of Jerusalem. He was the brother of Jesus, and as family, probably knew Jesus better than most; even though, at one time, he may have shared the doubts of his family about his brother's sanity, he did believe, and was blessed with a post-Resurrection appearance. He believed his brother's message about the coming of the Reign of God, and he was faithful to this message unto death. The lives of the saints are examples to us all, and the deaths of the martyrs made the church grow. Tertullian, an African leader of the Church in the second century said, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." James was a bishop, an Apostle, and a Martyr, and he is an example to all of us. Today we celebrate his life and his death. May we keep the memory of James and of all the saints and martyrs as important examples always.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As is usually the situation when we talk about the first Christians, we really don’t have a lot of information concerning St. Luke. Some consider him the first historian of the Christian Church due to his book The Acts of the Apostles. I don’t really consider Acts to be a history as much as the second part of the Gospel of Luke. The person I would call the first historian of Christianity, the Bishop Eusebius, wrote that Luke was born in Antioch, in Syria. He was probably a Gentile and not a Jewish convert. In the letter to the Christians in Colossae, Paul mentions the friends who are with him. First he mentions “those of the circumcision,” who are with him (Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus) and then he names Epapharas, Demas, and Luke, whom he calls the beloved physician. We don’t know anything about Luke’s conversion or where it took place, and what we know about his ministry we learn from the Acts of the Apostles. Paul mentions him in his letter to the Colossians, a letter to Timothy, and the letter to Philemon. We know that he traveled with Paul on some of his missionary journeys and also spent time in prison with Paul.

Luke is known for his two volume work which some scholars call “Luke-Acts” or the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. We may consider this a two volume work rather than two separate books, because of the way it presents the story of the message of Christ. In the first volume, Jesus brings the Good News only to the people of Israel, while the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how the Good News spread from Jerusalem throughout the Roman Empire. The Acts of the Apostles is interesting in that it is written in the third person, in the language of a historian collecting facts until the sixteenth chapter, when the word “they” changes to “we” and we get a first-person account of Paul’s vision and subsequent mission to Macedonia. Luke probably first joined Paul's company at Troas at about the year 51 and then accompanied him into Macedonia, where they traveled first to Samothrace, Neapolis, and finally Philippi. In the story of the imprisonment of Paul and Silas in Philippi, Luke switches back to the third person, which indicates that he most probably wasn’t in prison with them. It is believed that Luke remained in Philippi to encourage the Christians there. Seven years later, Paul returned to the area on his third missionary journey, and it seems that Luke rejoined Paul in Troas in the year 58, since his account in the Acts of the Apostles returns to the use of “we” rather than “they” in chapter 20. They traveled together through Miletus, Tyre, Caesarea, to Jerusalem. Luke was very loyal to Paul and stayed with him when he was imprisoned in Rome about the year 61. When everyone else had deserted Paul in his final imprisonment and sufferings, Luke remained with him to the end. This close relationship with the apostle Paul was the source of information for Luke’s two-volume work.

Luke's unique perspective on Jesus can be seen in where his gospel differs from the gospels of Mark and Matthew. Luke includes six miracles and eighteen parables not found in the other gospels. Luke's is the gospel of the poor and of social justice. Luke tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man who ignored him. Luke uses "Blessed are the poor" instead of "Blessed are the poor in spirit" in the his version of the beatitudes. Luke’s gospel includes angel visitations and the beautiful song of Mary, the Magnificat, in which she proclaims that God "has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Luke also seemed to have a special connection with the women in Jesus' life, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary. Luke’s gospel is the only one which includes the story of the Annunciation, of Mary's visit to Elizabeth including the Magnificat, the only gospel with the story of the Presentation, and the story of Jesus' disappearance in Jerusalem. A reading of Luke’s gospel may lead one to believe that forgiveness and God's mercy to sinners is also of great importance to Luke. Luke’s gospel is the only one which has the story of the Prodigal Son, and only in Luke’s gospel tells the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus' feet with her tears. Throughout Luke's gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God's mercy. The stories Luke included in his gospel give the impression that he saw Jesus as one who loved the poor, who opened the door of God’s kingdom to everyone, as one who respected women, and who saw hope in God’s mercy for everyone.


A tradition that Luke was a painter seems to have no basis in fact. Several images of Mary appeared in later centuries claiming him as a painter but these claims were proved false. Because of this tradition, however, he is considered a patron of painters of pictures and is often portrayed as painting pictures of Mary. One of the Eastern Orthodox websites I visited claimed that St. Luke was the first to paint an icon, that of the Blessed Virigin Mary.

No one is really sure about Luke’s life after the martyrdom of St. Paul. Epiphanius says that after the martyrdom of St. Paul, St. Luke preached in Italy, Gaul, Dalmatia, and Macedon. Fortunatus and Metaphrastus say he passed into Egypt and preached in Thebais. Nicephorus says he died at Thebes in Boeotia around the year 84, after settling in Greece to write his gospel. St. Hippolytus says St. Luke was crucified at Elaea in Peloponnesus near Achaia. There is a Greek tradition that he was crucified on an olive tree. The ancient African Martyrology gives him the titles of Evangelist and Martyr, and St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Paulinus, and St. Gaudentius of Brescia all claim that Luke went to God by martyrdom. Bede, Ado, Usuard, and Baronius in the Martyrologies only say he suffered much for the faith, and died very old in Bithynia. Whether he died a quiet death at 84 or whether he won the martyr’s crown, he will always be known for his wonderful two-volume work. What would Christmas be like without Luke’s story of the shepherds and the angelic choir? His story of the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost has always been an inspiration. And what would Evening Prayer be like without the beauty of the Magnificat? Luke was instrumental in helping spread the word, helping spread the Good News, that forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Reign of God is available to all, and that is why we remember St. Luke today.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Feast of Michael and All Angels


Today is the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel and all Angels, or Michaelmas.
The feast is popular again, probably due to the rise of angelology in New Age circles over the past twenty years or so. An entire industry has sprung up over for a while  around the subject of angels, producing music and books odd websites. Some people's interest and devotion to angels has replaced any interest and devotion to God, which is, of course, idolatrous, but this is not the first time in history that angel worship has been popular. It was also common during the first two centuries of Christianity, especially in Phrygia, Greece, and Palestine, and St. Paul mentions angel worship in his letter to the Christians in Colossus. The introductory lecture by the Rev. Dr. L. William Countryman in New Testament when I was at C.D.S.P. left an impression on my entire class. Professor Countryman shocked us all with the idea that the Epistle to Jude was about sex with angels! So, let’s talk about angels.
The English word 'angel' comes from the Greek word 'angelous' which means 'messenger.'
Angels are God's messengers, and that is the purpose they serve throughout most of the Old Testament. However, Zoroastrian influence during the time of the Babylonian exile changed the concept of angels from messengers of God to powerful supernatural beings who were either on the side of God or on the side of Satan; it introduced a dualistic element to the understanding of angels. By the year 160 B.C., the Essenes, who lived in the desert of Qumran, had created an entire Host or Army of angels who served God, wile the Demons, or Angels of Darkness served Satan. With this idea of an angelic army came the idea of different choirs of angels, different divisions who served different purposes. These groups originally were divided as Archangels, Cherubim, Seraphim, Watchers, and Angels. By the sixth century of the Christian Era, the mystical theologian Psuedo-Dionysius developed an hierarchy of "Heavenly Beings" which he received from his “sacred-initiator.” According to Psuedo-Dionysius, there are three three-fold hierarchies of Heavenly Beings: the first hierarchy, which are the beings which surround God the Father, are the "Holy Thrones and Orders said to possess many eyes and wings, also called Seraphim and Cherubim." The word "Seraphim" means "Fire-makers" in Hebrew, and Psuedo-Dionysius says that this means they are "Carriers of Warmth." The word "Cherubim" means "Out-pourers of Wisdom" in Hebrew, and Psuedo-Dionysius writes that the Seraphim and Cherubim are most like God in these ways. The second hierarchy consists of Authorities, Dominions, and Powers. This group works between the first hierarchy and the third hierarchy. The third and final hierarchy, according to Psuedo-Dionysius, consists of Principalities, Archangels, and Angels, with only Archangels and Angles dealing with human beings.

Human interaction with angels is described throughout the Old Testament, beginning with a Cherub with a flaming sword guarding the gate to Paradise. Abraham's angel visitations, and Jacob's vision of angels ascending and descending from a ladder between heaven and earth is another example. Moses dealt with angels such as Michael in the Wilderness, and the Day of Atonement liturgy described in the book of Leviticus describes the action of the High Priest placing the sins of the community on a goat and releasing the goat to Azazel, a fallen angel of the desert. By the time of the Book of Daniel and the prophet Isaiah's vision of heaven, angels were no longer simply God's messengers, they became supernatural beings with much power, who praised God in front of the throne or fought in God's army. Angels were also terrifying creatures; their presence was so frightening  that the first words they usually say to humans are "Fear not!" This also may be because they tend to simply appear out of nowhere; I don’t know of any stories where one was watching angels wing their way towards them with a message; they just appear and say “Fear not!” Artists over the centuries, especially during the Renaissance, tended to portray angels as androgynous blonds with wings, and they tend to portray Cherubim as fat little baby angels. But Cherubim are not fat baby angels, they are terrifying creatures; they are described as having the head of a man, the body of a lion, and wings! And Seraphim are huge, fiery, snake-like creatures, not blond guys with wings. Isaiah's description of heaven tells of Seraphim flying above God's throne, and the Seraphim are described as having six wings: two to cover their face, two to cover their feet, (which is a euphemism for genitals), and two with which to fly. They fly above God's throne chanting "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts." A Seraph picked up a hot coal from the altar of incense and put it on Isaiah's lips to purify them. In the New Testament, the Archangel Gabriel gave Mary  the message that she would become Theotokos, the God bearer. An angel also brought a message to Zechariah and silenced him. In fact, angels tend to appear throughout Luke's gospel  and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. Angels appear in Mark's gospel, but only to minister to Jesus while he iwas in the wilderness, after his encounter with Satan, and they appear in Matthew's gospel in dreams to warn of trouble to the baby Jesus.

As mentioned earlier, during the first and second centuries and during the time of Jesus, angels were very popular, as popular as they are in our day, and there were those who worshipped them and wanted to enlist them in giving them power over others. these beliefs were poplar among some Gnostic groups, and they developed amazing cosmologies in which angels were featured. The Essenes'  teachings also added to these ideas. Remember the fourth verse of Genesis, Chapter 6, about the Nephilim, (which means 'fallen ones' in Hebrew) who were the children of human women and angel fathers and were "the giants and heroes of old?" Well, some Gnostic groups took that passage and decided that it meant that they could attain certain mystic knowledge through sexual relations with angels! St. Paul seems to think that angels are attracted to a woman's long hair, and suggested that they keep their heads covered in church. But St. Paul also believed that humans were more important to God than were the angels and he said that humans would judge angels. Some people believe that Satan is a Fallen Angel,  and they tell the story of Lucifer, the Morning Star, trying to put his throne higher than God's and starting a war in heaven. Have you read that story in the Bible? No, you haven't because it is not in the Bible.
When John Milton wrote the book Paradise Lost, he used some verses from Isaiah chapter 14:

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, Son of Dawn! How you are cut
down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart,
"I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God . . .
I will make myself like the Most High.

Bu these verses are about a Babylonian king who was called the Day Star. It is interesting how something written by Milton became theological truth to many. When we read the book of Job, Satan is a part of God's Court,so perhaps he is some kind of angel.

Today's feast is named after St. Michael the Archangel. Michael is the head of the Heavenly Host, the Five-star General of God's Angelic Army. Michael is also the protector of Israel, Protector of the Chosen People. Psuedo-Dionysius claimed that every nation is actually directed and protected by one of the archangels, and that Michael is the leader of the Jewish nation; he did not name the other Archangels and their respective nations. According to tradition, Michael is supposed to protect Christians from the devil at the time of death. This probably comes from the mention of Michael arguing with Satan for the soul of Moses, which is mentioned in the Epistle of Jude and comes from the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, an apocalyptic book written in 160 B.C. There was a cult which venerated Michael the Archangel in Phrygia (a regular hot-bed of heresey!), and they believed he had the power to heal, so many hot springs in Greece and Turkey are dedicated to him. Michael's place in the heavenly court is next to the altar of incense, and when incense is blessed for use in our liturgy, the priest usually says the following prayer:

By the intercession of Blessed Michael the Archangel, who stands 
at the right hand of the altar of incense, and of all the Saints, may 
the Lord bless this incense, and accept it as a pure oblation, through
Jesus Christ our Lord.

The name Mikael, or Michael in English, means "who is like God?" in Hebrew, and this has led to some weird ideas about Michael the Archangel. Charles Taze Russel, the man who started the Jehovah's Witnesses taught that Jesus was actual Michael come to earth, and there are New Agers who "channel" Michael. These beliefs and teachings, as well as much of the angelology going on nowadays is actually idolatrous. Angels are God's messengers, and they are God's servants. Their only purpose, the only reason they were created, is to do God's will. They have no say in the matter, and they just do what they are told. Humans, however, are created in God's image, and we have been given free will, and that puts us in a different place than the angels. When you die, you won't get some wings and a harp and sit on a cloud as a new angel, no matter what image popular movies leave you. Angels probably don't spend their time fighting demons and keeping you out of trouble. Angels are God's messengers and they deliver God's messages. We are not to worship angels, we are not to try to control angels, and we are not to try to 'channel' angels or anything else. Since we have free will, it’s best if we choose to do God's will, it’s best if we choose to help bring about God's reign, it’s best if we choose to love one another as Christ loves us, and it’s best if we choose to serve God. We don't need to worry about Guardian Angels, or whether angels are real or not; what we need to worry about is how we treat each other, about how we treat those who are the least among us. We need to worry about helping others learn of the Good News of forgiveness of sins and that God loves everyone  and want relationship with everyone. We need to tend to the sick, to pray for each other, and to love each other.  Then we can join with the angels in heaven and sing God's praises, because we will be doing God's will, just as the angels do.

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Feast of St. Christopher, Martyr

According to the official calendar, today is the feast of St. James the Apostle, brother of John and member of the Inner Circle of the Twelve. However, I am the former Rector of Parroquia San Cristóbal, the Parish of St. Christopher, and today is also the feast of St. Christopher, martyr. When I first came to San Cristóbal, I figured that we were named after a non-existent saint. In the Roman tradition, St. Christopher was very tall, very strong Roman man, originally named Offero, who became a Christian and vowed to serve Jesus. He sought out a holy hermit, who told him that he could best serve Jesus by helping people cross the river, which as very swift and dangerous. Offero started carrying people across the river on his back. One day a small child came to be carried across the river. While crossing the river, Offero noticed that this passenger was heavier than anyone he had ever carried, which didn't make any sense since he was a little child. The child revealed that he was actually Jesus, the Christ, and his heaviness was due to carrying the sins of the world. Jesus then baptized Offero and named him Christopher. It's an easy story to discount.

I started wondering if there were any Greek sources regarding Saint Christopher, and I did some research. I learned that a Saint Christopher actually did exist, that he was a soldier who was martyred around the year 308 in Antioch. I even found three “Acts of St. Christopher” and read them. I no longer believe that my parish is named after a non-existent saint, we are a parish named after a fourth-century African martyr.



St. Christopher was a member of the north African tribe of the Marmaritae. He was captured by Roman forces during the emperor Diocletian's campaign against the Marmaritae in late 301/early 302 and was transported for service in a Roman garrison in or near Antioch in Syria. He was baptized by the refugee bishop Peter of Alexandria and was martyred on 9 July 308.
Bishop Peter arranged for the transport of his remains back to Marmarica in 311. The name “Christopher” means Bearer of Christ and was probably the name he took on at baptism. According to the various Acts of St. Christopher, his original name was Reprebus which is probably a corruption of the name Reprobus, which means “wicked” in Latin. So at baptism, a man called wicked became a man who bears Christ. But ‘Christopher’ may have been an honorific title, and some scholars believe that Christopher’s actual name may have been lost and that he is really identifiable with the Egyptian martyr known as St. Menas. Christopher was martyred for refusing to sacrifice to the emperor. His memory was preserved in Antioch, but his relics were transported to his homeland and that is where is original cult was located. There are icons of St. Christopher and they are not like the image on the Roman Catholic medals. The images of St. Christopher I've posted here are of a man with the head of a dog! The Greeks used to refer to those lands outside of their civilization as being inhabited by cannibals and dog-headed people, and since Christopher was from North Africa, most probably the nation we call Libya today, some must have said he came from the land of dog-headed cannibals. The authors of the Acts of St. Christopher took this reference literally, and one account carries this description: There was a certain man who, since he was a foreigner from the land of man-eaters, had a terrible appearance, a dog's head as it were. Another account describes Christopher’s encounter a woman on the street: And while he prayed, a woman came out of the city in order to go and worship the idols, and trembled at the sight of the saint. Her face dropped as she saw the the body of a man, but the head of a dog, and she ran to the city and cried out... In this account, the king calls Christopher “Dog-headed and evil troublemaker.”

According to the Acts of St. Christopher, he was taken as a soldier from his home in North Africa and ended up in the Syrian city of Antioch. A persecution was under way, and the soldier Reprebus had recently converted and become Christopher. He was protecting some Christians who were being arrested. He covered his dog-head with the sleeves of his cloak and while being beaten by the arresting officer, said, “I am possessed by Christ, I have been overcome by the Savior, and I am not able to do anything to you. However, if you exasperate my heart, you will not remain in my presence, nor will your corrupt king." The soldier ran off and told the king what had happened: "There is a certain man of terrible appearance, one who towers over most men, who appeared in sight of all the people when the edict was being published by the governor. In fact, who could explain the appearance of this apparition, except perhaps that the God of the Christians heard their prayers and sent him to help them? Unless you hurry and kill him he will turn all from the sacrifices of the gods." The king said to him, "You have a demon, and he appeared to you this way. What did you see? Speak." He replied, "I tell my lord what I saw. His head was terrifying, like that of a dog. His hair was very long, and gleamed like gold. His eyes were like the morning star, and his teeth like the tusks of a boar. Words are not sufficient to tell of his greatness. Moreover, he said the most disgraceful things against you and the gods. So when I heard such talk, I began to beat him. But he said to me, 'I am possessed by Christ, but if I were not, I would kill you and your king.' And I therefore report these things to you my lord king, that you might know that what I say about this man is true." The king said, "Is he one of our men? Why does he say such things?" The other replied, "I do not know, my lord." Then the king gave orders to his soldiers, saying, "Go and get him. If he does not agree to come with you, rip him to pieces, only bring his head to me that I might see what he was like, if it was him or another."



In the meantime, Christopher managed to convert most of the soldiers, who refused to arrest him, but he was eventually taken before the king. He refused to sacrifice to the King’s idols. The king had a great idea in which Christopher would be locked in a room with two prostitutes who would “convert him to their lusts” but instead Christopher converted them to the Lord and they went to suffer their martyrdom after insulting the king and his idols.

The story of their martyrdom is right up there with Perpetua and Felicity in the terrible tortures they endured in Christ’s name. The king was quite angry that his plan didn’t work, so he had a bronze bench placed in the town square and had Christopher nailed to the bench. Then he ordered that plenty of wood be brought, and that a great deal of olive nuts,18 measures of olive oil, and a lot of pitch be poured over the wood, that was how they fueled the fire. The wind blew the flames so that some houses caught fire, Christopher stood up in the midst of the flames and said, “I saw myself standing in the midst of a city, and saw a beautiful man whose face shone like a thousand suns. Then another man with a terrible appearance attacked him. They fought, but the man of light was victorious.” Then ten thousand people watching this said, “There is one God, he in whom saint Christopher believes. He has certainly not labored in vain. He knows the one to whom he fled. And we believe, hoping that we can save ourselves through you, Lord God." And ten thousand people believed at the same time, and cried out, saying, "Almighty God, we believe in you. Take pity on us, Our Savior, and make us your worthy servants, Christ, and do not give us wealth for your booty; but give to your servants, Lord, the bath of immortality and the garment of incorruption, because yours is the glory forever and ever, amen." The next morning Christopher and the ten thousand stood out where the fires had been and chanted psalms, attracting the king’s troops once again. Three priests appeared and baptized the newly converted, while Christopher was arrested. His hair was pulled, he was crushed with huge stones and then dragged about by his arms throughout the streets. Christopher still refused to recant, so the king commanded that he be beheaded and cremated. Christopher was taken to the site where he would be executed. Suddenly there was an earthquake, and Christopher saw the heavens open and the Lord appear. A throne was brought out and the Lord sat on the throne. Christopher said, "How, in word or thought, will I praise you, Lord, that you have deigned to reveal your glory to me your humble servant?" The Lord said to him, "You are more blessed than many, and will be called my most beloved servant, and blessed will those souls be who have merited possession of your relics. I shall heed no longer the sins of those who have approached me through your intercession. I swear by my glory to you that they shall attain paradise." Christopher replied, "If I have found favor in your sight, Lord my God, grant me the confidence to speak to you." The Lord responded, "Say what you will." The saint replied, saying, "Lord, grant my corpse this second favor, that all who possess a part of my relics will merit such grace that no evil spirit nor bodily sickness will cower them, and drive from them every evil desire. Lord my God, whether it be a city, larger area, or small locality where lies some of my relics, let not hail-shower, crop-disease or vine-sterility prevail there; but wherever my relics travel, if those regions have been harmed, grant them the grace of my presence as it were, Lord my God, so that all the inhabitants of those regions may richly receive the produce of their cultivation, and filled with your grace wholeheartedly glorify your holy name. Act thus, Lord my God." As you can see, he was really thinking ahead! And the Lord replied, "It will be as you request. I will not cause you sadness. And so you have come, ascend to your brothers. For they all wonder at you, and my army of angels desires to see you." And when he had said this, he departed, and went to the place which had been prepared and said to the executioner, "Come, son, do what has been commanded. But I adjure you, by the God who watches over earth's orb, not to judge me." And upon saying these things, he crossed himself, and bending his knees he stretched out his neck; and in this manner his head was cut off. He perfected his martyrdom on a Sunday, at the 7th hour.


Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” and while I have trouble believing that ten thousand people were converted even before he was martyred, the fact that the martyrdom of Christopher was remembered tells me that his witness was important to the Christians of Antioch. His relics were returned to his homeland, and a church was named after him in Bythinia in 452.

I always find the stories of the martyrs to be inspiring, and their steadfast faith is a model for all of us. Even though the Acts of St. Christopher are full of stories just as strange as the Roman story of Christopher, we can put away the image of a giant carrying the Christ child, but instead of replacing that image with the "dog-headed" saint, we can replace it with the story of a martyr from North Africa who stood up against his persecutors and prayed that he could still do good for humanity even after his death. This St. Christopher is one who can be a model for us.

UPDATE Last year, JCF, a Dance Party regular, commented that he had read an account which said that St. Christopher was so beautiful that everyone who looked at him was smitten or overcome with lust, so St. Christopher asked God to give him a dog's head to stop all that lustin'. I like that story.

Almighty God, who gave to your servant Christopher boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Feast of St. James the Greater, Apostle

O gracious God, we remember before you today your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ; and we pray that you will pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which alone they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Yesterday I celebrated the Feast of St. Christopher, Martyr, but ages ago the Roman Catholic Church dropped Our Boy Chris from the calendar (claiming he didn’t exist, but, as you can see on my St. Christopher post, all they had to do was some research), and the Episcopal Church followed their lead, so the calendar has St. James the Greater’s feast scheduled for today. All True Christians™ know that yesterday was the Feast of St. Christopher, but I’ll post about St. James for the Lost. His feast is transferred to today, onnacounna that Sunday Thang. The following is a sermon I wrote about St. James a few years ago.

There are several James mentioned in the Christian scriptures: James of Jerusalem, the brother of our Lord Jesus and first bishop of Jerusalem; James the Less, a member of the Twelve mentioned in Mark 15:40; and James the Great, the eldest son of Zebedee and brother of John. As is the case with all of the Apostles, we really don’t know too much about James, son of Zebedee. As a historian, I find this very frustrating, but we can try to put things together according to different accounts. James and his brother John were sons of Zebedee, a wealthy fisherman in Galilee. Both James and John left the family business to follow Jesus in his ministry. They were very zealous followers of Jesus, and I think they may have been zealous in other areas of their lives, because Jesus gave them the nickname Boanerges, which is Greek for Sons of Thunder. Teamed up with Simon, whom Jesus nicknamed Cephas, or Rock, they became Rocky and the Thunder Boys (I don’t know any Aramiac, the language Jesus spoke, so I don’t know what Jesus really called them). Rocky and the Thunder Boys were the Inner Circle of the Inner Circle. If the Twelve were the Inner Circle of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, James, and John were the Inner Circle of that Inner Circle. They were always present at the most important events and Jesus brought them along even when he left the other members of the Twelve behind. They were present at the raising of Jarius’ daughter, they were present at the Transfiguration, and they were with Jesus during the agony in the garden on the night of his arrest. Jesus seemed to favor these three over the rest of the Twelve, but the mother of James and John, like most mothers, seemed to have an even higher opinion of her boys. According to the account in Matthew’s gospel, she came up to Jesus with both of her sons and asked of him a favor. She said, “Give me your word that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and one at your left in your domain.” Now, I think this request is a bit strange, since Jesus had just told the Twelve that the last will be first and the first will be last in the Reign of God. Yet here is the mother of the Thunder Boys tying to put them at the top in God’s reign. Jesus said, “You have no idea what you are asking for. Can you drink the cup that I’m about to drink?” They both answered in the affirmative, but I agree with Jesus; I don’t think they had any idea to what they were agreeing. I guess they wanted those spots on the right and left of Jesus just as much as their mother wanted them to have those spots! Jesus told them that they would drink of the same cup, but it was not for him to say who would sit on this right and left. When the others heard about this conversation, they were not too pleased, just as one would expect, and there must have been a bit of complaining and hurt feelings, because Jesus had to call them all together and explain things. Jesus told them all that, among the Gentiles, the leaders lord it over them and exert great authority over them, and I really don’t think that it was much different among the Jews, but Jesus told the Twelve that among them it would be different. If any of the Twelve wanted to be great, they would have to be the servant of the others, and whoever wanted to be first among them would have to be a slave to the others.

According to tradition, James travelled, as did the rest of the Apostles, and he is supposed to have gone all the way to Spain to preach the Good News of forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Reign of God, but this claim doesn’t really hold up to historical scrutiny. This claim has been around since the seventh century, and the Spanish claim that his body was transferred to Santiago de Campostela, and, since the Middle Ages, Santiago has been a popular saint in España.

The mother of the Thunder Boys asked that they sit on Jesus’ right and left, and they both said that they would drink of the same cup as Jesus, which was a reference to his suffering and death. We know that James did drink of the same cup as Jesus; James was one of the first of the Twelve to be martyred. He was put to death by Herod, according to the account in the Acts of the Apostles, and when Herod saw that this pleased the enemies of The Way, he also had Peter arrested. These actions continued the persecutions which started with the martyrdom of the Deacon Stephen. James was very much like his brother, John; they were both hot-headed and zealous, but they were willing to do anything for their Lord, and they were both important in starting that community which would become the Church. James drank of the same cup as his Lord, even though he had no guarantee that he would sit on the right or left of his Lord in the Kingdom, and, like all the martyrs, he was a witness of the power of God. I think that James the Great is another example of God working through people we would least expect to be God’s instrument. Here was a fisherman, possibly uneducated, who said “yes” to god’s call and whose life is now an example to us all. He witnessed miracles, he saw the transfigured Christ with Moses and Elijah, he saw the daughter of Jarius brought back from the gates of death, yet he still slept while Jesus prayed in the garden, and he disappeared with the others once Jesus was arrested. Yet, the miracle of the Resurrection and the baptism of the Holy Spirit gave him the strength to travel and preach the Good News, whether he went to Spain or not. And he finally had the strength to die as a witness for his Lord.

The saints are models for us all. We don’t consider them intercessors, we don’t pray to them, but we look a their lives as examples for us of what can happen when one allows the Holy Spirit to work through us. James did serve the Twelve, and for that reason we call him The great. May the life of St. James the Great help us remember that if we are to be first in the Reign of God, we are to be servants to all.

Apendix Here's what our pal Jacobus de Voragine, author of the Legende Aurea (you remember him from the St. Mary of Magdala post the other day) wrote about the translation fo the body of the Apostle James, Son of Zebedee, to Campostela in Spain:

...after the apostle's death, his disciples, in fear of the Jews, placed his body in a boat at night, embarked with him, although the boat had neither rudder not steersman, and set sail, trusting to the providence of God to determine the place of his burial. And the angels guided the boat to the shores of Galicia in Spain, where there was a queen whose name was Lupa, a name which means she-wolf, and which she well deserved by her life.

The disciples laid the body of the apostle on a great stone, which immediately softened as if it were wax, and shaped itself into a sarcophagus fitted to his body. The disciples went to Queen Lupa and said to her: "Our Lord Jesus Christ sends thee the body of His disciple, that thou mayest welcome in death him whom thou wouldst not welcome alive!" And they narrated to her the miracle whereby they had come thither without a rudder nor a steersman, and besought her to appoint a place for the burial of the saint.

Then, as John Beleth relates, she guilefully sent them to the king of Spain, a most cruel man, with the pretext of seeking his permission for the saint's burial; and the king arrested them and threw them into prison. But in the night, when he had gone to rest, an angel opened the prison doors and set them free. As soon as he learned this, the king sent soldiers in pursuit of them; but just as these soldiers were crossing a bridge, the bridge collapsed and the soldiers were drowned. At this report, the king feared for himself and his people, and repented. He sent other men to search for James's disciples, and to say to them that if they would return, he would refuse them nothing that they asked. They therefore went back, and converted the whole city to the faith of Christ. Then they returned to Lupa, to make known to her the kings's assent. The queen was sore distraught at these tidings, and answered: "I have oxen in a mountain place. Take them and yoke them, and carry your master's body whither you will, and build him a tomb!" All this she said in wolfish cunning, for she knew that the oxen were really untamed and savage bulls, and thus she thought that they could not be yoked or harnessed, or if they were harnessed, they would run away, and destroy the car and throw the body to the ground, and kill the disciples.

But no guile avails against God. The disciples, unaware of the queen's ruse, went up into the mountain, where first they encountered a dragon which belched fire; but they held a cross before him, and he was cloven asunder. Then they made the sign of the cross over the bulls, and they became as meek as lambs, allowed themselves to be yoked, and although no man guide them, they drew the saint's body, with the stone in which it was laid, straight into the middle of the queen's palace. Seeing this, the queen was dismayed, believed in Christ, transformed her palace into a church of Saint James, and endowed it munificently. And she passed the rest of her life in doing good works.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Feast of St. Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Today is the Feast of Mary of Magdala, the Apostle to the Apostles, a saint whose memory has been much maligned over the millennia by misogynist clergy like Pope Gregory the Great.

Mary of Magdala has become a popular Biblical figure once again, due to the popularity of the piece of junk I should've written and made a million on novel The DaVinci Code. She was a popular figure in the early days of Christianity, too, for different reasons, and some Gnostic groups claimed that she was the leader of the Church rather than James or Peter. We do know that she was one of the women who followed Jesus. According to Luke’s Gospel: And it so happened soon afterward that he traveled through towns and villages, preaching and announcing the good news of God’s imperial rule. The twelve were with him, and also some women whom he had cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary the one from Magdala, from whom seven demons had taken their leave...

For some reason, possibly misogynist or because he felt threatened by the ministry of women, Pope Gregory the Great identified Mary Magdala as the "reformed sinner" or former prostitute in a sermon, and this image has remained in popular imagination. Some mistake her for Mary of Bethany and she has been identified with the woman who washed and anointed Jesus’ feet, but that is not what the scriptures say. According to the scriptures she was healed by Jesus and followed him; she was at the foot of the cross (according to the gospel attributed to John), and she was one of the first to see the empty tomb and the Resurrected Jesus. The story of her weeping at the tomb, her accusations to the one she thinks is the gardener, and then her sheer joy at the realization that she is talking to Jesus is one of the most touching and inspiring of the Resurrection stories.

A heretical-Gnostic understanding of Mary’s place among the Twelve is an important aspect of The DaVinci Code, and it is based on the non-canonical Gospel of Philip, as well as the terrible Life of Mary Magdalen in the Legenda Aurea, a thirteenth-century document by Jacopo di Voragine. According to the Legenda Aurea, Mary was named after a fortress, Magdalum. She and her siblings, Lazarus and Martha, were or noble birth, the children of Syrus and Eucharia. The family was very wealthy, and their riches were distributed amongst their three children: Mary owned the Castle Magdalum, Lazarus received a part of Jerusalem, and Martha received the village of Bethany. Mary became a woman of the streets (?!), Lazarus a knight (!?), and Martha took care of the the possessions of both Mary and Lazarus "with great prudence." So, Mary, whose love of wealth and pleasure had led her to lead a most dissolute life and be known as "a sinner," wandered into Simon the Leper's house while Jesus was visiting and preaching. She walked up to Jesus, washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and anointed them. Simon protested, Jesus defended her action and forgave her sins. After the Lord was crucified, resurrected, and ascended to heaven, Mary traveled with St. Maximus, under the orders of St. Peter. She and Lazarus and Martha and Maximus traveled as missionaries for a while. Eventually Mary decided to retire to the Forest: Mary Magdalene desired meditation and went into the forest wilderness where she lived incognito for thirty years in a place prepared for her by the hands of angels. In this place there were neither fountains nor trees nor grass. This indicates that our Lord did not want to sustain her with earthly food but with heavenly nourishment. Every day she was led to the heavens by the angels—seven times for the seven hours of prayer—and with her own ears she heard the chants of the heavenly hosts. And every day she was taken back to earth with this sweet nourishment so that she never needed earthly food. After thirty years of living on "spiritual nourishment", she died and was buried in Aix, in Southern France, by Bishop Maximus.

There are several verses in the Gospel of Philip which claim that Mary Magdala was the mate of Jesus, that they were man and wife, and that they were also united spirits and had to marry for some cosmic reason. That Jesus and Mary were married is also the basis of a book titled Holy Blood, Holy Grail which was on the New York Time’s Best Seller list a few years ago, along with The DaVinci Code. The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, ("historians" who chucked the historic method out the window for this book) claim that after the crucifixion, Mary Magdala, pregnant with Jesus’ child, left Palestine for Gaul, and that the royal family of France are the descendants of Jesus. Now, I don’t have any problem with the idea that Jesus may have been married, and I have no problem with the idea that he could have been married to Mary of Magdala; I have no theological opposition to the idea, but the idea that the Royal Family of France, or the Royal Family of any country is descended from Jesus is something with which I have a lot of trouble! I don't believe that the Emperor of Japan is descended from the Sun Goddess, either.

There is a non-canonical book called the Gospel of Mary, and it claims that Mary Magdala was a leader of the early church, and I’m sure that she was a leader, but I don’t think that Jesus loved her more than the others, as is claimed in that gospel. Mary of Magdala is regarded as the equal of an Apostle in the Eastern Church, and I think that this makes sense as she was the first person to witness the Resurrected Jesus. As far as the DaVinci Code’s claim that she was the “personification of the Divine Feminine” in the earliest days of Christianity, I must disagree, as the Divine Feminine is manifested in Sofia, or Wisdom, also a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Here is a poem about Our Mary of Magdala written by Christine Schenk, CSJ.

Mary of Magdala
What say you, Magdalen?
Fellow traveler, Jesus' friend,
Courageous companion
Who accompanies
Death's bitter-shroud end.
No prostitute you,
A Woman Jew
And Apostle.
Denigrated, despised
by jealousy, fear, and more.
Betrayed by your brothers,
whose spin control
requires you go from
WomanWitness to Whore.
And besides, it would still be alright.
(Unlike many a man-creature,
you well understand the
odd God ways of the Teacher).
Did you blame yourself, my sister,
for their failure to comprehend
All of Love's bold claims
for
Newborn Jesus-Way ?
Mary, WomanWitness, WomanFriend,
What have you to say?
Only

"Rabbo'ni!"

Christ comes again.
Amen, Alleluia, Amen.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Feast of St. Independence Day


St. Independence Day was born on July 4, 1776, in the city of Philadelphia in the British colony of Pennsylvania, or "Penn's Woods," and then again on January 14, 1784, in the city of Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania in the newly-formed United States of America.

Also known as "Uncle Sam," St. Independence Day had the amazing power of causing men to enlist in the U.S. military merely by pointing at them. His charism of salesmanship enabled him to sell hot dogs, baseball, beer, and Grateful Dead records.

At the age of 18, young Mr. Day, who had an almost unnatural hankering for apples, wandered about the countryside of the new nation, carrying apple seeds from his home state of Pennsylvania. He created nurseries in the wilderness so that his land-stealing countrymen would have sustenance as they cheated the indigenous people of their ancestral homelands. He negotiated disputes between pioneer settlers and shared his religious beliefs with anyone unlucky enough to get him started on the subject. He wore ragged clothing and a pot on his head, an image which became very popular with young people in the late 1960's and early 1970's, who, in homage to St. Independence Day, called themselves "pot heads." He also cut down many trees as possible in the areas of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, with the help of his Big Blue Ox, Babe. After his flirtation with the exciting and ruggedly manly world of the Lumberjack, he rode a tornado down to Pecos, Texas, spending a few years as a cowboy, using a cougar for a horse and harnessing the Rio Grande to water his ranch. He gave up the cowboy life to become a steel-drivin' man. During the early years of the Twenty-first century, he was waterboarded and tortured by members of the Bush administration and chased by remote controlled drones by the Obama administration, but has managed, barely, to survive.

St. Independence Day's contributions to theology are, firstly, the concept that God created the United States of America as a Christian nation to spread the gospel, first throughout the central continent of North America by the means of Manifest Destiny, and then throughout the world as a side-effect of imperial wars, and secondly, the Prosperity Gospel in which God rains cash, cars, and big houses upon those who roll on the floor and swing from the drapes in a spittle-flecked ecstatic state while proof-texting Bible verses. Amazingly, this theology is quite popular amongst those living in dire poverty in parts of the Developing World.

The Feast of St. Independence Day is celebrated by watching parades, blowing things up, and eating as many hot dogs as possible within a two-minute period.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Feast of St. Peter and Paul (transferred)

My sermon about Peter and Paul


Today we celebrate the lives of two Saints, two Saints who were quite different from each other, two Saints who were very important to the fledgling Church, two Saints who were Apostles and Martyrs, two Saints who gave their all for their Lord. They are examples of two people who took up their cross and decided that Jesus was more important than their families. They came from different backgrounds, they had different methods of evangelism, and they didn’t always get along very well, but they were so important to the emerging Christian faith.

Simon Peter was a fisherman, a large, burly, solid guy who was nicknamed Cephas, which is Aramaic for Peter, or “Rocky.” He was inclined to open his mouth without thinking, and he would often say things which would come back on him. He was a down-to-earth person, not really given to mystic visions. Although he certainly received his share of visions he didn’t always understand what was going on; when he witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ, he wanted to build little huts for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah and he didn’t seem to really understand that Jesus was revealing his divinity. If the Twelve were the Inner Circle of Jesus’s disciples, Peter was in the “Inner Inner Circle;” he was present at all the events in which Jesus had just a few special persons with him. Peter was the one who confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One, and he claimed that he would follow Jesus anywhere. When Jesus was being arrested by the soldiers, Peter pulled out his sword and lopped off a servant’s ear, but not too long later he denied Christ three times; at the moment when Jesus really needed him, he, like the rest of the Twelve, was no where to be found. But Peter was the first of the men to see the empty tomb, and he was commanded by the Resurrected Christ to “feed my lambs.” When the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost, Peter was the one to speak to the crowd. He became the leader of the Apostles, the leader of the Twelve, but he was not the leader of the Church; Jesus’ brother James was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, but Peter was a leader of the Church. He may have been the bishop of the Church in Rome, but the Church in Jerusalem was considered THE Church in those days. Rome didn’t become such an influential and important Church until the third century. Peter was the greatest miracle worker of the Apostles, he was involved in many healing miracles. Jesus told Peter that “someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not want to go,” and Peter went to a lot of places that he didn’t want to go; I’m sure he didn’t want to be the one on the roof seeing a sheet full of un-clean animals being lowered and told “Kill and eat!” and I’m sure he didn’t want to be the one to feel Paul’s wrath regarding circumcision and other Jewish practices which were part of the earliest Church. I’m not sure that he particularly enjoyed being caught in the middle between Paul and his fights with the Hebrew faction of the Church But he willingly went to his martyrdom, crucified head down in the Colosseum in Rome according to tradition, and he was the Rock on which the Church was established, tradition stating that he started the church in Rome and was even the first Bishop of Rome.

Saint Paul was quite a different person than Peter; he was an educated man, a Pharisee educated by the great Rabbi Gamaliel, and a Roman citizen. He was not one of the Twelve, in fact, he persecuted the Twelve, as Saul he witnessed and may have even been the ring-leader at the stoning of Stephen the Deacon, but he became one of the greatest of the Apostles. He was very much given to mystic experiences, in fact, his conversion on the Damascus Road is the result of a vision of the Resurrected Christ, and he remained blinded for several days as a result of this vision. Paul also claimed to have visited some “higher heavens,” and he articulated many of the more mystical aspects of Christology. Paul was a persistent persecutor of the Church by his own admission, but once converted, once he “saw the light,” he was one of the most ardent devotees of Jesus, he traveled the so-called “known world” and brought the Good News to the Gentiles. He was chased out of town, he was arrested, and he would preach to anyone who would listen. He founded churches throughout the Greco-Roman world, and he may have traveled as far as Spain on his missionary journeys. He would fight with the Hebrew faction of the Church, and he always seemed to think that Peter was easily led by whatever faction he happened to be with at the time, but even though he was not always in good stead with the Home Office back in Jerusalem, he gladly raised money for the poor and the Jerusalem Church. He was a prolific letter writer, (just imagine what HE would have done with e-mail) and his letters, even when chiding, were so beloved by the churches that they were shared with the rest of the faithful, and Paul’s epistles became the very first Christian scriptures, before any gospels were written and before the letters attributed to John and Peter. Tradition tells us that Paul, like Peter, was martyred in Rome, and that he was be-headed. The relics of Peter and Paul became powerful symbols of the Church in Rome, and they were moved from their original resting places to a catacomb in Rome where a basilica was later erected over their remains. Paul’s teaching on grace, on salvation, and on the resurrection of the dead formed the earliest theology of the Church, and it is not too far off the mark to call him the founder of Christianity.

These two mighty Men of God are proof that God can work through anybody. The fact that someone like Simon Peter, a brash, thick-headed fisherman, inclined to say what ever popped into his mind with out thinking, and a well educated but irritable Pharisee, a persecutor of the Church and later its great champion, could both help spread the Good News of the forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Reign of God, that these two extremes could allow the Holy Spirit to work through them and help spread the message of Christ throughout the world is proof that God can work through each one of us here as long as we are willing to answer “yes” to God’s call. Jesus stood on a beach and asked Peter to follow him, later, the Resurrected Jesus stood on a beach and asked Peter to feed his sheep. Peter said “yes” both times. Jesus appeared to Saul in a blinding light and called him to end his persecutions. Saul answered yes to Jesus’ call and became Paul, a great missionary and the first theologian. Very few of us have such experiences, but Jesus calls all of us to follow him. Jesus calls each one of us to follow him, to care for the hungry and the sick and the poor and the prisoner and the stranger. Jesus calls each of us to love one another, and Jesus calls all of us to serve each other as we serve God. God worked through men like Peter and Paul, and God can work through each one of us; all we must do is answer “yes” to God’s call and then allow the Holy Spirit to move and work through us. May we all take the examples of Peter and Paul, and answer “yes.”


Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I See You!

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