Identity–Beloved of God: John 3:13-17

With the three children, things can get a little crazy around the rectory sometimes.  There’s a fourth on the way, due to arrive in March, so I don’t suppose that will end anytime soon.  Some of the things we find evidence for, or catch the kids in-the-act-of, just leave us asking, “Why in the world would you…?”  When frustration is great, it seems that one must scour the whole earth to find an answer for that “why.”  For some reason the question is never: “Why in the basement would you…?”  Nicky Gumbel shares, in The Alpha Course, the story of an ESL nanny who hadn’t quite mastered the nuances of the language, and upon catching her charges up-to-no-good asked, “What are you doing in the world?”  Which is a good question in it’s own right, but a different one.  Have you ever found yourself asking that question?  Looking for reasons, you ask, “Why in the world…?”  Baffled by events, you ask, “What in the world…?”  Boggled by a task, you ask, “How in the world am I supposed to…?”  Today I want to take the enterprise of being God’s people, and ask those questions of it.

Why in the world would anyone follow God?  Jesus answers our “whys” from the get-go.  God loves us.  The answer to why we would follow God is rooted in the answer to why God would have any of us follow Him.  God’s action toward us is the basis for our response toward Him.  So God’s love for us gives us the space and the impetus to love Him in return.  Because God acts out of love, to us, we can offer Him our lives.  When I was young we used to sing the chorus, “Oh, how I love Jesus.”  Do you remember the final line of that chorus?  “Because He first loved me.”

Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, put it this way: “Christ loved you before you loved Him.  He loved you when there was nothing good in you.  He loved you through you insulted Him, though you despised Him and rebelled against Him.  He has loved you right on, and never ceased to love you.  He has loved you in your backslidings and loved you out of them.  He has loved you in your sins, in your wickedness and folly.  His loving heart was still eternally the same, and He shed His heart’s blood to prove His love for you.  He has given you what you want on earth, and provided for you an habitation in heaven.”  That is God’s great love for you – surpassing that of a spouse, a child, a friend, a parent.

It’s been said that when Christians really believe that God loves them, nothing can stop them from doing what He desires.  Think of your own experience:  how easy it is to do what those who love you desire of you – you trust their desires for you, and you can trust them because they’re desires for you that rise from love.  Love makes trust easier.  But when someone whose love we aren’t sure of desires something of us, then we double-check before we act, don’t we?  Are they trying to hurt us?  Are they trying to make fools of us?  And so it is when Christians have trouble trusting, or when they doubt, that God loves them; when we think that God hates us, or is out to get us.  We avoid Him.  We run away – like Adam and Eve in the garden, we hear Him and we hide.  Painfully aware that we’re not perfect, deceived into thinking that He couldn’t love anything short of perfection.  Rather than drawing comfort from the knowledge that He’s watching over us, we fear.

Our attitudes need to be like the young girl’s, who learned that Jesus watches over her to see everything she does.  She was asked, “Does it bother you that He sees everything you do?”  Her response: “Oh, no – He loves me so much that He can’t keep His eyes off of me!”  So listen to Jesus’ words from the Gospel lesson that we heard today: “For God so loved the world that…”  Notice that it’s not hatred that motivates God’s action toward us; not manipulation; not evil intent.  Just love.

And if the answer to the “why” of being God’s people is in His great love to us, which moves us to love Him in return, and to trust His desires for us, then our second question is “what.”  What in the world is following God about?  Again, the answer we seek is rooted in the “what” of God.  God loves us, we’ve seen, but what in the world has God’s love moved Him to do?  He comes through on His commitment of love to us, and you’ve heard about it your whole life, in Jesus’ crucifixion.  Statues and pictures of Christ hanging on the cross could quite fittingly each have inscribed at their base: “This is how God loved the world!”

It was for love that Jesus died on the cross, for love that God gave Himself for us.  Our answer to this question, of what following God is all about, is just that: Jesus’ self-sacrifice.  Following God is about giving of ourselves.  You’ve heard it said, and there’s something to it, that the measure of a man is in what he gives, not in what he gets.  We look to the Cross to see that great act of love, where God gave Himself for the people He loved, because He loved them.  Because He still loves even you.  He shows, He proves, His love for us through the things that He does.  How did Jesus say it?  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”

There was a young couple who sat gazing at the sky as the sun set.  Hand-in-hand.  Enthralled with the glory and beauty of nature.  She asked him, “Do you love me?”  He pulled his eyes away from the view and glanced at her.  “You know I do.”  She turned her head, and their eyes met.  She asked him, “Would you die for me?”  He answered, “No, dear…mine is an undying love.”  But God’s answer to that question is “Yes!  Yes I will die for you.  I have died for you!  Though I am immortal I send my Son and experienced mortality and death for you.”  What in the world would make anyone want to follow God?  He loves us that much.

And so let’s look at Jesus’ words again “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son…that all might have everlasting life.”  Seems straight-forward enough, but there is a “how” involved.  It’s not an automatic thing.  The question might rightly be asked, “How in the world does God loving us enough to send His Son to the world for us – how does that give us everlasting life?”  And Jesus’ answer is in the verse, and you know it already.  All that believe in Him will have everlasting life.  That’s the “how” of being God’s people, of following after Him.

Why in the world…?  Because God so loves us.

What in the world…?  He sent His only Son, Jesus.

How in the world…?  All who believe in Him may have everlasting life.

Beloved of God, know today that God loves you.  Know today how He has shown that love to you.  Know today what His love can mean for you, if you will only believe.  This is the game-changer.  Amen.

A New Lifestyle–Aug. 31/14

What are we here for?  It can’t simply be for bragging rights – I am a part of a church community; I go to church every Sunday; and it isn’t because God grants us fire insurance if we show up.  God didn’t make the Church so that we could feel good about ourselves, having done our duty joining worship each week; He didn’t make the Church so that we could get together with a bunch of nice people and learn to be nicer.  The Church is here as the firstfruits of Christ’s Kingdom which is breaking upon the world since Jesus walked it; the Church is here as the place where the standard of faith and knowledge of God is taught and learned; the Church is here to teach us to be good – not “nice,” but holy (the kind of “good” that God is).  One of the Church Fathers noted that though we were once babies, children, youths, then adults, we may never yet have been good.  Holiness of living takes transformation, which takes time.

More recently, the puritan divine George Swinnock commented that: “The upright soul is constant in his profession, and does not change his behaviour according to his companions.  Oh that I might never, through shame or fear, disown Him who has already acknowledged me!”  Today we’ll explore the question of what our identity in Christ, in whom we are known – as we have been known by Him; the question of what our identity in Him does to our way of living.  The Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905, Abraham Kruyper, put it like this: “Wherever man may stand, whatever he may do, to whatever he may apply his hand, in agriculture, in commerce, and in industry, or his mind, in the world of art, and science, he is, in whatever it may be, constantly before the face of his God.  He is employed in the service of his God, he has strictly to obey his God, and above all, he has to aim at the glory of his God.”

The starting point for Christian living is always in Jesus – always in God.  God’s side of the equation is the starting point, from which our side of the equation is inspired.  The constancy of God’s love and care for us is what our faithfulness toward Him is based in.  Richard Hooker, author of the captivating 5 volumes on church polity, offered this (on the mutuality of our faithfulness): “The earth may shake, the pillars of the world may tremble under us, the countenance of the heaven may be appalled, the sun may lose his light, the moon her beauty, the stars their glory; but concerning the man that trusts in God…what is there in the world that shall change his heart, overthrow his faith, alter his affection towards God, or the affection of God to him?”  We declared, in our psalm this morning, the words of the psalmist, whose own faithfulness to God was based in his conviction of God’s faithfulness to him.

The starting place for living in faith is always God’s faithfulness to us.  Where do we go from there, though?  What makes the difference between being a person who is loved by God and loves Him in return, and a person who does something about it?  What can be done about loving God?  You love your spouse so you treat to dinner, bring home flowers or chocolate; you love your children so you provide all they need; you love your parents so you honour them in life and in death; you love bbq, so you visit it often.  We know what to do about our love in all of these cases, but what do you do about loving God, and what makes the difference that actually makes that happen?  The difference comes from knowing Him.

Thomas a Kempis, the midiaeval mystic, suggested: “Plant in the garden of your memory, the tree of the holy Cross; it produces a very efficacious medicine against all the suggestions of the devil.  Of this most noble and fertile tree, the root is humility and poverty; the bark, labour and penitence; the branches, mercy and justice; the leaves, true honour and modesty; the scent, sobriety and abstinence; the beauty, chastity and obedience; the splendour, right faith and firm hope; the strength, magnanimity and patience; the length, long-suffering and perseverance; the breadth, benignity and concord; the height, charity and wisdom; the sweetness, love and joy; the fruit, salvation and life eternal.”  Knowing God is transformative.

Some people say that we should look for God in others, but I say that you can’t see someone you don’t know.  You can’t recognize them.  But when we know God, when He starts transforming us, our eyes are opened.  A preacher spoke about Heaven, and was approached by a wealthy member of his congregation: “Pastor, you preached a good sermon about Heaven.  You told me all about it, but you did not tell me where Heaven is.”  “Ah,” said the pastor, “I’m glad of the opportunity this morning.  I have just come from down the street.  In a particular house you’ll find a member of your church who is extremely poor; she is sick and in bed with fever.  If you will go, and bring her groceries, and say, ‘My sister, I have brought this in the Name of our Lord and Saviour,’ if you ask for a Bible and read the 23rd Psalm, and then get down on your knees and pray – if you don’t see Heaven, before you finish, I’ll reimburse you for the groceries.”  The next morning the man returned to his pastor and said, “I saw Heaven, and I spent fifteen minutes there, as certainly as you’re standing before me now.”

The difference comes from knowing God – knowing whom we’re to recognize, whom we’re seeking after.  Moses had every excuse for not doing what God wanted, he was making them up on the fly (we didn’t hear all of them this morning), but he came face to face with God; he came to know God, and to know that God knew him; God told him His Name.  It changed history.

And for us, because we are known by God and accepted by Him, our lives, our living, our worlds, our world, can change.  When we’ve already received our full reward from God, in Christ, we are freed to live for others.  Teresa of Avila urged Christians to see themselves as the servants of all, which is what Jesus Himself told His disciples will make a person great in His Kingdom.  There’s a connection there that I want you to make, this morning: the Church is the firstfruits of God’s Kingdom springing forth in the world, and to be great here we must serve others – not ourselves.

And the idea of fruit ripening is an important one, when we speak of firstfruits.  If we liken Christian living to a plant growing, then good works – service to others – is not the root of the plant, but the fruit.  As I said, the root is in God’s faithfulness to us; knowing Him is like the stalk that grows from His faithfulness; service to others is the fruit that develops from that stalk.  If our service to others is spoiled fruit, then we need to look at the root and stalk – perhaps we’re already sick in one of these foundational areas.  Do we really trust in God’s faithfulness?  Do we really strive to know Him more, and better?

So the key to this is real transformation, authentic transformation.  The kind of transformed living that St. Francis meant when he said, “Preach the Gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words.”  You can’t fake that kind of authenticity.  There was a Presbyterian minister named James Bryan who commonly came home overcoat-less, having given his to someone who had none.  One day he was driving a horse and buggy – just so you know the time this took place – and he saw a farmer standing in the field.  It was time for spring plowing, but his horse had died.  The pastor unhitched his horse, gave it to the man, and walked home.  When a biography was written about him, it was called Sermon in Shoes.  Whereas, I fear that sometimes we take St. Francis’ injunction, to only use words when necessary to preach the Gospel, as an excuse to neither preach the Gospel either by our living or our words.

There’s something about a story like that of James Bryan that has a ring of authenticity, isn’t there?  It’s not just a “going through the motions” kind of life.  Not just words, but putting money where the mouth is.  Sometimes Christians become so insular, focused on their own persons – but we have far greater work to do than merely securing our own salvation, which, by the way, Christ has already secured for us.  Richard Baxter, the English puritan, observed that “we are trusted with our Master’s talents for His service, in our places to do our best to share His truth, and grace, and Church…to honour His cause and edify His flock, and further the salvation of as many as we can.  All this is to be done on earth…”

But it’s easier to just go through the motions, isn’t it?  I think that’s because it doesn’t take real commitment or real investment.  You can’t be heartbroken when an effort you’ve been going-through-the-motions with doesn’t come to fruition.  Prophets in the Old Testament were not always quick to commit.  We saw part of Moses’ discourse this morning.  Jeremiah thought he was too young; Ezekiel wouldn’t be listened to; Isaiah lived among unclean people.  All of these had reasons why “they” couldn’t do it.  Which was God’s point – that He could do it; that success wasn’t what they’d always thought it was.  But it’s hard to commit to something that doesn’t depend on you for success, isn’t it?  You can’t control the outcome – and we like to be in control.

But, again, that’s the point.  We can’t control the outcome.  Which is why the whole enterprise of Christianity, and of Christian living (as a sub-heading under that) is based in and rests upon God’s faithfulness first and above all else.  Not our own.  He cleansed Isaiah; He raised Jeremiah up; He gave Ezekiel a hard head to butt against others’; He gave Moses His Name.  It starts with Him, and success is measured in doing what He asks, not on how others respond to it.

Jesus said to seek His Kingdom first – again, the Church is the firstfruits of His Kingdom as it breaks in on earth.  We, who are a part of it, should be doing this!  Seek His Kingdom first, and all those other things that He knows we need will be added to us.  It begins, not with our seeking, but with our trusting His faithfulness – which precedes our response to it.  C. S. Lewis said it two ways: if we put first things first then we’ll get second things thrown in; if we put second things first then we’ll get neither…; and, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”  No going through the motions!

What this takes is that we would take God seriously.  He doesn’t want a bunch of people who are basically good people, in comparison to other people, and usually just meaning that they’re “nice” – which is not, by the way, a moral evaluation of a person, but simply a statement that a person is more committed to not offending anyone than they are to having any view of something worth standing for.  Taking God seriously, and thus committing one’s living to Him.  He isn’t looking for a bunch of people who were baptized, and He isn’t looking for a bunch of people who came back again to ‘get’ confirmed.  He’s looking for people who will commit the way they live their lives to Him.  St. Basil of Caesarea said of Christians, and perhaps you’ll find the imagery reminiscent of runners in a race, “It is not he who begins well who is perfect.  It is he who ends well who is approved in God’s sight.”

What does that kind of commitment look like?  I think we’ve heard some examples this morning.  I think we’ve got some examples among us and around us.  The Duke of Wellington held that “British soldiers are not braver than French soldiers, they are only brave for five minutes longer.”  That’s the kind of stick-to-it commitment that God desires of us.  He doesn’t mean for us to be so much more incredibly committed to him than to all of the other things that we commit ourselves to, but He means for us to hold to our commitment to Him, unlike so many of the passing fads that we commit to from time-to-time.

Some of you know that I started my university studies in a music programme, playing piano.  Expectations for practising were at least two hours a day, every day (even the lesson day!).  If I missed a day, I knew it.  But if I had hit six out of seven, then maybe the teacher didn’t notice.  If I missed two days, though, she did.  And if I missed three days a week, well, everyone did.  We cannot live as Christians if we do not commit ourselves to the daily practise of Christ’s presence in our lives, and to living in faith to Him that is grounded in His faith to us.  If we do, it will transform our lives, as we know Him more and more, and better and better.  It will transform our church; our city; our country; our world.  We are called to be agents of transformation, transformation that begins in each of us and plays itself out in our way of living.  Amen.

Preliminary Thoughts on the Second

The following are some thoughts on 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 and 16-23. It’s the RCL epistle lesson for this coming Sunday. I hesitate to say that these thoughts are fully formed in me just yet, but there’s some serious fuel, here. The basic idea is that Paul is writing about the doctrine of Christ, or Christology, of the Church. On Him alone can the Church be built. Paul is concerned that the content of his preaching remain intact, for it is the truth that the Church is about – indeed, without it the Church cannot claim to be the Church. The teaching of proper doctrine, or theological reflection, leads people to encounter the risen Christ, who is the foundation stone for the Church. By accepting the true teaching, people are put in position to meet Him. The foundational doctrine, preached accurately, illustrates the true Foundation (Christ) so that people can find Him (and then know that He has found them). You may read this and, if you’ve read the passage also, say that I’m reading extra things into it, for the sake of my own theological understandings. Nothing new.

I found my mind drawn to Hermas, Vision III. You can read my summary, below, or the text itself, here (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf02.ii.ii.iii.html). Or both. I’m not your boss.

The caricatures that we gain from Vision III, in Hermas, are interesting. If they can be summarized appropriately, or shortly, they may do much to open people’s eyes. The vision is of six men building a tower, shown to the Shepherd by an old woman. There are various others who bring stones to the six who are building the tower. The explanation is given as follows:

The tower is the Church;
the Church is built on water because we are saved through water;
the Church is founded upon God’s word;
the Church is built by angels;
the stones in the building are square and white and fit with each other exactly – they are in agreement with one another and are at peace together and listen to one another;
the stones dragged from the depths and fitted with the others are those who suffered for the Lord’s sake;
the stones carried in from the land are those whom God has approved because they walked in His straight ways and kept His commandments;
those stones in the act of being brought and placed in the building are those who are young in faith and are faithful, in whom no iniquity has been found;
those stones that were rejected and cast away are those who have sinned and wish to repent, who have not been cast far from the tower for they will be useful in the building if they repent;
those stones cut down and thrown far from the tower are the sons of iniquity who believed in hypocrisy and from whom wickedness did not depart – they are not saved and cannot be used in building, and are therefore cut off and cast far away;
rough stones, in great numbers, not used in the tower are those who know the truth but have not remained in it – they are unfit for use;
those stones that have rents, in great numbers, are at discord in their hearts one with another, and are not at peace amongst themselves – they keep the appearance of peace, but under the facade they hold their wicked thoughts;
those stones which are shortened are those who have believed and are mostly righteous, yet still have a considerable share of iniquity, and so are not whole;
those stones which are white and round and do not fit into the building of the tower are those who have faith, but also the riches of the world – who deny the Lord on account of their riches and business – when their seductive riches have been circumscribed they will be of use to the Lord, for round stones cannot become square until portions are cut off and cast away;
the stones which were cast from the tower and rolled into the field are those who believed but abandoned the true road through doubts, and sought out a new road, entering on pathless places (for there is no other road);
those which fell into the fire and were burned are those who have departed forever from the living God: they do not consider repentance, they are devoted to their lusts and crimes;
those stones which fell near the waters but could not be rolled into them are those who are drawn to the Lord but draw back to their own wicked desires when confronted with the chastity that will be demanded of them in baptism.

Now, there’s a little more involved which I have conveniently not included in the above summary. It includes the possibility for all of the stones to repent, however unlikely that might be for them. It’s not that I have a problem with grace, that I haven’t included that part in my summary. Rather, it’s that I’m only interested in the content of the actual vision itself – not in what might happen to those elements of the vision that left sight. The vision is about the kind of stones that God’s Church is built with. Perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). You may not like the idea, but for people in the middle ages Hermas was like Pilgrim’s Progress. It inspired them to devotion to God by challenging them with false alternatives. Esteem it as you will.

Preliminary Thoughts on the First Lesson

The following are some opening thoughts on the first lesson for next Sunday, Sexagesima (by the old Church calendar), the seventh after Epiphany by the RCL.  The passage is Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18.

Being a parent of small children is an exciting stage of life. Adriana is becoming a very skilled reader and writer. It’s interesting to come across letter pages – you know the ones, where the example of the letter is given at the top of the page and the rest of the tablet is for the child to practise on. She’s not bad now, but her letters used to be okay near the example on the page, and then get progressively less like it as the page radiated out from that point. You know what that shows, right? Rather than copying the example on the page, she was copying her own copies of the example. It’s a problematic situation. It’s the same phenomenon that we see with that telephone game, which you may have played.

It can be a similar problem for Christians, if we’re watching each other too much, rather than Jesus Himself. We borrow each other’s habits; we try to make our obedience and devotion look like the obedience and devotion of someone else; we miss the mark. In part, this has to do with how we think about obedience.

Obedience to God requires that we act in accordance with God’s will, it’s true – but more than that, it invites us to seek, in our inmost self, to put on His mind. The whole passage is introduced to us in the terms of that divine call to be holy, as God is holy. Holiness is about being set apart: for the Israelites the motivation for obedience to God’s commands was found in a desire to be set apart the way He is set apart, which includes His righteousness, and which desire proceeded for them from personal gratitude for their deliverance from Egypt. This is part of the reason that the instruction is given to not profane God’s Name – profaning means to treat it as common – when you make God common in your imagination, you lose your vision, and set the bar low for what you aspire to. For us, as Christians, the motivation should be very similar: a desire that proceeds from personal gratitude for redemption in Christ, and that leads to Godliness.

And let’s be clear about what grade of set-apartness we’re talking about. It’s true that all of the concrete examples put forward in the passage are only illustrations of what this being-holy-as-God-is-holy means in those specific situations, and they are by no means intended to be comprehensive. But they are indicative of what being God’s people, the people who show what He is like, is about: justice; care for the poor, the widow, the orphan; not exploiting the weaknesses of others. These things weren’t unique to Israel in the ancient world – but that they would extend these benefits to aliens and foreigners among them, well, that’s something that nobody else did. You have to look forward to v. 34 for it, but there it is. And Jesus did it, when He said that your neighbour wasn’t just the other guy who’s just like you.

Loving your neighbour as yourself operates as the corrective to all of the self-centred tendencies of life. It is the fulfilment of morality, and God is certainly moral. It is a part of being set apart as He is, holy as He is, to be moral. It is not the totality of the enterprise, however. Again, the Christian’s motivation proceeds from gratitude: gratitude for redemption in Christ; gratitude that fuels desire and drive to be holy as God is holy. Love of God with the whole heart, soul, mind and strength – total transformation of our passions – this is our goal.

So hear concrete examples of the passage, which are not addressed to a few ascetics – those few nuts who are fanatical about their faith – as opposed to those of us who know better, and take all things with moderation except for that maxim itself. Moses was to give these instructions to all of the Israelites, so the things they contain were not just for a select group, but all of God’s people. There are people who are unable to provide for themselves: let them be provided for from your excess; deal honestly in all things private, personal, and professional; take care of those with otherwise exploitable qualities, rather than exploiting them; don’t play favourites, but be just. All of these things proceed from a heart of love. Maybe the idea of duty and obedience doesn’t capture your imagination; then love people, but know that love is what God says it is, not what you’ve learned it to be through the distortions of the world’s passions.

The holiness that God calls us to is not some kind of religious piety that never touches our lives the rest of the week – God is concerned with the whole of our lives, not just religious ritual. Consider the injunction not to speak against the deaf. If we take it as a rule against the unfairness of speaking against someone who cannot defend themselves, since they cannot hear what’s being said, then we are faced with the reality of gossip, and backbiting, and rumour spreading (even when it’s masked as sharing prayer requests, if we haven’t been licensed to pass on the request then it’s rumour), and slandering names. All of these things are usually done when the person referred to isn’t around. When they’re deaf. When they can’t defend themselves.

Consider the injunction not to put a stumbling block before the blind. If we take it as a rule against causing others to fall because of dangerous circumstance that they cannot see, then we are faced with the reality of witness, of example, of liberty in Christ, of responsibility to His Church; even of removing stumbling blocks from peoples’ ways, as so many have been blinded to the dangers of the ways they’ve chosen to walk through familiarity, through distorted morality, through societal and familial dysfunction. How can we, as God’s people, work to draw people out of the lives they’ve made for themselves simply because of blindness.

As we heard Christ’s voice calling us to avoid even the branches in the path that lead to the dark way, not just to avoid murder, but to avoid name-calling and spite; not just to avoid adultery, but to avoid lustful thoughts; not just to avoid breaking oaths, but to avoid making oaths, and to simply be honest in all we say. As we heard Christ’s voice calling us to a deeper kind of holiness than we generally tend to (one common saying when I was in university was that what happens in the privacy of your mind is nobody’s business but your own – clearly not the way God sees things), now we see that God calls us to lives of love, love that plays itself out in all situations of our lives, not just when we’re feeling particularly ‘religious,’ or ‘spiritual,’ or ‘loving.’ May we heed His call, and respond with the gratitude that leads us to heartfelt desire for His holiness in our lives. Amen.

A Final, in the fourth ?

Well, this is the fourth and final part of the little delving into fiction that I was inspired to the other day.  I hope it makes for some interesting reading; or though-provoking in some way; or something.  At any rate, here it is.  Special thanks to my friend Kim Salo who read through and helped me with some detailing.  He’s a good guy.

Four

Someone has said that we must look out for ourselves first, because if we won’t do it, then nobody will.  I know that someone will.  Someone else has said that our enemy, in this war, will succeed if we stop resisting.  I know otherwise.  This enemy has already been defeated; this war has already been won; this foe has already been routed.  To stop resisting would make one a casualty of the enemy’s retreat; to press on resisting, in the prince’s armour, will make me a victor.  Some people, of noble heart, will lay their lives down for friend or family, though there seem to be few of these left.  I will offer mine in the service of the prince who has already offered his for me.  I will not look out for myself; he will.  I will look out for those he has given to serve under me, however.

The gibbering shouts of our enemies reached my ears, and I drew the sword that now hung by my side, from the belt that had formed around my waist in my vision.  I was equipped for this war as I never had been, in the gear of the prince himself, and I was ready for whatever the enemy threw at me.  As I ran toward the source of the sound, a pair of boots with deep, aggressive cleats formed on my feet, and when I broke into the clearing where my brave soldiers held their ground against a force thrice their size, I could see relief in their eyes – and desperation.

My initial onslaught was calculated to inspire fear in the enemy, to push them back and give ground to my soldiers.  It took them by surprise – both by the quarter it proceeded from and by it’s ferocity.  Some swung their weapons at me; swords, spears, maces; some actually made contact with me before they retreated beyond arm’s reach.  I felt no impact.  The various implements that touched me shattered.  I made my way across the front line of my soldiers from one end of the field of battle to the other.

There were two results from this: first, the prince’s forces got physical relief from battle, of the same kind that they’d received emotionally when I had arrived; second, the enemy (who had initiated the battle – an aggressive assault against a small contingent), the enemy trembled.  They trembled and ceased their advance.  When I turned and faced the field, back the way I had come, I saw many of them slain.  At the time I thought it was strange – I hadn’t swung my sword against them.  I made my way back to the centre of the line, and called the troops to take their places behind me.  They rallied themselves quickly, and fell in.

It is a peculiar capacity that we have, and which our enemy lacks, to gain such resources from another – such heart, such confidence, such nobility, such fortitude.  Perhaps our prince’s fighting on our behalf would be of no benefit to us if we had no such capacity.  The flip side of this is that we also have the capacity to drain one another, and to despair.  It is this side that our enemy would profit by, if possible.  But this was the time for us to shine.

What had been a scramble for our side to lose the least ground possible, and to take the most time they could in doing it, having been caught unawares, became an advance against the enemy line.  I could hear my lieutenants calling orders.  We had no strategy for such circumstances.  Our tactics, our marching orders, had always been to hold and call for help when outnumbered, never to advance.  Now, outnumbered by a ratio I had never before experienced, we advanced.  We gained ground.

I wondered if they mistook me for the prince himself.  I was sure I must have looked like him, to them, decked out in his armour.  They fled before me, and this fuelled my interpretation.  They fled before all of us.  At some point though, I was sure they’d realized that I wasn’t actually him.  They must have, for they regrouped and faced us – the hillside below them, where we continued our advance, was filled with their slain.  Had they thought I was him, at this point, I doubt they would have been foolish enough to stand against us in such circumstance.  None can stand against him.

A champion broke through their ranks, through their hordes, and the sound of war horns filling the air spoke of reinforcements arriving from their rear, to bolster their already-superior numbers.  Their champion, clearly someone of some import among them, roared at me, “When you fall, the rest will scatter.”

I opened my mouth to answer him, but didn’t feel the words coming from my throat… yet they were my words, weren’t they?  “These do not fight for me, and they stand against you if I am with them or not.  I lead them against you now, but I am not their leader.  The one I follow is.  This is not my army.  I will not fall this day.”

Was it disgust or terror in his face?  I could not tell.  He pointed at me and snarled, “That one.”  At those words, they launched a counter-assault to our counter-assault.  Our whole force would be surrounded by their incredible numbers if we weren’t careful.

“Remember who you fight for.  Know who fights for you.”  The words I opened my mouth to call, though they sounded on my ears without being uttered by my mouth.

As I watched the enemy before me, it became clear that their main force was directed at me.  I dug in my heels and called to their champion, “I stand here.”  Where did that voice come from?

With shouts and screams their hordes came on, running and leaping – eager to engage in combat with us.  His voice roared above them all, “You will be cut down there, then.”

At first we held together.  The first wave of attackers broke against us like water on the seashore.  We were unmoved.  But over time, as wave upon wave struck, fatigue set in.  We had pursued them, slaughtering, for some distance, and many of these enemies were fresh reinforcements.  In places our line began to buckle.  My feet hadn’t moved.  Their strategy was shown to me.  They cared little for defeating my allies.  They thought that they could break their spirits by defeating me.  I knew better.

At times I was able to glance around the field and see how my friends fared.  Their trust in our leader was displayed in this: many of them now wore small shields on their arms.  They would be alright.  As I continued to hold against those enemies who came against me, I wondered how many of my friends would be visited by our prince that evening, and offered a suit of armour.  I wondered how many would take it from him.  I wondered how many of them would let him remove their personal armour.

A voice thundered above the clashing of weaponry, “You’re undone – you stand alone, and we are legion!”  Their champion appeared out of the throng, a head taller than any other, and ploughed his body against my shield.

As the blow came to me with full force, I made my reply – or I meant to.  It was my voice, and my words, but somehow… “The one with me is greater than all you can muster.  You err in this – I am never alone!”  Though, I did note that they had managed to separate the entire entourage from me, driving them away in different directions across the hillside.

It is not unreasonable to expect that when one body hits another, as his hit mine, then the second will stagger back.  I think that, for the would-be champion’s size, that was the least he expected.  More likely, he thought he would knock me to the ground.  But these boots weren’t made to go backwards.  It wasn’t in their design.  There was the noise of a loud impact, and the wind was visibly knocked out of him because of it, and my posture and position remained unchanged.  Under the sound of that impact, had I heard another war horn – this time, of our reinforcements arriving on the field of battle?

“I will not falter.  I will not back down.  I will not be shaken.”  I thought those words, but I heard them audibly spoken.  It was my voice, though there was no breath in my mouth.  We two pushed against one another, a gridlock of might; of prowess; of will.  “I will stand.  I will not fall.”  Others attacked me, thinking that I was distracted and that their chance had come.  Blades shattered; handles splintered; nothing phased me – all they threw against me came to naught.  “I am not a destroyer, but a conqueror – nay, more than a conqueror, because of the prince’s gift to me.”  Many enemies piled behind their “champion,” and aided him in the struggle against me.  “I do not fear you.  I have let go of that way of thinking.”  I heard the sound of marching in the tops of the few trees where we were.  “I can do this, not in my might and effort; but his.”  More of the enemies circled around me – I thought they meant to attack me from behind, but those attacks never came.  What became of them was not obvious until later.

The pushing match came to an end.  They fell back.  The standstill finished, I advanced.  Pushing many before me, I heard screams from behind and from further ahead – the cavalry had joined the battle on multiple fronts.  Finally, I heard my first lieutenant call to me, “Sir, we stand with you, the…”

I stopped him short when I finished his sentence for him, “…the prince himself is here.”  I turned around, and found the prince standing behind me.  It was he who had spoken my words, in battle.  It was he who had slain the foes that I could only irritate.  It was he who had guarded my back in the thick of it.

He smiled, and said to me, “There is no backplate.  But when you wear my armour, I am, to you, all the rear-defense you need.”

The remaining enemies turned and fled as best they could.  It occurred to me that this was how we were always to have faced the enemy.  Why hadn’t we done so before?  Would we remember, and do so again?

A day late for the third…

Here’s the third part of the little story I’ve been posting in sections… I should have posted it yesterday, but with the turmoil of coming home from retreat I just didn’t get to it.

Three

I dreamed as I slept.  I’m sure it was a dream.  The colours were too vivid, and the scenery too bright and full of life for it to be the waking world.  On the battlefield everything is grey.  Grey, and brown.  And sometimes red.

“Walk with me.”  The familiar voice from behind was the prince, standing in a field of wheat.  I joined him, and we walked by one another in silence, for a time.  Finally he broke the silence, “So you know?”

My unconscious mind had pieced together what my waking mind had not been able to. “It’s not about what’s being taken off; it’s not about what’s being put on, is it?  It’s all about who is doing it.”  As I said this, probably the truest statement I’d ever made, I noticed a strange sensation around my waist, a constriction; a belt.

“Yes.  I can remove your armour.  Not because it can be removed, but because I am able.  Before I do so, do you understand the pain it will bring you, to have it done?”

We strolled on together, as I pondered this, and I plucked some heads of wheat as we did so, and ate them, “I suppose it’s because of what the armour is to me.  It’s the product of all of my deeds, of all of my hopes and dreams.  I shouldn’t like to lose all of it…”

“You cannot don my armour unless you let it all go.”

“I see.”  We walked on in silence.  “I think that the benefit would outweigh the cost.”

“My friend, what you think is already known to me, and it’s truth is known to me also.  It does.  But losing your armour will be more painful than you expect.”

“How so?”  I remember asking, in the vision, and receiving no verbal response.  Instead I saw all of my hopes and dreams and habits and memories and defensive and aggressive behaviours – and their opposites – all of my behaviours, flash before my eyes in an instant.

“You must let it go.”  I staggered from the flash in my mind, I think, rather than from the prospect of the realization of the prince’s words, but he caught my hand and loaned me strength to keep me from falling.

I pondered my hopes.  I wanted a family.  I really did; I dreamed of training my own children the way that my father had prepared me.  I wanted to advance my career, perhaps even rising to colonel one day; I dreamed of famous and exciting exploits in this war.  I wanted to know that there was a purpose behind all of the things I did, and that it was large enough to actually support them all.  I wanted to really be valued by others, and to be able to open up to someone enough that I could truly value them, also.  I wanted my name to be remembered.

“You mean that I won’t have any of that, if I put on your armour?  But these things I aspire for, and aspire to, those are the things that make me who I am.  What would I be, then?”  Suddenly taking up his offer had soured in my mind.

“I will give you more than you’d ever hoped.  But trust me.  Wear my armour, rather than your own.”

“But I desire a family.”

“I will give you one.”

“Advancement…”

“Beyond your wildest dreams.”

“Meaning, value, longevity…”

“All this and more.”

“But my armour is my security, my own promise to myself that these things will not be lost…”

He smiled, then, at my naiveté.  “Your armour is but a tribute to all of your fears and insecurities.  To all of the methods you’ve devised to move yourself toward promises you have no power to fulfill.  None of these things you aspire to is within your reach – not because of your efforts, at any rate.  But wear my armour: I will be your security; I will be your guarantee that none of those dreams will be lost.”

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow, sire.  I goes against my way of thinking.  You expect me to change a lifetime of worldview based only on your word?  You are my prince, and I owe you my loyalty and respect, but how can I?”  I couldn’t even look him in the face, at this point – so ashamed of my pride and resistance to him.

“All of that will change.  Your body forms your armour naturally, based on your way of living and thinking.  Mine will form your way of living and thinking, when it is on you.  You know that your armour used to be one with your skin…”

“Yes, when I was young.  When I was old enough and enlisted under you it detached.  That made a big difference.”  I could feel him smiling on me.

“But your age had nothing to do with it.  Your enlistment was the cause of its detachment, solely.  It detached from you so that my armour could be put in its place.”

I believed him.  I trusted him.

I had been standing with my eyes down.  As I focused on his feet, I saw scars atop his sandaled appendages.  When I was about to inquire about these wounds, a strange sensation on my arm drew my attention there.  A small buckler was fastened to me.

“Captain, you’ve fought for me in your own strength for long enough.  Rest yourself.  Fight in my strength, now; wear my armour, rather than your own.”

“But how can I take it off?  I don’t want it on, and if it remains then I may change my mind –but in this one moment, against all of my previous way of thinking, I would gladly be rid of it, for the sake of your promises to me, spoken just now.  But, and this is a question of method, how do I get it off?”

“You cannot, as we said earlier.  Not because of the armour, but because of the hands that would do it.  Know that this will not be pleasant in the moment, but will be in the remembrance.  While it is the testament to all you have been, and had planned for your future, my armour on you will be the guarantee of my promises for your future.”  He reached out his hands to me; I saw the buckler on my arm grow to the size of a swordsman’s shield, and I noticed scars in his hands that matched those I’d seen in his feet; I thought of all of my character forming habits, and I checked the prince once and withdrew from his outstretched arms; I considered my dreams and the prospect of never having them fulfilled, as I feared they wouldn’t be, and I submitted to him again; my armour turned to dust in his hands, and the tighter he held it the more it began to flake off of me; it was disintegrating before my eyes, all that I’d spent a lifetime fashioning, and he pushed against it harder and harder, and it crumbled to the ground at my feet;  I was terrified, and he was concentrating so hard that beads of blood formed on his brow, and I felt cold; all of the images that had flashed through my mind earlier returned to me again – all of those images of the life I’d made and lived and planned, so familiar, so comfortable, and I panicked; I wanted to put my armour back on, and the prince’s breath sounded in my ears, “Sshhh…,” and I let go; I was exposed, and I was tender, and I was vulnerable, and I fell to the ground in shock, and he stood above me.

In my dream I saw him standing over me, smiling.  And I realized I was already wearing his armour, and a flash in my mind told me that this was why my own armour had detached from my skin when I enlisted – it had been there all along, but my own armour had masked it and its influence.  I saw a wound in his side that I had never noticed before.  I could have wept, that my prince had suffered such wounds – what a witness to how we, his army, had failed to protect him!  I wondered where they had come from.  He did not hesitate in his mission, but stood me up and looked me in the face.  His words rang long and loud in my ears, “You are only able to fight for me now because I have already fought for you.”  He pulled tight the belt that had appeared on me earlier.

There was a new flash in my mind.  Not the honour of being ranked colonel, but the privilege of being a prince; not the glory of battle, but the benefit of victory.  There was a burning sensation in my temple – a helmet formed around my head.

Suddenly I awoke in my tent.  I looked to the corner where I had left the prince’s armour, but it was not there.  It was on me, as in the dream.  the prince’s words echoed in my mind as I stepped from my tent with new resolve.

A Second Time Round

Now, I’ve finished this work.  There were four parts, tonight I’ll just share the second.  I’ve got a little bit of reworking to do, and it will involve a slight but significant change to the first section.  But I’ll leave it as it is, here.

Two

As I walked back to my camp, I turned things over in my head.  My armour wasn’t designed to be removed.  This I knew well – my parents had taught me, long before, that what was in our nature, what we were when we acted with personal integrity, was what formed our armour, as it hardened around us, released from inside by our pores.  Not designed to be removed.  How, then, was the prince’s taken off so easily?  It must have been designed that way.

This only raised further questions in my mind.  If our nature formed our armour, how could his be designed to be taken off?  The wildly foreign and inconceivable notion that perhaps his nature, what came to him naturally, was to give himself away – it passed through my mind sharply, but quickly.  I dismissed it, because I could not imagine what that would look like.  And yet I held his armour in my hand.  It was so light, not heavy… not cumbersome like my own.  And yet it was strong!  The armour of royals was reputed to be indestructible; it certainly was not flimsy, but how could something of such light weight be impervious to piercing?

I arrived at my own tent and set the prince’s armour in the corner, continuing to mull over the question in my mind as I went to join the others around the fire.  How could I get my armour off so that I could get his on, and do justice to this extravagant gift, through using it?

The soldiers grew quiet as I approached the fire.  When I sat down they could see that my mind was busy – they would have had to be daft to miss it.  They knew I’d been to the field marshal’s, and I could see it in their eyes that they were curious about that meeting.  My thoughts were occupied elsewhere, though.

One of my sergeants asked what Michael had summoned me for.  I heard his voice; could make out the words; could not comprehend their meaning.  Did he say that it would be painful to remove?  Painful… in what way?  I knew that it was fashioned by my body, like a shell, but it was not attached to my skin – hadn’t been since I was a teenager; it was not part of me.  I didn’t have a psychic connection with it, and didn’t feel pain when it took a blow.  What would be the point of armour, otherwise?

I could see my officers conversing, with worried expressions on their faces as they glanced at me, but I didn’t hear what they said – it just didn’t register.  I opened my mouth to speak, and they all fell silent.  They likely expected me to answer their inquiries about the meeting.  It was in my mind that perhaps the armour had to be cut off, or maybe torn off, but who could perform such feats?  What I did say was clearly not what they’d expected.  “How do you take your armour off?”

For a moment they all looked at one another, and then the questions and comments started:

“Why would anyone want to?”

“You don’t!”

“Are you planning to leave the army?”

“Say again…?”

“I’m not going anywhere.  I just… need to get it off…”

“What happened?  What did the field marshal say?  New orders from the top?  Some new mission for us?”  She was one of my most trusted lieutenants, and I felt that she deserved an answer from me.

“I didn’t really speak with him.  The prince was there, and…”  Suddenly all of their faces grew very intent, “…well, I’d met him before.  He recruited me into this army…”  Surprised but understanding looks showed that we had all shared that personal contact with him at enlistment.  I went on, “…and, I just need to get my armour off.”

“Well,” another of my lieutenants, this one a recent transfer from another division, “I’ve known of people that have tried.  It never turns out well for them.  One chap I knew, a great fighter until then, became obsessed with getting his off.  Drove him mad.  His armour turned tacky, instead of hard… what use is tacky armour?  He dropped out.  Let me respectfully submit, sir, don’t pursue this line of inquiry.  Nothing good can come of it.”

“Take this, too, then, if you’re looking for advice:” one of my older sergeants, with whom I had served since the beginning, raised his voice, “I wouldn’t be surprised if that one, whose story we’ve just heard, wasn’t kicked out of the army (rather than dropping out).  We can’t just have people running around unprotected – this is a was zone!  His treasonous behaviour probably had him removed, before he corrupted other people’s minds.  Take it from someone who’s been around, and knows how this operation works.”

I nodded, and felt inwardly that both had offered some good advice.  Maybe I should just forget it.

Another Lieutenant offered her advice.  Her voice sounded clearly in the crisp night air, “We’re made for battle, or we wouldn’t grow this armour naturally.  Your armour is suited to you in a way that nothing else ever could be.  Taking it off, even if it were possible, would be denying the natural order.  What would put an idea like that in your head?”

It seemed that if the conversation was to progress, I would have to tell them what had happened.  So I did.

“You mean he just stood there and watched you make a fool of yourself, dancing and stumbling around like a nut, trying to reach something that wasn’t even there?”  Good-natured ribbing had always been allowed among us.

“You mean he offered to help, and you refused?”  A serious and sobering question that put an end to the joviality… briefly.

“So you took it from him and left?  What were you thinking?”  They all laughed at my expense.

When things calmed down again, I was asked, “What were the clues, again?”  Good question…

“Well, it’s not designed to be taken off, but somehow it can be removed, but somehow that process will hurt.  I don’t know – his came off of him so easily, and he just offered it to me.  I was thinking, what it we could cut it?”

“You know as well as we do that whenever armour gets pierced the blade cuts the skin beneath, too!  We’ve lost friends that way.”

“But is there somewhere we could slash it clean across – from top to bottom, and clean through, without fatally injuring me?”  I was doubtful about the prospects, and not at all excited about the idea of any of them striking something so close to my skin hard enough to sever it through, with a sword.

“You’d have to do it on the front and the back, both – armour doesn’t have any give in it to open a single slash enough to get you out through it.  We’d have to cut both sides, and pull it off either way.  I don’t think you should try.”

I didn’t either.

Another spoke up, “Why not just be honest – the prince gave you his armour to drive you mad.  There’s no solution to the question.  Just give up!”

With all of these things cluttering my mind, I returned to my tent and lay on my cot.  Sleep never comes easily when the mind is occupied.  It certainly would not come easily this night.  I tossed and turned over all of the facts.  It was hard to argue with experience, even when it was had by another and comes to you third-hand, and I knew that lunacy was a possibility for me, if I didn’t solve the riddle.  A flash of insight that made everything seem clear and obvious broke upon me – yet as quickly as it had come, it was gone, and what it was had escaped with it.  I had no memory of it, just that it had been.  Hope!  There was a solution!  Where had I been when the epiphany had broken upon me?  “This will drive me crazy if I don’t solve it!”  I was already starting to.  I knew so.

What was the final clue?  Perhaps the answer was in it somewhere… no, it couldn’t be.  The final clue was that after I’d figured out the solution, I’d return to him.  Why would I go back to him, he’d already given me his armour… maybe it would fit on overtop of my own?  No, that couldn’t be it.  None of us could get our armour off, but the prince could take his off, as designed.  Plus, he’d offered to take mine off of me.  Why had I refused?  How could I be so blatantly overt in my prideful will while in his presence?  Maybe it wasn’t about what armour we were wearing, but… I drifted off to sleep, on the edge of the precipice.

A First

Chapter?  I don’t know.  Yesterday I said that I had something more to write, but that it wasn’t ready yet.  Well, it seems to split into sections somewhat well, and I’m not done yet – but I’m currently writing the third section of it.  This is the first.  I don’t want to call it a chapter, because I’m not a writer.  But I did write this… down.  It sort of builds on two passages in Scripture.  The first is Ephesians 4:22-24; the second is Ephesians 6:10-20.  You’re welcome to read them both first, or just to read what I’ve got written, below.

One

As is well-known in this land, we all form and forge our own armour.  We raise our defences as barriers; we eliminate, as much as is possible, any opportunity for an unguarded moment to arise.  We show ourselves to be invulnherable, to others, and sometimes we believe the lie ourselves.

I was one of those.  I was on the frontlines in the war, and my confidence had earned me prominence and dominance in some of the earliest skirmishes I’d seen.  Even before I’d been given rank there were a number of my peers who looked to me as a leader.  I had caught the eye of a general – not the field marshal, mind you, but a general – and had risen through the non-commissioned ranks quickly.  Lieutenant even faster.

My career as a captain had been full of hits and misses.  Experimenting with leading my soldiers from both the front and the back, I had found that they were far less effective, far less brave, and far less confident unless I was out front.  But being out front is more dangerous, one runs the risk of getting hurt.  And we like to appear invulnerable.

To be in front I had found that I required a deep trust in the soldiers following me.  A traitor would find an attack from behind me far more effective than an attack from the front.  I learned about traitors through experience.  I bear the scars to prove it.  Then there were the battles against the overt enemy!  I had to face these head on and hold ground in the thick of it, and they were fierce and unrelenting.  At times I gave up ground to them simply because of their numbers and strength; to my shame, at times I had yielded them territory because I was afraid.

There had certainly been successful campaigns against them, also, but somehow every loss seemed to loom far larger than any victory.  Recently it had seemed like the losses weren’t just larger, but also far more numerous.  I pondered this as I approached the tent to which I’d been summoned.  I had never even met the field marshal before – now I feared it was this recent trend of losses that had spurred the summons.  I stumbled in my mind for reasons, explanations to give, pretending that they weren’t excuses.

When I entered the tent, Michael stood before me, radiant in power and authority.  He spoke clearly and quickly, enunciating each syllable as is common when individuals speak in a second language rather than their native tongue, “Things are not what they seem, young captain, and you base far too many of your thoughts on your own perceptions…I have not summoned you for myself, but for the prince.”

This last phrase he added as I opened my mouth to ask why he had summoned me (but before I could get any words out), which question I now didn’t bother to utter.  He walked out through the opening I’d just entered by, revealing the prince’s form at the back of the tent.  He and I had met before on a few occasions.  My father had prepared me for service in this war, and the prince had enlisted me himself.  Whatever glory I had perceived in the marshal was now undone in my mind, swept away by the splendour of the prince’s presence.

“You’re going about this all wrong.”  His words bit me with conviction—though the tone told me it was not conviction for what I had dreaded.  He smiles and approached me, unstrapping his own breast- and back-plates from around his body.  He held it out to me, “Not in the results you’re seeing, but in the way you’re going about getting them.  Put this on.”

I reached for the straps that held my armour to my body, thinking that I would have to remove my own before I could put his armour on.  At first I couldn’t reach the strap, and assumed that this was due to the limitations of the armour itself.  It protected me well, but it also restricted my movement.  Nervously I glanced up at him, only to my surprise, the prince looked amused rather than annoyed.  He almost opened his mouth to speak, as I quickly reach around with my other hand, straining for an armour strap to loosen.  My fingers sill found nothing.  I reached around back; I tried reaching down my back from over my head; to no avail.

I caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye, again.  He stood there still, his arm fully extended, offering his armour to me.  While I was becoming increasingly agitated with my situation – seemingly trapped in my own armour – there was no frustration in his face.  Did that anger me further?  It certainly caught me off guard, which shocked my system, as my armour was designed to prevent such happenings.  Again, he looked as though he were about to speak.

I returned to my initial efforts, reaching across my chest to fumble at my side for a strap – for anything!  I was in a bit of a panic by this point.  In entertained tones, he asked, “What are you doing?”  Thinking it was self-evident, I took his question as rhetorical, or even sarcastic, and as though it were intended to speed me on with what I was doing.  I redoubled my efforts.

By this point I had decided within myself that it was not a flexibility issue.  It could not have been simply a matter of the armour restricting my motions.  Rather, I reasoned that either I was reaching to the wrong locale, or I was searching for the wrong feature.  Perhaps I needed a metal tab, rather than a leather thong.  Again, the prince’s voice rang out in the tent, “What are you doing?”

I glanced up at him, his posture unchanged.  I answered, this time, “My lord, I’m trying to remove this armour.  Surely it must come off if I’m to put yours on.”  He nodded in agreement, which I took as an affirmation of my continued fumbling.

Now, understand that as I shifted my weight, as I reached around my body, I involuntarily moved within the tent’s entryway.  All I could think of was the prince waiting for me to be ready to receive his armour, his royal gift.  Thoroughly embarrassed at the length of time I had been doing my dance, and the lack of results that I was getting; frantic to have the business done with; I stumbled to my knees on the cold earth before my liege’s feet.

Panting from exertion, I looked up at him, “My lord, I cannot.  I’m sorry.  Yours came off of you so easily, I thought mine would do the same.”

“Oh, it will come off of you easily enough – though it will be painful to remove.”  There was compassion in his voice for my embattled position.

“But how?  I cannot find any means of removing it!  There is no strap or thong; there is no tab or slot.  How may I take it off?”

He face fell slightly at this question.  Still, he spoke with a strong voice, “It is not designed to be taken off.  This is why you cannot do so.”

“So there’s a trick to it, is there?” mischievously, the thought came to me that it was some kind of riddle.  I determined, in my own mind, to solve it.  As I rose to my feet I found that his armour still hung at the end of his outstretched arm, offered to me.  “Give me time to uncover the secret, sire.”

The prince chuckled, “Finding will only bring you back to me – why not just let me show you?  Let me help you.”

In my pride I refused.  I felt that I had enough clues, and was intelligent enough to run with them for a time.  He took my hand in his as I turned to leave, “Take this, it is for you.”  He placed his armour on my shoulder, and let me go.

The Sermon I Didn’t Preach Today

It’s a risky business, to post what wasn’t said.  Why wasn’t it said?  Why were the things said, that were?  If those were the things that God wanted said this morning, where do these things come from – and where should they go?

I watched Braveheart the other night – a fact I did mention in my sermon this morning.  But where I stopped at William Wallace’s transformation from focusing on dying well to focusing on living well (my paraphrases), the part of the movie that hits me harder involves Robert the Bruce.  The Judas (as they turn-of-phrase might put it).  William Wallace had something, and Robert took it from him.  Was it innocence?  Was it an implicit trust in his countrymen?  More specifically, was it an eye to Robert as the next monarch of the Scots?

I’m not looking for people to actually reflect too deeply upon Braveheart.  People just start weighing in on what they think the movie is trying to express.  The authoritative voice on that can only come across when the screenwriter speaks, and that’s beside the point.  Then there are those who would approach the question from a historical perspective, and discuss how accurate Braveheart’s depiction of that episode in history was.  Again, beside the point.

My point is, and the reason this part of the movie hits me hard, is because too often I feel like that.  Too often I feel like I’m the guy who pledged his loyalty to the One bringing freedom, who then stands with the enemy on the battlefield – and gets found out.  Too often I feel like I’m the guy who rages at his father for sending him to fight for the wrong side – though it’s me raging against myself, not my father (who, incidentally, never pointed me in the wrong direction).

I hate this; I hate it when it occurs; I hate that it occurs.  On the one hand, I hate that the circumstance arises.  On the other hand, I hate that I feel this guilt for it – because it seems as though this is wrong-minded in itself, too!  On the third hand (or paw, if that image strikes you less out-of-the-ordinary) I hate that I’m still in need of such refinement that the potential for either of these still exists.

But maybe that’s just it.  Maybe the picture of the process of salvation that we hold in our minds is just inadequate.  It’s convenient.  We like to have Jesus save us from the consequences of sin.  But we don’t like to admit that we’re sinners; we don’t want the discomfort of His work in us to actually remove sin from us; we certainly don’t want to put in any of the devotional human work that enables and complements His work in us.  So we ask Him to save us from sin, and we only mean “save us from the consequences of sin.”  Because the full picture of salvation is too involved.  The only thing we fully devote ourselves to is the idea that we should take everything in moderation (particularly faith – who wants to be called a fanatic?).

But I want to be a part of an alternative.  An alternative to half-hearted devotion to the One who pours our His whole heart for us; to the minimalist commitment that tries to mask itself behind “faith” that He can use even the smallest faith (no need to have more, or devote more – He may ask it, but He’s willing to work with much less); to the “good-enough” mentality of our society which is never good enough, and dulls us to the call for holiness.  Let me say, emphanatically (you read right), “No!” to these things.

If this precious metal is going to be refined, then the dross must be burned off.  If this precious metal is going to survive the refining process, then there’s got to be more to it than “all” dross.  Cultivate holiness; find that He initiates before our efforts reciprocate.  His path is the narrow one that few find, and it leads to a narrow gateway.  And there is only one way onto His path – Jesus.  Thank God that He meets us in many places as that Way.  Do not settle for less than the fullness of His call.

Genesis

The book of beginnings.  For a number of folks in our parish, and in various other congregations throughout our city, it is a book we’ve just recently finished.  That doesn’t mean that we’re through with it, or done with it.  It simply means that in our Bible Reading Plan, we started reading it on December 31 and finished mid-last week.

As people read, there were certain stories that struck them.  I know they did, because I hear about it when they do.  There are certain parts of Genesis that we’re very familiar with – few issues are raised when people read through them.  Creation; Adam & Eve; Cain & Abel; Noah’s Ark; the Tower of Babel; Abraham; Sodom & Gomorrah; Ishmael vs. Isaac; Jacob & Esau; Jacob’s Ladder; Joseph (& the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat).  Familiar.

Yet there are some parts of Genesis that aren’t so familiar to people.  Preacher’s don’t choose them as texts to preach from; the lectionary doesn’t have them come up as Sunday readings.  Lot’s daughters impregnate themselves by their father while in the mountains after Sodom’s destruction (is this where the “incestuous hill-billy” stereotype got started?); Abraham takes Isaac to make a human sacrifice to God (this one is somewhat known); Judah fathers twins by his daughter-in-law when he refuses to give his third son to be her husband.  When people came across these passages, I heard about it.

It’s probably not that the people hadn’t read them before, more likely that they just aren’t as familiar, or front-of-mind.  They can be a little shocking when you’re not prepared.  But the story of Lot’s daughters is preserved in Scripture to show us the close relationship between the Ammonites and Moabites with the Israelites.  The story of Isaac’s near-sacrifice is preserved as an almost parallel to Christ’s crucifixion, to shed light on the Father’s love for humanity, and show us an example of complete commitment to God.  The story of Tamar and Judah is preserved in Scripture as a reminder of God’s interest in preserving His people.  There are other reasons these are there.

The elements of the stories that we find somewhat repugnant remind us of the need for every individual to own the faith they claim.  Proximity to Abraham is no substitute; clinging to the things of earth cannot take the place; our plans are not big enough.  Those elements we find repugnant remind us of God’s great love, and His grace in making opportunity for people to come to Him.  God makes special provision for the Ammonites and Moabites; Isaac is saved at the last moment; Judah is the ancestor of David, by his daughter-in-law.

Praise the Lord!  He uses imperfect people to accomplish His perfect plan!  What a delicious reality!