Opening Closed Doors

Posted by ajenkins on April 21, 2011 under Devotionals, Good News, Jesus, Just A Thought, Uncategorized | Be the First to Comment

From the Bishop of South Carolina, The Rt. Rev’d Mark  Lawrence

Dear Friends in Christ,

When Marjorie Goff closed the door of her apartment in 1949 she was 39 years old.  For her the door stayed shut for the next 30 years.  To be accurate there were a few exceptions.  She went out in 1960 to visit her family, two years later for an operation, and once in 1976 because a friend came to her apartment to take her out for some ice cream.

Marjorie suffered from that metaphor of the human condition known as a phobia.  The list of recognized human phobias is legion.  There’s agoraphobia, aerophobia, acrophobia, claustrophobia, pyrophobia, thanatophobia—just to name a few.  Robert L. DuPont a past director of the Washington Center of Behavioral Medicine called phobias, “The malignant diseases of the ‘what ifs.’”

“What ifs” add up to fears, and fears are right smack dab in the middle of the Easter story.  Matthew’s gospel tells of the chief priests’ and the Pharisees’ fear of a hoax by the disciples.  So they pressured Pilate to send a guard of soldiers to secure the world against a scheme (Matthew 27:62-66).  I’m reminded of Houdini, that renowned magician of another era, who told his wife as he was dying that he would find a way back.  His widow waited, but he never came.  You can secure the world against a scheme or even a magician, but you can’t secure it against a miracle.  Mary Magdalene however didn’t know this, so she was fearful for quite other reasons than  the priests and Pharisees.  When she returned a second time on Easter morning to the empty tomb and to face a fearful future without even the dead body of Jesus to console her, the “what ifs” got the better of her.  The Gospel of John recounts how she mistook the risen Jesus for the gardener.  “Sir,” she queried, “if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him…”  Our fears and “what ifs” as did hers may well hide from us the presence of the risen Christ.  No wonder in the Easter narratives the attending angels and the risen Jesus tell the disciples “Do not be afraid.”  It is Christ’s victory on the cross and in the tomb over every mortal enemy of humankind that makes these words have substance and therein makes them liberating.

“Christ is risen—Jesus lives” that is the telling message of Easter:  even in the face of Death, Sin, Hell, Judgment, the Devil, and all the “what ifs” of fear— Jesus lives!  After all these enemies of mankind have done their worst, He still Lives—and He still delivers.  This is what gives truth to those wonderful words of Julian of Norwich, “All is well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  She too lived like Marjorie Goff in a room with a closed door.  She was an anchoress.  Her room was attached to a cathedral.  She had only two windows in this room.  One looked in towards the altar of the Norwich Cathedral.  The other looked out to the world.  Unlike Marjorie, however, it was not fear that kept Julian behind a closed door.  It was love—love for Christ and love for a needy world.  It was for this world that Jesus died, and for which He now lives to make intercession, and within His love and intercession she presented her intercessions and so can we.

C. S. Lewis once wrote of Christ’s resurrection:  “He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man.”  It is this opened door that made Julian of Norwich free, free enough to be joyous in a single room, two windows and a closed door so she could live devotedly with an open door of abiding prayer (Revelation 3:20).  It is the Gospel, the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection that when rightly heard and understood will open the doors and lives of those like Marjorie Goff who have lived in the fear of “what ifs.”  I encourage you to invite a friend or acquaintance to join you at church for the Easter Day Eucharist so they might hear this Good News and of the door that Christ has opened for you and keeps open for them as well.

Blessings in Christ our Savior and Lord,
+Mark Lawrence
South Carolina

The BackLash of Judgment

Posted by ajenkins on April 15, 2011 under Devotionals, Good News, Jesus, Judgment, Just A Thought | Be the First to Comment

Matthew 7:1-6

It is ironic that no command becomes a greater focal point of division than Jesus’ great command to end it. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” is a lightning rod of controversy and a bludgeon used both by legalists and libertarians who justify their hate of others. The wicked boomerang, “Stop judging me!” is often just as sin filled as the straight-forward, “garden variety” “You’re damned to hell you wicked sinner!” Whether couched in false humility feigning victimization or launched from the stereotypical angry brow with outstretched finger, both judgments are equally evil.

This is why it is eternally important that we get Jesus’ words right. Here is a classic example of where a right or wrong understanding of Jesus’ teaching determines whether the “eye of body”  (Matthew 6:22) sees well or remains faulty. And our understanding of this truth will determine whether we will deny the faith and cling to unbelief under the Law, or whether we will embrace the righteousness in Jesus Christ that comes by faith.

So what exactly is Jesus saying?

Words are sometimes imperfect vehicles to convey the true meaning of things. Only in this case, it is our modern use of the word judge that causes confusion. When Jesus says, “Do not judge…” he is not saying “Do not compare truths and make distinctions” he is saying “Do not condemn.” This is a key distinction for us because humans make judgments about everything everyday. So what Jesus is saying is that we ought not to make a final decision about anyone and we should never give up on anyone when it comes to preaching the Gospel. For who are we to presume that God’s kindness will not lead the legalist, the homosexual, the false prophet, the glutton, the gossip or the atheist to repentance? Who are we to act as if we control the grace of God? We should not and we cannot presume these things if we would believe ourselves to be firmly kept in the faith. Now this does not mean we should not warn unbelievers about hell, but it does mean that there is a difference between saying “The Gospel says that your unrepentant sins will lead you to hell” and saying “You’re already hopelessly damned to hell on account of your unrepentant sins.”

If Paul’s former life, and what God rescued him out of, doesn’t humble us to hope that a better end awaits the hardest sinners we know, then we should suspect that we are these hardened sinners ourselves. We should suspect that we are the kind of people who somehow sees sawdust through two-by-fours.

By nature, we are a people who are in need of corrective vision. We need to have the eyes of our heart surgically repaired (or circumcised a better theologian would say!) in order to see clearly.  We need the kindness of the Spirit in our hearts in order to gently correct the error of others.

When we condemn other people, when we place them in our horrible stereotypes and use them to justify our stinginess and with holding of our love, we condemn ourselves by the same measure we use. Remember that every soul under the Law of God will perish by that Law. When we condemn by the Law, we live by the Law. And those who live under the Law are already spiritually dead and will be judged according to its perfect demands.