Saturday, 10 November 2018

Collect for remembrance


Being a Christian means being filled with God. It doesn’t mean you’re a better person. Rather, it means you’re a better person than you were before you became a Christian.
       If you’re filled with God, then something of God will show in your life, because he’s there inside of you. If it doesn’t then you’re not a Christian but merely pretending to be.
       God is a person of order and love, peace and of joy, so a person filled with God will inevitably start to show these characteristics of God in their own lives. That’s what ‘godliness’ means. A Christian will show in their life the peace of God which passes all understanding, because the God of peace lives in them.
       This peace always manifests itself — initially at least — in small ways. Wherever we go, wherever we live, wherever we eat, sleep, work, or whatever, we take the God of peace in our hearts with us. He inspires us to acts of goodness. We offer praise and thanks; we encourage others; we actively console; we work to reconcile. In each of these small ways, we make the world a better place.
       In time, and with enough people seeking to serve God in these ways, my peace joins up with your peace. The small instances of love occurring through my life join up with the instances of love expressed in yours. In all these ways, we stand up to the violence and hatred in the world. We stand up to the evil and intolerance. If enough of us live in this way, then the peace of God which passes all understanding becomes a reality. So let it start with us.

Jesus: light of the world

At the beginning of the Bible, God creates everything, and starts that long process by creating light. Given that God created the sun and stars later, that light must be metaphorical or spiritual rather than physical.
     Very ancient Jewish traditions said this first light created was the glory of God. In effect, God was creating evidence of Himself. Later, the Israelites interpreted any mention of light in the Bible as evidence for God’s presence or involvement. Obvious examples include the burning bush (Exodus 2) or the pillar of fire that lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land (Exodus 13).
     With time, the idea of God’s glory manifesting itself as light or fire became entwined with the Jewish people’s idea of Law: God gave the ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19–23, 34).
     Everything on that occasion was accompanied by thunder and lightning. So bright was this light that Exodus 19:12–13, 21–25 suggests at least some of the Israelites wanted to go onto the mountain to gaze directly at God.
     It was said that whenever the Law of Moses was read aloud, the glory of God was also
present: Think of Psalm 119:105, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ or ‘For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light’ (Proverbs 6:23).
     Later, when Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, God told him to put a lamp above the box that contained the two Tablets given to Moses (’the Ark’), which must burn at all times. It was called the ner tamid.
     Later still, the Jews combined more closely these ideas of Law and light by lighting special candles whenever anyone read aloud from the Law. To this day, in most synagogues a Ner Tamid flame is located above the alcove where the Torah scrolls are kept.
     Now fast-forward to the New Testament, where Jesus calls himself ‘the light of the world (John 8:12) and adds ‘Whoever follows me will … have the light of life’. He also shone with a brilliant light at the Transfiguration (Mark 9). And the Prologue of John’s Gospel describes Jesus as ‘the light that has come into the world’ (John 1:6–9).
Tying these strands together helps us see Jesus as the glory of God. It also implies that he embodies the Law (for example he gave a New Commandment in John 13:34). 

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Thinking about remembrance

November is a month characterised by remembering. Most obviously, on 11 November we remember ‘the war to end all wars’, the Great War fought between 1914 and 1918. We even call the day ‘Remembrance Sunday’.
         We remember the Saints of the Church on Thursday 1 November, on All Saints’ Day; and then on All Souls’ Day, on Friday 2 November, we remember those we have loved who have passed from this world to the next. We also call this last-named festival ‘The commemoration of the faithful departed’.
 To the ancient world of Jesus’ time, the word ‘remember’ never meant a mere process of bringing something to mind. That was deemed insufficient. The requirement was to re-member by which they meant ‘put back together’, to ‘reverse the process of dis-membering’. The whole point of remembering was to mend something in order to bring it back to life.
      This month, as we remember saints and loved ones and the dead from a great many wars, we need to move from merely bringing them to mind and actually learn from the past. That way, we will move away from the destructive forces that causes war and death, and work more constructively toward goodness.
      Re-membering of this kind requires humility and strength, a willing-ness to acknowledge the mistakes of the past, and a determination to learn from them. Then we can engineer a future worth having. In fact, it requires Christlikeness.

The Letter to Philemon

The Epistle of St Paul to Philemon is generally known simply as ‘Philemon’. 
      Most scholars agree this brief letter was written by St Paul. It is also the shortest of his letters that we have, consisting of only 445 words and 25 verses. Nowhere in the letter does Paul authoritatively identify himself as an apostle, but as ‘a prisoner of Jesus Christ’. He calls his co-author Timothy ‘our brother’, and addresses Philemon as a ‘fellow labourer’ and ‘brother.’
Philemon was a Christian who allowed a small church to meet in his house in Colossae (Philemon 1:1–2 and Colossians 4:9). He possibly held a high position in this Colossian house-church in a manner akin to a
modern bishop. It is likely that Philemon was wealthy by the standards of the early church since his house was big enough to accommodate the church that met there.
      At the time of writing, Paul was a prisoner (in either Rome or Ephesus). He and his co-worker Timothy wrote to Philemon and two associates: a woman named Apphia, who may have been his wife, and a fellow worker named Archippus, who may be assumed to have been Philemon’s son.
Archippus also appears to have had special status in the group that met in Philemon’s house (
Colossians 4:17).
      St Paul wrote on behalf of Onesimus, a former servant of Philemon who had left him. Beyond that, it is not self-evident what occurred previously. The letter describes Onesimus as having ‘departed’ from Philemon: he had once been ‘useless’ to him (a pun on Onesimus’ name, which means ‘useful’), and had done him wrong. Perhaps he stole from his rich master. Most modern scholars think that Onesimus was a slave who had run away to become a Christian believer. Paul sent him back to face his aggrieved master, and used this letter as a way of seeking reconciliation between the two Christians.
      We don’t know how Onesimus came to be with Paul. We have various ideas: perhaps Onesimus was in prison with Paul; maybe Onesimus had been brought to Paul by others who wanted forgiveness and reconciliation; maybe Onesimus came to Paul by chance (or in the Christian view, by divine providence); or Onesimus sought Paul, as a friend of his master and asked him to broker a reconciliation. Whatever the truth, he was told to return to Philemon with this letter, wherein Paul told Phil emon to forgive him and receive him as a ‘brother beloved’.
      Although not explicit, the text could be saying that St Paul did nothing to change Onesimus’ legal position as a servant / slave, and that he was complying with Roman law in returning him to Philemon. On the other hand, the text could also be interpreted as saying Paul was demanding Onesimus’ legal freedom and, as an act of both trust and reconciliation, told Philemon he was accountable in the higher court of God to forgive Onesimus and set him free.

Corrie ten Boom

Cornelia ‘Corrie’ ten Boom was born the youngest of four children, on 15 April 1892 in Haarlam, near Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. The ten Booms were devout Christians who believed in service to God and their fellow man. Her father was a watchmaker who was often so engrossed in his work that he forgot to charge his customers.
     Corrie also trained to be a watchmaker and, in 1922, became the first woman licensed as a watchmaker in Holland. She lived a normal, peaceful life for the next eighteen years, working beside her father in the shop. All her family were devout members of the Dutch Reformed Church, and their faith inspired them to serve their society.
Then, in May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, and began their occupation. Along with her father and other family members, Corrie helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II by hiding them in her closet. She was imprisoned for her actions.
      The ten Boom family always operated a form of ‘open house’ for the needy. So when their neighbours — a Jewish family named Wells — were at risk, the ten Booms hid them in their home before helping them escape from Holland. In May 1942, a Jewish woman came to the ten Boom home to say her husband had been arrested by the Nazis: ‘Could anyone help?’ Corrie’s father let the woman stay with them, saying, ‘In this household, God’s people are always welcome.’ These acts of kindness and bravery kickstarted ‘the Hiding Place’ — hence the name of her most famous book, The Hiding Place, which is a biography that recounts the story of her family's efforts.
      The ten Boom family became key members of the resistance movement. They made their home a safe house for those whom the Nazis hunted. They built a false wall across Corrie’s bedroom to create a secret room that hid refugees. Over the next two years, those refugees included Jews and members of the Dutch resistance. Often, there were as many as six or seven extra people illegally in the house at a time, as well as any number of transient folk, who would be harboured there before being moved to other safe houses.
      Corrie formed and led ‘the Beje group’ — a secret network to provide extra safe houses for refugees. During 1943 and the first two months of 1944, the ten Boom family and their network rescued about 800 Jews and protected countless members of the Dutch underground.
      The family was betrayed on 28 February 1944. The Gestapo raided the ten Boom home and arrested 35 people, including the ten Boom family. The Nazis did not find the secret place in Corrie's bedroom wall where six people — four Jews and two members of the Dutch resistance — were hiding. They remained in the cramped space for three more days before rescue by the resistance.
The Nazis imprisoned all the ten Boom family. Most died quickly, but Corrie and her sister were sent to the infamous concentration camp at Ravensbruck.
      In the prison, the sisters led secret worship services. They whispered hymns and led prayers, then read from a Dutch Bible they sneaked into the camp, translating aloud into German.
      Twelve days after her sister died of starvation in the camp, Corrie was saved by what many believe was a miracle. A clerical error meant Corrie was released from Ravensbruck a mere week before all the women of her age were rounded up and executed.
      Corrie returned to Holland after the war. She set up a rehabilitation centre for concentration camp survivors. In 1946, at the age of 53, Corrie returned to Germany, where she met two former Ravensbruck guards and publicly forgave them for their part in the concentration camp atrocities.
An ancient Jewish tradition says that only the blessed are given the honour of dying on the same date they were born. Whatever the truth of this belief, Corrie ten Boom died on her 91st birthday, April 15, 1983.