Horatio Stockton Howell

Chaplain Horatio Stockton Howell

Chaplain Horatio Stockton Howell

Tucked on a side street in Gettysburg Pennsylvania is a small monument to Horatio Stockton Howell, Chaplain with the 90th Pennsylvania Regiment that was killed on the steps of College Lutheran Church.  The Church had been established as a Union hospital shortly after the battle of Gettysburg began.

Chaplain Howell was born near Trenton New Jersey on August 14, 1820.  He was the fifth of seven children born to William and Abigail Howell and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1853 and served the Church in Delaware Water Gap Pennsylvania.

While serving the Church in Elkton Maryland, Chaplain Howell says firsthand what he called the “evils of slavery.”  He was convinced by the influence of his Mentor, the Rev. James Wilson that the institution of slavery “would reduce to the condition of brutes those whom God had created in his image and for whom Christ had died.”  It was his mentor that urged him in 1862 to enlist in the Army as chaplain.

On July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederates engaged the Union troops near the Lutheran Theological Seminary.  The 1st Corps had established a field hospital in the Church located not far from the seminary itself.  By midafternoon on that day, it was reported that more than 140 men were laying in the sanctuary and on the benches being tended to by hospital personnel and Chaplain Howell.

As the battle lines shifted on that day, the 1st Corps pulled out of Gettysburg back to Cemetery Ridge.  Hearing shots outside the Church Chaplain Howell turned to one of the surgeons he had been assisting and said, “I will step outside for a moment and see what the trouble is.”

What happened next come from the recollection of Sgt. Archibald Snow:

“I had just had my wound dressed and was leaving through the front door just behind Chaplain Howell, at the same time when the advance skirmishers of the Confederates were coming up the street on a run. Howell, in addition to his shoulder straps & uniform, wore the straight dress sword prescribed in Army Regulations for chaplains… The first skirmisher arrived at the foot of the church steps just as the chaplain and I came out. Placing one foot on the first step the soldier called on the chaplain to surrender; but Howell, instead of throwing up his hands promptly and uttering the usual ‘I surrender,’ attempted some dignified explanation to the effect that he was a noncombatant and as such was exempt from capture, when a shot from the skirmisher’s rifle ended the controversy…”*

Today, at the bottom of the Church steps, stand a monument to Chaplain Howell.  The monument is an open Bible on a stand.  One side of the Bible tells Chaplain Howells story, and the other side has several quotes of Scripture.

Howell Monument at Gettysburg

Howell Monument at Gettysburg

It is rather sad that this monument will go almost unnoticed by visitors to Gettysburg, but it is fitting that it is at the actual site of his death.

*New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga, Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, (Albany: J.B. Lyon Company, 1900), I:24.

That We All May Be One

A Meditation on John 17:20-21

 

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I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. John 17:20-21

In the 17th Chapter of the Gospel of John we have glimpse of Jesus in prayer.  He has prayed for himself and for those that have been with him throughout his ministry and then he turns to the future and he prays for all of us.  The remarkable thing about this is that he had full confidence in the future of the mission and what would happen.

At this moment his followers were few and he was facing the Cross but his confidence was unshaken and he was praying for those of us, who would come after him, and believe in his name.  But what was this prayer of his for us, for more specifically for his church of the future, it was that we would all be one.  We read in verse 21, “That hey all may be one, as you, father are in me and I in you.”

What is this oneness that Jesus is speaking of here, is it oneness of doctrine or belief?  What about worship, is he praying that we will all have the same worship and worship the same way?  I do not think so.  The essence of the oneness between Jesus and God is love, unconditional love.

There is an old song that goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”  This is true.  God is the essence of love and we are commanded to love God and to love each other.  The witness of this love from to us in the third chapter of John, “for God so loved the world that he sent his only Son.”  Christian unity should transcend all of our differences and join us together.

If we truly loved each other, and God, then no church would exclude anyone who was a disciple of Christs.  Only the implanted love in each heart will be able to tear down the barriers which we have erected between us, artificial barriers that keep us apart.

It is normal for humans to be divided and it goes against the grain, as the saying goes, for humans to come together.  We see this after some sort to tragic event.  People come together for a little while and then the natural tendency to separate returns.  The unity that Jesus prayed for was to be the unity that convinced the world of the truth of his message.  This is the unity that would transcend nationality and socio economic standing and truly bring people together.  Real unity between all Christians would be a supernatural fact that would require a supernatural explanation and that explanation would be God’s love.

It is our individual duty to demonstrate to each other and to the world that unity of love with all of humanity that is the answer to the prayer of Christ.  And the reason why this is so important should be obvious, faced by the disunity of the Christian faith, the world cannot see the supreme value of the Christian faith.

They will know we are Christians by our love.  Love for all of humanity not just the parts we like.

Do You Want to be Made Well

A Sermon on John 5:1-9

 

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During the early morning hours of August 29th, Hurricane Katrina was swirling off the coast of Southern Louisiana.  The call to evacuate the lower portion, including the City of New Orleans, had gone out hours before and most people heeded the call.  Those who could leave the city had left and only those who were unable to leave, like patients in nursing homes, were still in the city.  The storm raged closer and eventually made landfall, and the devastation began.  The aftermath of the story left 1,400 dead, and 8o% of the City of New Orleans flooded due to the storm surge that breached the levy system surrounding the City.  Most of the Southern part of the State was just washed out to sea.  Houses, cars, memories, all of it gone in an instant.

Shortly after the storm had passed, I was called to deploy to the area to provide was spiritual and emotional help I could.  I have become somewhat of an expert in the field of disaster mental health, and so I get to go to places such as New Orleans and Newtown Connecticut after situations like these.  There is not much we can offer someone after something like this happens to them, maybe a bottle of water and an energy bar, but sometimes just sitting with someone and holding their hand will help them on the road to recovery.

I will relate one story to you, of the many hundreds that I heard during my two weeks on the ground in New Orleans.  Many people had no way to leave the City.  They were the poor, the marginalized, the minorities, the forgotten people of the city.  They made their way to the Superdome and the Airport.  The Government of the United States as well as the Government of the State of Louisiana denied that anyone had taken refuge at the airport.  Keep in mind that the Government was under a tremendous amount of pressure from all sides after the storm had passed.  I was sent, along with some others, to see what we could find out and if there were people there what aid we could bring to them.

When we arrived, it was a scene of absolute chaos.  All social systems had broken down, and it was every man and woman for themselves.  A doctor ran up to me when I came in and kept repeating “tell me I did the right thing”  You see he was the one who had to decide who lived and who died.  He took me to what was called the “black ward.”  This was the place where all of those who were not going to make it was now living.  They were caring for them as best they could with what limited supplies they had.  He asked me to pray for them, and so I did.  I knelt down next to each of the 65 people in that room and said a prayer over each of them.  Two of them died while I was there.  I see their faces each and every day of my life.

Well, time moves on and soon we forget, those of us who can anyway, about what happened and we go on with our lives.  But what about those who cannot go on, what about those who struggle each day.

In today’s Scripture lesson we hear the story about a man who has been sick for many years thirty-eight years to be exact.  He is laying by the pool that is supposed to heal him but since he is sick, and alone, he has no one to place him in the pool, and someone always gets in there before him.  You see he had to step in just at the right time to be healed.  So he just laid there, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, just waiting for someone to come along and help him.

Jesus walks up to him and asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”  The man does not say yes he says that he has no one to place him in the pool at the right time.  Jesus asked him a simple question, “Do you want to be made well?” and he cannot answer yes or no.

We do not know what illness the man had.  Some translations lead us to believe he was paralyzed, and therefore he could not move.  Whatever it was he has had it for a long time.  Perhaps he has gotten used to the idea of being sick; it has become a part of him, and he is not sure what he will do if he does get well.  But either way, there is no one to put him in the pool.

Day after day people steps over him to get in the water first.  They see him lying there, and they pass right by to get what they want.  They see him there, but they do not acknowledge that he is there, right in front of them.  They step over him and are made well, and our friend continues to suffer.

Jesus does not wait for the answer he tells him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk” and he does just that.  Our passage ends there, but if we read on for a few verses, we read that the man goes to the temple, and he encounters Jesus again, and Jesus tells him that he should sin no more.

Again, we are unsure of what his illness is, and we could speculate all day, but there are two things to point out here; one is that it was the faithfulness of the man that healed him, and all of those sitting around ignoring this man were likewise ignored by Jesus.  Jesus does not heal anyone else, in fact, there is no record that Jesus even spoke to anyone else.

All of us are in need of some healing.  Perhaps it is an illness or perhaps it is despondency or maybe it is a spiritual illness of some kind.  Jesus meets us, as he did our friend in the story, where we are as we are.  Notice there was no sign posted in this place saying Jesus would be holding a revival tent meeting down the street and if you wanted to be healed you could come, and after a suitable donation, you would be made well.  No, Jesus went to where the man was, accepted the man as he was where he was, and healed him.

We do not know what happened to the man in the story just as I do not know whatever became of the doctor I met in New Orleans, in fact, I do not even know his name.  I assume that those sixty-five people I prayed over died at some point in time after that, but I have no way of knowing for sure.  I don’t think I healed anyone physically, but maybe the words I spoke to them healed them spiritually and prepared them for their death.

Where will Jesus find you?  Are you sitting by the pool waiting for someone to carry you in?  Are you the one that steps over others to get what you need?  Are you one of the many others in that room so blinded by their issues and life’s wows that you cannot see the suffering of others?  Whatever it is, wherever you are, Jesus offers us healing.

In a few moments, we will gather around the symbolic table of the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for each one of us.  We gather together to pray for one another and to support one another; that is the union in communion.  Jesus stands ready to help us in the midst of life’s storms let us prepare ourselves and pray for one another.

The Wardens Wands

 

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I am a history geek with a sub-specialty of church history geekdom and as such I am interested in all things related to church and the history of worship.  This season, I have been hired by the Old North Church Foundation as a Church educator.  These are the folks that give tours to people and try to debunk many of the myths of history like “did Paul Revere hang the lanterns in the steeple.”    Like I said, I am a church geek and so the unusual things attract me and first up will be what are known as the Wardens Wands.  The wands at Old North are not as fancy as others, but the purpose is the same.

The role of the Church Warden varies not only by congregation but by country of origin.  Christ Church in Boston, Commonly known as Old North, began her life as a Congregation in the Anglican tradition.  After the War for Independence, the Church became Episcopal, but many of the traditions carried over.

The role of the Warden has changed since the 18th century.  Elected or appointed wardens had the responsibility to keep order in the church and the churchyard.  Wardens could remove unruly parishioners and fine them for their unsavory behavior.  They had powers of arrest on church property and would patrol the inside and outside of the church during services, and this is where the wand comes in.

The wand is usually a long wooden pole that is topped with a finial of some sort often silver or brass.  In the case of the wands at Old North, they are wooden.  The wand was a symbol of office and would be carried by the Wardens in process ahead of the bishop, and used for protection of the bishop

The wands were also used as a way to move large groups of people in and out of the church and for self-protection during the exercise of their duties.  The wand was also used to keep people awake during services, especially the sermon.  18th-century church services could last several hours, and sometimes the preacher was not very skilled in his oration so people might nod off a little.  The warden would come by and poke them with the end of their wand to bring them back to consciousness.  I have heard that there was an additional wand with a feather on it that was used on the ladies in the congregation.

I am not sure what would go on inside of the Church, but obviously, there must have been some unruly crowds if there was a need to arm the wardens for their protection.  There are historical accounts of clergy saying things that the congregation has disagreed with and even some historical accounts of clergy being rushed and taken out of the church by force.  But those accounts are left to history, I hope.

I Wardens Wands at Old North are primarily decorative now and can be seen in the first Box Pew as you enter the sanctuary.  A reminder of the past but also there to be pressed into service if necessary.

Feed My Lambs

 

FishingSimon Peter felt like a failure. On the last night of Jesus’ life on earth, Peter made an impossible commitment: “I will never run away and leave you.” But only hours later, Peter shouted, “I told you, I don’t even know him. Leave me alone!”

Now, Christ had died, Christ had risen, but Peter understood none of this. He was literally at the end of his rope. What had the last three years been about anyway?

Imagine one of those scenes that, in a few short weeks, will be duplicated all over the United States.  Imagine a brilliant, sunny day in late spring. Outdoors on a university football field, or maybe in a high school gym… folding chairs will be set up, row upon row. Proud parents and family members will be stretching their necks to see. Down front, will be the squirming graduates, in caps and gowns. They will look like the very picture of scholarship.

Suddenly feeling self-conscious, the grinning graduates will march across the platform, receive their diplomas and return to sit with the rest of their classmates… these special people they’ve felt so close to, most of whom they will never see again.

At the punch bowl reception a few minutes later someone will walk up to the graduate and say, “congratulations!” Then, suddenly, with tear-filled eyes, they may say, “You know, you may not realize it now, but these years you’ve just completed are the best years of your life!”

The person doesn’t mean it to come across this way, but these are among the deadliest words one human being can say to another. It’s like saying, “You may think you’re at the threshold of something new, but don’t fool yourself, kid, it’s all downhill from here.”

Peter may have been feeling something similar when, in our Scripture Lesson for this morning, he tells the other disciples, “I’m going out to fish.”

Then the scene changes and Jesus is talking with his disciples.  There he was standing on the shoreline asking them if they had any food.  They had been out all night, and they were tired, and the fishing had not gone well.  Jesus asked them to cast their nets again, so they did, they brought in more fish than they could handle.

As they sat by the campfire eating Jesus singles out Peter for a little chat.  History tells us that Peter was the oldest of the Apostles and for that, and several other reasons, he was the defacto leader of the little group.  But Jesus singles out Peter for another reason, forgiveness.

Peter was the first to proclaim and profess his love for Jesus and was the one who tried to defend him when he was being arrested.  But Peter was also the one who denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times.  Jesus told Peter this was going to happen, but he would not listen.

Now comes the time when Jesus needs to restore Peter’s confidence.  They are about to be sent out on a mission that will change the world, and Jesus needs Peter to be at his best.  So he turns to him and asks him, Peter, do you love me more than these?

Now there is some disagreement as to what “these” means in the story.  I believe there is a double meaning in all of this.  As they sat there, and Jesus asked Peter this question, he motioned around with his hand at all that was around them, the fishing boats, the equipment necessary for fishing, but the disciples were also there as well as their families.  Jesus is asking Peter do you love me above all of this?

Peter answers, “Yes, Lord: you know that I love you.”  And Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs.”

After a little while, Jesus turns to Peter and again asks him if he loves him.  Peter answers that he does, and Jesus tells him to “Tend his sheep.”

Again a little while goes past, and Jesus asks Peter if he loves him.  Now Peter is a little concerned and a little sad that Jesus is asking him again if he loves him. Peter turns to him and says, “Lord, You know everything, and you know that I love you.”  Jesus says to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Now this little dialogue is confusing enough and it loses some of its meaning in English.  You see in English we have one word for love.  It’s the same word we use to say we love hamburgers and the same word we use to say we love our children.  In fact, this is one of the most overused words in the English language.

But what we see here before we is that Jesus uses different forms of the word love.

The first two times that Jesus asks Peter, Do you love me?”  Jesus is using the agape form of love.  Agape love is the highest form of sacrificial and self-emptying love; this is the kind of love that God has for all of the humanity and that we can develop only through maturing in the grace of God.

Also, notice that Peter never truly answers the question he only says, “You know I love you.”  Jesus asks a simple yes or no question, “Do you love me?”  Peter says you know…  Perhaps it has to do with his emotional ties to the denial, but Peter is unable to say that he loves Jesus in this agape way.

So the third time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” he uses the philo form of love.  This is a lesser form of love more like brother affection.  Jesus lowers his expectations and is willing to accept whatever form of love Peter is ready to give.

But through all of this Jesus knows that Peter will grow into the agape kind of love for him and even shows Peter how that will come about as Jesus tells Peter about his death.  Peter was grieved by Jesus’ asking him three times if he loved him or not and I am sure that Peter had his denial on his mind, but with each semi-answer, Peter gave Jesus gave him a mission, to feed and tend his lambs.

What sort of love do you have for Jesus today, is it that all in agape love or is it the more philo love.  It does not really matter because just as Jesus was willing to accept whatever he could get from Peter that is the case with us today, Jesus is ready to take us as we are, right here in this place, and he is willing, through the grace of God, to move us from philo to agape!

Jesus has charted the course for us; he knows we are tired from our many years of labor, and he is asking us to cast our nets on the other side.  He is showing us a different way to live, to love, and to grow.  Jesus did not abandon Peter when he denied him, Jesus reached out his hand and told him that it was okay, sure you stumbled, but it’s okay.

Forgive Them

A Good Friday Meditation

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Last Sunday night, the Fox Television Network premiered a retelling of the story of Jesus journey to the Cross.  Set in the City of New Orleans the Passions was a mix of Scripture and music that made the story, that we are witnesses to this week, new for a new generation.  Not unlike Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar the attempt was made to make the story fresh. I liked what they did and thought it would speak to a generation that needs to hear this message in their language.

The one thing that stuck out was that there was no scene of the crucifixion.  There was no scene of Jesus being whipped, beaten, and spat upon, the focus of this portrayal was not the usual blood and gore of Good Friday but the unconditional love and forgiveness of the entire life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

When I was in seminary, the movie the Passion of the Christ was shown.  We traveled to the theater as a group to see the movie and then went back to the seminary and had a discussion about it.  The images of a bloody Jesus remain with me to this day and when you ask anyone about the movie they will talk about the blood and the gore, but no one seems to mention love and forgiveness.

Now I fully understand that in order to have the Resurrection we first need to have the crucifixion, but I believe we have focused way too much attention on the violence of the day and not enough attention for the reason for the day.

Anyone who has heard me preach for any length of time knows that I usually circle back to the theme of love and forgiveness, why because that is what the entire story is all about.  Everything that Jesus did and said was about this radical idea, and yes it was radical for them, of unconditional love and forgiveness.  Until this time, believers had to sacrifice; they had to make long journeys and offer up animals for sacrifice to find forgiveness from God.  There were all sorts of rituals and superstitions that one had to perform and believe in to find forgiveness of sin.  Then Jesus comes along and stands it all on its head.

I sometimes wonder if we have lost the understanding of the mission of Jesus.  I sometimes wonder if in all of the committee meetings and other such churchy things if we have entirely lost the reason for why we do what we do.  How often in Church meetings do we speak about love, compassion, healing, feeding, clothing, and the like.  Sometimes I feel like we are more pharisaical than apostles.  More like the Sanhedrin than the disciples.  More like Judas than the repentant thief hanging on the cross beside Jesus.

We live in a world that has been turned on its end.  I witnessed a conversation on Facebook yesterday decrying the for-profit corporation Cadbury dropping Easter from its Chocolate eggs.  I entered the fray by saying who cares it’s not about chocolate eggs it’s about the resurrection.  Immediately I was scolded and reminded that Christianity in America is under siege.  We seem to be more concerned about Chocolate eggs then we are about childhood poverty and hunger.  Christians it’s time to wake up and remember what being a Christian truly means!

Everywhere Jesus went his message was clear, love God and love your neighbor.  He also spoke of the need for forgiveness not just between God and us but between our neighbors and us.  Each time we recite the prayer that Jesus himself taught us we say for forgive us as we forgive others.  Lack of forgiveness leads to hate and hate very often leads to violence.

Forgiveness is not about the other person forgiveness is about you.  When we withhold forgiveness, we are only harming ourselves for we give the other person, or person, power over us and we re-victimize ourselves in the process.  Sure, it will take time and God’s grace to help us to forgive, but it is a necessity if we are going to have a balanced spiritual life. I will add that the most important person that we need to forgive is us, we need to forgive ourselves.

So back to the cross.  Jesus was there, between two thieves, one who recognizes the severity of their predicament and understands that Jesus was indeed innocent.  We have no understanding of what they were accused of, it does not matter, but one of them turns to Jesus and asks that he be forgiven and Jesus, says yes, you are forgiven.

He looks down from the cross, and all of those who had been with him for the three years of his ministry are gone, except for James and the a few women and his mother, but he does not curse the ones who fled for their lives.  He does not curse Peter for his denial, and he does not curse Judas for his betrayal.  He forgives them all.

He looks down from the cross, a symbol of hatred and persecution, and sees the men who have just nailed him there, casting lots for his clothing and making fun of him.  Rather than curse them, he looks up to heaven and asks God to forgive them.  He asks God to forgive the very people who have just killed him, and he puts no condition on this forgiveness at all, he does not even care if they believe in him or accept their forgiveness, he just simply forgives them.

I like to use the image of the cross when I speak of this notion of unconditional love.  When you welcome someone home, as the father welcomed back his prodigal son, you throw your arms wide open as a symbol of welcome and embrace.  Jesus is there, with his arms wide open welcoming us all into his loving and forgiving arms.  He’s not there to judge and say that we cannot come because we love the wrong person or we have the wrong skin color, his arms are wide and open for all who desire to know that he forgives, and I want to assure you this day and every day that he truly forgives you.

If you are here today, in this place and at this hour, and need to know this love and understand this forgiveness, do not leave this place without the full knowledge and assurance that you are indeed forgiven.

This day is not about blood and gore; it’s not really even about the cross.  It’s about the love of all of God’s children, and it is about forgiveness of all of God’s children.

Return to the Cross of Golgotha

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“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church, I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; at a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek … and at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died, and that is what He died about. And that is where Christ’s [followers] ought to be, and what church people ought to be about.”

Rev. George Fielden MacLeod

Love One Another

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Just to make to clear, I write this from a position of privilege.  I am a white male Christian, who has never faced any discrimination in my life.  I have never been prevented by anyone from practicing my faith as I see fit, and I do not buy into the argument that Christianity is under attack in America.  Regardless of what people think we still have more freedoms than most of the world’s population.

I also understand the fear and how fear sells in politics and I also know that many people in America and the world are fearful right now.  But what we do not need is more fearmongering what we need is more love and understanding.

Two of the Republican Presidential candidates, hours after the Brussels bombings, called for roving patrols in a Muslim neighborhood in America and the ability to torture people to gain information.  If there is one way to ensure that you will radicalize a population it is single them out and blame them for all of the problems.  In his statement about the terrorist attack, Governor John Kasich said, “We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with radical Islam.”  I would add that we should be at war with radicalism that flies under any flag be it Muslim or Christian.

Not long ago, in fact, it was after the terrorist attack in Paris, my church hosted a gathering of religious leaders in our community.  There were Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jews, and non-believers all gathered together to pray, in our way, for peace in the world.  We gathered as religious leaders but also as fellow members of humanity as a sign of solidarity.  We heard prayers for peace from all of those religions and we all joined our voices together as one.

America is an incredibly polarized place right now and what we need is unity, not more polarization.  I do understand that people are afraid but rather than sending armed patrols into Muslim neighborhoods, I’m not actually sure those even exists, why not have people gather at churches, mosques, and community centers and talk about what brings them together and how we can all work to end violence and racism in our communities.  Sending armed guards and rounding up people just because they are of one religion is history repeating itself and not in a good way.

What brings people together is understanding, the understanding that comes from mutual love and respect for all our neighbors, not just the ones that look like us.  Polarization is a tactic that is used to win elections and making us afraid of those who look different.  America should be different than that.

Soon Christians will celebrate Holy Thursday.  It was on this night that Jesus washed the feet of his Apostles and gave them a new command. The Gospel of John records the events of that evening and this new command of Jesus not only for those that were there on that night but for all of us. “I give you a new commandment, which you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have a love for one another.”

During this holy week on the church calendar, Scripture passages will be read about what hatred can do and the destruction it can bring and leading to the horrible death of Jesus Christ.  Thankfully we Christians know that the story does not end there and that what the story is truly about is sacrifice and unconditional love, and it was that love that changed the world.

We have to do more than pray for peace we have to work for peace, we have to, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change we want to see.”  Throw off the fear, throw off the hate and take on a love of neighbor.  Get to know people and truly understand them and what they believe.  In the end, we will be a stronger nation.

Spy Wednesday and the Redemption of Judas

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The Wednesday of Holy Week has as its theme the betrayal of Jesus by one of his Apostles namely Judas Iscariot.  Traditionally it is believed that one this day Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Lazarus, who he raised from the dead, and Lazarus’ two sisters Mary and Martha.  This was the night that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet and then dried them with her hair.  It is also the night that Judas made a big ruckus about the cost of the ointment that Mary used.  He claimed that it could be sold, and the money was given to the poor, but we are led to believe that Judas wanted the money for himself.

It is also believed that this is the night that Judas left the house and went and made a deal with the Jewish authorities to betray Jesus a few days later.  I have always found Judas to be a curious figure.  Why did Jesus pick him as one of his Apostles?  We do not hear much about Judas until this time in the story so was he always concerned about the money?  We know from Scripture that he was in charge of the purse, so money must have been on his mind.  Did he participate in the healings like the others did?  Did he preach along the highways and byways of the area as the others did?

I believe that Jesus knew the character of each of the people he chose, and it was for that reason, their character, that they were chosen.  Knowing that he was to be betrayed by one of his closest friends he chose Judas, someone of weak character and given to greed and avarice, to be one of his intimate friends.  Many of us have been betrayed by those close to us so in a way I can sympathize with Jesus when this happens.  But at the same time, he knew this was coming.  I get the feeling it still hurt a little.

But what of Judas?

Scripture tells us that he did, in fact, betray Jesus, but he then had a moment of conscious and tried to give the money, what he called blood money, back to the Jewish Authorities.  They would not take the money back for the same reason that Judas wanted to give it back; it was dirty money.  Judas throws the money at them and runs off.  In the end, they do take the money, but they use it for the purchase of a burial ground.

But Judas, now faced with what he has done, runs off into the wilderness where he ends his life.  But does he physically kill himself or is the end of his life more of a spiritual thing?  Judas is so overcome with the realization of his betrayal, and he agonizes over this fact.  In the recent television portrayal, The Passion (read my review here) we see this awareness play out with Judas.  Where or not he physically killed himself is not the point here the question is what happened to him?

Later on in the story, when Jesus is praying, he says that he did not lose one of the ones, the Apostles, which God had given him save the son of perdition.  It is believed that he is speaking of Judas.  But did Jesus mean he lost him as a follower in the physical sense or that he lost him as a follower in the spiritual sense?  It is certainly unclear.

Now I have nothing to back this up other than my faith in an all forgiving God, but I believe that Judas was redeemed in the end.  Here is my thinking.  Someone had to betray Jesus, and it was Judas that was chosen.  Betrayal was his vocation and maybe even the reason he was born.  In another place in Scripture, Jesus tells his followers that a man was born blind so that he could be healed and glory brought to God.  So God chose Judas, as he did all of the others, for a purpose and that purpose was the betrayal.

In the end, Judas repents of what he has done.  We see this in the action of his attempt to return the money to the Jewish Authorities.  My theology teaches that if we repent from our wrongdoing and are truly sorry for what we have done, God will forgive us.  The way I read the story is that Judas was indeed remorseful and repentant for all that he had done so God must have forgiven him!

My belief in a truly merciful God a God that believes all of us are his children, would not have let Judas perish.  God gave Judas a job, a job he had no choice in, and in the end, he carried out God’s will and then repented for what he had done.  So it is my belief that at the end of the day Judas has been forgiven and will be in paradise.

The Amazing Paradox

The Tuesday of Holy Week

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 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. John 12:23-26

In this passage from John, Jesus is saying three things that are all variations of the central truth and at the heart of the Christian faith and life.

He is saying that only by death comes life. The grain of wheat is ineffective and unfruitful so long as it is being preserved in safety and security.  It is only when the grain of wheat is thrown into the cold ground, and buried there; this is will bear fruit.  It was by the death of the martyrs that the Church grew.

It is always because people have been prepared to die that the great things have lived. But it has to be more personal than that.  It is only when people bury their own aims and ambitions that they can begin to be of real use to God.  By death comes life! By the death of personal ambition, a person becomes a true servant of God.  This hold true for the Church as well.

Jesus is saying that only by spending life do we retain it. The person who loves their life is moved by two aims, by selfishness and by the desire for security. Jesus insisted that the people who hoarded their lives must, in the end, lose it, and the ones who spent their lives must in the end gain it.

Jesus was saying that only by service comes greatness. The people that are most remembered and loved in this world are the ones who have served others. So many people are in business or politics only for what they can get out of it. They may well become rich, but only one thing is sure – they will never be loved, and love is the true wealth of life.

Jesus came to the Jews with a new view of life. They looked on glory as a conquest, the acquisition of power, the right to rule. Jesus looked on it as a cross. Jesus taught that only by death comes life; that only by spending life do we retain it; that only by service comes greatness. When we come to think about it, truly think about it, Christ’s paradox is nothing other than the truth of common sense.