Ben Franklin’s World Podcast, Well Worth a Listen

Ben Franklin

My office is the front seat of my vehicle as I travel from facility to facility visiting hospice patients.  As such, I spend an enormous amount of time on the road, I logged almost 700 miles the last two weeks.  As there is nothing worth listening to on the radio I turn to podcasts and one of my favorites is Ben Franklin’s World hosted by historian Liz Covart.

I mention this podcast because it has reached a milestone. The podcast is a year old this week and has produced 50 episodes.  Most podcasts do not make it past eight episodes, so Liz is on to something here.  What Liz is trying to do is make history accessible to the average person, and her and her guests boil down complex issues into something that we all can understand and appreciate.

The Podcast, as its title would suggest, focuses on the time period of the early Republic but can stray away from that from time to time and gives us, the listeners, some insight into the world of our forbearers.  This is not the history you learned in elementary school, in fact, some episodes challenge traditional beliefs about issues and makes you think.  Sometimes I agree and sometimes not but I appreciate the fact that Liz is having this conversation and making me think.

But, the conversation does not end there.  Liz has created an online community on Facebook for listeners of the show where the conversation can continue.  Hundreds of fellow listeners chime in on all sorts of historical topics and issues, and I have had some kind of cool discussions with folks.  Liz is also very active on Twitter where she tweets about all kinds of things for history to our beloved Boston Red Sox.  She even hosted a meet up this summer in Boston, and although I was not able to attend, it was a great success.

So here’s to another year of Ben Franklin’s World!  Great job Liz!

The world is coming to an end, Again

end of the world

This morning, while checking my feed on Facebook, I came across another article claiming the world is coming to an end. In the article, Christian group predicts the world will be ‘annihilated’ on Wednesday, the group claims that they have calculated the date and even though they had been wrong in the past, and there is a reason October 7, 2015, is the day that the world will end.

McCann believes that Camping’s 21 May 2011 prediction did have some truth, however. That day was declared to be “judgment day” because it was the day God stopped the process of selecting which churchgoers will survive Wednesday’s massacre, McCann said.

Following 21 May 2011, God turned his attention to deciding which non-churchgoers to save, according to McCann. The eBible Fellowship believes that God said he would devote 1,600 days to this task – bringing us to 7 October 2015.

My first reaction was one of laughter and just shaking my head.  I started to think how can anyone take Christians serious when we have people like this out there representing us.  After all even Jesus told us that he did not know the day the world was going to end.  So if Jesus did not know how could we, mere mortals, figure it out.  And if God could create all of well, creation, in six days why would it take him 1,600 days to figure out who he was going to save.  I mean Santa Clause does all of that in one night, and he delivers toys!

Then I attended the quarterly training meeting of the Massachusetts Corps of Fire Chaplains.  At the start of the meeting we always have a little devotional time and this time our, Chief Chaplain led it.  He spoke of this same article I had read earlier in the day and came to some of the same conclusions.  I stole that Santa Clause line from one of my fellow chaplains by the way.  But then the tone of his devotion changed.

For some people, he reminded us, the world as they know it will come to an end today and tomorrow and the day after.  Some will die.  Some will lose loved ones. Some marriages will end. And for some of the people we serve, they will die saving others.  The world ended for a group of sailors out to sea during the most recent hurricane, and some died just trying to get a better education for themselves and their families.  You see the world is ending for each one of us.

I sat there for a moment and thought about those words and was mindful of the souls for whom this would be their last day, not gone in some apocalyptic end of the world but because of a drug overdose or cancer or old age or an accident of some kind and I said a little prayer for each of them.

The time we have on this earth is limited, and none of us know when it will end.  How are we spending those days?  Are we truly loving God and loving our neighbor or are we caught up in some nonsense and caring only for ourselves.

So it is 9:30 pm on Wednesday and, although there are still a few hours left in the day I do not think the world is coming to an end today.  Maybe tomorrow…

I am the Bread of Life

A Sermon on John 6:34-40


I love to bake bread; I’m not very good at it, but I do like to make it.  There is something about getting your hands in the dough and working it, and getting it all over your hands.  Baking, unlike cooking, is an exact science, add a little too much of one thing, and it can lead to disaster.  Baking bread not long ago, I had the dough ready was preparing for it to rise.  I had the bowl oiled and placed the dough in it.  I put the plastic wrap on top to cover it placed it on the back of the stove.  I also decided that this would be a good time to preheat the oven.  Well, if you have ever introduced heat to a dough that has yeast in it you know what is coming next.  I had walked away and when I returned the dough had raised, about five times its size and was into every nook and cranny of my stove. The right amount of ingredients and heat is what is necessary to make the perfect bread.

This passage today is one of the significant passages from the fourth Gospel and perhaps even the entire New Testament.  There are two great lines that need to be pointed out.

First, what did Jesus mean when he said, “I am the bread of life”?  It is poetic for sure, but there has to be more to this than just beautiful words.  Bread sustains life and without it we cannot go on.  But what life is the life that Jesus was speaking about?  Apparently Jesus is talking about life as more than physical life.  We have countless examples in Scripture of Jesus being concerned about a person’s physical life but what is being introduced here is the spiritual life of an individual.

For us to have the real life, we must have a relationship with God and that relationship involves a trust and obedience and love all of which we have been taught.  This relationship, this spiritual relationship with God is only made possible through Jesus Christ, for apart from him no one can enter this life with God.  This is to say that without Jesus we may have an existence; we may live and breathe, but we will not have a life.  Therefore, if Jesus is the essential of life, he may be described as the bread of life. The hunger of our lives is ended when we know Christ and through him to God. The restless soul of ours finds rest and the hungry heart is satisfied.

We also find in this passage the stages, or the recipe if you will, of the Christian life.  First we see Jesus.  We see him in the pages of Scripture, the teachings of the Church, and sometimes in each other.  Having seen him, we come to him. We regard him no longer as some distant far off being but as someone who inaccessible to us. We believe in Him, that is to say we accept him as the final authority on things in our lives, this is where the trust comes in, but also obedience to him and what he is asking of us.

From this process we receive life, this is to say that we enter into a new life with God and a more personal relationship with Jesus.  This is an intimate friendship, and we become comfortable with this relationship and we no longer are scared of letting others know about it.  The possibility of this life is free and universal.  God created us as we are and loves us as we are.  The only requirement is that we become the person that he wants us to be.  God loves us no matter what and places only one condition on that love, and that is that we strive to be the best we can.  God does not even require us to love him back; he loves us no matter what.

This needs to be said again, but the only way to this relationship with God is through his son Jesus Christ.  Without Jesus, and our relationship with him this friendship with God is not possible. No searching of the human mind or longing of the human heart can fully find God apart from Jesus Christ.  God provides the motivation and the desire but we have to do the work necessary.  We have been called by name since before we were born he has already found us now we just need to find him.

But into this relationship comes free will.  We have the option to seek this relationship or refuse this relationship, and the choice is ours.  Like I just said God has called each of us by name all we need to do is listen to him.  He is holding out his hand to us, and all we have to do is take it.  Do not think that we are not worthy because we are not, but through him we become worthy and by seeking his life we become full of his life, the bread of life will satisfy us all.

Many years ago I belonged to a Roman Catholic Monastic community not far from here.  In the chapel hung a cross and on that cross was the image of not the crucified Jesus but the risen Jesus.  That cross hung there day in and day out as a reminder of what he did for us but also as a reminder of the love that he has for all of us.  The figure on the cross was not bloody but was clothed in glory with his arms outstretched in a way that would draw each of us in.

I do not have children, but I do have a dog.  He is a cool little guy that is my best friend.  He is always there for me no matter what.  When I come home after being away for a period, he runs to greet me.  If I get down and throw open my arms, he will run right up and into my open arms.  He knows that there is safety and security in these arms and the same are true of Jesus.  Hanging there in the chapel, with his arms open wide, he is saying to us “come to me all you who are weary and find rest.”  He does not tell us to be perfect; he tells us to come, to come as we are, and he will love us no matter what. But we have to come; we have to accept his invitation.

When we do this when we accept the invitation, two things happen. First into our lives enters a new satisfaction. The hunger and thirst in our lives are gone.  Our hearts find what we are searching for, and our lives cease to be mere existence, and life becomes a thing at once of thrill and peace.

Second, even beyond the life we are safe. Even on the last day when all things end we are still secure. Christ brings us to the haven beyond which there is no danger.

The spiritual life is just like the recipe I mentioned at the start, if we follow it to the letter it will work, add too much of one thing, or not enough of the other, and it can become a messy disaster quickly.

The offer of Christ is life in time and life in eternity. That is the greatness and glory of which we cheat ourselves when we refuse his invitation.

In a few moments, we will take the bread of life in the elements that are presented here.  It is in this action that we find our union with Jesus and also the union with each other.  All over the world Christians are gathered on this day and will recall the command of Jesus to do this in remembrance.  But we have to go a step further, and we have to take him not only into our bodies but our hearts.  If we do this and trust me when I say this, our lives will change forever, and it will become the greatest adventure we have ever been on.

The Ladder of Virtue

A Meditation on 2 Peter 1:3-7


His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 2 Peter 1:3-7

In this passage of Scripture, Peter is putting forth his view of what we will call the ladder of virtue.

  1. Faith – Everything goes back to having faith. For Peter, faith is the conviction that what Jesus Christ says is true and that we can commit ourselves to his promises and launch ourselves on his demands. It is the unquestioning certainty that the way to happiness and peace and strength on earth and in heaven is to accept his at his word.
  2. Courage – Taken in context this word means excellence, and there are two distinct meanings of this word. One is a land that is fertile, and it can also be used for the mighty deeds of gods. This is what makes us a good citizen and friend; it is the virtue that makes us an expert in the technique of living well. Faith must come not in the retirement of the cloister and the cell, but in a life active in the service of God and others.
  3. Knowledge – The knowledge that enables us to decide right from wrong and to act honorably and efficiently in the day to day circumstances of life.4. To all of the previous virtues, we add self-control or self-mastery. The word Peter uses here is egkrateia and it means the ability to take a grip of oneself. This is the virtue that the Greeks spoke and wrote and thought about. This is one of the great Christian virtues, and the place it holds is an example of the realism of the Christian ethic. This ethic does not envision contemplate a situation in which we are freed from all passion; it envisions a situation in which the passions remain, but are under perfect control and so become servants and not tyrants.
  4. To the above we add steadfastness. The Greek word is hupomone and John Chrysostom called this “the queen of the virtues.” The word has a background of courage associated with it. It is not that the righteous man must be without feeling, it means that we must patiently bear all things that afflict us. However, this is not simple enduring but enduring with a forward look to it. Paul writes in the Letter to the Hebrews of Jesus that for the joy that was set before him, he endured the Cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:20). That is hupomone, Christian steadfastness. It is the courageous acceptance of everything that life can do to us and the transmuting of even the worst event into another step on the upward way.
  5. To these, we now add piety. The Greek word used by Peter is eusebeia and is difficult to translate. The significant characteristic of eusebeia is that it looks in two directions. The person who has Eusebia always correctly worships God and gives him his due, but they always properly serve their fellow man and given them their due. The one who is eusebes is in a right relationship both with God and their fellow man. Eusebeia is piety but in its most practical aspect.
  6. And finally we come to brotherly affection. The word used here is Philadelphia, which means love of the brethren. We cannot look upon this as a burden but as a task of the greatest importance. Love of God and love of our neighbor, or our brother is the most important aspect of the Christian life. The ladder of Christian virtue must end in Christian love. Not even affection for the brethren is enough; the Christian must end with a love which is as wide as that love of God that causes the sun to rise on the just and the unjust, and sends the rain on the evil as well as the right. The Christian must show to all the love that God has shown to them

We’ve Always Done it This Way

A Sermon on The Gospel of Luke 5:1-11

I can just see the exasperation on the face of Jesus as he is having this dialogue with his friends.  He wants to go out fishing with them, but they have been out all night and did not catch a thing.  He tells them to push out into the deep and let down their nets. Peter (who is called Simon in this passage) tells him that they had in fact been out all night and were not able to catch anything.  Based on the response Peter gives, “but at your word I will let down the nets” I can only imagine the look on the face of Jesus.  When they had done this, Scripture tells us, the nets were so full they afraid they were going to break, they had to ask for help to haul in all of the fish and the boats looked like they would sink.  Peter, being Peter, overreacts and tells Jesus to depart from him for he is not worthy, but Jesus tells him not to be afraid that from this point forward he will become a Fisher of Men.

One of the first things I notice is that the Apostles did not give up their day jobs.  Sure they traveled around with Jesus but they also had families to support and they needed to work.  They were usually close to home so they could go back and attend to their businesses.  It is not clear from history, but more than likely they had others working for them, other family members perhaps, that would fish in their absence.

The second thing I notice is that Jesus is a much better fisherman than Peter and the others.  They had been out all night and caught nothing.  Jesus says, “go over there and try again” and the get the biggest haul of their life.  Jesus was tuned into the “fish finder in the sky” and the Apostles were trying to do it on their own.  Let’s stick a pin in that one for a minute and come back to it.

The third thing I notice is that regardless of the state of Peter, he tells Jesus he is a sinner, like Jesus does not already know this, Jesus tells him that it is okay, and he has a job for him but not the same job and certainly not doing it the same way.  Jesus was about to show them a different way to not only do church but be a church.

Pope Francis is completing his tour of the United States today.  During this visit, and his historic speech to Congress, he has challenged us to take back what is great about America.  He challenged us to look again at the words of Abraham Lincoln and his quest for equality of all people.  He invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who told us to dream of a nation where everyone would get along no matter the color of our skin or where we were from.  He reminded us of the great work of one of my personal heroes Dorothy Day and her foundation of the Catholic Worker Movement and they work with the oppressed and those on the margins of life. And he reminded us of the words of Thomas Merton:

“I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”

What the Pope was calling us to was not a new way of looking at things or even a new way of doing things but he was and is inviting us to look out more than we look in.  He is calling us to care for one another more than we care for ourselves.  And he reminded us of our responsibility to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

The Pope told us:

“The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

This includes taking care of the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the naked, the sick and those on the margins of life.  We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world and also the voice of those who have no voice in society.  Those who live in the shadows and cannot speak for themselves we have to be their voice because no one else will.  We need to stop using them to score political points and start being Christ to all of them!

Jesus told Peter and the others that he was going to make them fishers of people and that when Peter protested that he was a sinner Jesus told him to be not afraid. Sometimes we are so afraid of the complexity of the issue that we just do not know where to start.  Sometimes we are so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing that we do nothing instead.  Sometimes we look around and just throw our hands in the air and say it is someone else’s problem, not mine.  Jesus is telling us not to be afraid; sure the task is great and impossible for us but with God all things are possible.

They toiled all night and caught nothing but when they put their trust in Jesus, and thus in God, they caught more than they knew what to do with.  As soon as they stopped trying to run things and “let go and let God” all things were possible, the door was opened to a new and exciting world.

The message of this passage today, and the message of the Pope’s visit, is just that, stop trying to do it on our own and let God in to help, not just in the good times but in the bad.  If we are faithful to our calling to Love God and love our neighbor, and we trust God enough to turn it over to Him, we will have more than we could ever imagine.

Faith communities urge U.S. to resettle more Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees in Hungary. © Daniel Fekete/Hungarian Interchurch Aid/ACT Alliance

Syrian refugees in Hungary. © Daniel Fekete/Hungarian Interchurch Aid/ACT Alliance

Church World Service (CWS), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and other faith communities are urging the U.S. government to resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees this coming fiscal year, in addition to increasing the total U.S. resettlement commitment to 100,000 refugees from other parts of the world.

The CWS and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service are cooperative ministries by churches based in the United States, including member churches of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

“More than 60 million people have been displaced from their homes,” said Erol Kekic, executive director of the Immigration and Refugee Program for CWS. “Syria is the largest crisis we are facing but let’s not forget Somalia, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Faith communities worldwide have noted that the world is seeing the largest number of displaced people since World War II. “But our response in the U.S. is nowhere near what it was so many years ago,” said Kekic.

The U.S. has resettled 1,517 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the conflict.

“This is the crisis of our generation and we have a moral responsibility to do something about it,” said Kekic.

CWS is urging people to sign a petition — already signed by more than 60,000 people as of 9 September — to demand the U.S. do more in response to the refugee crisis. CWS has a goal of gathering 100,000 signatures before 30 September.

Lifting our heads out of sorrow

As the U.S. ends its fiscal year on 30 September, the petition will send a clear message to the U.S. government that the nation needs to increase its resettlement efforts, said Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration Service (LIS).

Many in the U.S. expressed sorrow and outrage when news photos were published of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a beach in Turkey after his family tried to reach safety as they fled violence in Syria.

“Yet each of us is called to lift our head out of sorrow and weeping and ask, ‘What can I do to help refugees like Aylan and his family?’” said Hartke.

As CWS, LIS and other WCC member churches in the U.S. are advocating for the U.S. government to do more to resettle refugees, they are also offering aid to those refugees who have managed to arrive in the U.S.

Doris Peschke, general secretary of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME), commended U.S. churches that have helped to resettle refugees and also those that continue to advocate for a stronger response to refugees from the U.S. government.

“I hope that churches that are working to resettle refugees in the U.S. will share their stories with churches in Europe as we all unite on a pilgrimage to help our neighbours in need,” said Peschke. “We have a voice that is now being heard by our governments, by our faith communities, and most of all by the refugees themselves — a voice that says we will not stand silent as countries shut their doors.”

Response to the CWS petition has been overwhelmingly positive, said Kekic. “This response counters directly the narrative we’ve been having from outright racist groups,” he said. “There are groups in the U.S. who are saying they only want Christians. They fear everything and anything that isn’t them.”

As petition signatures continued to accumulate each day, Kekic believes that change for the good is possible. “This is incredibly encouraging. This is the real United States of America. This is who we are as a nation.”

Petition to Resettle Syrian Refugees in the U.S

Message from the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

WCC member churches in the United States of America

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 345 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 550 million Christians in over 120 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway.

Civil War Reconstruction @ 150


A new blog has been launched that will chronicle the effects of the period after the Civil War known as Reconstruction.  The authors purpose for writing this blog is set forth in the first post.

The purpose of this blog is to stimulate public awareness of America’s post-Civil War era, known as Reconstruction. By offering reflections on events that happened 150 years ago, I intend it to follow the “sesquicentennial,” or 150th anniversary, of Reconstruction as it unfolds.

This is an often overlooked period of US History and I am glad that someone is taking it on. I look forward to following this blog.

Here is a sample of the first post.

The idea to create this blog came from two sources. In 2010, the New York Times started a “Disunion” blog to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Almost daily from November 2010 to April 2015, “Disunion” tracked the timeline of secession and war. The contributions of journalists, professional historians, and independent scholars brought to a wide readership the voices of the past and their own historical analysis. When “Disunion” wound down in April 2015, several followers of the blog suggested that the Times should continue the project into Reconstruction through a “Reunion” blog. The Times has not pursued this idea, though it did follow up with a few posts on the war’s aftermath and a debate on how Reconstruction should be remembered.

A second source of inspiration includes scholars of Reconstruction (see one of several) and leaders in the National Park Service who continue to call for greater engagement with the public over the sesquicentennial of Reconstruction. Though Americans may not be attracted to the complex and frequently discomforting stories of these years, Reconstruction raises questions that resonate with our own time, including questions about citizenship, the rule of law, and national character.

Reunion Blog


The Pope is Coming

A cartoon by illustrator Thomas Nast in 1870 reflected fears by some Americans that the papacy might seek to expand its power in the United States. (Courtesy American Catholic Historical Society)

A cartoon by illustrator Thomas Nast in 1870 reflected fears by some Americans that the papacy might seek to expand its power in the United States. (Courtesy American Catholic Historical Society)

Any discussion of the United States being founded as a Christian nation needs to include the definition of what a Christian actually was.  How we, Christians in America that is, define who is a member of the club today is much different than it was during the time of the founding of the Nation.  For the most part, Protestants were in charge and feared the Roman Catholic Church to a point where anti-Catholic sentiment was pretty wide spread.

Historian John Fea has pointed out an article by Thomas Rzeznik in Catholic Philly about this anti-Catholic sentiment in Philadelphia.

For much of the 19th century, anti-Catholic hostility was fueled in part by a belief that the Vatican was plotting to take over the country and subvert our democratic institutions.

Contributing to the 1844 Nativist Riots here in Philadelphia, for instance, were rumors that Catholics, under order from the pope, were working to have the Bible removed from public schools. The “Bible defenders” saw the need to rally to protect the country from foreign “Popish banditti,” as one broadside asserted.

But perhaps no one depicted these alarmist views better than Thomas Nast, the political cartoonist famous for his critiques of New York City’s Tammany Hall political machine. In an 1870 cartoon titled “The Promised Land,” he depicted the pope standing atop the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, which he made to look like a ship’s crow’s nest. From that vantage point, the pope and an entourage of clerical minions look across the Atlantic to American shores with an eye for conquest.

Read the Rest

Eldership in the Church

A Reflection on 1 Peter 5:1-4


To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:1-4

It is my belief that one of the things lacking in the Church today is the sense of eldership, not just from the clergy, but from the laity.

There are few passages of Scripture that more clearly show the importance of eldership in the Church than this periscope from 1 Peter. It is to the elders that Peter is writing to, and he does not hesitate to call himself a fellow-elder.  To fully understand this concept of elder it will be helpful to gain a better understanding of the background and history of this important office in the Church.  I will preface this by saying that the elders should be chosen from the most worthy of people in the Church and not just because they are willing to serve.  They need to understand the importance of this role and, like the clergy, need to live spiritual lives that set the example for those they have been chosen to lead.

Jewish Background

Eldership has a Jewish background. The Jews traced the beginning of eldership to the days when the children of Israel were on their journey through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.  Moses felt that the burdens of leadership were too much for one person to bear and so seventy elders were chosen and set apart to share in the administration (Number 11:16-30).  After this elder became a permanent part of Jewish life. They are friends of the prophets (2 Kings 6:32); as the advisers of kings (1 Kings 20:8;21); as the colleagues of the princes in the administration of the affairs of the nation (Ezra 10:8). Every village had elders at the gate to distribute justice to the citizens (Deuteronomy 25:7). The elders were the administrators of the synagogue; they did not preach, but they saw to the good government and order of the holy place, and they exercised discipline over the members. The elders would have formed a large section of the Sanhedrin, which was the supreme court of the Jews. In the Book of Revelation, we see in the heavenly places twenty-four elders around the throne. As we have seen elders were woven into every aspect of Jewish life, civil and religious.

Greek Background

Eldership has a Greek background. Elders in the Egyptian communities handled the conduct of public affairs, but life our city councils are today. Women who had suffered assault will appeal to the elders for relief and justice.  They handled the issuing of public edicts, leasing land for pasture, and for taxation. Even in the pagan communities elders are found who handled discipline.

What is apparent is that long before Christianity took it over elder was a title of honor both in the Jewish and the Greco-Roman World.

Christian Background

In every community that Paul went to it was his custom to ordain elders to run things for him.  On the first missionary journey, elders were appointed in every church (Acts 14:23). Titus is left in Crete to appoint elders in every city (Titus 1:5). The elders had charge of the financial administration of the Church; it is to them that Paul and Barnabas delivered the money sent to relieve the poor of Jerusalem in the time of famine (Acts 11:30). The elders were councilors and the administrators of the Church. They can be found taking a leading role in the Council of Jerusalem when it was decided to open the doors of the Church to Gentiles. At this council, the elders and apostles are spoken of together as chief authorities in the Church (Acts 15:2, 16:4).

When Paul came on his last visit to Jerusalem, it was to the elders that he reported, and they suggested the course of action he should follow (Acts 21:18-25). One of the most moving passages in the New Testament is Paul’s farewell to the elders of Ephesus.  Paul sees the elders in Ephesus as overseers of the flock of God and the defenders of the faith (Acts 20:28-29). In the Letter of James, the elders had a healing function in the Church through prayers and the anointing with oil (James 5:14). In the Pastoral Epistles, the elders were rulers and teachers, and by the time of the letter they were paid officials (1 Timothy 5:17).

When a person enters into eldership in the Church, no small honor is conferred upon them, and they should remember that they are entering into the oldest religious office in the world with a history that can be traced to Christianity and Judaism for four thousand years; and no small responsibility falls to them for they have been entrusted with being a shepherd of the flock of God and a defender of the faith.

Today’s Challenges

One of the greatest challenges of the Church in the 21st century is leadership both clergy and lay, but the laity will play a much larger role as more and more churches move to part-time (or tent making) pastorates.  The words of Peter are important for us to think about as we think about leadership in the Church.

The Perils and the Privileges of Eldership

Leadership in the Church is a mission and a ministry and needs to be looked at that way.  A person should not be elected, or selected, to serve in leadership just because they are popular and will gain the most votes.  The life and example of the leader are essential in their role as they will set the example of those that will follow.  It’s not just about passing the budget it is about leading the entire church both spiritual and physical.

In the passage quoted above, Peter sets down in a series of contrasts the perils and the privileges of eldership.  What he points out is applicable not only to eldership abut also to all Christian service inside and outside of the Church.

The elder is to accept the office, not under coercion, but willingly. This does not mean that one should seek or grasp after the office or enter it without self-examining thought. Any is Christian should have a certain reluctance to accept high office because they should be aware of their unworthiness for that office. Peter does not say that a person should be conceitedly or irresponsibly eager for office; but that every Christian should be anxious to render such service as they can, although fully aware of how unworthy they are to render it.

The elder is to accept the office, not to be a petty tyrant, but to be the shepherd and example of the flock. Human nature is such that for many people prestige and power are even more attractive than money. There are those who love authority, even if it is to be exercised in a narrow sphere. The significant characteristic of the shepherd is his selfless care and sacrificial love for the sheep. Anyone who enters office with the desire for pre-eminence has got the whole point of view upside down. Jesus said to his ambitious disciples, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But is shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be a slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44).

One of the interesting phrases in this passage is the phrase “petty tyrants over those allotted to your care.” This phrase that has been translated “those allotted” is curious in Greek; it is ton kleron, the genitive plural of kleros that is a word of extraordinary interest.

It begins by meaning dice or lot. It is used this way in Matthew 27:35 telling how the soldiers beneath the Cross were throwing dice to see who should possess the seamless robe of Jesus.

Second, it means an office gained or assigned by lot. It is the word used in Acts 1:26 telling how the disciples cast lots to see who should inherit the office of Judas.

It then comes to mean an inheritance allotted to someone, as used in Colossians 1:12 for the inheritance of the saints.

In classical Greek, it very often means a public allotment or an estate of land. The civic authorities distributed These allotments to the citizens, and very often the distribution was made by drawing lots for the various pieces of land available for distribution.

Even if we go no further than this, it would mean that the office of eldership and, indeed, any piece of service offered to us is never earned by any merit of our own but always allotted to us by God. It is never something that we have deserved but always something given to us by the grace of God.

What an idea. What a condemnation. It is our task to show to people God’s forbearance, his forgiveness, his seeking love, his illimitable service. God has allotted to us a task, and we must do it as he would do it. That is the supreme ideal of service in the Christian Church.

One of the lovely things about this passage is Peter’s attitude throughout it.  He begins by taking his place beside those to whom he speaks. “Your fellow-elder” he calls himself. He does not separate himself from them but comes to share the Christian problems and the Christian experience with them.  But there is one difference; he has memories of Jesus and these memories of his color this entire passage.

Peter describes himself as a witness to the sufferings of Christ.  Although we may think that since Peter denied Christ he was not, in fact, a witness to his sufferings but he followed Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest’s house and it was there that, in a time of weakness, he denied the Master. After the trial was over, and they were leaving Jesus out, we come to see one of the saddest verses in all of Scripture: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter… and Peter went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22L61-62). In the one look, Peter saw the suffering of the heart of a leader whose follower had failed him in the hour of his bitterest need.  Peter is the witness of the suffering that comes to Christ when we deny him, and that is why he was so eager that his people might be staunch in loyalty and faithful in service.

He describes himself as a sharer in the glory that is going to be revealed. This statement looks back and forwards at the same time. Peter had a glimpse of that glory during the Transfiguration. But he also knew there was glory to come, for Jesus had promised his disciples a share in his glory when he comes to sit on the throne.

There can be no doubt that when Peter speaks of shepherding the flock of God, he remembers the task that Jesus had given him when he had told him to feed his sheep (John 21:15-17). The reward of love was the appointment as a shepherd, and Peter is remembering it.

When Peter speaks of Jesus as the Chief Shepherd, many memories must have filled his mind. Jesus compared himself to the shepherd who sought at the peril of his life the lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:4-7). He had sent out his disciples to gather the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6). He was moved with pity for the crowds, for they were without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36;  Mark 6:34).

Above all of this he compared himself to the Good Shepherd, who was ready to lay down his life for the sheep (John 10:1-18). The picture of Jesus as the Shepherd was a precious one, and the privilege of being a shepherd of the flock of Christ was for Peter the greatest opportunity that a servant of Christ could have.

Joy and Judgement

A Sermon on Matthew 22:2-14

When invitations to a great feat, like a wedding feast, were sent out the time was left off of the invitation.  When everything for the feast was ready, servants would be sent out to let those invited know it was time.  This parable reminds us of the great feast that God prepared for us, long ago, and sent out his servants, first Moses and those with him, then the prophets, both of whom initially invited the Jews, and the third group represents the Apostles being sent out to the Gentiles. We see the shift of the invitations from the Jews, who ignored God’s call, to the Gentiles, who accepted it.

Two things need to be pointed out.

  1. This parable has a local meaning to it. Its local sense was a driving home and an accusation against the Jews. The guests who when the time came refused to come, stand for the Jews. Ages ago they had been invited by God to be his chosen people; yet when God’s son came into the world, and they were asked to follow him, they contemptuously refused. The result of this refusal was that the invitation of God went out direct to the highways and byways; and the people in the highways and the byways stand for the sinners and the Gentiles, who never expected an invitation to the kingdom.
  2. The parable has much to say on a wider scale.

It reminds us that the invitation of God is to a joyous feast as joyous as a wedding feast. God’s invitation to us is to joy. To think of Christianity as gloomy giving up everything that brings laughter and the sunshine and happy fellowship is to mistake its entire nature. It is to joy that the Christian is invited, and it is joy we miss if we refuse the invitation.

It reminds us of the things that make us deaf to the call of Christ are not necessarily bad in themselves. One man went to his estate; the other to his business. They did not go off on a wild carousel or an immoral adventure. They left to administer their business life. It is very easy for us to be so busy with the things of time that we neglect the things of eternity, to be so preoccupied with the things which are seen we forget the things that are unseen, to hear insistently the claims of the world that we cannot hear the soft invitation to the voice of Christ. The tragedy of this life is that it is so often the second bests that shut out the bests, which it is things that are good in themselves shut out the things that are supreme. A person can be so busy making a living that they fail to make a life; they can be so busy with the administration and the organization of life that they forget life itself.

It reminds us that the appeal of Christ is not so much to consider how we will be punished as it is to see what we will miss if we do not take his way of things. Those who did not come to the feast were punished, but the real tragedy was that they lost the joy of the wedding feast itself. If we refuse the invitation of Christ, some day our greatest pain will lie, not in the things we suffer, but in the realization of the precious things we have missed.

It reminds us that in the last analysis God’s invitation is the call of grace. Those who were gathered in the from the highways and byways has no claim on the king at all; they could never by any stretch of imagination have expected an invitation to the wedding feast, still less could they have ever deserved it. It came to them from nothing other than the wide-armed, open-hearted, generous hospitality of the king. It was grace that offered the invitation and grace that gathered them in.

Don’t be like those who refused the invitation because we are too busy, accept the invitation with grace and enter into the feast of joy with joy.