Integrity Versus Despair

LighthouseI heard a story once about what I might call “The Worst Sermon Ever Told”.  Abraham Lincoln went to a church one time where the preacher went on for a while with fancy language and flowery illustrations.  After it was over he was asked what he thought of it.  He said, “That was the worst sermon I ever heard….it did not call me to action.”  As we know from history he indeed went and did action motivated by his Christian faith.  Ipso facto that solid words lend to solid actions for short term and long term.

A psychoanalyst named Erick Erickson laid out in his theory that there are several conflicts in a person through life depending on the stage they are in.  The last one for someone’s life according to his theory is integrity versus despair.  One way I could sum up the “integrity” is this:  on ones deathbed they feel that their values and choices were generally not in contradiction from one another.  If not they feel “dis-integrated” with an overwhelming sense that they are out of do-overs.

As Jesus comes to a close on the Sermon on The Mount, the words that had been shared were highlighted with the fine point of application with the understanding that all have values and actions.  Looking from the outside I would say that is a morally neutral and universal statement about anyone with a formed conscience.  What Jesus does here is contrast the foundation and results between one who builds on the values of true wisdom and those who do not.  Then what is implied on some subtle wording is that one can be tied to a continued living authority on what right values are for real life.

 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law (Matthew 7:24-29).

Jesus in all His teachings is not some used car salesman trying to speak in a material realm for getting rich quick or any other empty pursuit.  Jesus wants to build each individual into a saint who lives a holy life despite the fact that there are hardships to live through.  With hardships being a morally neutral but universal certainty Jesus talks about rain coming, streams rising, winds blowing and a house falling. With Jesus meaning soul preservation in place of house maintenance the application is on where someone has their hope and how they live it out.  The foundations of a persons life will be things like prayer, favor of people, sexuality, forgiveness, discerning good spiritual leaders and many other things that Jesus addresses on the mountainside.    If you hear the words of Jesus and put the words into practice then your values will be both correct, internalized, lived out and preserve the integrity as described above.  If one hears those words, chalks them up to a cafeteria run through on truth at best and walks away then despair is bound to come.  And not just at the deathbed but with any storms of life does the “wind” hit and so goes the crash.

But as much as Jesus wants to build the individual listening on the mountainside, He wants to break ground for a long standing assembly.  Hearing Jesus teach, sitting down, reflects a crowd hearing a rabbi.  “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them” (Matthew 5:1-2).  But by referring to Himself a moment ago as Lord on Judgment Day, the kingship of Jesus is implied.  The crowd sits down to hear just another rabbi and get surprised by the manner that the teaching comes out.

Jesus indeed challenged them to action with kingly overtones.  Jesus speaks of wisdom and building  a house.  God built what was understood at the time as the divine house with the temple on a rock.  Jesus had the goal to build His Church.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law—- But this day Jesus was just breaking ground for three prisms of truth that would be in that Church: Tradition, Magisterium and Scripture.  Jesus was speaking with the authority not of the scribes.  This was obvious because Jesus spoke with a different method and emphasis.  Repeatedly Jesus says, “You have heard this but I say to you….”.  Jesus was the beginning of a new tradition that Christians of today can see now as Sacred Tradition.  The authority of Jesus can be inferred to be delegated by God the Father as seen from Strong’s Concordance.

1849 eksousía (from 1537 /ek, “out from,” which intensifies 1510 /eimí, “to be, being as a right or privilege”) – authority, conferred power; delegated empowerment (“authorization”), operating in a designated jurisdiction.

In the NT, 1849 /eksousía (“delegated power”) refers to the authority God gives to His saints – authorizing them to act to the extent they are guided by faith (His revealed word).

So Sacred Tradition needs The Magisterium.  This would be a governing teaching authority on faith and morals.  This was a an integral part of salvation history since Moses.  The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3).

Jesus left room in the gospels to be ones “personal Lord and Savior”.  This is a beautiful aspect of conversion.  But instead of being left to be a disciple of Jesus according to ones personal interpretation Jesus has a display for the crowd and us if one looks to the verses preceding the words of the Sermon On The Mount.

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them” (Matthew 5:1-2).  Yes Jesus is very personal but the delegated authority goes on to His disciples of the apostolic context. Jesus does not present to us a Gospel of Nice but a Gospel of the The Kingdom.  My hope and prayer for myself and the reader is that the follow through of Jesus words will help us all to hold together in the form of His making and even thrive.

But we ought to give thanks to God for you always, brothers loved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in truth. To this end he has [also] called you through our gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.” (2 Thesolonians 2:13-15).


A Word Spread Over Bread

Maslowe 2

I remember years ago working on the side at a group home for mentally ill and being exposed to a pyramid model called Maselow’s Hierarchy.  Abraham Maselow was a psychological theorist that put basic human needs on the first level of the pyramid (food, shelter etc) and that a human cannot do well in the higher levels of need unless the basics are addressed.  It is a simple principle but one I have come back to in personal and academic development.

Jesus had something to say that one could interpret as addressing the same thing. In teaching His disciples how to pray He said, ““Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).  Sounds simple enough, right?  It could seem like a proof text about asking for one’s personal, physical needs to be met.  Now as a social worker I would see that there is some credence to applying Maselow in social services.

But for Christian application I propose that Jesus meant to go much further than that.  First, the modern reader needs to understand that the “personal Lord and Savior” paradigm that is emphasized in western Christianity was not developed in the first century.  As we have seen in the Lord’s Prayer it has “Our Father” as the first words.  Our needs, whether physical or spiritual, are meant to be contextualized in the context of being in the family of God.  We should come to God in prayer knowing provision is more than about the individual in some intrinsic way.

Second, we should udnerstand that the prior verse is about His kingdom and will coming and being done on earth as it is in heaven and that emphasis overlaps in theme with bread.  At this time only Jews were disciples of Jesus.  They had counted the cost of discipleship and found Jesus to be the King of Israel.  When bread is meantioned it is pregnant with meaning via the salvation history they knew.  There was bread in the qahal, solemn assembly, in the time of David.  There was manna in the desert in the time of Moses.  “Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance” (Psalms 78:25).

The meaning of Jesus, literally in the name, is that God saves.  God is out to save the world so much that in my recent post I wrote that praying for God to save the world should be our highest intercession.  But when the macro goes to the personal, we are made whole in salvation.  In fact, many times in the gospels the word sozo is about one angle of participation of being whole.  If somone repents and turns to Jesus they are made sozo and when the woman was healed by Jesus through touching the hem of His garment it was sozo there too.

For many years I had a few gnawing questions in Christian fellowship that bear some telling here.  One is that I would see someone like the stage at a high school that my old church rented and wonder how there could be some kind of focal point for worship in the congregation that would be right with Jesus and not idolatry.  The other query I had wanting to know some deep way of experiencing Jesus in the communion of bread and wine.

This has been answered in my journey in becoming a Catholic.  The bread of angels would not be of the lowest angel because provision presupposes hierarchy.  The bread of angels would not be of man’s design since in the time of Moses they lacked the cleansing of original sin.  The bread of heaven is Jesus and He said so clearly in the the Bread of Life Discouse in John 6.  Pope John Paul II referred to the Eucharist (from the Greek word eucharistia) as the “Summit and Source of our faith”.  Christ referred to His flesh with the following words, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:54-55).

Jesus did not mince words in what was both an invitation by grace. Jesus laid down the gauntlet on how someone could be scandalized by the message of the cross sacramentally and thank God for it. It is just a matter of asking Our Father in heaven that which is the divine nature in Jesus. Peter wrote in his later years that we are partakers of His divine nature and he meant it as something far beyond that of a goosebump emotional experience.  Peter knew, and experienced, that to partake of God’s divine nature was a matter of communion as both the theological and ecclisastical norm.

Recommended Reading:

Jesus and The Jewish Roots of The Eucharist by Brant Pitre.

The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn.

Saturdays With Simon Peter–Speaking Grace




One holy, apostolic and Catholic Church. 

That phrase is a mouthful.  Imagine being the screwed up guy commissioned to be the manager at its foundation (not the Head or King but a humble steward). 


That’s our guy Simon Peter.  He was a long-term work in progress by Jesus and did not stop being worked on and worked through after that.  And so are we. 


Before I get too deep, don’t worry, the apostolic is addressed already in chapter 1 of Acts. Peter had received a renewal of his commission by Jesus to be His guy in the foundation of His church in a face to face conversation in John 21.  It was important to Peter as a pope but also as a sinner who had plenty of grace for redemption.  Redemption from cowardice, pride and wrath. 


He knew he needed it.  Peter had been impulsive so many time in his Lord’s darkest hour he denied Him three times.  With such a knowing one morning at 9:00 am in the Feast of Trumpets in Jerusalem  such a blue-collar fisherman from a marginalized region of Palestine stood up and proclaimed the gospel.  Oh, and yeah he may have still been scared but he know he was not alone because he had received the Holy Spirit speaking tongues of men and angels beyond his Aramaic or Greek. 


The Church is Universal. 


Acts 2: 37 “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers,[i] what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”


Peter knew that he himself was one of those “everyone’s” that could have a new lease on life.  The more he could keep some humility about the restoration in his life, the more he could feel like his own best customer.  In this case, the crowd was full of foreign Jews from many countries that were far off.  Many of them could not hold their own in Greek, let along Aramaic.  But Peter was open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to bring this message out beyond the comfort zone.  Little did he know that in ten years Jesus would step it up a notch to non-Jews. 


The Church is holy. The Church is one. 


Acts 2: 41 “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.”


Peter leads them into a covenant that is superior than the first six of the Jewish covenant.  By being baptized, they are saved (1 Peter 3:21).  This holiness is a transcendent and practical experience of appropriating His grace through the extension of Jesus as Truth, Jesus in the Spirit, Jesus in the Eucharist and Jesus in corporate prayer.  It would take long than what is appropriate to explain, but these wonders and signs point to the greatest miracle in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus 53 days before. 


44 “All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds[j] to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home[k] and ate their food with glad and generous[l] hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”


Peter and the other apostles had a lot to do for their remaining lives and some with shorter lives than others. Infused with the mission of unity, holiness, universality and a multi-generational context, they were in for keeps. 



A little Bible trivia.  Eucharist comes from the Greek, eucharistia, which means thanksgiving.  When they were breaking bread, it was the experience of partaking of the divine nature of Jesus.