WELCOME TO TITUS ONE NINE
The sixth part of an Introduction to Acts from Christ St Paul’s added on January 4, 2013
WELCOME TO TITUS ONE NINE
The sixth part of an Introduction to Acts from Christ St Paul’s added on January 4, 2013
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity join’d with power:
He is able, he is able, he is able;
He is willing; doubt no more.
Ho! ye needy, come and welcome;
God’s free bounty glorify:
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh,
Without money, without money,
Come to Jesus Christ and buy!
Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Bruis’d and mangled by the Fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all:
Not the righteous, not the righteous,
not the righteous;
Sinners, Jesus came to call.
View Him prostrate in the garden,
Lo! your Maker prostrate lies!
On the bloody tree behold Him,
Hear Him cry before He dies,
It is finished! It is finished! It is finished!
Sinner, will not this suffice?
Lo! the incarnate God, ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude:
None but Jesus, none but Jesus,
none but Jesus,
Can do helpless sinners good.
”“Joseph Hart (1712-1768)
Those who have followed the Korean soap opera need to remember what this is really all about. As the tale has unfolded of Dr. Hwang and the lies, frauds, and evasions that have plunged the scientific community into a tailspin, the baseline question is the question of Christmas. What are the bioethics of Bethlehem? In fact, the question breaks into two. Did God truly take human nature to himself in Jesus Christ? And, did he really take it at its beginning? Because for all the focus of our Christmas story on the stable and the baby in a manger, the truly startling event had taken place nine months before.
Behind Christmas lies what Christians in churches that still dare use long words know as the annunciation””the announcement of Gabriel to Mary that she would be with child of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-31).
While Christmas reveals the Incarnation to the rest of us, it had already happened back then. Mary was the first to know; and her cousin Elizabeth’s unborn baby John (the Baptist) was the first to bear witness. His leaping in the womb was the first act of Christian testimony, a fetal response to a gospel first preached by an embryonic Jesus (perhaps two or three weeks old). As we read this narrative of theology from the womb, our minds turn to a near contemporary who would in due time electrify the ancient pagan world and lay the foundations of its collapse: Saul of Tarsus, also set apart from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15). Three unborn children in whose hands lay the destiny of humankind. And one of them was not merely the tiniest of humans, he was the cosmic creator, the Word by whom the Godhead has spoken into existence the vastness of time and space. And the One who will one day be our Judge.
I often wonder how many people who hear the famous Bible text that begins “In the sixth month” are aware of what is going on (Luke 1:26). It does not refer to the month of June, or for that matter to Elul, the Hebrew sixth month of the year. The reference is gynecological: the dating is by Elizabeth’s pregnancy. And it focuses us on the design of God to use the weak things of the world to confound the strong. The divine conspiracy is hatched within the walls of the womb.
(It is very difficult to set the stage for this scene, but some background will be helpful. Rayber is one of the novel’s central characters and is strongly anti-Christian. He is looking as hard as he can for his nephew, Francis Tarwater, who has run away. This has led him to a small church service, likely a revival meeting, and he is watching what is occurring through a window. Rayber is unable to hear in one ear and in the other he wears a hearing device which sometimes vexes him. The “old man” is a reference to another key character in the novel, Mason Tarwater, whose death and desired burial form an important early part of the book. There is also a mention of Bishop who is Rayber’s son and who appears to have Down’s syndrome).
. . . A little girl hobbled into the spotlight.
Rayber cringed. Simply by the sight of her he could tell that she was not a fraud, that she was only exploited. She was eleven or twelve with a small delicate face and a head of black hair that looked too thick and heavy for a frail child to support. A cape like her mother’s was turned back over one shoulder and her skirt was short as if better to reveal the thin legs twisted from the knees. She held her arms over her head for a moment. “I want to tell you people the story of the world,” she said in a loud high child’s voice. “I want to tell you why Jesus came and what happened to Him. I want to tell you how He’ll come again. I want to tell you to be ready. Most of all,” she said, “I want to tell you to be ready so that on the last day you’ll rise in the glory of the Lord.”
Rayber’s fury encompassed the parents, the preacher, all the idiots he could not see who were sitting in front of the child, parties to her degradation. She believed it, she was locked tight in it, chained hand and foot, exactly as he had been, exactly as only a child could be. He felt the taste of his own childhood pain laid again on his tongue like a bitter wafer.
“Do you know who Jesus is?” she cried. “Jesus is the word of God and Jesus is love. The Word of God is love and do you know what love is, you people? If you don’t know what love is you won’t know Jesus when He comes. You won’t be ready. I want to tell you people the story of the world, how it never known when love come, so when love comes again, you’ll be ready.”
She moved back and forth across the stage, frowning as if she were trying to see the people through the fierce circle of light that followed her. “Listen to me, you people,” she said, “God was angry with the world because it always wanted more. It wanted as much as God had and it didn’t know what God had but it wanted it and more. It wanted God’s own breath, it wanted His very Word and God said, ‘I’ll make my Word Jesus, I’ll give them my Word for a king, I’ll give them my very breath for theirs.’
“Listen, you people,” she said and flung her arms wide, “God told the world He was going to send it a king and the world waited. The world thought, a golden fleece will do for His bed. Silver and gold and peacock tails, a thousand suns in a peacock’s tail will do for His sash. His mother will ride on a four-horned white beast and use the sunset for a cape. She’ll trail it behind her over the ground and let the world pull it to pieces, a new one every evening.”
To Rayber she was like one of those birds blinded to make it sing more sweetly. Her voice had the tone of a glass bell. His pity encompassed all exploited children–himself when he was a child, Tarwater exploited by the old man, this child exploited by parents, Bishop exploited by the very fact that he was alive.
“The world said, ‘How long, Lord, do we have to wait for this?’ And the Lord said, ‘My Word is coming, my Word is coming from the house of David, the king.'” She paused and turned her head to the side, away from the fierce light. Her dark gaze moved slowly until it rested on Rayber’s head in the window. He stared back at her. Her eyes remained on his face for a moment. A deep shock went through him. He was certain that the child had looked directly into his heart and seen his pity. He felt that some mysterious connection was established between them.
“‘My Word is coming,'” she said, turning back to face the glare, “‘my Word is coming from the house of David, the king.'”
She began again in a dirge-like tone. “Jesus came on cold straw. Jesus was warmed by the breath of an ox. ‘Who is this?’ the world said, ‘who is this blue-cold child and this woman, plain as the winter? Is this the Word of God, this blue-cold child? Is this His will, this plain winter-woman?’
“Listen you people!” she cried, “the world knew in its heart, the same as you know in your hearts and I know in my heart. The world said, ‘Love cuts like the cold wind and the will of God is plain as the winter. Where is the summer will of God? Where are the green seasons of God’s will? Where is the spring and summer of God’s will?’
“They had to flee into Egypt,” she said in a low voice and turned her head again and this time her eyes moved directly to Rayber’s face in the window and he knew they sought it. He felt himself caught up in her look, held there before the judgment seat of her eyes.
“You and I know,” she said turning again, “what the world hoped then. The world hoped old Herod would slay the right child, the world hoped old Herod wouldn’t waste those children, but he wasted them. He didn’t get the right one. Jesus grew up and raised the dead.”
Rayber felt his spirit borne aloft. But not those dead! he cried, not the innocent children, not you, not me when I was a child, not Bishop, not Frank! and he had a vision of himself moving like an avenging angel through the world, gathering up all the children that the Lord, not Herod, had slain.
“Jesus grew up and raised the dead,” she cried, “and the world shouted, ‘Leave the dead lie. The dead are dead and can stay that way. What do we want with the dead alive?’ Oh you people!” she shouted, “they nailed Him to a cross and run a spear through His side and then they said, ‘Now we can have some peace, now we can ease our minds.’ And they hadn’t but only said it when they wanted Him to come again. Their eyes were opened and they saw the glory they had killed.
“Listen world,” she cried, flinging up her arms so that the cape flew out behind her, “Jesus is coming again! The mountains are going to lie down like hounds at His feet, the stars are going to perch on His shoulder and when He calls it, the sun is going to fall like a goose for His feast. Will you know the Lord Jesus then? The mountains will know Him and bound forward, the stars will light on His head, the sun will drop down at His feet, but will you know the Lord Jesus then?”
Rayber saw himself fleeing with the child to some enclosed garden where he would teach her the truth, where he would gather all the exploited children of the world and let the sunshine flood their minds.
“If you don’t know Him now, you won’t know Him then. Listen to me, world, listen to this warning. The Holy Word is in my mouth!
“The Holy Word is in my mouth!” she cried and turned her eyes again on his face in the window. This time there was a lowering concentration in her gaze. He had drawn her attention entirely away from the congregation.
Come away with me! he silently implored, and I’ll teach you the truth, I’ll save you, beautiful child!
Her eyes still fixed on him, she cried, “I’ve seen the Lord in a tree of fire! The Word of God is a burning Word to burn you clean!” She was moving in his direction, the people in front of her forgotten. Rayber’s heart began to race. He felt some miraculous communication between them. The child alone in the world was meant to understand him. “Burns the whole world, man and child,” she cried, her eye on him, “none can escape.” She stopped a little distance from the end of the stage and stood silent, her whole attention directed across the small room to his face on the ledge. Her eyes were large and dark and fierce. He felt that in the space between them, their spirits had broken the bonds of age and ignorance and were mingling in some unheard of knowledge of each other. He was transfixed by the child’s silence. Suddenly she raised her arm and pointed toward his face. “Listen you people,” she shrieked, “I see a damned soul before my eyes! I see a dead man Jesus hasn’t raised. His head is in the window but his ear is deaf to the Holy Word!”
Rayber’s head, as if it had been struck by an invisible bolt, dropped from the ledge. He crouched on the ground, his furious spectacled eyes glittering behind the shrubbery. Inside she continued to shriek, “Are you deaf to the Lord’s Word? The Word of God is a burning Word to burn you clean, burns man and child, man and child the same, you people! Be saved in the Lord’s fire or perish in your own! Be saved in . . .”
He was groping fiercely about him, slapping at his coat pockets, his head, his chest, not able to find the switch that would cut off the voice. Then his hand touched the button and he snapped it. A silent dark relief enclosed him like shelter after a tormenting wind.
—The Violent Bear It Away (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1960), pp.129-132 [my emphasis]
….one could learn a great deal from the question, “What do you hope to get for Christmas?” For if you know our hopes, you fairly well know us. If you want to know who a person really is, and plans to be, inquire into what that person is hoping for.
What are you hoping for?
I expect that is what most of us think religion is about, the fulfillment of our hopes. We hope to find peace in our anxious lives. So we come to church on Sunday morning hoping that the music of the hymns, the words of scripture and preaching may fill us with a sense of peace.
We hope for thoughtful, reflective lives. So we come to church on Sunday morning hoping for an interesting sermon, something that will help us to use our minds, something that will test our intellects, make us think about things in a way we haven’t thought before…..
The trouble is that the Gospels seem to engage in a continual debate with people’s hopes and expectations. Jesus came, light into our darkness. But the problem with Jesus was he was not the sort of light that we expected. That is where the trouble started. Jesus was the hope of the world. But he was not the hope for which the world was hoping!
Whatever the coming of the kingdom means, it cannot mean that the healing, reconciling, non-combative Christ we know was an imposter, just biding his time until he could beat down his enemies under his feet. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence. If we seek the kingdom by violence, then the violent will bear it away.
I don’t know why we would be disappointed to discover that Christ comes again as he came the first time””working through small things, not big things, among little people, not powerful people, with local effect, not cosmic effect””except that we find great armies on thundering horses a more adequate display of power. I don’t know why we would be disappointed to discover that the kingdom of heaven operates under the sign of the cross just as the Coming One did, except that we have always been disappointed by God’s reluctance to give us the kind of world, the kind of life, the kind of savior we want.
“And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me,” he said, knowing better than anyone the disappointing, redemptive ways in which God works–sending a human child into the world instead of a mighty king, sending servants instead of troops–sending people like you and me instead of real disciples to do the work of the Coming One until he comes, for in just this way the kingdom of heaven draws very, very near.
The regular suggestion that baling out countries will lead them to misbehave again won’t work, either. That might be true of some banks and businesses. It isn’t true of countries like Tanzania, who, after debt remission, have experienced the joy of developing education, medicine and other essentials ”“ in fact, of building a new home.
We don’t just need, in other words, to ”˜turn the economy round’, and get it back to where it was before. We need to turn it inside out. The Christmas message suggests that it’s time for a major, global rethink about the multiple, interlocking problems we can no longer ignore. And about the many-sided, but essentially coherent, proposals that flow directly from the Baby at Bethlehem, demanding to be worked out at street level.
The God who became homeless at Christmas longs to transform this muddled old world into a place where all can be at home at last. That’s what Jesus taught us to pray for.
O God, our strength and our salvation, who didst call thy servant Thomas Becket to be a shepherd of thy people and a defender of thy Church: Keep thy household from all evil and raise up among us faithful pastors and leaders who are wise in the ways of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ the shepherd of our souls, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
O God, who as at this time didst send thy Son to be the Saviour of the world, teach us to thank thee for thine unspeakable gift. Help us to hate the evil that he came to destroy, and to receive the eternal life that he lived and died to bestow; that so we may love thee with all our power and may serve our day and generation according to thy will; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who addressed the words of this song to the LORD on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said: I love thee, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.
The Rev. Philip North, Team Rector in the Old St Pancras Team Ministry, in London, this week withÂdrew his acceptance of his nominaÂtion as Bishop of Whitby after proÂtests at his opposition to women bishops. He would have been the third opponent in sucÂcesÂsion to hold the appointment.
This year’s best-of lists could make a history class curriculum, with films about the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, the final months of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. All will factor into an Oscar race that won’t be as clear cut as last year’s coronation of “The Artist.”
Four movies filmed in part or full in Pittsburgh opened in 2012 — “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Won’t Back Down” and “Jack Reacher” — with a fifth, “Promised Land,” due in theaters Jan. 4.
Read it all. I am interested in how many you have seen, and what you make of their list–KSH.