Heading toward a fuller understanding of what it means to live incarnational lives, whether you stay in your local parish or are sent out to cross into another culture and incarnate Christ in that context, we should first investigate some key words from the gospels to build an appropriate understanding of what it means to “bear witness” to the gospel.
Witness, testimony. Maybe some of you have heard this before, but it is a good reminder: the word “witness” and “testimony” are the same word in the Scriptures. To bear witness, false witness, give a testimony, “his testimony is true”, and every other instance, are built on the same root word in Greek. And that is not all. The root on which they are built is the word martyr. So, intentionally transposing these words in English will help us feel some of the nuance that word holds in all of its various contexts:
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What do all these words mean? That will greatly help us understand the commission given to Christians to “go and make disciples…teaching them to observe”. And particularly, we need to look at the difference between missions and evangelism.
Missions. Think of the word missive, as in ‘to send out a missive’. It is ‘to send’, which would mean it carries the same meaning as “apostle”, ‘one sent out’. A disciple is a learner, but the Disciples became Apostles when they were sent out. So, missions is when someone is sent. A missionary is the person who was sent. “Mission parish” is a small problem, unless we think of it only as a parish established in a place that required the Church to stretch out and develop a parish in a new place; that could be seen as ‘sending’, I guess.
How is that different from “evangelism”?…
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Trick question for you: what does it mean to “preach the gospel”? To tell others about the death and resurrection of Christ, right? Then, what did Jesus mean when he said to the disciples of John the Baptist: “‘The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them’”? Jesus was not yet crucified and resurrected. So, what was this gospel they were preaching
Continue reading “What Was the Gospel before the Gospel?”
At the center of the gospel passage in Luke 17, about the ten lepers is the idea of thanksgiving. In the Old Testament Law, we see different kinds of sacrifices brought to the Tabernacle, and one of those is a thank-offering. The word “eucharist” means ‘thanksgiving’, and the connection between our thanksgiving/eucharist and the thank-offerings of the Old Testament is no mere coincidence. There is a direct connection.
Under the Law, there were also sin offerings: in a sense these are offerings that need to be given for the sin of the people. But a thank-offering is a free will offering, an offering to God out of our gratitude. And that is what we offer in the liturgy, as well.
But this extends beyond the Liturgy. Christ dwells among us, indeed he dwells in us, and our heart is his altar. The priest in the church offers sacrifices on behalf of all the people, but each of us are priests of the altar of our hearts.
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Even in our modern understanding of Saint Nicholas, that is, in all the movies and stories about Santa Claus, we have not forgotten one of the most important things about St. Nicholas, something that he did so much and so often, that it helps us know why he is such a shining star and saint of the Church: he gave to the poor. All the stories of Santa Claus are rooted in the way that St. Nicholas gave, especially giving alms. The idea of stockings hanging on the fireplace or filling shoes with coins, go back to one specific time that St. Nicholas gave to the poor.
In the city where St. Nicholas lived, there also lived a man who once had been rich, but had fallen into poverty. This man had three daughters. At that time, a woman could not marry unless her family was able to give a dowry, that is, money and gifts, to the family of the man she hoped to marry. This man was so poor that he had lost all hope of being able to marry off his daughters.
In his despair, an evil idea came to him: for his family to have the money to survive, he decided to sell his daughters into a kind of slavery. The girls would have been forced to do ugly and awful things.
Continue reading “The Secret Gifts of St. Nicholas”