Abba Mark said to Abba Arsenius, ‘Why do you avoid us?’ The old man said to him, ‘God knows that I love you, but I cannot live with God and with men. The thousands and ten thousands of the heavenly hosts have but one will, while men have many. So I cannot leave God to be with men.’
—–sayings of the desert
The heavenly hosts have but one will, but men have many directions. At first glance it seems Arsenius is advocating total isolation, with further thought, there is perhaps a deeper meaning. Men are so scattered and confused when attempting to follow after God. We search in many directions, and fail to find peace with God. Constant discussion and speculation dominate our lives, and no truth is found. For thousands of years men have discussed and debated the meaning of miracles, healings, suffering, and have found few answers. The Abba calls us to put God first, and with that decision, we can have the freedom to find His will. Putting God first can be as simple as beginning each day in prayer, or having a time of silence to keep our focus. The Abba warns that we must not abandon God to be in the world.
Luke 4: 16-30
Jesus went home. After ministering in Galilee he decided to go back to Nazareth, to reconnect with those who had known him as a little boy, to visit his mom, to speak at the synagogue that he knew like the back of his hand. At the synagogue, he spoke about his mission. The locals were at first offended and then enraged. They took him to the cliff which marked the edge of town with plans to throw him off. Then the miracle happened. Scripture says, “But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” One man in an angry mob and “he passed through the midst of them!” He did not call for help or fight his way clear. He just passed through them.
When we think of Jesus’ miracles we consider events like healings, resurrections, calming the sea, walking on water, or turning water into wine. We never see this miracle listed, but I see it as an incredible moment that relates to our journeys so often. How many times have you walked through frightening, dangerous, heartbreaking situations and gone on to live out your life? How many times have you not been able to explain how you did it, how you made it through? How many times have you weathered opposition and hostility and continued to live victoriously? How many times has your broken heart healed? How many times has your mind been calmed by an unexplainable peace? How many times has your soul been restored? How many times have you been at the edge of the cliff sure you were going over, when some Presence led you through the fear and pain and hurt and death? Each of those times was a miracle.
Jesus knows all about standing at the cliff’s edge with other situations or people pushing you over. He knows what it is like to look down at a chasm of hopelessness and despair. He understands the pounding of your heart, the wrenching of your gut, the tears of your hurt. He reaches out his hand and leads you as you pass through the midst of them and go on your way to love and serve Him.
Reflection – What has Christ helped you pass through?
Once the order was given at Scetis, ‘Fast the week.’ Now it happened that some brothers came from Egypt to visit Abba Moses and he cooked something for them. Seeing some smoke, the neighbors said to the ministers, ‘Look, Moses has broken the commandment and has cooked something in his cell.’ The ministers said, ‘When he comes, we will speak to him ourselves.’ When the Saturday came, since they knew Abba Moses’ remarkable way of life, the ministers said to him in front of everyone, ‘O Abba Moses, you did not keep the commandment of men, but it was so that you might keep the commandment of God.’
—–sayings of the desert
It is a difficult thing to discern sometimes whether we are acting out of religious piety or truly following the commands of God. Our community, like the community of Scetis, can confuse the two. Men have a way of making so many rules, and often these rules are just a pretense of following God. The practice of His presence is far greater than keeping the commands of a church, a class, or a community. God’s commands are made for the good of His creation. Jesus tells us, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” The commands of God are not meant to burden, punish or diminish our value, but to allow us to know God’s love and mercy and share it with the world.
Abba Serapion said, ‘When the soldiers of the emperor are standing at attention, they cannot look to the right or left; it is the same for the man who stands before God and looks towards him in fear at all times; he cannot then fear anything from the enemy.’
—-Sayings of the Desert
It is a most difficult challenge to simply look toward God in our busy and complicated world. The motive of the soldier to keep his eyes on his commander is varied. For some it is respect, others fear and still others, protection. Those are very good reasons to keep our eyes focused on our God and creator as well.
There’s an old hymn that put it this way:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”
The wise old man is telling us that we must learn to keep our eyes, ears and hearts on God, and that is the best protection from the evil one. In doing so we live in the light of His grace.
In the darkest days of WWII Winston Churchill addressed the students of his Alma Mater, Harrow School with the following words.
We forget that this is also God’s message. God has promised never to give up on us. Old Testament and New Testaments together, are a record of how God never, never, never, gave up.
Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and from 1951 to 1955.
“You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period – I am addressing myself to the School – surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.Very different is the mood today. Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these Islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer.”
– Adam and Eve disobeyed the very First Rule. But God never gave up.
– Abraham wandered, and Sarah laughed. But God never gave up.
– Moses hid and shook with fear. But God never gave up.
– Saul went insane. But God never gave up.
– David plotted against Uriah. But God never gave up.
– Ahaz sold out to Assyria. But God never gave up.
– Israel fell into pieces. But God never gave up.
– The Jewish people became exiles. But God never gave up.
– John the Baptist was beheaded. But God never gave up.
– Peter denied he even knew him. But God never gave up.
– The disciples all ran away. But God never gave up.
God never, never, never gave up and he has not given up today!
As Americans we tend to get the idea that we can do anything. It is sort of a vision of invincibility. After all we took the lead in WWII, put the first man on the moon, saw the Soviet Union fall, led the cyber age and have the strongest economy in the world. With all those things on our side what can be against us?
The world seems to be filled with hate for the USA. Our utter disbelief and horror as we have endured one shock after another. The time has come for us to take stock of ourselves, to look deeply into our beings and to find the root of our strength. Long ago the Psalmist said: –
A hostile world! I call to God, I cry to God to help me. From his place he hears my call: my cry brings me right into his presence—a private audience (the Message) Psalm 18:6
We now find ourselves in a situation where all our ready answers are failing to fill the bill. The only answer for us is to renew that great faith that is within us. It is God’s will to bring good to us all. God created everyone with great potential. He created us in his own image. -“to be a little lower than God.” -He will hear our cry in our darkest times and give us a private audience. The time has come to request that audience.
God calls on us individually to come to the realization that He is waiting to hear from us. If we all call upon the God of grace and peace to guide us in these strange times we will wake up to a radically changed world. . A world that is no longer at the daily mercy of terrorist but in the loving arms of the creator of us all. A creator that is capable of bringing love to the heart of hatred that drives the people who rob us of the peace that Jesus came into this world to give us.