Called to Conversion And Unity

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Tomorrow is going to be my fifth Easter as a Catholic.  These years, from when I first investigated into the claims of the Catholic Church to my entering it, then my wife and now nearly two years of college level formation has been a whirlwind.  It has been a great ride and I am excited for what the Lord is going to do in the years to come for my family and I.  I see conversion as a continual call as a Christian to take up ones cross and follow Jesus wherever He leads.

I would like to address my anniversary as a Catholic with a different reflection for a moment.  Yes, I have a bias that the Catholic Church is awesome but I am also aware that for many Christians who are not in communion with Rome they have not yet discerned that this is their spiritual home.  So what is the meeting place I should have with Christians of good conscience that are tied to the same basics of the historic Christian faith?

I like Nicea as a meeting point.  What that is for theologians of both the Catholic and Protestant persuasions is where a council took place that elaborated on the Apostles’ Creed.  This was especially a referendum on the theology of who Christ is.

God from God, light from light, True God and True Man begotten not made.  Consubstantial with the Father He came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary He became man

As Rich Mullins said about this creed, “I did not make it.  No it is making me”.

There could be a reader of what I am writing that still is persuaded that Catholicism is not true Christianity.  For me, that is sad.  I would suggest to all of my Protestant brothers and sisters two points: I have grown closer in my relationship to Jesus Christ in these last several years and that there is more that unites us than divides us.  My love for Jesus and my neighbor has only increased.  My prayer time is better and I have a renewed love for the scriptures in engaging my faith with a good breadth of what the Catholic Church teaches.

Now more than ever, it is important that Christians learn to stand together as we consider the growing wave of persecution against Christianity across the globe.  In fact, last year there was a crucial meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kiril in Cuba about how to find a defense for their flocks mutually.  This is a good development  when I consider how the one unanswered prayer of Jesus is “that they all be one” (John 17:21). Or in the words of Peter Kraft about ecumenism “Brothers tend to stop fighting when there is a mad man at the door”.

The Nicene Creed addresses four marks of the Church.  These are applicable for discussion whether one sees Church of church in it.  The first is “one” which I addressed above.

The second is “holy”.  This has many facets to it and in light of a recent event it worth exploring particularly with the sacramental point of view.  Recently a lifelong Protestant known as the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hennegraff, was received into the Greek Orthodox Church. Some are editorializing that he has left biblical Christianity.  For me, I admire his courage even though I am a Catholic.  Some may object to my wording but at some point he must have thought , “Here I stand, I can do no other”.  He speaks of theosis which is where Christians partake of the divine nature through communion with Christ.  He connects that in context with the Eucharist particularly.  The sacramental perspective can be verified with an open mind by reading the early church fathers and their interpretation of the New Testament which was written closer to their time than that of the reformers.

There is Catholic and then there is catholic.  Either way, I hope that Christians of good conscience can see that there is a universality to the gospel, how universally it should be proclaimed and universally experienced.

Apostolic can seem like a scary word.  Really, it does not have to be.  When the Pharisees asked Jesus by what authority he said or did things, one could say that this was healthy skepticism.  Who really wants to follow someone who made himself pastor and has a close circle of fans?  How far is that from a cult?  Apostolic succession simply means that one can trace in the authority that hands were laid on them with a sacred imparting of an anointing that started in the upper room when Jesus breathed on his apostles the Holy Spirit to represent the redemptive aspect of Him.  With the Bible Answer Man, he is going to a source that I as a Catholic would affirm has a history of guarding the deposit of faith including in the sacramental expression of Christianity.

But this is not to put down my Protestant history.  It is from my Protestant experiences I can talk about my love for bible memorization, my first zeal in pointing to Jesus and time in prayer.  I am thankful for the pastors and other loved ones that invested into me so much that I am an evangelical still albeit I believe fulfilled in that in the Catholic Church.  With a renewed fervor, I hope that increasingly my Protestant and Orthodox brothers can join me in loving each other as Jesus prayed and telling the world He is risen indeed!

Feeding Line, Dividing Line PART V: One Proposal, Two Answers

Marriage-proposalThe conversion of the heart and a paradigm shift is no small thing.  Changes converts make are radical to the core of how they live, love and hope which happen only in total surrender.  The preceding moments of  tension may be a setting of ones choosing, God’s choosing or a bit of both.  When one is about to convert, the tension comes in the understanding of life as we have known and not knowing the details of what we are getting.  When Jesus told the Jews one day that to have eternal life they had to eat his flesh it was time to leap forward or backwards.

Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.   But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (  John 6:59-69).

Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever—  This could be the payoff if they get it.  The people in the time of Moses had manna from heaven which was the word for “What is it?”  Jesus comes as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) in a visible, sacramental context.

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum— This is not an incidental statement by John.  John made a point here that the very scene where the Law is read is where teaching happens that brings interpretation of the first five books of the Bible.

This saying is hard; who can accept it?— In my experience as a Christian in post-modern America moral relativism has often sneaked into how people make decisions on truth.  If they are grounded in the divine, truth is discovered and obeyed.  If they are grounded by the wisdom of this age then it is up for a subjective vote and the pope is in the mirror.

Does this shock you?-  This is like a spiritual soundcheck.  He then asks if they would be ready to know the big picture.  This may have been rhetorical.  The answer was no for most but Jesus is out to propose and not to impose.

It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.— For those that read this verse and say it proves the Eucharist is not efficacious then they misunderstand what is being said.  Notice Jesus said here “the flesh” not “my flesh”.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus sees the disciples sleeping when they were supposed to pray.  He says there that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  The flesh is weak for the disciples in the garden because they were not engaging their flesh in obedience to the Holy Spirit in their hearts.  His flesh is spiritual life for the world because Jesus was 100% divine and 100% human.

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him— This is the moment of decision.  They declined the invitation of Jesus for a communion that is oneness with God: a divine proposal.  They were along for a great ride and got free bread the day before.  Jesus proposed more.  As an addictions counselor working with clients in treatment I tell them their “addiction is outside that door doing pushups”.   In the same way the former life for even those that are complete converts is always wanting reunion.  To leave Jesus is to look at truth in the eye and say “No. Not going to do it”.

“Do you also want to leave?—  When I became a Catholic I had much joy but I still knew that following Christ still is a continual process.  At Easter Vigil the congregation reaffirms the faith that is “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic” (Nicene Creed 325).  Even for those that are baptized and confirmed there is an annual decision to make where one reaffirms the Catholic Christian faith.  And for my Protestant brothers and sisters, to leave the same Lord, faith and meaning of baptism is always up to you as well. We all have free will.

Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.—  The disciples are humble and thus tied to the wisdom of eternity rather than the wisdom of that age.  There is an objective truth, and they know Him as the all consuming reality (alethia).

We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God-  They have come to a conversion point and for each of them it has come gradually in how they came,  saw and were conquered. This is the nature of discipleship.

Each disciple of Jesus has a DNA in the church that Jesus started.  Together the Body of Christ is meant to be a bride to whom Jesus is returning. Jesus is The Bridegroom proposing marriage in the context of faith and reason sacramentally.

The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. “Will you also go away?”: the Lord’s question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has “the words of eternal life” and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1336).  

Feeding Line, Dividing Line Part III : From Mystery to Scandal

Jesus Holding The Bread

Often religion gets a bad rap and often for undeserved.  One example is being ethnocentric on God’s the favor. But the message of Christianity is a universal in design and meant to be expressed that way.  To be a Christian is to grow in holiness while being holy.  Christians have fallen short at times in keeping Christianity moved by the world rather than moving the world.

It is worth noticing how the gospel’s proposal is unfolded with universality, mystery and challenge.  Unfortunately the proposal is met with unbelief and cynicism.

Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,  because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.” The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets:

‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  (John 6:31-51).

It was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven—  Jesus begins to challenge them to the transcendent.  If the manna, which means “What is it?”,  is drawn back only to Moses and the past then the faith is only a subjective religious experience.  Instead Jesus draws their attention to God the Father in the context of the present.

For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world— The distinction here is that this sustenance, coming only come from God, is for the world.  This revisits John 3:16 in that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son….”  Jesus is to be consumed and it is from divine love that resurrection life touches those from everywhere.

Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said… “whoever comes…whoever believes ….Everything that the Father gives me will come to me—  They have a hard time discerning how serious Jesus is about the nature of offering himself.  Jesus speaks to them with a qualifier about the “whoever”  and points to the heavenly Father.  To speak of this kingdom is by a family table and in mystery.  Also one can see the conversion is “both/and” in coming to Jesus by destiny and choice at the same time.

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life— But the context is in coming and believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  If it is just by a worldly point of view that he is just a carpenter, good teacher, great prophet or nice guy then there is little redemptive.  Such a perspective of all that Jesus is has  much emptiness.

Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’? —-  Paul addressed this to early believers who could have, and likely were, swayed by the philosophies of their day. Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).  However, in the context of this whole passage it is worth considering the same for the Eucharist.  To the eyes of the flesh when Jesus died not he cross it was just a Roman execution.  Likewise, to the eyes of the flesh now one could just see a wafer at an altar of Catholic, Orthodox or Coptic parish and wonder what thus fuss is about.  But with eyes of faith the perspective changes when a priest hold up the Eucharist and says.  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.

I will give is my flesh for the life of the world— A beautiful thing happens in the path of conversion to Jesus.  One does get that introduction through evangelization  like what happened with the first two disciples by John the Baptist.  Then the disciples on that day by the river ask where Jesus is staying.  He said, “come and see” (John 1:39).   The measure of God’s love for the world of John 3:16 is  infinite.  The most normative way for us to respond is repentance, faith, obedience and with the greatest virtue of love.  From this we thank God for sending Jesus.  This is what early church communion was in Greek using the term for communion: eucharistia.

The Eucharist has been present since Jesus ascended and is an extension of The Sacrifice of Jesus who said he would be with us “To the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). This is not a later interpretation.  A eucharistic  interpretation was noted by St. Justin Martyr in 155 in his Dialogue with Trypho.

“And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” – (First Apology, 66. 155 AD)

St. Ireneaeus of Lyon agreed with this interpretation in 189 in Against All Heresies.

Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from the things mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the of the resurrection to eternity. (St. Ireneaeus  Against All Heresies Book IV, Chapter 18).

One interpretation is right and one is wrong. One embraces Jesus today for all he presented himself and the other has limitations. Such is the dichotomy of scandal or mere symbolism as I will address next.

Rocking The House Part II

Washing Feet of Refugees

Recently Pope Francis left Lesbos bringing 14 Muslim refugees with him to live at the Vatican.  One of my favorite bloggers, Steve Ray, took exception to that since there were plenty of Christian refugees there too.  I would respectfully argue that Pope Francis did the right thing.  He acted in charity to his enemies like the Gospel tells us.  That action was a message and it should challenge us, like the style of Jesus to see that the coming of the kingdom of God is above our own presuppositions or agendas.

As a social worker, I have heard a lot about how the privileged of society should be aware of their blind spots.  Pop culture has a saying of, “Check your privilege!”.  There are have’s and have not’s based on any of many labels with a semi-caste system in society.  For those that have such power or are resentful they do not have enough, there can be contention either way.  The nature of sin in an individual or a group predisposes the human condition to be committed to a fight and basing it by the flesh.  In a zero-sum game of class warfare the assumption is that labels and their norms are the way they are and nothing natural can go agains that.

Insert me as the public relations person for Jesus in his inaugural speech in his ministry in his hometown of Nazareth.  With my bar graphs that happened with my fancy computer, I say that now is a good time to go if half of them are “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”.  Jesus has sown some seeds but there are some signs that this is a tough crowd.  Jesus stays on though he knew the hearts of all men.  He sits down which is a rabbinical posture.  If they thought he laid down the gauntlet before, guess again.  It gets much worse or much better depending what kind of heart that you had in Nazareth that day.  Or Anytown, USA.  Make no mistake, the gospel in its fulness is real and it is meant to be offensive.

He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.  They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away (Luke 4:23-29).

This is getting personal.  Jesus is speaking to a small, marginalized town under a marginalized nation under oppressive rule from an oppressive empire.  They had a bias to stay together, ruminate in the injustices they had suffered by the Gentiles and keep the status quo.  Jesus had just signaled to them the help was on the way from God and that included from oppression.  Surely revenge would soon be theirs.

It was to none of these…only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. …yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.— This is loaded with grace, but for their enemies?  Jesus loves everyone.  He had shared good news with them a few moments ago.  Now he dared say that there was mission for them too?

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury — The reviews went in minutes from 50/50 to 100/0.  The 50% that liked Jesus before liked his words, gracious words, as long as they were about their group.  But Jesus loved his hometown too much not to throw a stumbling block their way.  I remember that the definition of a bad sermon according to Abraham Lincoln is one that did not challenge one to action.  Jesus challenged them to love all of their neighbors and they snapped.  One can hope that when the more explicit nature of the gospel would be explained years later they would snap back.

House of Doubt-Rocking The House Part I

THE_CANDIDATE

If one looks at the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, he presents himself as a supernatural person with an approach that is above earthly concerns. His agenda changes common narratives.  In the following passage he challenges norms with “super-norms”.

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph” (Luke 4:16-22).

Jesus basically hit the assembly with a stun gun on the lowest setting but high in stirring a hunger in the truly humble.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to—  Simply, Jesus is saying that he is given authority from God in heaven.  Outside of the box thinking from an outside of this world source.

bring glad tidings to the poor— This is to say that there is a provision to be made who are poor.  Poor in money?  Poor in spirit? By going into the Old Testament he draws their attention to when manna fell from heaven to the Israelites.  Each day when the daily bread would fall someone would say “Basar!”  Meaning that provision for another day had come.  Jesus came to bring himself as what we needed in spiritual supply as the living bread and not just manna (meaning “What is it?”).

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives-Jesus was sent to proclaim that God wants peace on earth, has goodwill towards humanity and that the jail doors are open due to a pardon.  Where repentance falls in there is for the person to walk out if they accept Jesus in his totality.

recovery of sight to the blind— This has two meanings.  One, there was a blame game around at that time that if someone was infirm in their body that they or their parents sinned for them to be that way (see John 9). Jesus brings a much broader view than that.  The other is the awareness of the need of being saved.  Last, literal miracle on that which is disordered in his will.

to let the oppressed go free— This was about the power of sin that infects the individual as a slave.  Slaves had a servile fear of their master who can show wrath to them if they are caught failing.  Jesus and the Apostle Paul speak of God as Abba, Father (Daddy).   “{H}ow God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.- With that Jesus laid down the gauntlet.  He has made a declaration about himself and that going forward his ministry can be up for markers that he is the fulfillment of this prophecy.  With the word “today” Jesus marks himself in history.

So right here is a summary of what Jesus is in the gospel and meaning to do then and now:  be heaven sent, be the intimate answer to the unspoken questions of the heart, communicate a pardon to humanity,  illuminate hearts with grace and truth and heal the inner parts of the person.  From this he would draw them into being partakers of his divine nature in him being our fulfillment of all desire.

If one is open to God working outside of the box, that does not seem bad,   Otherwise, it could seem to be.

We see both here.

And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words.… They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph— Not the only time that a group would have mixed reviews of Jesus.  Thoughts like, “I like his words, but shouldn’t he be a bit of a surprise?  As we will see, Jesus loves them too much not to give them a surprise.  Just not always the one they are looking for.

TO BE CONTINUED

Re-Finding Antioch

Antioch_logo_and-tails

A week ago tonight I was at a John 17 event.  The John 17 Movement is a wonderful set of connections in the Phoenix area that has Christians of various faith traditions praying and worshipping together.  Some events are big and some are small.  Some are on Protestant ground and some are on Catholic ground.  It is a wonderful example of ecumenism.

What’s that? A sin?  Ecumenism is a sin?  One world heresy.  Indifferentism is what some people say in that the truth is watered down.

But does it have to be seen that way?  We hear from Paul in 1 Corinthians that the greatest gift is love.  Paul believed in truth but it is not the greatest thing.  In fact, the seemingly unanswered prayer of Jesus in the actual John Chapter 17 includes unity in the petition.  If we in our respective denominations lift up our experiences and faith community domains with walls to them, we should be careful to first discern that we are not throwing the baby with the bathwater— and Jesus’ prayer for unity of his people with it.

So one way to discern where some common ground could be on what makes a Christian people is looking at where the Christian term started.

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that arose because of Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but Jews. There were some Cypriots and Cyrenians among them, however, who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks as well, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The news about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas [to go] to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord. Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-26).

and began to speak to the Greeks as well— The backdrop is that Peter had broke new ground with preaching the gospel to Gentiles.  Organically, these followers of Jesus were able to embrace this with the universality of the gospel to anyone who believes.

proclaiming the Lord Jesus—- If we blink we will miss it.  The simplicity of proclaiming the person of Jesus.  Christianity in its pure sense is meant to be a cult of personality and this personality is the risen Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.  They did not proclaim formulas but Jesus.  Everything else is secondary.

and they sent Barnabas [to go] to Antioch— Not just any apostle.  His real name was Joseph the Levite.  But they gave him the Aramaic nickname of Barnabas because it means “son of encouragement”.  He had a temperament to see the best in people.  He was even willing to stand up and sponsor a former mass persecutor named Saul of Tarsus who would later be so much more. He had a heart to see the individual through God’s eyes.

he arrived and saw the grace of God— What does it mean to see the grace of God?  What was covered above hits it right on point: Christocentricity with a “Here comes everybody” welcoming atmosphere.

he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart— He affirms them all to walk collectively in relationship with Jesus.  Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior?  Great! But do not stop there.  Jesus is the head of the Body of Christ and we are called into such unity.

for he was a good man, filled with the holy Spirit and faith— In his flesh Barnabas knew how to be a bigot of many kinds.  But in cooperation with the Holy Spirit he decided not to be one.  He did not arrive to this vision of a developing church through good moral training but through a formation of the Holy Spirit.

And a large number of people was added to the Lord-  Next step in going from personal conversion to corporate and communal living.  Reproduce in the formation of Christ.  That is the number that is added.

For a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people— Above they were a scattering.  But the right person with the right calling comes in as a sent one under authority and now they are a church.  We see three chapters later that Barnabas was himself an apostle.  No matter how much that church grows they are in need of the apostles teaching (Acts 2:42, 2 Thessalonians 2:15).

…to look for Saul… he brought him to Antioch-  The logical conclusion is that ego not be the main trait but God’s election. Barnabas discerned before anything that Antioch is not meant to be his own show and discerned that it was time for the best of the old ways in the knowledge of Saul the former Old Covenant scholar to bring that perspective to be properly unveiled in the grace of God.

and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians— With all of the above behind them, they were first called Christians.  To be a Christian then meant something event to the skeptics of their day.  I pray it will be again so that they will glorify the Father in heaven.

This is a beautiful story and it can play out today.  Who is the Christian that can be a Barnabas for both valid expansion and unity in the kingdom of God?  Do you as a Christian have a dividing line between you and someone else that does not remotely have the fingerprints to Jesus?

Incidentally, if you are a non-Christian and reading this, I want to apologize to you.  We Christians are a work in progress.  I assure you, Antioch does exist if you take a step back and really look.  And for a Christian that has been off-course on this, you can specifically look back to Acts 11 with the Holy Spirit and find the Antioch point near you that rallies at the Cross of Christ.

Finally, back to John 17.  There were 120 of us.  After some wonderful praise and worship and a message from Joseph Tosini we counted off by 12 and were split into groups of ten.  We were given about six verses from John 17 and had a chance to share with each other.  There was good insight and my group, organically, did not share much about what kind of church any of us went to until the end.  It was good.  We were just Christians and together encounter Christ in grace.

So at the end of the day, I am a Christian.  More specifically I am a— nah.  I’m taking a break from that for one day.

Breaking More Than Bread

Eucharistic-Bread

Several years ago I remember hearing about someone switching churches for a reason that I could not connect to: a man that switched from being Baptist to Episcopalian in part because he found the liturgy to be so beautiful.  Liturgy?  Really?  You mean like formal presentation of that bread and wine with those fancy clothes?

That was my cultural bias in belittling it because I prided myself on my informal formation as a Christian. My parents did not identify themselves as Christian and I became a Christian without their guidance when I was 10 and became a church goer at 14.  I did not take into my life a habit to pray before meals and cussing was not a problem for me.  In fact, I rarely made it a point to dress nice for church because God knows my heart.  There was even a season of my life when I avoided “dry, organized church” of any kind choosing to be in a house church that was off the rails and not reverent to traditions of Christianity that had unity and history to it.  So on that liturgy anecdote “Really?” seemed to make sense.

But years later, my meandering journey in following Christ took me unexpectedly into the Catholic Church.  To stay.  I actually like it.  Another interesting point is that I wanted a Christianity to experience that was consistent with a matter of fact declaration on fresh, pristine form on how, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).  In this setting I have found this verse to be fleshed out in the most fulness.

But this is not just a matter of just a ceremony for ceremony’s sake.  This is the full realization of what is to take the message of John 3:16, thank God for His sacrifice of His Son and infuse it relationally into ones soul and body.  In the Old Testament they had a bread sacrifice to God called the todah.  In the Greek translation from Hebrew they used the word eucharesteo.  This is where we get Eucharist where Jesus is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Did I still accept Jesus at 10 with a simple prayer? Yes.  But with The Eucharist it is blown into 3D and it draws me to a unified walk with Church in light of salvation history.

Late invention?  The accounts of having the Eucharist in the Early Church Fathers writings are numerous.  But one can see something profound with Jesus on the day of the resurrection.  Two disciples of Jesus come upon him on the road to Emmaus but do not recognize him right away.  He takes the fog away eventually like he does for anyone who seeks him honestly.

And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-35).

Safe to assume that they consumed the bread?  Almost.  Once Jesus gave thanks and consecrated, his presence is extended in the bread.  They knew him in the breaking of the bread.

Klasis is the Greek word for the actual breaking of bread.  In a solemn way this happens in a holy, fellowship time.  But there is another breaking of the bread can then be done in smaller settings that are not as formal.  There is room to build relationally with one another that does not take away from Jesus.

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke (klasis) bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46).  This is beautiful, compliments the pillar of above about fellowship and is a sanctified time because of the primary breaking of the bread in the sacrifice reflecting The Sacrifice on the cross.  It is in the institution of the Eucharist that Christ gives us the source and summit of our faith as we walk in God and together.

This is where Jesus expressed something that was to have meaning but must be apprehended (like getting the “jist” of something) and comprehending.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me (John 6: 54-57).

Here, all of the crowd save the 12 disciples walk away.  The twelve maybe apprehend and others will not soften to such an offensive mystery.  But the two men on the road to Emmasaus?  Many other Christians through the ages such as Catholic, Orthodox and Coptic?  Different story.  But now I can tell you it is my story as well.