It just doesn’t make sense. It goes against everything we think we know. If someone hits you on the cheek, turn the other one to be hit, too? If someone robs you, don’t go looking for your stolen goods? If someone asks you for something, give it to them, and more?
And, for me, the one that convicts me -
30Give to everyone who begs from you;
We have always worked hard and saved hard for what we want. How to know who is conning when he begs, and who is genuinely in need? Jesus says it doesn’t matter – give.
27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.* Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’
Our church tradition includes several books of the bible that the mainline Protestant churches do not. Wisdom of Solomon is one of my favorites (I think I like Judith the best) This is our reading for today from the Old Testament in our Lectionary Readings:
1Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth,
think of the Lord in goodness
and seek him with sincerity of heart;
2 because he is found by those who do not put him to the test,
and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him.
3 For perverse thoughts separate people from God,
and when his power is tested, it exposes the foolish;
4 because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul,
or dwell in a body enslaved to sin.
5 For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit,
and will leave foolish thoughts behind,
and will be ashamed at the approach of unrighteousness.
6 For wisdom is a kindly spirit,
but will not free blasphemers from the guilt of their words;
because God is witness of their inmost feelings,
and a true observer of their hearts, and a hearer of their tongues.
7 Because the spirit of the Lord has filled the world,
and that which holds all things together knows what is said,
8 therefore those who utter unrighteous things will not escape notice,
and justice, when it punishes, will not pass them by.
9 For inquiry will be made into the counsels of the ungodly,
and a report of their words will come to the Lord,
to convict them of their lawless deeds;
10 because a jealous ear hears all things,
and the sound of grumbling does not go unheard.
11 Beware then of useless grumbling,
and keep your tongue from slander;
because no secret word is without result,*
and a lying mouth destroys the soul.
12 Do not invite death by the error of your life,
or bring on destruction by the works of your hands;
13 because God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.
14 For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces* of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion* of Hades is not on earth.
15 For righteousness is immortal.
Some of the stories you come across in the Bible are so horrifying – and so human – that they still have a compelling immediacy. People do the most horrible things to one another, it mystifies me. This King, Nebuchadnezzar, is so incensed that his Jewish bureaucrats won’t bow down and worship his statue that he orders them cast into a furnace, which he heats seven times hotter than normal. That’s pretty angry!
19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace to be heated up seven times more than was customary, 20and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics,* their trousers,* their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire.
22Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire.
24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counsellors, ‘Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?’ They answered the king, ‘True, O king.’
25He replied, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.’* 26Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!’
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counsellors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics* were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.
28Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. 29Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.’ 30Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
When I read this, I think of the recent legislation proposed in Kuwait against insulting God or his prophets. Let men insult. Let them build their gods, their statures, let them pursue their little gods of vanity, power and wealth. The one true God laughs. He holds all the true power. He doesn’t need our protection; he is in charge.
In Florida, some friends complain about “the law that says our kids can’t pray in school.” There is no law that says kids can’t pray in school. Kids pray in school all the time! I did, specially when I had a really hard test I hadn’t prepared adequately for What the law says is that no one can make all pray together, using the same words, as we did at one time. It’s not such a bad thing; even as Christians, we don’t all share the same beliefs. You might not want your children praying a prayer I might compose because I might have a dogmatic belief a little different from your own. Our job is to teach our children to pray; the Holy Spirit will be with them, and put the words in their hearts.
Today in our Lectionary, the church honors Pierre Tielhard do Chardin, a man who thought about God and the nature of the world and tried to figure out a logical explanation for the state of the world. He was condemned by the church for some of this thoughts, which were not in line with Catholic dogma. I’ve always thought that people who, like the Apostle Thomas, need to seek an explanation and need to see the evidence, are at pondering God and his ways, and in my mind, God must dance with joy – or with amusement – to be so pondered.
Eternal God, the whole cosmos sings of your glory, from the dividing of a single cell to the vast expanse of interstellar space: We bless you for your theologian and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who perceived the divine in the evolving creation. Enable us to become faithful stewards of your divine works and heirs of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN
SCIENTIST AND MILITARY CHAPLAIN, 1955
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (May 1, 1881 – April 10, 1955) was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of Peking Man. His theological and philosophical works came into conflict with the Catholic Church and several of his books were censured.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was born in Orcines, close to Clermont-Ferrand, in France on May 1, 1881. When he was 12, he went to the Jesuit college of Mongré, in Villefranche-sur-Saône, where he completed baccalaureates of philosophy and mathematics. Then, in 1899, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Aix-en-Provence where he began a philosophical, theological and spiritual career. Teilhard studied theology in Hastings, in Sussex (UK), from 1908 to 1912. There he synthesized his scientific, philosophical and theological knowledge in the light of evolution. From 1912 to 1914, Teilhard worked in the paleontology laboratory of the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, in Paris, studying the mammals of the middle Tertiary period.
Mobilised in December 1914, Teilhard served in World War I as a stretcher-bearer in the 8th Moroccan Rifles. For his valour, he received several citations including the Médaille militaire and the Legion of Honour.
In 1923 he traveled to China with Father Emile Licent, who was in charge in Tianjin of a laboratory collaborating with the Natural History Museum in Paris. Licent carried out considerable basic work in connection with missionaries who accumulated observations of a scientific nature in their spare time. Teilhard would remain there more or less twenty years. From 1926 to 1935, Teilhard made five geological research expeditions in China. They enabled him to establish a first general geological map of China. He joined the ongoing excavations of the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian as an advisor in 1926 and continued in the role for the Cenozoic Research Laboratory of the Geological Survey of China following its founding in 1928. During this tima and after, he also made a great number of travels throughout the world, studying and lecturing.
Teilhard died on April 10, 1955 in New York City, where he was in residence at the Jesuit church of St Ignatius of Loyola. He is buried on what is now the grounds of the Culinary Institute of America, in Poughkeepsie, NY.
In 1925, Teilhard was ordered by the Jesuit Superior General Vladimir Ledochowski to leave his teaching position in France and to sign a statement withdrawing his controversial statements regarding the doctrine of original sin. Rather than leave the Jesuit order, Teilhard signed the statement and left for China. This was the first of a series of condemnations by certain ecclesiastical officials that would continue until long after Teilhard’s death. The climax of these condemnations was a 1962 monitum (reprimand) of the Holy Office denouncing his works. It states:
“The above-mentioned works abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine… For this reason, the most eminent and most revered Fathers of the Holy Office exhort all Ordinaries as well as the superiors of Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers.”.
Teilhard’s writings, though, continued to circulate — not publicly, as he and the Jesuits observed their commitments to obedience, but in mimeographs that were circulated only privately, within the Jesuits, among theologians and scholars for discussion, debate and criticism. As time passed, it seemed that the works of Teilhard were gradually becoming viewed more favourably within the Church. However, the 1962 statement remains official Church policy to this day.
In his posthumously published book, The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard writes of the unfolding of the material cosmos, from primordial particles to the development of life, human beings and the noosphere, and finally to his vision of the Omega Point in the future, which is “pulling” all creation towards it. He was a leading proponent of orthogenesis, the idea that evolution occurs in a directional, goal driven way, argued in terms that today go under the banner of convergent evolution. Teilhard argued in Darwinian terms with respect to biology, and supported the synthetic model of evolution, but argued in Lamarckian terms for the development of culture, primarily through the vehicle of education.
Teilhard makes sense of the universe by its evolutionary process. He interprets complexity as the axis of evolution of matter into a geosphere, a biosphere, into consciousness (in man,) and then to supreme consciousness (the Omega Point.)
Teilhard himself claimed his work to be phenomenology. Teilhard studied what he called the rise of spirit, or evolution of consciousness, in the universe. He believed it to be observable and verifiable in a simple law he called the Law of Complexity / Consciousness. This law simply states that there is an inherent compulsion in matter to arrange itself in more complex groupings, exhibiting higher levels of consciousness. The more complex the matter, the more conscious it is. Teilhard proposed that this is a better way to describe the evolution of life on earth, rather than Herbert Spencer’s “survival of the fittest.” The universe, he argued, strives towards higher consciousness, and does so by arranging itself into more complex structures.
Teilhard here proposed another level of consciousness, to which human beings belong, because of their cognitive ability; i.e. their ability to ‘think’, and to set things to purpose. Human beings, Teilhard argued, represent the layer of consciousness which has “folded back in upon itself”, and has become self-conscious. So in addition to the geosphere and the biosphere, Teilhard posited another sphere, which is the realm of human beings, the realm of reflective thought: the noosphere. The noosphere has been compared to C. G. Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious.
Finally, the keystone to his phenomenology is that because Teilhard could not explain why the universe would move in the direction of more complex arrangements and higher consciousness, he postulated that there must exist ahead of the moving universe, and pulling it along, a higher pole of supreme consciousness, which he called Omega Point.
Teilhard re-interpreted many disciplines, including theology, sociology, metaphysics, around this understanding of the universe. A main focus of his was to re-assure the converging mass of humanity not to despair, but to trust the evolution of consciousness as it rises through them.
Most people I know these days are trying to eat less meat. In the readings for today, we start the story of Daniel, a story every Christian child learns in Sunday School, but when you read as an adult, you see different things. This morning, doing the readings from the Lectionary, I smiled to see that Daniel and his companions wanted only vegetables; they were working very hard not to violate their food laws.
I also wonder if not eating meat was helpful in the den of lions; maybe they smelled less interesting as vegetarians? Then again, lions eat impalas, wildebeest, all sorts of vegetarians, so that probably was not a factor . . .
1In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar,* and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods.
3 Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, 4young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. 6Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah. 7The palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. 9Now God allowed Daniel to receive favour and compassion from the palace master. 10The palace master said to Daniel, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.’
11Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12‘Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.’ 14So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. 15At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. 16So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams.
18 At the end of the time that the king had set for them to be brought in, the palace master brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, 19and the king spoke with them. And among them all, no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they were stationed in the king’s court. 20In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. 21And Daniel continued there until the first year of King Cyrus.
When I read a segment like this in the daily Lectionary Readings, I wonder what happens next? What a great science fiction/fantasy story this would make, writing from the point of view of a newly raised newly re-fleshed person – like would they have their former memories? Would they remember their deaths? Or would they come into the world with the blank unfilled minds of babies, but in grown bodies? Did the Lord God just revive them and set them on their way? We know he was making a point to the prophet Ezekiel, but you have to wonder . . . what came next?
37The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ 4Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath* to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath* in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:* Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath,* and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11 Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’
He is risen!
In today’s Lectionary readings, Saint John explains the coming of the light (Jesus Christ) into the world. On this day, when we celebrate that he is risen from the dead, it is a most fitting and wonderful verse to read. Below is the tomb of John-the-Baptist (Yahyah,) in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, one of my favorite cities on earth. On this wonderful day of new beginnings, I pray for the peace and prosperity of Syria and all mankind, that we might set aside all the pettiness and grubbing for small things, and look to the larger and harder issues of how to love one another.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.*
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,* full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,* who is close to the Father’s heart,* who has made him known.
Today the prophet Jeremiah sounds like a modern man – asking why, when we know what is good and what is bad, that some choose bad, and seem to do just fine – even better than the rest of us?
From the Holy Week readings in The Lectionary:
12You will be in the right, O Lord,
when I lay charges against you;
but let me put my case to you.
Why does the way of the guilty prosper?
Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
2 You plant them, and they take root;
they grow and bring forth fruit;
you are near in their mouths
yet far from their hearts.
3 But you, O Lord, know me;
You see me and test me—my heart is with you.
Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,
and set them apart for the day of slaughter.
4 How long will the land mourn,
and the grass of every field wither?
For the wickedness of those who live in it
the animals and the birds are swept away,
and because people said, ‘He is blind to our ways.’*
The Liturgical Calendar: The Church Remembers
Today the church remembers Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop and Missionary of Armenia, c. 332.
Armenia, the first Christian kingdom in history, was converted through the efforts of Gregory. This kingdom came to an unhappy end as an independent state in 430, yet some two and one-half million persons today are still culturally Armenians. They enjoy a racial, linguistic, and religious heritage which is one of the world’s oldest and richest. Their community has endured fifteen hundred years of dispersion, harassment, and often severe persecution.
The truly marvelous story of Christian Armenia began when the infant Gregory, who was a prince by birth, was exiled by enemies and reared by a compassionate Christian family in Cappadocia (modern central Turkey). As an adult and a Christian he returned to Armenia and converted the king, Tiridates, heir of Gregory’s old enemies. This was not done easily. Indeed, many legends have grown up around the tradition of Gregory’s great difficulties, hardships, and sufferings in effecting the conversion of the king and subsequently the kingdom. For this work he is called the “Illuminator.” Gregory was eventually consecrated Bishop of Echmiadzin and was the organizer of the Armenian Church.
The Episcopal Church has enjoyed a warm and friendly relationship with the Armenian Church for many years. Offer thanks for that friendship.
We thank you, O God, for the witness of Gregory the Illuminator and for the people of Armenia. Amen.
Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in all your saints, and who raised up your servant Gregory the Illuminator to be a light in the world, and to preach the Gospel to the people of Armenia: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In our Old Testament reading from the prophet Jeremiah this morning, in the Lectionary, I read these old familiar verses, and they bring a smile to my face. I always thought of these as my instructions, living in alien lands, to pray for the welfare of the land in which I was living, to be a blessing there, and to live my life fully, trusting I would one day be living once again in my own land.
29These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,* 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.
10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,