Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Phillips Brooks on Jesus' Effect on His Disciples

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) was one of the great preachers and leaders of the Episcopal Church. He was the Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts. He wrote the classic Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem. He also attended seminary at my alma mater, Virginia Theological Seminary.  Here is a portion of a sermon Brooks preached on Matthew 26:21-22 in which he reflects on how it is that Jesus’ disciples might each wonder if he was the one who would betray him. They asked, ‘Is it I?”

It must have been that their life with him had deepened the sense of the mystery of their lives. They had seen themselves, in intercourse with him, as capable of much more profound and variable spiritual experiences than they had thought possible before. And this possible life, this possible experience, had run in both directions up and down. They had recognized a before unknown capacity for holiness, and they had seen also a before unknown power of wickedness. Their sluggishness had been broken up, and they had seen that they were capable of divine things. Their self-satisfied pride had been broken up, and they had seen that they were capable of brutal things. Heaven and hell had opened above their heads and below their feet. They had not thought it incredible when Christ said, ‘I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again and receive you to myself,’ now they did not think it incredible when he said, ‘One of you shall betray me.’ The life with Christ had melted the ice in which they had been frozen, and they felt it in them either to rise to the sky or to sink into the depths. That was and that always is Christ’s revelation of the possibilities of life.
(Philips Brooks: Selected Sermons,
           William Scarlett, ed., p. 151)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Top 10 Posts of 2012

Here are the top ten posts (based on the number of hits) on Into the Expectation in 2012:

1. Praying with Julian of Norwich and the Hazelnut

2. Embracing Wrongness

3. Two posts on the same topic received significant attention:

Against Communion Without Baptism: Some Anecdotes

Communion Without Baptism? Some Resources

4. Getting Off the Fence – Obstacles
The other posts in this series also received quite a few hits, but I am choosing not to list them separately. If you want, you can follow the links at the end of each one.

5. The Hunger Games – What Would Perpetua Do?

6. Francis and the Restoration of Creation

7. What do you want to be, anyway?

8. Anglican Comprehensiveness

9.Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?

10. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Radiant Leaven in the Dough

On this, the twelfth and last day of Christmas, I offer a couple of poems by Br. Roger of Taize. They remind us, as the carol has it, "No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in." And that we who rejoice to sing of the hope and peace and joy wrought by the birth of the Baby Jesus are called to embody that hope and peace and joy by the power of his Spirit to those around us.

O Christ,
you offer us a Gospel treasure;
you place in us a unique gift
the gift of bearing your life.
But, to make it clear
that the radiance comes from you
and not from us,
you have placed this incomparable gift
in vessels of clay,
in hearts which are poor.
You come to make your home
in the frailty of our beings,
there and nowhere else.
In this way, we know not how,
you make us, poor and vulnerable as we are,
the radiance of your presence
for those around us.

Lord Christ
the mystery of your presence is beyond price,
and mysterious the road on which you wait
to lead us to the Father.
Even when we understand
so little of your life,
your Spirit who dwells in our hearts
makes God
comprehensible to us.
And you work a miracle:
you make us into living stones
in your body, your church.
O Christ, you are Love,
and you do not want us to be judges
who stand on the outside and condemn,
but rather leaven in the dough
of every community,
and of the human family
a ferment able to raise the enormous weight
of all that has become stiff and hardened.

The First Day of Christmas: How God Brings His Love to Bear

Friday, January 4, 2013

Like Fire in Iron

How can the Godhead be in the flesh? And why? For the eleventh day of Christmas, here is Basil of Caesarea’s (330-379) answer:

God is on earth, God is among us, not now as lawgiver–there is no fire, no trumpet blast, no smoke-wreathed mountain, dense cloud, or storm to terrify, whoever hears him–but as one gently and kindly conversing in a human body with his fellow men and women. God is in the flesh. Now he is not acting intermittently as he did through the prophets. He is bringing back to himself the whole human race, which he has taken possession of and united to himself. By his flesh he has made the human race his own kin.

But how can glory come to all through only one? How can the Godhead be in the flesh? In the same way as fire can be in iron: not by moving from place to place but by the one imparting to the other its own properties. Fire does not speed toward iron, but without itself undergoing any change it causes the iron to share in its own natural attributes. The fire is not diminished and yet it completely fills whatever shares in its nature. So it is also with God the Word. He did not relinquish his own nature and yet he dwelt among us. He did not undergo any change and yet the Word became flesh. Earth received him from heaven, yet heaven as not deserted by him who holds the universe in being.

Let us strive to comprehend the mystery. The reason God is in the flesh is to kill the death that lurks there. As diseases are cured by medicines assimilated by the body, and as darkness in a house is dispelled by the coming of light, so death, which held sway over human nature, is done away with the coming of God. And as ice formed on water covers its surface as long as night and darkness last but melts under the warmth of the sun, so death reigned until the coming of Christ; but when the grace of God our savior appeared and the Sun of Justice rose, death was swallowed up in victory, unable to bear the presence of true life. How great is God’s goodness, how deep his love for us.
(Homily on Christ’s Ancestry)

The Twelfth Day of Christmas: Radiant Leaven in the Dough

The First Day of Christmas: How God Brings His Love to Bear

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Mercy Incarnate and Personified

For the tenth day of Christmas, something from John Paul II's wonderful Encyclical on the Mercy of God:

Although God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16), he speaks to man by means of the whole universe: “ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). This indirect and imperfect knowledge, achieved by the intellect seeking God by means of creatures through visible world, falls short of “vision of the Father”” “no one has ever seen God,” writes Saint John, in order to stress the truth that “the only Son , who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18). This “making known” reveals god in the most profound mystery of his being, one and three, surrounded by “unapproachable light.” Nevertheless, through this “making known”  by Christ we know God above all in his relationship of love for man: “philanthropy” (Titus 3:4). It is precisely here that “his invisible nature”: becomes in a special way “visible,” incomparably more visible than through all the other “things that have been made”: it becomes visible in Christ and through Christ, through his actions and words, and finally through his death on the cross and his resurrection.

In this way, in Christ and through Christ, God also becomes visible in his mercy; that is to say, there is emphasized that attribute of the divinity which the Old Testament, using various concepts and terms, already defined as “mercy.” Christ confers on the whole Old Testament tradition about God’s mercy a definitive meaning. Not only does he speak of it, and explain it by the use of comparisons and parables, but above all he himself makes it incarnate and personifies it. He himself, in a certain sense, is mercy. To the person who sees it in him–and finds it in him–God becomes “visible” in a particular way as the Father “who is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4).

. . . .

The truth revealed in Christ, about God the “Father of mercies” (2 Corinthians  1:3) enables us to “see” him as particularly close to man especially when man is suffering, when he is under threat at the very heart of his existence and dignity.

The Eleventh Day of Christmas: Like Fire in Iron

First Day of Christmas: How God Brings HisLove to Bear

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Double-Movement of the Incarnation

For your edification the ninth Day of Christmas, something from French theologian, Jean DaniƩlou (1905-1974):

Jesus is the action of God coming towards man to save him and lead him to the Father. In Him, therefore, is revealed the fullness of the mystery of God’s love. But He is also the Man who, raised up by God, mounts towards the Father and thus fulfills the vocation of man. He is at once – let us repeat – the movement of God towards man and the movement of man towards God.

The Tenth Day of Christmas: Mercy Incarnate and Personified

First Day of Christmas: How God Brings His Love to Bear

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

As Rain Falls on the Earth

For the eighth day of Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Name, something from St. Hesychios (8th or 9th century) whose writing can be found in the Philokalia:

The more the rain falls on the earth, the softer it makes it; similarly, the holy name of Jesus gladdens the earth of our heart the more we call upon it.
(Watchfulness and Holiness)

The Ninth Day of Christmas: The Double-Movement of the Incarnation  
First Day of Christmas: How God Brings His Love to Bear