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21 April 2010

The Failure of the alter-Christus

What follows is a sermon I preached in 1999, almost a year after being appointed the Vicar (a.k.a., Priest-in-Charge) of a small, mostly poor, rural mission church in Alvarado, Texas.  The year before, I had been the Curate (a.k.a., "assisting priest") at a large, wealthy, suburban parish church literally on the sea shore in Carlsbad, California.  The transition from one extreme to the other was an easy one for me.  It was a relief.

But, before the re-post of an old sermon which still means much to me, I must admit that I post it to inspire me to write about something more important.  I have a blog where I am posting all of my old sermons, but I am posting this one here, because of what I write next, belongs in this blog-- about the transcendent life.

The typical parishioner of the California parish church was of the same social "class" (and like it or not, our culture is very much divided by class) into which I had been born, raised and which I ultimately rejected.  I rejected it because it was a distraction for me.  Personally, I could have managed both the pleasant distractions of the upper class with my vocation to the priesthood.  It was the constant resistance of my friends and associates which led me to decide that most of them had decided that the spiritual life, if it was to actually be lived rather than merely acknowledged, was incompatible with the temporal life and all it had to offer.

My first parish after ordination was in upscale Fort Worth and I, there, served under a charlatan priest-- a politician and career-minded man, who, and for example, kept the wealthiest elderly "shut-in" parishioners as his own own, private parishioners to visit.  When he was forced into a vacation by our Bishop, his apparent motive for maintaining a private set of these well-to-do elderly persons became clear to myself and to my associate, the other assistant priest under the vacationing Rector.

At the end of the of the first week with the Rector away, the other Curate asked me if I had noticed anything unusual about my experiences visiting the sick and shut-in which the Rector had kept to himself.  After comparing notes, it became clear that these were the richest, and we had each had at least two of those ask each of us if it was really true, as our superior had been telling them, that naming our Rector as a beneficiary in their will was the same as naming the parish church?  The answer, of course, was "No!"

I have never been the tattle-tale type.  Perhaps because of my awareness of having a priestly vocation as early as age ten-- probably even earlier-- I had an awareness that persons usually did the best they could do under the circumstances presented them, so judgment in the form of punishment was rarely a concern for me.  If someone had seen the injustice of poverty and how it weighed so heavily on the spirits of loved ones, one might find it tempting to justify stealing from the rich to give to the poor.  In this instance, "stealing" may be too strong a word, but the situation stunk none-the-less.

I don't know if my associate reported any of our discussion to our Bishop, but I do know that soon afterward, the Bishop's chaplain told me that he had heard that the superior under which I served was in a position to "ruin a perfectly good priest," only a year out of seminary, and therefore, he had been instructed by our Bishop to "rescue" me and find a more nurturing parochial setting for me to complete the two-year diocesan program for "baby priests."  

I spent the next two years in another wealthy parish in Fort Worth.  I can characterize it fairly well with the exchange I had with a Vestry member in my front yard.  I lived in the house adjacent to the church called "the Curacy" or, more simply, the Curate's house.  Across the street were mansions from the 1920's.  Down the street were very modest frame homes built in the 1940's.  One Saturday afternoon, I was out mowing the lawn when a physician who also happened to be a community activist came out of his mansion and crossed the street to chat. 

He wanted to ask me, his priest, a question which had been weighing on his mind.  He asked me, 

Doesn't it really come down to that all Republican's are damned, and all Democrats are saved?

He elucidated on his stated hypothesis for some time, making it clear that he was not intending humor before restating the question and leaving me standing there wondering where to begin.

The community activists had infiltrated that parish long before I had been called on to serve there.  Literally, infiltrated, is the correct word.  Persons, like the man asking me to respond to his  theory of the salvific merits of the DNC, who had no belief system which they had not already rejected, joined the parish, sought and mostly obtained leadership positions, and then set out to use their power, influence and money to subvert and destroy that which was perceived by their associates as "the enemy." 

As I stood there, letting the mower wind down, I was aware that the this was a "sign up with us or be destroyed" moment being presented to me by one of their members.  The man was on the Vestry-- and that meant he had some control over my stipend (the word for "salary" used by priests due to an implicit acknowledgment that there is a distinction between a job or career and a priestly vocation). 

I also knew--- although he believed, wrongly, that I was forbidden from knowing --that  he had pledged exactly $12.00 to the church (out of his hundreds of thousands of dollars of annual income) whereas, I pledged $1,300.00 a year (out of my $22,500 stipend, out of which I first paid thirty percent in self-employment tax).  Guess what he  later considered to be the scandal-- the amount of his pledge or that I knew the amount of his pledge?  Therefore, I knew that this was a man who could help me, I knew that he had come out to ask me the ridiculous question for the very purpose of determining whether I was for sale, and I knew that I was dealing with a man who was ready, willing and desirous of causing me to suffer.   I was not for sale, never have been, and never will be. 

My answer was one of pastoral concern for that man's soul, cautioning him from allowing his temporal concerns to demonize those with differing ideological views, and furthermore, asking him to guard his soul from presuming that God approved of, much less cared about, his politics and methods.

Later, his community activist group, going under the front name of "The Council of the Laity" approached me and made it clear that if I was willing to cooperate with their short-term goal of getting rid of the Rector (my superior, and a truly holy priest) that they had the ability to elevate me to succeed him.  I asked why anyone would seek to be a priest of persons whose spiritual pursuits were always slaves to their worldly power.  They didn't need to answer, and I offered it it rhetorically anyway.

There is an old joke about who really matter in the Church.  The way I heard it is a Rector (head-priest), a Curate (assistant Priest) and the Choir Director- Organist are alone before the Altar and with pious intonation, chanting the following:
Rector - "I am the Rector of this Church and I make $70,000 a year."
Curate - "I am the Curate of this Parish and I make $25,000 a year."
Choir Director - "I am the Choir Director of this place and I make $110,00 a year" and then, after letting the solemn intonation linger at the end, with the flamboyance a la Ethel Merman, sings, "and... there's... NO Business, Like SHOW Business!"

The community activists got rid of the Parish Secretary, the Organists and me, in that order.  Four months lather, they achieved their goal and sent the Rector packing.  I ended up with an office overlooking the beach of southern California.  I was jaded.   Jaded with the Church and jaded with the rich and powerful.

I found my delight and joy of being a priest quite by accident.  I smoke.  

I would go outside to smoke several times a day during the week, and so became a familiar and regular fixture in the courtyard often traversed by the indigenous homeless persons who were dependent upon the generosity of the tourists.  Quite a few of them were surprised to learn that while I did not often have any money to give them, I was happy to make coffee and sit and listen.  Based upon the time these homeless men (and a very few women) would spend sipping coffee with me and asking questions or simply telling me their stories, it seemed to me that they were far more interested in spiritual things than they were worldly things.  I began to wonder if, perhaps, their poverty was more indicative of a dissatisfaction with things temporal than a mark of failure.

Secondly, because of the high cost of real estate in southern California, I rented a home inland, in the desert, near what is locally known as "the back gate" of Camp Pendleton, the United States Marine Corps base.  Most of my neighbors were either active Lieutenants or Captains with families, or retired Marines not wanting to stray far from the men and women they had learned could be trusted.  I, too, learned why those men and women were deserving of trust.

So it is that the Marines, the homeless, and the least wealthy in my surroundings became my friends, my neighbors, and my flock.  Between those three classifications, there ceased to be any meaningful distinction, and with that realization, so did the disconnection between flock and a church structure.

I am loathe to claim any edge "over" any priests who have not come to share my realization in that regard.  None-the-less, I do take it to be a wisdom which I have gained as a Priest, and one which I believe has made become more like the Priest I had come to hope I could be after witnessing and reading about such Priests.  That wisdom, and so I claim it to be, has served me well; and, I trust, it has served others.  I have a vocation, but I have no Altar.

As I wrote before, I am jaded.  I remain haunted by the distraught young man who showed me his priestly credentials one day in my Fort Worth parish office, explaining that while his marriage fell apart, he had suffered greatly, been asked to leave his work at the Altar so as not to scandalize the church and now found himself ill-equipped and obviously unable to recover from such an unexpected shattering of his world.  I write, "obviously unable" because the man was living in his car.  He asked me for help.

I sat there behind my desk, not yet two years a Priest myself, listening to his story, seeing that his need was so much greater than my resources that anything I did would be insufficient.  I took him to my Rector's office and introduced the two.  Father Twyman, the truly holy priest I mentioned before, met with the destitute man for about an hour.  During that time, I sat in my office and the haunting feeling began-- the one which is still with me to this day.  

Something is wrong.  How could a priest, so closely linked with the Church-- in some ways, being the embodiment of Christ-- the alter-Christus-- how could he be so un-valued?

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
Father Twyman and I spoke about our visitor later that day.  He and I both agreed that his needs were far beyond merely giving him money (and the Rector virtually emptied his discretionary fund in helping the man), but both of us were so astounded as to how such a man could be so utterly cut-off from the Church.  It turns out that the Church into which I was ordained does this habitually-- no man left behind is a concept that, at best, draws blank stares from the hierarchy.  Father characterized the cast-away Priest as an innocent who the Church let fall through he cracks and which he feared would forever remain forgotten because to restore the man to the fold would require the Church to admit failure, and such was not likely to happen.

I often carry a "holy card" with an image of St. Martin of Tours.  It represents for me, my hope and my penance.  You see, if I knew, then, what I know now, I would have moved heaven and earth to have restored that man.  After he left, and the haunting began, my intuition was telling me that there was more to story than I was hearing.  I know what that story is now, and I, myself have heard, "There must be more to the story than I am hearing" many times-- always to mean-- "you did something to deserve this from your family, your friends, your neighbors, your employer, an dfrom God-- otherwise it would not have happened"
What I know of the missing story is that persons, not believing in evil, are complicit with evil; and such persons will go to great effort to deny their culpability in allowing evil to "pick-off" an innocent.
Martin of Tours was a ranking soldier who met a poor elderly beggar one day in the snow.  Instead of passing by, he stopped, drew his sword and cut his own cloak in half.  He gave the half to the old man.  Upon looking back, the old man had changed in appearance.  The man was Christ Jesus.

Maybe it was Christ Jesus in my office and his needs were so great that I did not know where to begin to meet then.  Maybe it was "merely" an alter-Christus who sat in my office.  Either way, the man left my office with nothing of value and left me his haunting-- a constant reminder that giver and taker are each an alter-Christus.

Not many Priests, in my experience, ever give a thought to their being an alter-Christus.  God help me if I ever allow myself to forget.

Now, because my friends and associates are not priests, and because it addresses the giver and taker which exists, spiritually, in all mankind, here is the sermon I began this blog to share:

"Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Last year, not long before I brought my family back to Texas from Southern California, there was an article in the San Diego paper which contained a particularly sharp social commentary for that region. The emphasis was on the high profile charitable giving of the high profile persons who spend their lives in front of cameras.

Night after night on the evening news the antics of Hollywood stars would be showcased, and so often these dealt with the generous donation of time and money given by the busy actors and actresses. What the columnist noted so well in his article was that the ample generosity of the movie stars tended to have a common emphasis, and a common lacking.

He choose several illustration which were then current public events, but the list included such things as the SPCA, those against wearing fur, my all time favorite, "Save the Whales" and the similar "Save the seals" Why so much attention to animal rights? Why such a common focus among the Hollywood elite?

The author suggested that what they had in common, was more readily identified by what they all lacked. Virtually all of the causes put forth and funded by Hollywood stars, by political persons, and by virtually everyone else in public positions showed a trend to give charitably to institutions which did not require themselves to change. That is, none of the charities supported require the givers to make any personal sacrifice, any change in how they lived their lives—in that they continued to do as they pleased, and would be personally unaffected if their charity was successful in their aim due to their efforts or if it was a dismal failure.

There was no personal investment possible in any of the charities—and that included AIDS research for the most part. In fact, AIDS research might be considered an attempt by some to eliminate a threat which otherwise would require a change in lifestyle.

The author's suggestion was that the most common form of charity was anything that did not have a moral code associated with it—anything that did require looking inward at one self, but might expect others to change.

I had a discussion late last week with another Christian concerning moral teachings of the Church. Yet, my brother in Christ talked about the Church protesting for a global minimum wage, and standing firm against various political intrusions on the Church.

I finally had to stop him, and remind him we were talking about the Church's responsibility to teach morals, and yet he had digressed immediately into speaking of the Church moral activism.

This is where we, the Church, have erred so often in the past. It is perfectly in keeping with the social commentary on Hollywood. We seek to act rather than teach. We seek to want the Church to go forward by compelling, and even by constraining others, but without allowing others to be convicted as we are to be convicted by the faith.

Again, I use the School Prayer issue as an example. What about a non-Christian Football Player on the field? He is not edified by our prayer, and his soul seems to be of no concern for us. He is not being taught—instead, he is being separated from us—the Biblical word for being set apart from the Church is accursed. To curse is not the work of the Church.

So what about a global minimum wage? In the name of a descent standard of living, the Jesuits Priests—once known for being the best scholars and teachers of the Church—are now arming South American peasants with Uzis. And they have been for twenty years or more.

You see, nothing is required of us, no changes are necessary in our lives if our social action can be substituted for the work of the Church—and that is true even if we are within the Church and are social activists in the "Name of God".

I tell you the truth, we will not turn one soul to God, if ours is not first turned to Him. We will take no one of the world to become a "stranger in a strange land"—that is an Ambassador of Christ IN, but not OF the world. We will change no one, if we ourselves are not changed. We will not bring anyone to make sacrifice unless we ourselves are making that Sacrifice, and none will come to know God, unless we, ourselves, know Him.

I also am compelled to remind you that we are not building the Kingdom of Heaven. We cannot build it—that is His Kingdom, and it is His New Creation, and it is His work—not ours. "I go to prepare a place for you" He said. He also told us that when He comes to take us into His Kingdom, this world will be destroyed.

Rather than looking at a coin to decide what to do with it, what we need to be doing is looking in the mirror. We need to see that the image there, is a reflection of the image and likeness of God—however distorted we might have made it. But it is His image which He gave us, and we cannot destroy it. When we look into a mirror, what we see belongs to God, and that is what we are to render unto Him.

It costs something of us. Our faith does not—ought not—cost anyone else anything at all—it should only cost us. But for those who pay the price—the price equal to the value of our own lives, we may find that others are redeemed by our paying.

Last week I mentioned that we are a Church that not only has an "Altar call", but that we have an Altar to go along with it. I will go further and tell you something that not many Churches can claim, but this one can. In this Church we have the fullness of the Church as the Church of the Apostles was full. We have all four orders of the Church preserved and in direct succession from the Apostles. Through that we have all seven Sacraments that are called for by Scripture, preserved as they were in the Church of the Apostles.

We have all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and we have all of the enthusiasm of the Apostolic Church. We have all of the blessings and the beauty of the Worship of the Apostles. We have all of this because those who went before us knew them to be important, and they paid the price so that we could have them and they paid a price because they believed that they were called to pay it.

Furthermore, in this Church we have the fullness of God's word revealed to us in Scripture, without addition, without deletion, and without change. In this Church the teachings of the Apostles and their successors are taught without addition, without omission, and without change.

In other words. here, at this very place, we have everything that God intended us to have as an ecclesia, as a Gathering, as a Church, to know Him, love Him, and serve Him by loving one another in Him and continuing the work of Christ on earth until He comes to take us to Himself.

Those claims are not exaggerated, they, in fact, can be substantiated.

There are only three parts of the whole of the Church on earth which can make those claims, and you happen to be seated in one of them. Whether you know it our not—in fact whether you believe it or not—to be able to make those claims means that this place is the most precious place on earth. After nearly two thousand years of war, of turmoil, of hate, and of all others sins, we are gathered here in the fullness of the faith and the fullness of the practice of the Body of Christ. Not many have made it. Yet, here we are.

In many synagogues, and in many of the Churches around here, to belong to such an assembly, would require that you give a set amount. They can, and do, require that you pay a certain amount of money each year to be a member. By such policies, they may have bowling alleys for their youth groups, they may have vans to pick up their shut-in's, they may have huge and paved parking lots, and they may have wonderful sound systems. But they do not have claim to the fullness of the Church as Christ intended.

In all of Johnson County, only three Churches can make that claim of fullness, and only ours is east of Cleburne. They can have their bowling alleys, parking lots, their vans and busses, their sound systems, and their paved parking lots—I wouldn't trade what we have for any of that if my life depended on it.

But they have one thing that I do want. For the most part, those churches which require a certain amount of money to be a member of their assembly have HUGE memberships. They have huge membership because to pay for something makes it important in a special way.

I was reading a Model Railroader magazine a while ago. A man about my age had a young son who had just destroyed a scratch built scale structure he had completed after hundreds of hours of work over more than a year of evenings. It was exquisitely detailed, and precisely assembled. While at work, his five year old son got it out to play with along with some Matchbox Cars. Apparently the imagined play had something to do with a lot of cars crashed into the thin, wooden walls of the model.

His dad came home to find a pile of little more than sawdust. The man went to the hobby shop with his son, and using the boy's weekly allowance, (and quite a bit of his own money), the two choose a new model kit. They brought it home, and for a half an hour a night, they worked together cutting and painting, and gluing the wood to create a fine building. A few months later, the five year old boy could finally see the completed model that he had helped pay for, and had helped build. The boy would never have dreamed of taking that structure for granted.

His father wrote of the pride they both shared while his son carefully and gently set the scale model on the train layout. He wrote of the skill s his son had learned, and were now his own, and he wrote of the value that the model had gained in his son's eyes—and of course, in his own.

I want you each to consider what this Church means to you. It costs you nothing to be a member, but how much more precious is She if She costs you much—if She is the product of your own giving, your own work, your own hands, and your own lips which build her up? God knows how that is when ever he beholds you—the work of His hands. I want this Church, in all of Her fullness, to be the work of your hands.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

These are the Lessons appointed for that Sunday...

Proper 24 The Sunday closest to October 19

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed
your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your
mercy, that your Church throughout the world may
persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your
Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Preface of the Lord's Day

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah   Isaiah 45:1-7
Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and ungird the loins of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: 2 "I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut asunder the bars of iron, 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me. 5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I gird you, though you do not know me, 6 that men may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. 7 I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the LORD, who do all these things.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.


96 Cantate Domino Psalm 96, verses 1-9; page 725
1 Sing to the LORD a new song; *
sing to the LORD, all the whole earth.
2 Sing to the LORD and bless his Name; *
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.
4 For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; *
he is more to be feared than all gods.
5 As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *
but it is the LORD who made the heavens.
6 Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *
Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!
7 Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples; *
ascribe to the LORD honor and power.
8 Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name; *
bring offerings and come into his courts.
9 Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; *
let the whole earth tremble before him.

A reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2 We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you; 5 for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. Matthew
Glory to you, Lord Christ
    Matthew 22:15-22
Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the money for the tax." And they brought him a coin. 20 And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" 21 They said, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." 22 When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Christ.

These are the notes from my Bible which I once printed out with the appointed Lessons as part of my week-long preparation of a Sunday Sermon...


1 Thessalonians: Paul went to thessalonica on his 2ndMJ with Silas (49-52) after leaving Philippi in the summer of 50. (Acts 17:1) The city is now called Salonika and was a trade center in Paul's time on the Egnatian Way.

The city was highly pagan, and archeologists have unearthed many idols as well as statues of priestesses. Inscriptions indicate that they had no real concept of life after death.

When there, Paul stayed in the house of Jason (See Acts 17:1-15).

As the Jews persecuted the new gentile converts (as the did in Jerusalem--as did Paul before being knocked off his high horse), so Timothy became the bishop to them so that their instruction and support could continue after Paul's departure.

Once Paul reached Corinth, he wrote them this letter to respond to questions they posed to Timothy from there in the winter of 50. Most of the questions and problems dealt with the concept that Jesus was to return at any time. Paul believed this, as did all Christianity, but the way in which the Church in thessalonica dealt with it was unusual.

The date of late 50 or early 51 makes this the oldest letter of Paul's in Scripture. (Letter 2 was written a few months later). Only Matthews Gospel is known to be older. This is only about twenty years after the First Easter.

Believe it or not--=even the 19th C German scholars have not disputed Pauline authorship! The second letter has had some speculation as to authorship suggested but on very loose arguments.

The model by which the Gospel should be proclaimed is taken from Paul's work there. (Selfless, God Centered, without regard to popularity, society, the world, the government, or anything other than the Truth).

That Paul, as Greek speaking, could go anywhere in the empire and preach is something that is marvelous, as well as a something that later empires would try to recreate with less holy results.

The miracle that all of the empire was so easily accessible because of roads, and language, has led other generations of missionaries to begin the evangelical work by first bringing the western culture, then the western language, and then, finally, the Gospel to primitive or barbaric peoples. This forcing of Culture has not been as effective as Paul's taking advantage of the situation which existed apart from his own work.

The forcing of Latin upon the converts and thus the requirement (lifted only in the 1960's) of the Liturgical use of Latin was (I believe) a leftover of the concept that the "Christian Empire" was to spread the Gospel and Culture of the Roman West throughout the world as the Romans and Greeks had done since Alexander.

Note that the early writing does not diminish the doctrine--in fact, basically the entire Apostle's Creed is found in these two letters.

Issues of Christian living (not just faith) are also included--and the tie between the two is, as it has always been, that what one believes dictates what one does. Holiness is that which we have hope of attaining through the Blood of Christ Jesus, and living in holiness is that which we attain by being part of His Body.

The thrust of the theology in this letter is eschatological, and it is the instruction to them in maters of life after death that become the focus of the second letter as well.

1 Thessalonians 1:1: One commentary suggests that this opening is in keeping with an official letter (as opposed to family letter) and thus the two "witnesses" which are in accord with Deut 17:6.
Silvanus is also Silus, mentioned as a prophet in Acts 15:22(32); 17:4. Silus is Greek name, Silvanus is Latin.

1 Thessalonians 1:3: Steadfastness in hope is an expression that might makes us suspect at this point that Paul is writing to a Church under persecution.

Note Faith, hope and love all appear here. With them is work.
1 Thessalonians 1:5: Manifest by Chrismation? Manifest by their acceptance? Manifest by their steadfastness under persecution?
1 Thessalonians 1:6: Infliction confirms the suggestion that Paul writes to a persecuted church.
1 Thessalonians 1:7: Remaining faithful even under persecution is the example of which Paul speaks. It is not that they were any nicer, or any better at theology--in fact--their instruction was not completed because Paul left before completing it.
1 Thessalonians 1:9: Their conversion seems to have been heralded. Consider that it may have been so well known due to irony, as in--even those wicked Thessalonians have accepted the Word, and turned away from their ways.

1 Thessalonians 1:10: The Parousia, is a theme of these two letters. Also, eschatology is connected to persecution in that the "wrath to come" has a certain reality for a persecuted Church, and thus their minds are set on what they hope.

Note: Jesus is Son, in heaven, raised from the dead, and will come again.

1 comment:

cregil said...

I was intending to locate an appropriate image for "alter-Christus" when a web search on the term demonstrated to me that most seem to confuse the Latin, "alter" (with an e) meaning "other" or "another" with the word "altar" (with an a) which is a place of sacrifice. The vast majority of images show a Priest standing at the Altar. That is NOT what the phrase means!

Alter-Christus, another Christ, refers to the priest when he is acting as another Christ -- that is, Christ being present in the action of the Priest-- made real-- not limited to the sacramental-- not even really related to the sacrament of the Altar in any way.

Goodness! What did all of those priests posting those Paten & Chalice images with the term do while in seminary? I fear such men believe their service as the alter-Christus begins and ends with the Mass. I fear, because they believe it, it is probably so.