Abba Mark asked Abba Arsenius ‘Is it good to have nothing extra in the cell? I know a brother who had some vegetables and he has pulled them up.’ Abba Arsenius replied, ‘Undoubtedly that is good but it must be done according to a man’s capacity. For if he does not have the strength for such a practice he will soon plant others.’
——Sayings of the Desert Fathers
I suppose the toughest part of the Christian journey is to discover my capacity. I want answers, handles, methods to live my life as a devoted follower of Christ. The wisdom of the desert tells me that there is no one answer, but our loving God accommodates my “capacity”. What does that mean? It seems to ring the tone of situational ethics but no, it is really scriptural. First Corinthians 10: 13 tells us that we will not be given more than we can bear. In our “one right answer society” we expect everyone to be of the same belief, actions and journey but that is not reality. God gives each person a capacity of faith that we offer to him and He, in turn, gives a faith journey that we can accomplish.
English: Adoration of the Wise Men by Murillo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
An ancient theologian named Origen tried to simplify the message of Advent and Christmas something like this: Suppose there were a statue so large that the eye of man simply could not take it in with one look. How best to grasp the essential form and substance of this statue? Would it not be wise to make a small copy to an exact scale but much reduced? Then humanity could see what the greater statue was like. Origen went on to say this is what God has done in Jesus Christ. He shows us what He himself is like within the bounds of our human ability to understand.
That statue took the form of a baby so special, so compelling that great men wanted to worship him. Some of the first of these men were the Magi who visited Jesus to worship him. We celebrtae their visit this Sunday with the Feast of the Epiphany.
Latin Alphabet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, ‘Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with such a good Latin and Greek education ask this peasant about your thoughts?’ He replied, ‘I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.’
What an interesting thought, “The alphabet of a peasant.” We all know that everything we write or say comes from our alphabet. How amazing was it that a highly educated Roman citizen, when looking through the eyes of Christ, gave more credence to the wisdom of the peasant than the wisdom of education. The challenge is: Who do we learn from? Who sets our agenda? Can any of us say that we listen and learn from those who are living through the pure mercy of God.
First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pitsak, a Medieval Armenian scribe and miniaturist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One day Jesus was confronted by some of his detractors. They ask him what was the greatest command of the law. He told them to love God with all their beings. Then he added, ”Love others as much as you love yourself.”. That word love is just all over the place. Yet we live in a world that thrives on power and the ability to control. If we need to use force, we will. The message of Jesus is one of love and grace.
Our great challenge is to. learn to live with that love in our lives. Lives that are filled with love can easily be spotted. They stand out in the crowd. Their demeanor can calm a tense room. Their gentle spirits can soften a hostile crowd. Their openness can bring acceptance to all they touch. If we can discover the secret of love of Jesus we can conquer the world.
Jesus does give us a few hints that can help us climb the mountain of self-absorption that we find ourselves facing. His love is a giving love. He gave his all for you and me. His love comes without price to us. We all too often demand a price for our love; it is a conditional love. When Jesus opens his arms his love reaches out to everyone not just to those who respond.
Maybe you and me can try to practice the love that is giving and free. It might be a big challenge but with God’s help we can do it.
This is a great article and we would all do well to take it to heart during this season.
Pastors have facetiously called them C & E Christians…those people who show up on Christmas and Easter, but the reality is that most people are likely to begin attending a church at three particular times of the year: Christmas, Easter and Back-to-School time. With that in mind, pastors and congregations need to be particularly aware that guests are likely, and they need to be prepared to greet them accordingly if they ever hope to have the first-time guests return.
So? What are you doing to pave the way for return guests? I came across a list of five things a congregation can do to connect with first-time guests. The list itself comes from Pastor Rick Ezell in South Carolina, but the commentary is mine. I thought it would be good to share as pastors and congregations prepare special Advent and Christmas season worship services.
1. Visitors make up their minds…
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I don’t know the original author of these “Great Truths about Life That Little Children Have Learned,” but they have become internet legend.
- No matter how hard you try, you can’t baptize cats.
- When your mom is mad at your dad, don’t let her brush your hair.
- If your sister hits you, don’t hit her back. They always catch the second person.
- Never ask your 3-year old brother to hold a tomato.
- You can’t trust dogs to watch your food.
- Reading what people write on desks can teach you a lot.
- Don’t sneeze when someone is cutting your hair.
- Puppies still have bad breath even after eating a tic tac.
- Never hold a dustbuster and a cat at the same time.
- School lunches stick to the wall.
- You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.
- Don’t wear polka-dot underwear under white shorts.
- The best place to be when you are sad is in Grandma’s lap.
All of these “truths” point to the simple life and yet simplicity eludes us in our complicated, fast paced lives. Our world yearns for simplicity. Not one among us would turn down the opportunity to have Grandma comfort us when we are sad. Jesus said:” Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” It was the simplicity and innocence of a child that was the key to truth that Jesus brings to us. Our lives are complicated enough. Let us live in the simplicity of trusting Jesus.
Everybody wants to be somebody. Since the beginning of time people have been trying to become more important. The words used by the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve were “when you eat of [the tree of good and evil], your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Henri Nouwen says that ever since then, we have been tempted to replace love with power. “The long painful history of the church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.”
The real challenge for us is overcoming this attitude. As members of Christ’s community of faith we are called to be the light of the world. It is very difficult to be the light for others when we are centered on ourselves. Pray that God will guide you in a direction of selfless love that will allow you to be the beacon of love that he created you to be.
Several centuries ago, a Japanese emperor commissioned an artist to paint a bird. A number of months passed, then several years, and still no painting was brought to the palace. Finally the emperor became so exasperated that he went to the artist’s home to demand an explanation. Instead of making excuses, the artist placed a blank canvas on the easel. In less than an hour, he completed a painting that was to become a brilliant masterpiece. When the emperor asked the reason for the delay, the artist showed him armloads of drawings of feathers, wings, heads, and feet. Then he explained that all of this research and study had been necessary before he could complete the painting.
The word is preparation. One of the primary reasons for failure is lack of preparation. Are we preparing to succeed or setting ourselves up for failure? As in the story above, a person who is prepared for a task can easily accomplish it, but the unprepared flounder and fail.
When we go to church, our task is to worship God. Worship means to honor, respect or encounter. We cannot do any of these things unless we are prepared. Come to worship prepared to interact with God. He will pour out His blessings to you.
“While still living in the palace, Abba Arsenius prayed to God in these words, ‘Lord, lead me in the way of salvation.’ And a voice came saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee from men and you will be saved. ‘Having withdrawn to the solitary life he made the same prayer again and he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness.’ “
—sayings of the Desert Fathers
Threefold is the call to perfection. First we must flee. We flee from the slavery of the demands of the world. We are no longer obedient vassals to what “everyone else” is doing and saying. Second, we must practice silence. The call to silence is a call to be attentive to the voice of God. God speaks loudest when we are silent . The third call is to pray always. In the practice of constant prayer ,we open ourselves to the will of God, and we draw closer to Him. These three concepts are a path to perfection.