Sunday, January 26, 2014

Made Beautiful by the Gospel

"Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." [St. Mark 1:14-15 RSVCE]

There was a master craftsman who was on a journey. In his travels he came upon a pot in a city. This pot was filthy. Not only was it covered with dirt and other stains, but it was also being used as a chamber pot. Yet this master craftsman immediately recognized that it was no ordinary pot. Sure enough, upon examining it he discovered that this pot was made of precious metal, though it had been dented and abused terribly. It had undoubtedly once belonged in a king's palace. The craftsman inquired after the pot, and purchased it from its owners. He cleansed the pot with clean water, and he took it to his workshop. There he carefully removed the stains, hammered out the dents, and restored the pot to its original shape. He polished the metal - which was precious silver and gold - set it with jewels, and restored to it the great beauty and love by which it was first made. At last he brought it to his king and presented it as a gift. And the king accepted the gift with joy.

We know that our Lord Jesus is also a master craftsman. Not only did He learn this skill from His foster-father St. Joseph, but He is the Son of God through whom the Father made all things that exist. When He says, "Repent, and believe in the gospel," it is as if He is saying each of us is like this poor abused pot, but now since He is here we can be cleansed and restored and brought to the King, His Father and ours.

But unlike the pot in this story, we have a part to play. The craftsman in the story does not say anything to the pot - because it is just a pot - but the Lord Jesus says to us, "Repent, and believe in the gospel." To repent means that the mind of the world outside the Church can no longer be our mind. There must be a break, and there must be a willingness on our part to do the breaking as often as it must be done. We must gain the mind of Christ, and this can only happen if believe the gospel.

The gospel of the Lord Jesus must become our new mind, because it is His mind, and it is the beating-heart of the kingdom of God. So that means we should know the gospels in our Bible! Some of us are great with sports statistics and some with movie quotes, because these have touched our hearts and brought us joy. The gospels in our Bible are greater than those things, and what they contain will outlast the memory of every movie or sporting event there ever will be. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the words of Christ in the gospels will never pass away.

It is amazing that what St. Mark records next is how our Lord Christ calls His first Apostles. And who do you think He calls? He calls Simon, who is St. Peter, which is where St. Mark is traditionally believed to have gotten most of his knowledge for the gospel he wrote. Who else does Christ call? St. Andrew, St. James, and ... St. John, who himself wrote the fourth gospel. So you see that already in the beginning of our Lord's ministry on earth He was taking care to provide witnesses that would tell you everything, so that you - like them - might trade in the mind this spiritually-blind world gives you for the mind of Christ, so that you could believe the gospel and live in the gospel, so that you might be saved from this perverse and wicked generation.

And so this is how our Lord Jesus begins His ministry on earth as a teacher and prophet. He says to us all that we need new minds and hearts, and new deeds and lives, which He is happy to give us. But again, we are not lifeless pots; we are human beings made in the image of God. It is up to us whether we will undergo the scrubbing necessary to remove a worldly mindset, and the heat and pounding required to hammer out the dents that come from falling into sins. But how can we ever become polished and shining if we don't! Kings don't like garbage cans at their banquet tables, so out of love for our heavenly King we should each take care to place ourselves into the hands of our master craftsman, our Lord Jesus, and be recast according to the mold of His gospel. Let us become vessels of love and generosity and goodness while we are in this world, because in the next world there will be no garbage cans at the King's banquet table, but only those made beautiful by the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Image taken from a product for sale at Orthodox-Shop.eu.

8 comments:

Unknown said...

Did I read somewhere that you used to be a Lutheran? I am a Lutheran who grew up in a Russian Orthodox family. If my stepfather had been my father, Fr. John Meyendorff would have been my cousin. Yet, in spite of the fact that I hold Fr. Meyendorff in extremely high esteem, both as a theologian and as a person (I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that he was one of the most learned men of our age; as a person I knew few people who exceeded him in love and kindness), I have remained a Lutheran.
When I read this post, I thought it was written by a Lutheran. This is not meant as a compliment, because I find in it the same problems that I encounter with my fellow Lutherans: the inability to distinguish between Repentance of the unbeliever and repentance or contrition of those who are already members of the Kingdom of God here on earth, the Church.
When you write, “but the Lord Jesus says to us, ‘Repent, and believe in the gospel,’" I object that our Lord said this to unbelievers. No scriptural passage needs to be cited as proof, because there were simply no Christians (besides the remaining 11 Apostles, and that only because our Lord came to them on Easter Sunday morning and breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”) until Pentecost, when, according to the “Te Deum”, He “opened the Kingdom to all believers.” I repented and believed when I was baptized. What I do now, is to repent of the many sins I commit each day, but it is not the same as the repentance that leads to conversion.
Similarly, when you write, “We must gain the mind of Christ, and this can only happen if we believe the gospel,” I object, because the Apostle Paul tells us, 1 Corinthians 2:16, “But we have the mind of Christ.” Contrary to what my fellow believers hold, it is the “mind of Christ”, not the Decalogue, that is written on our hearts according to God’s promise in the Book of Jeremiah, 31:33, “I will put my Law (Torah) within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” All this was done when I was baptized, and according to the Apostle Peter, Acts 2:38, “so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
As one who was baptized 77 years ago, I have come to the conclusion that no denomination has everything perfectly right. I stay in mine, partly because of inertia, and partly because I am convinced that among us the Gospel is still proclaimed in its purity – sometimes.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart
PS.: “Harju”. Could that be Estonian?

Benjamin Harju said...

George,

My last name is Finnish. My late-grandfather's family came from Finland.

You gained the mind of Christ in Baptism? Usually people gain the mind of Christ through catechesis, though catechesis can be forgotten or undone by filling our minds with unchristian things.

The mind is one thing, the heart another. The mind is taught, the heart is illumined. The Torah is written in the heart by the Holy Spirit, but the Gospels are written to teach the mind. The two - the leading of the Holy Spirit in the heart, and the pious teachings of the Church in the mind - work together with our free will to serve the Living God.

The Lord said, "Repent, and believe the gospel," to those that needed to repent and believe - whether they considered themselves good Jews or pious Gentiles (who sometimes were more eager to believe than Jews) or complete reprobates. These words were written to be read in the churches, so that we would be mindful to adhere to our Lord's words. They apply to believers and unbelievers alike.

I hope my comments bring some clarification. If not, please feel free to ask.

Unknown said...

Bejamin: Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is in Harju County. That is where I was born. Estonia is also the ancestral home of both the Meyendorffs and the Schmemanns. Father John’s grandfather converted to Russian Orthodoxy from Lutheranism because otherwise the law would have prevented him from marrying Countess Shuvalova. His father (Fr. John’s great-grandfather), to show his displeasure, put up a greater than life size statue of Martin Luther at the entrance to his estate, Kumna, in Estonia. I saw the statue as a four year old, but it was gone when I returned in 1980. I understand the Soviets took it down in 1949.
Did you know Fr. Andrei Korolenko in Ft. Wayne. We were in the same DP camp in Germany in the late forties.
Now to the substance: If St. Paul tells me that “we have the mind of Christ”, and he was not one to use the Imperial “We”, and you tell me I have to achieve it through catechesis, whom should I believe? That’s a rhetorical question. St. Augustine holds that when St. Paul speaks of our having the mind of Christ, he is referring to the prophecy of Jeremiah.
About Repentance. If there is only one kind of Repentance, then we should, following the command of St. Peter in Acts 2:38, be baptized again and again and we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit again and again. The difference between the two kinds of repentance is at the foundation of the teaching of the Kingdom of God. The Repentance that precedes conversion, or μετἀνοια, is literally a turning in the opposite direction. If we do it again, we wind up where we were before conversion.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Benjamin Harju said...

George,

With regard to having the mind of Christ, St. John Chrysostom makes the point in his homily on 1Co. 2:6ff that we have been vouchsafed the mind of Christ in words and sacramental actions, by the teaching of Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit at work in us. Teaching by words and by the Spirit poured out upon us go together, and neither should be neglected.

Regarding repentance, I will suggest the following article:
http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8493

I have little connection with my Finnish roots. I never knew my Finnish-speaking family very well. My father's father died when I was very young, and the only Finnish relatives I saw were those I visited in L'Anse, MI as a child.

I have a relative that may have access to a Harju family tree. Maybe one day I will get to see it, and then I can do some more research about my family history.

Thank you for sharing some of your personal history. You sound like you've been leading an interesting life!

Unknown said...

Many years ago, my brother, a professor at CSFW, asked Fr. John Meyendorff, “Who is your favorite among the Fathers?” Fr. John responded, “Chrysostom”. My brother responded, “Mine too”. Nevertheless, if St. Paul says “we have”, and Chrysostom says, “we have been vouchsafed”, I have to go with St. Paul. But to show that the process is not complete, in Philippians 2:5, St. Paul urges us to “let yourselves have this mind (φρονεισθω - present passive imperative), which was also in Christ Jesus.”
As to the article on Repentance, I hear similar things from my fellow-Lutherans who quote the first of Luther’s 95 Thesis, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” By the grace of God this did not make it into the Lutheran Confessions. It is essentially the same kind of inability to understand the Gospel as the article you suggested. I came to this passage, “’Penthos’ is the conditioned sorrow of a repentant soul, adding sorrow upon sorrow each day, like a woman suffer¬ing in childbirth."[14]
Repentance, as has been noted, is not a mere incident or stage through which one passes and then leaves behind; rather it is an attitude which colors one's whole life and for which, at the same time, one must struggle continually. It is a way of life, and as such a way of transfiguration, in which man's heart and mind continuously receive illumina¬tion by the Holy Spirit. It is a continuous pathway, at least in this life, a perennial striving, an all-embracing motion and not merely an occasional emotion. Repentance is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit who transforms the heart of the human person, and not a fruit of individual effort or anguish.”
But not even among the Orthodox is this understanding ubiquitous. Here are some of my favorite words from the diary of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, “12 October 1976
The origin of “false religion” is the inability to be joyful, or rather – the rejection of joy. Meanwhile joy is so absolutely important, because it is without doubt the fruit of knowing the presence of God. It is impossible to know that God is, and not to have joy. And it is only in connection with this joy that awe of God, contrition and humility are proper and genuine and bear fruit. Apart from this joy these can easily become “demonic”, a perversion at the base of the most religious experience itself. The religion of fear. The religion of false humility. The religion of guilt, which says, “This is all temptation, it is all spiritual “rapture.” But how strong is this religion, not only in the world but within the Church! And for some reason, “religious” people are always suspicious of joy. The first, the most important, the source of everything is, “Let my soul rejoice in the Lord …” The fear of sin does not prevent one from sinning. Joy in the Lord does.
Feelings of guilt and moralism do not “free” us from the world and its temptations. Joy is the foundation of the freedom in which we are called to stand. Where, how, and when did this “fundamental principle” of Christianity become muddy, or more correctly, where, how, and why have Christians become “deaf” to it? How, when and why, instead of setting free the tortured, did the Church begin to sadistically frighten and to terrorize them?”
The words about childbirth in the article are in stark contrast to the words of our Lord on the same subject, John 16, “21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Benjamin Harju said...

George,

At this point I am not sure of the point you are trying to make. You seem to be very bothered by my use of the term repentance, and Luther's use of the term, and the Greek Orthodox Church's use of the term, and your fellow-Lutheran's use of the term. Should the term repentance be dropped, because Christ has accomplished our salvation and done it all for us, and we have received salvation complete, so now only joy remains? Is this what you mean? Or do you mean something else? Perhaps you could summarize your main point? That would help a lot.

Unknown said...

Benjamin: I think that C.F.W. Walther will express my opinion best:
The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel by C.F.W. Walther
Thesis XII.
In the eighth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher represents contrition alongside of faith as a cause of the forgiveness of sins.
“…One of the principal reasons why many at this point mingle Law and Gospel is that they fall to distinguish the daily repentance of Christians from the repentance which precedes faith. Daily repentance is described in Ps. 51. David calls it a sacrifice which he brings before God and with which God is pleased. He does not speak of repentance which precedes faith, but of that which follows it. The great majority of sincere Christians who have the pure doctrine have a keener experience of repentance after faith than of repentance prior to faith.” I am actually far less concerned about the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, as I am that people would be confused about the meaning of the two types or repentance, and therefore live in continual fear.
When I saw the words, “’Penthos’ is the conditioned sorrow of a repentant soul, adding sorrow upon sorrow each day, like a woman suffer¬ing in childbirth," on the site you suggested, I actually became angry. I wondered whether the writer ever asked a woman how much joy she had during labor and childbirth. It is this requirement to be constantly suffering because of your sins that upsets me. Not one of them will be forgiven because of this suffering. All it does is make people wonder whether they are suffering deeply enough for their sins to be forgiven and so they can never be certain of their salvation. Therefore they never have joy, but if they suddenly have a little bit, then they immediately return to suffering, lest they be thought of presumptuous. Therefore Schmemann wrote in his diary, 25 September 1980,
H.L.Mencken: definition of Puritanism: "a haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy..."
St. Paul wrote, Rom. 14: 17, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” and, Rom.15: 13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” But before that, he wrote, Rom. 5: 1, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” St. Paul later wrote a list of the things he suffered, and few of us will have endured as much as he did, although we know that multitudes have suffered even more. But the suffering is never self-inflicted. It always comes from “outside”, either from the vagaries of nature, or from the enemies of the Gospel.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Benjamin Harju said...

George,

Joy has its place, as does confidence in our baptismal adoption. But so does soberness of mind, and seriousness of purpose. If we lose sober thinking (by adopting the mind of the world), or neglect seriousness of purpose (by disregarding the spiritual life), what excuse will we give when we are judged? What good will our justification be if we disregard it by our lives? Will we be exonerated? No, but we will risk the fate of the wicked and lazy slave in Mt. 25:14-30.

And if we have lost sober thinking and seriousness of purpose (a real danger in America), then how do we get it back? I think my post addresses some of these issues in a way that is very appropriate for those that are baptized into Christ. It sets forth not only our justification by God's Grace, but that which pertains to our free will.

Your concern about the two types of repentance would hold better if it was impossible to fall from Grace. Since it is possible to fall from Grace, we must take care to have godly sorrow that leads to joy, not just joy because we are believers in Christ. We are to take care how we run, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (for it is God Himself at work in us), knowing that we must give an account for every idle word (Mt. 12:36-37) on the day of judgment.

As an avowed non-fan of Walther, citing him does not do anything for me. Walther is a big reason I'm not Lutheran anymore. I view him with great suspicion.

It seems to me your complaint is not simply with me, but with the Orthodox Church as whole, and even some of your own Lutheranism. I'm sorry you "have come to the conclusion that no denomination has everything perfectly right." That can only mean, in order to accept that belief, that you alone know everything that is perfectly right, or that no one does. I can agree to neither of those propositions.

In the Orthodox Church we are preparing for Lent. In the East we are in the Triodion, and in the West the -gesima Sundays have begun. It is a custom to refrain from debate and argument during this time. That means I am going to close comments on this post. I thank you for your comments, and I am sorry we did not have time to further understand one another. I believe your brother was one of my favorite professors when I was at seminary.

I live in Fort Wayne. If you are in the area, and you would really like to talk about things, then perhaps we can get together for coffee sometime. Debating online sometimes isn't the best way. My email is in my profile.