“The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23
The third fruit of the Spirit is Eirene—peace. Eirene is the Greek and New Testament continuation of the Hebrew concept and understanding of Shalom. The word ‘peace’ (shalom/eirene) appears 429 times in the Bible and is most often referred to as a state of inner satisfaction, contentment, serenity, and fulfillment. This condition of peace, however, is intimately connected to God and ultimately contingent upon a harmonious and integrated relationship with God in Jesus Christ.
We are taught that we cannot live at peace alone or in isolation from God or others. St. James tells us, “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:16-18). We can find peace, be at peace, hope for peace, all because God has made peace with us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We are to love one another as Christ has loved us (see 1 John 4:19) and to find peace in the process in the loving. This is only possible through a tangible and concrete relationship with the Cross. I say the Cross because, as earthly beings, we need symbols, and God, out of love, does not disappoint. We connect Jesus with the Cross so thoroughly that instead of trying to delineate the two, perhaps we should embrace the specific symbolism of the one as unique. Jesus is certainly more than the Cross, but the Cross is the symbol of all that Jesus did for us and an access point for us to peace.
Jesus promised in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” Long-loved words assure us that through His Holy Spirit, we have His peace. To find this peace in our own spiritual journey we must embrace the Cross of sacrifice and self-abandonment. We must embrace our need to give up ourselves to God and one another, to sacrifice and be a sacrifice, in order to be at peace. You have already done this at times in your life—given yourself, your help, your heart, so thoroughly that you were emptied. And yet, the memory is not one of loss; it is one of peace and connection. The Cross calls to us as the symbol of Christ-likeness and the confirmation of God’s peace.
“Till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.” (Isaiah 32:15-20)
This is the peace Jesus Christ brings. Christ was born to bring the peace of God. Christ has poured Himself out for us on the Cross on our behalf. He has paid the price for our sins and for the sins of the whole world. He has restored peace between God and God’s beloved people; He has restored peace between our neighbors and us, and God is restoring peace in His creation. God is restoring all things to their peaceful intentions; God is restoring peace.
Pick up your cross, live the sacrificial life, embrace the Holy Spirit and know peace more and more—through the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord!
Through the Cross,
What do I, Dorian Gray, *“the passenger woman on the bus,” and Narcissus have in common?
Yesterday, I gassed up my school bus after my afternoon run. As I was leaving, I noticed a county gas card on top of the pump which someone had left there by mistake, so I took the card and radioed the office. They asked me to hang on to it and when the person who left called in, they would send them to me. Now, here is the part where the story gets tricky: As I was packing up, I realized that I only had one gas card, and laughing, I realized that I must be the person who left it!
Or so I thought. When the Transportation office followed up this morning to track down the card, I was flooded with dread, afraid of looking like a fool and appearing like an alarmist by reporting a found card when it was really just my absent-mindedness at play. Silly me! Out of my mouth came words that have made me ashamed because they carried the truth, but not very well. I said I didn’t have the card, that it was picked up by the one who left it. Oh, if only I had admitted my error and let us all kick me in that moment of humble truth!
If you go to Google and search for “vanity,” you will find over ninety options for it: bathroom counters, salons, boutiques, bands, make-up products, match-maker services, social media platforms, magazines, kitchen counters, license plates, dime novels, songs list, and more, before you get to the first generic web definition of “vanity.” If you decide to search on, you find one more generic web definition as you pass 230 listings, but I stopped there. In our century it would seem there is very little concern over the “Deadly Sin” of Vain Glory, or vanity.
This is not so in the past centuries or in perhaps more biblical cultures. There are over one hundred references to vanity in Scripture; more if you read by inference than direct reference. Perhaps the most recognized passages are from the Book of Ecclesiastes: “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man's envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind,” and “vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (4:4 and 1:2). Theology, myth, and popular literature have also been concerned with vanity, from Evagrius Ponticus in the 4th century (who articulated the Eight Deadly Sins) to the Greeks in 8 A.D. (Narcissus), to Oscar Wilde (Dorian Gray 1890), and C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce 1945).
The story of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, is the account of a man who sells his soul to the devil to remain young and beautiful. Dorian finds that there is unexpected power in this ability, as others glom to be with him, thereby offering themselves up to his growing abuses. In the end, Dorian dies trying to hide or erase his evil ways rather than amend his life. This is a ‘modern’ twist on the Greek myth of Narcissus, who is so in love with his own reflection that he wounds others and disregards the world in devotion to it. In the end, Narcissus is so consumed by his obsession that out of pity, he is transformed by the gods into a daffodil, from which we derive the name for the plant genus narcissus. C. S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce of a dead woman, a wraith, who is offered passage to heaven from the hell of half-nothingness she is currently experiencing. The woman, filled with dread, in an almost panicked state, refuses to go, exclaiming, “I’d rather die…No, I can’t. I tell you I can’t!” Her embarrassment at her ethereal condition prevents her from being exposed to the very power that will free her from her hell.
In all accounts, vanity is shown to be an affliction not only of the mind, but of the soul. It is an inordinate fixation or concern for self, beauty, reputation, power, authority, which colors everything and justifies all. I wish I could say Christians are immune to such trivialities; after all, we are saved by Christ, God’s own people; but it is obviously not so. In fact, if anything, we are under greater attack to succumb to selfish, self-centered thoughts and actions than are non-believers.
I’ve learned a humbling lesson with my discovery of the lost property at the county gas pump. Feeling badly about not coming forward with my discovery that it was my card on the top of that pump, I called the lead Driver at the office to fess up. Imagine my surprise and further dismay to learn that another driver had indeed called in her lost card from the day before. Now the Transportation office was going to have to launch an inquiry to locate the “person” who took the card from me and—well, you can imagine what a mess this was going to be. Out of a fear of looking foolish, out of vanity, I was about to cause a major upheaval in the Transportation office two days before the end of school! That’s my take-home, here, my faithful friends—that my side-stepping the truth of the matter (which unbeknownst to me wasn’t even the truth, for my own card was subsequently found safely tucked where it had fallen, in storage bin below the dashboard where I normally keep it, making the found card just that, someone else’s lost and very important property) has so complicated and exacerbated the situation that I am very aware of the ripple effects of sin. For when we give into vain glory, it never simply stays with us. But as history and myth show, it consumes the world around us. Good Lord, forgive me!
Now, there is one more bit, the part we feel but don’t want to face: fear. It all comes down to fear. Fear of being thought of as (insert here) or of losing what we have or, or, or—this is what drives obsession, pride, vain glory, vanity, self-righteousness, and on and on. There are many good books and articles written about Vain Glory, vanity, and the Deadly Sins, and simply too much truth to cover here. This morning I was smothered by the oppressive company of Dorian, Narcissus, and the woman on Lewis’ Great Divorce; now I am freed by the companionship of Christ. This same attack will no doubt come out of nowhere and seek to seize you. Prayer and the immediate relinquishment to God is the only answer, and regular concerted seeking through the Holy Spirit is the only defense.
Peace in Christ,
“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom.10:17).
When St. Paul wrote about faith in his letter to the Romans, he boldly proclaimed that to grow in faith one must hear God. This hearing takes the form of reading the Scripture and encountering Jesus through the intervention of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This hearing is deeply rooted in our desire to know Jesus and to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, and it requires a willingness and openness to God. In this way, St. Paul really isn’t saying anything new; he is only affirming that the practice of ‘good listening’ applies to our faith journey as it does to our personal relationships.
St. James wrote, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (1:19) Here St. James speaks to ‘best practices’ for human interaction in which hearing is the first and primary response and reflects the attitude and desire of the person. Without the ability or willingness to hear (truly listen to) God or each other, we will not grow; worse, being unwilling to hear reflects much deeper issues of self-image and mutual respect.
Too often, we are the opposite—slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. Additionally, our desire to be heard over the willingness to hear often takes the form of a broken conversational pattern—interruption and not listening becomes the standard. In our sin, we would rather trust in ourselves than another, rather amass our own righteousness than receive another’s, rather speak our thoughts than listen to someone else. The counselors in the Book of Proverbs identified this issue long ago and did not go gently with their reflections: it is the fool who “takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing their own opinion” (Proverbs 18:2), and thus “gives an answer before they hear” (Proverbs 18:13). “The purpose in a person’s heart is like deep water,” says Proverbs 20:5, “but an individual of understanding will draw it out.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran Pastor and Theologian, wrote in Life Together, “…Listening with half an ear presumes already to know what the other person has to say.” This, he says, “is an impatient, inattentive listening, that . . . is only waiting for a chance to speak.” Janet Dunn, in her article How to Become a Good Listener, published in The Discipleship Journal, echoes Bonhoeffer: “Unfortunately, many of us are too preoccupied with ourselves when we listen. Instead of concentrating on what is being said, we are busy either deciding what to say in response or mentally rejecting the other person’s point of view.”
Bonhoeffer goes on to say that “Half-eared listening despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.” Poor listening rejects; good listening embraces. Poor listening diminishes the other person, while good listening invites them to exist, and to matter. Bonhoeffer writes, “Just as love to God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”
Good listening goes hand in hand with the mind-set of Christ (Philippians 2:5). It flows from a humble heart that counts others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It looks not only to its own interests, but also the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). It is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4).
Our inability to listen well to others may be symptomatic of a chatty spirit that is droning out the voice of God. Bonhoeffer warns, “He who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life. . . . Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”
God wants more of the Christian than just our good listening, but not less. There will be days when the most important ministry we do is square our shoulders to some hurting person, uncross our arms, lean forward, make eye contact, and hear their pain all the way to the bottom. As Bonhoeffer says, there are many times when “listening can be a greater service than speaking.” Dunn adds, “good listening often defuses the emotions that are a part of the problem being discussed. Sometimes releasing these emotions is all that is needed to solve the problem. The speaker may neither want nor expect us to say anything in response.”
One of Dunn’s counsels for cultivating good listening is to, “put more emphasis on affirmation than on answers. . . . Many times, God simply wants to use me as a channel of his affirming love as I listen with compassion and understanding.”
In this way, good listening is a great means of grace in the dynamic of true Christian fellowship. Not only is it a channel through which God continues to pour his grace into our lives, but it’s also his way of using us as his means of grace in the lives of others. It may be one of the hardest things we learn to do, but we will find it worth every ounce of effort.
Peace in Christ,
“Your computer is broken!” “Your family member is in trouble!”
“Please help! You are called on to give aid to those in need!”
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard…” Matt.10:16-17a
When Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, he was sending them through the world, that is, through the territories where non-believers would be encountered. Though he was sending them to a specific group of like-minded and well-meaning newly professed Christians, Jesus was “programing” his disciples for the reality that they would encounter both the blatant unbeliever and the unbeliever masquerading as a believer who would test the loving-kindness Jesus calls all his faithful to model and live by. Our Lord’s words of warning are as important for us today as they were for his newly-commissioned Apostles.
Over the past two months my email has been hacked twice, not an automated computer-generated hack, but a real live human being! As I have learned, this person or persons went on to exchange e-mail correspondence with anyone who responded in faith, responding to my cry for help, masquerading as me to steal money from them. To those of you on the parish distribution list who received these emails, and to those who may have replied or engaged the scammers in some way, my deepest apologies. It is a sad statement on our world when those attempting to commit fraud prey on the church.
Likewise, in the past two months several members of our Creator Family have had traumatic encounters with people—not computers or robocalls, people-- who have called them masquerading as family members or official business or bank personnel looking for aid and financial “assistance.” Some of the invented scenarios given as a reason for need immediate assistance are outlandish at best and sinful and appalling at worst, as they prey on our innate sensibilities to help. These scammers may be misguided and lost; they may have had terrible lives which did not teach them the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, kindness and cruelty. Even so, Jesus has a word for them—Wolves.
These people are preying on believers; preying on the kind and generous, the open-hearted and the trusting. The actions of these people are nothing short of evil and Jesus, knowing that the world works to produce this type of people, has strong instructions for us: “…be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”
In this passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is not talking about Satan, but the crafty and careful serpent, cautious and wise. He admonishes the disciples to be holy and innocent, trusting and kind, faithful and optimistic, but also careful and cautious. Don’t let the world taint your heart and spirit and don’t allow the fraud and ill-intent of this world to sour your witness of love and hope. Do look out in faith and expect the best but be aware of those signs that point out that things are not what they seem.
If you get a call or an email or text from anyone claiming to need your help or that your bank account, email account, insurance account, etc. has been compromised and needs your attention, DO NOT proceed. Do not give money, your account information, your personal information, or access to any area of your personal affairs. If they say they are from you bank, hang up and call your bank—NOT with the number they provide, but look up the number yourself and then call. This rule is always applied, always. Hang up and start over by looking up the information yourself—not by using the information they give you. Nothing is ever so urgent that you don’t have time to do this; if they say it is, then you know they are lying, and you know what they are—wolves! The same is true of emails. Even the most reputable and well-used companies—Paypal and Amazon, to name a few, even my own Chase credit card—are not immune from scammers appropriating their logos, letterhead and other signs that they might be from an organization you trust. NEVER click a link in an e-mail, close the e-mail, look up your bank email yourself and start a new e-mail to them (this is the same rule as the phone call back). You can avoid great hassle, hardship and possibly damaging fraud by closing the email or disconnecting the phone call, and then contacting the company directly to see if there is truly business to attend.
Horae Homileticae wrote in his commentary on Matthew, “Now the wisdom of the one (serpent) and the harmlessness of the other (dove) are very desirable to be combined in the Christian character; because it is by such a union only that the Christian will be enabled to cope successfully with his more powerful enemies” (Matthew, Vol. 11 318). These days are certainly about “coping,” are they not? I urge you to take strength and courage rather than hopelessness, for the ways the Lord is preparing us to cope. In the meantime, a few practical reminders and guidelines: I will never ask you for money by e-mail or text, and no legitimate person or company will ever ask you to pay in gift cards of any kind for anything. If you find yourself in this situation or are confronted with this sort of thing, please feel free to call me directly—I will help you.
Peace in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†