Revisiting the Nominal

There’s this interesting discourse found in Matt. 3:13-17 between Jesus and John the Baptist.  The other gospel-writers don’t tell us about it.  But in Matthew, when Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized by John (not as in the old joke, that He was baptized by Jordan in the John), the two have a brief exchange.  John tries to refuse to baptize Him, claiming that he needs to be baptized by Jesus instead – but Jesus demands it, and claims that it must be so for now, “…for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.

We’re not told if the two had met before.  We’re not told what John bases his assessment of Jesus’ condition on (ie. His need to be baptized by him, or his need to be baptized by Him).  Our minds may be drawn to Luke 1, where John had recognized Jesus while they were both in their mothers’ wombs.  So we might think that John recognized Jesus’ quality on sight.  Whatever the case, he knows that there’s something special about Jesus.  John, whose baptism has been a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4) finds himself baptizing Him whom is not in need of repentance, whom does not require forgiveness of sins.

So what is it about?  There is ample evidence that John wasn’t the first to baptize.  The Essenes (the community of Dead Sea Scroll fame) baptized, and they did it all the time (daily, in some cases!).  For them, baptism was about being washed and cleansed from sin.  John did it differently than they – he wasn’t about people just being clean.  He was baptizing people into a different kind of life, a different kind of lifestyle – one that was directed differently than what had come before.  It was a lifestyle that wasn’t to include sin.  Jesus and His followers took this a little further.  Notice Jesus’ words about His baptism – to fulfill all righteousness.  Jesus wasn’t just interested in sin being taken out of people’s lives/lifestyles, He was interested in their lives being righteous (notice that He takes this up elsewhere: you must be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48).

Where the Essenes had practised a life of regular baptism, by the time we hit Jesus and His followers, we’re at people who didn’t consider multiple baptisms necessary (let alone required).  They did re-baptize some people who had only received John’s baptism before, but this was into a different baptism, a different Name, a different lifestyle.  In most cases, people were baptized as soon as they came to faith, before they’d even learned to be Christians – they were left to work that out afterwards.  So baptism became a rite of initiation into a life directed to fulfilling all righteousness, with Jesus and for His followers.

That’s why Jesus was baptized by John.  To show His followers the way to get started.  Let there be no mistake, however.  It is just a start – not a finish.  Parents or well-meaning grandparents who come to “get a child done” are mistaken.  They’re getting that child started – not done.  It falls to the child, as they grow, to work out the implications of being a member of a community in which Christ, by the work of the Holy Spirit, is fulfilling righteousness.

Jesus’ call is a call to a life of holiness.  “Good enough” isn’t good enough.  It’s actually the enemy of what He does call us to.  Don’t settle for it.  Half-hearted devotion will not do – our enemy is always whole-hearted in his desire to lead us astray, to capture us with sin, to turn us away from God’s Way.  We must be whole-hearted, also, if we are to resist.  Let me quote the Book of Common Prayer:

“Every Christian man or woman should from
time to time frame for himself a RULE OF
LIFE in accordance with the precepts of the
Gospel and the faith and order of the Church;
wherein he may consider the following:
The regularity of his attendance at public
worship and especially at the holy Communion.
The practice of private prayer, Bible-reading,
and self-discipline.
Bringing the teaching and example of Christ
into his everyday life.
The boldness of his spoken witness to his faith
in Christ.
His personal service to the Church and the
community.
The offering of money according to his means
for the support of the work of the Church at
home and overseas.”

-BCP, p. 555

There may be more that could be said about the items listed in that quotation, but there is certainly not less.”

Discipline

I have a friend who rants (every now and then) about Christianity not having a designated martial art.  He talks about how Eastern faith traditions have martial arts associated with them which encourage people to be conscious of the relationship between their body and soul.  In disciplining one, one learns to discipline the other.  He cites the volume (is that a pun?) of Christ-adherents who are out-of-shape.  Now, don’t get me wrong (or him, for that matter).  There’s no denying that there are some Christians who are in shape, and I’m not aware of any study that compares the percentage of Christians who are against the comparison of Buddhists (or any other tradition) who are.  So there’s no way, currently, to really know whether Christians drop the ball on fitness any more than people of other faiths.  What I do know, however, is that some do/have, and that I don’t want to be one of them.

We’re all somewhat out-of-shape, I think (except one young father in my parish who spent some years in Japan and earned his black belt in ninjutsu – which seems to somewhat prove the point of my other friend, mentioned above).  It’s so easy to do what comes naturally.  Chips and pop are so accessible; so is poutine (there’s a reason we live in this country, afterall).  And we’re middle-class North Americans, so we’ve got some expendable income to buy it with.  And so we consume.  It is a consumer society, isn’t it?

But what of discipline?  It takes a body and spirit together to make a man, and Christ came to save men, didn’t He?  How could we make our faith about only a soul’s salvation?  Doesn’t Paul talk about disciplining our bodies?  Doesn’t Christ say that we need to be faithful with the little things (which we have largely, in Western Christendom, regarded the physical as), if we are to be entrusted with the big things (which would refer to the spiritual, on this track)?  So, what of disciplining the body?  We can teach prayer, encourage Bible reading and devotional use, promote Bible study groups, and even service in His Name (not to mention fasting and the wide variety of other spiritual disciplines that are easily at hand for the Christian), but what about the body?  We cannot ignore it as ‘worldly,’ as though this makes it inconsequential.  We cannot neglect it as a necessary evil.  What of the incarnational mindset that says, “Christ has no body now but yours; no hands, no feet, on earth but yours…”?

My friend has discovered Russian Systema, a martial art that grew out of the Russian Orthodox tradition.  He plans to learn it.  I’ve opted for the home exercise regime that I’ve meant to do for a long time.  I’ve pulled out the old P90X DVDs, and started.  Last Saturday I pulled out the X Stretch DVD and forced myself to elongate in various ways – it was hard to believe that a few months ago (when Cindy and I completed 13 weeks of the Power 90 workouts) I could put my nose on my knee.  All of those gains seem to be lost.

On Sunday I pulled out the DVD that the P90X supplementary workout routine asks for – I’m doing the Lean set, to try to lose extra weight during the course of my exercising, rather than the classic routine.  Core Synergistics was my battle that day, and yesterday I faced down the Cardio X DVD.  Later today (I’m not sure when, exactly, I’ll be able to fit it in) I’ll be tackling the Shoulders & Arms, with the Ab Ripper X DVD.  It will hurt.

A couple of years ago Cindy and I had made it through four weeks of this exercise regime.  We were looking and feeling better than we had for years, or have since.  But we dropped the ball, and didn’t keep going for the remaining 9 weeks of it.  What a mistake!  Well, hopefully this time I will be able to keep it up.  Those who are faithful with a little will be blessed with a lot.  Time to whip this body into shape!

Clement of Alexandria

Some of you may be familiar with the project promoted by readthefathers.org, that has readers travelling through the 38 volume collection of the early Church fathers over a seven year period, reading roughly seven pages a day.  My younger brother, a gentleman and scholar (a classicist and patristic theologian) put me on it.  The cycle started at the beginning this past Advent season.  So far we have completed the first volume, and are roughly a third of the way through the second.  It will be a long process.

That said, I thought I’d share some really awesome quotes that came through this past week’s reading – particularly, from Clement of Alexandria in his Exhortation to the Heathen.  I won’t say too much about Clement himself – I think his writing reveals lots, on its own.  He had been a pagan philosopher, but came to know Christ and became the catechetical instructor in Alexandria by the end of the second century (by the year 200).  His Exhortation, which these quotes are taken from, was intended to work the soil around the hearts of the non-Christians (of which he had been one) to be receptive to the Gospel of Jesus.  Contemplate these words:

“…you disbelieve everything that you may indulge your passions, and that ye may believe in idols, because you have a craving after their licentiousness, but disbelieve God, because you cannot bear a life of self-restraint.  You have hated what was better, and valued what was worse, having been spectators indeed of virtue, but actors of vice.”

A warning worth heeding, even today.  We may not craft idols, but there are a plethora of bids for our attention, our hearts, our loyalty.  He exposes the motivations that so many have, for embracing the “gods” that they do.

“He offers freedom, you flee into bondage; He bestows salvation, you sink down into destruction; He confers everlasting life, you wait for punishment, and prefer the fire which the Lord ‘has prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

What an incredibly concise but poignant summary of what so many are prone to do – of what our hearts lead us into!  In our spiritual bankruptcy we do neglect the message of freedom, and just keep feeding the dirty tendencies!

“Let us therefore repent, and pass from ignorance to knowledge, from foolishness to wisdom, from licentiousness to self-restraint, from unrighteousness to righteousness, from godlessness to God.”

I love this quote, because he doesn’t challenge us to be ‘godly,’ in it; he doesn’t challenge us to believe that God exists; he challenges us to God Himself.  To know Him; to trust Him; to love Him.  In Him is our hope.

“You were boys, then striplings, then youths, then men, but never as yet were you good.”

This last quote hits me hard because it hits home.  I know that for a long time I employed myself into growing “up,” not developing or maturing spiritually – not growing well, in the way that really matters, by building up treasure with God.  How many people age, today, from baby to toddler to child to teen to adult, but never really grow into their potential as humans, to bear the image of God boldly and live as His children?

That was me – but by the Grace of God I am not what I was.  I leave these with you to ponder on your own.

Of Apples and Injury

The rotten apple injures its neighbour.

Corruption breeds corruption.  I think that’s the main thing that this gets at.  It seems to be the way of the world – the way of the universe!  Cause and effect.  You reap what you sow.  Many of us are familiar with this phenomenon, many of us have opened a box of apples or oranges, found that one is particularly rotten, and then found that there are rotten spots on all the others that were around it and touching it.  Decay brings decay.

But in so many things we wish it were otherwise – and so many people live as though it were otherwise.  How many people that you’ve known have been surprised when this turns out to be the case?  They’ve gotten in trouble with the law and they’ve blamed that police, or blamed the law itself, rather than accepting that they transgressed?  Or they’ve been “inexplicably” let go from a job that they regularly shunned, made fun of, showed up late for, called in “sick” from, and basically disrespected in every way imaginable?  Or their spouse repeatedly thinks that they’re having relational issues “for no reason at all,” while they’re consistently allowing their mind to dwell in lust for other people?

Have you ever known anyone like that?  Are you someone who has been, or is, like that in some way?  It can be hard to accept that the rotten apple injures its neighbour.  It can also be easy to see it when it’s clearly taking effect in someone else’s life.

Praise God, then, for His mighty gift of salvation for us in Jesus Christ – who is the good apple, thrown into the box of rotten apples, and who actually restores the rottenness of the rest of the box!  In Him, alone, is our life!  God’s way is not our way; it is not the way of the world; if we, as His Church, would fulfill the mission of His Gospel, then we must first receive the blessing of that same Gospel, and be renewed in Him.  The apple that works against the rule that we otherwise know works in pretty much all things.

Proverbial Reflection 6

I wasn’t as pleased with my last reflection as I wanted to be – so I’m cutting out those proverbs that I’ve saved that I consider to be second-rate, or just interesting.  Only first-rate proverbs from now on!

Desperate diseases must have desperate remedies.

I seem to remember this play we went to when I was at Wycliffe College that was about a couple of people who meet and fall in love.  Throughout the whole play, from the start, there are rumblings in the news of this disease.  Well, these folks eventually have a child together and discover that their child is immune to this disease that’s reached, by this time, pandemic proportions.

They are approached by the medical professionals.  Their child is the only immune individual that has been found, and the immunity is something in his blood.  For them to do their job, however, in developing something to effectively combat this disease, they will require all of the child’s blood.  That is, they must give up their child for the sake of the rest of the world.

Now, you may be thinking that it’s a terribly unlikely scenario – and surely the child could be given a transfusion of blood as they take its natural blood out, etc.  But to speculate on these things is beside the message of the play.  It’s not a “that would never happen,” kind of situation – or a “what would you do,” kind of play.  Instead, it was a “see, and understand,” presentation.

Understand what?

Understand that it’s already happened.  Understand that you were (are?) diseased – a disease of the most desperate kind.  A disease that all fall prey to, naturally, and that all succumb to, naturally.  A disease that require(d/s) a most desperate remedy.  All the blood of the One immune to it.  The disease (or as DC Talk put it, “cancer”) is sin, and its end is death.  It is a most desperate disease because there is none who can conquer it – none, but that One.  Jesus, whose blood was poured out an expiation for all of our sins.

Understand.

If there were another way, if the disease wasn’t such a desperate disease, if the situation wasn’t such a needful situation, if the truth didn’t hurt… then the desperate remedy of Jesus’ sacrifice to earn your salvation wouldn’t be necessary.  So understand who He is; what He’s done for you; the situation you’re in; the truth of this faith.  Desperate remedies are given to desperate diseases.