Marcellus of Tangier, Martyred Centurion

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

Everybody loves a parade, right? Well maybe not everybody. You see, Marcellus knew that Maximian’s birthday was approaching but he wasn’t looking forward to the festivities. Of course, he was careful to reveal this to nobody except those closest to him–his secret Christian brothers and sisters. When they gathered, Marcellus spoke of his anxieties for the coming celebration and his brothers and sisters offered comforting and inspiring words for him. They would not share in his decision or its consequences but they suffered similar threats and anxieties as Christians were persecuted and repressed by the Roman Empire.

Marcellus remained nervous as he stood in front his own soldiers near the end of the parade route. Maximian was being conveyed along the road on the way to the temple where sacrifice would be made in his honor. The expectation, soundly fulfilled by every unit of soldiers he had already passed, was for the soldiers to kneel before their lord Maximian as he passed. Marcellus swallowed hard as he saw Maximian’s entourage approach and heard the rustling sound of the soldiers around him dropping to their knees in loyalty to Maximian. Marcellus remained standing and could hear gasps around him as people silently willed him to kneel. The people began to fear for him as he refused to kneel and removed his belt.As he dropped it, it clattered on the stone. The soldiers around him lifted their eyes enough to see what had caused the noise and were confused to find Marcellus removing and dropping his weapons, as well. If that wasn’t enough, Marcellus removed the vine insignia that represented his loyalty to and status in the Empire and dropped it to the ground as Maximian passed.He was immediately seized by the Praetorian guard and hurried away from the crowd. His weapons, belt, rank, status, and history remained on the ground in the place where he had refused to kneel.

He was brought before a judge who ordered him to be taken to another judge. The praetorian guard conferred among themselves about the judge who was to decide Marcellus’ fate. They knew that this judge was known to be merciful to Christians–even Christian soldiers who had defected–and so they conspired to avoid this possibility for lenience. Instead, they brought him before one of their leaders. He was beaten and tried. When asked how he plead, he responded that he had laid down his worldly rank instead of denying his loyalty to Jesus Christ. He proclaimed his faith over the jeers of the assembled guards and when asked if he could not be loyal to both he insisted that he could only be supremely loyal to his slaughtered King and Savior. They beheaded him as a traitor to their lord Maximian but only made him a martyr in the name of his Lord Jesus.

G+M Worship – October 28, 2012

The following was written by Joshua for the service of worship and prayers held at Grace and Main Fellowship on October 28, 2012.

Worship on the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – October 28, 2012

Preparing and Setting the Altar

Lighting of the Christ Candle

Lord Jesus, we welcome you into this place and ask you to teach us your way so that we may truly live.
Be present among us, Lord. Fill this place with your Spirit.

Sharing our Stories

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us—sinners that we are—and hear these ours prayers:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

As we learn from our Lord who lived, died, and was raised for us, let us sing.

Singing

Lord, who has taught us not to sit in judgment, guide us to be gracious and merciful to others.

Psalm 119:105-112
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord , according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances.
I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.
Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.
I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.

 


Lord, who has taught us not to sit in judgment, guide us to be gracious and merciful to others.
Isaiah 53:3-9
Lord, who has taught us not to sit in judgment, guide us to be gracious and merciful to others. Matthew 5:1-2, 7:1-6
Lord, who has taught us not to sit in judgment, guide us to be gracious and merciful to others.

We Listen and Interpret Together

Our brother, Moses of Ethiopia, was a 4th century Ethiopian slave, bandit, thief, and murderer who hid in a monastery to escape the authorities after an attempted murder. He was converted by the brothers and became a monk at the monastery. He later became the abbot of the community and a great spiritual teacher and guide.

One story told about Moses begins with one of the brothers at the monastery committing some sin or error and a council being convened to determine his punishment. Moses was invited to the council as abbot but did not show up to the meeting. A brother was sent to fetch him to the meeting and he came, but not before taking a jug of water with a hole in it onto his shoulder. When he arrived at the meeting, his brothers asked him what he was doing. He responded, “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” The story goes that the brothers said nothing in response, dismissed themselves in silence, and forgave the errant brother.

Prayers for OthersThe Lord’s Prayer

Singing

Go now with mercy on your lips, in light of your own brokenness and sin. God has forgiven you and me and has surely forgiven not only our loved ones and family, but also our enemies and those who we do not see or notice. Go with grace in your heart and spread God’s love by sharing this grace with those you meet.


May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.
Amen.

Clarence Jordan, Farmer and Founder of Koinonia Farm

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had hosted many people before Clarence and would host many after him but Clarence Jordan was something different. In 1938, Clarence had just received his Ph.D. in New Testament and felt equipped to do whatever it was that God was calling him to. The challenge, of course, is that what had seemed so clear for so many years was suddenly cloudier. This further calling had descended upon Clarence as he studied the scripture and would not let him go. He was challenged by what he read and translated and would not allow himself to rationalize away its scandal and strength. Clarence was challenged and rebuked by the stories he enveloped himself in and found his increasing discomfort with the status quo a powerful witness to the possibility of redemption.

Clarence had been raised in a small city in Georgia named Talbotton. It seems that Clarence was always disgusted with the racism that he found everywhere he looked. Further, he was confused by the poverty of the communities around him. He didn’t get why “the way things are” included a lack for people that the Church claimed to love and care for. He didn’t get “the way things are.” He studied agriculture at the University of Georgia so that he could use his mind to carry knowledge back to the people who needed it but couldn’t afford to go and get it. In other words, he hoped to be a vessel of grace and equality for a people so far from thesource. This was his path–taking farming knowledge back to poor rural farmers–for many years but he was changed when he began to see a more essential and more fundamental problem: the spiritual roots of poverty.

Not wanting to simply apply a bandage to a wound with a deep cause, Clarence went to Southern to learn and prepare to address spiritual concerns and the spiritual foundation of the system that fed on the lives of the poor. It would be no use to fix the symptoms of the problem if the disease of a broken system was allowed to incubate within society. With degree in hand and his new wife, he moved back to Georgia to begin his life’s work–to continue in the path of God’s calling. He and his wife joined with former American Baptist Missionaries to found a community called “Koinonia Farm.” This community wasracially equal. Further, they rejected all violence and materialism. They lived together sharing everything and invited any who were truly willing to take up their cross to come and live and work on the farm. This was not received well by the powers in Georgia. They were investigated. They were harassed and threatened. They were called Communists. Yet, they didn’t seek recourse in political power. Instead, they insisted that the only way to change the region, the nation, and the world was to live out a different life in sight of the “the way things are.” They lived equality instead of demanding that others do so. Their impact is not easily overstated.

Clarence translated the New Testament into English in a translation called the “Cotton Patch” translations. For Clarence, the process of translation was about more than words or phrases but also the context of the scripture. In the Cotton Patch Gospels, Jesus was born in Gainesville, condemned by the politicians in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and was lynched. This was a powerful difference that challenged people in new ways. The scripture as Clarence translated it was not something you could simply put down and out of mind. It stuck in your brain because it shared your context. Clarence was a prolific writer and translator until the day he died in 1969.

Jerzy Popieluszko, Martyr and Enemy of the State

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

Innocent and uninteresting sounds in the middle of the night had a different meaning for Jerzy. That scratching or tapping noise might be a tree branch but it might also be a Soviet agent coming to intimidate or execute him while he slept. Worse than the occasional sound was the oppressive and seemingly unnatural silence. He’d find himself wondering aloud if it wasn’t perhaps too quiet as if there was somebody trying to be silent. Jerzy had reason to worry: he was an enemy of the state and considered a type of thought criminal. He encouraged the Polish trade union movement known as “Solidarity.” Weekly, he could be heard at worship services where he would say mass and offer reflections that condemned the Communist infiltration of Poland. These sermons were broadcast on the radio and, in practically no time at all, Jerzy was at odds with a powerful enemy.

As he continued to speak on Sunday morning, he began to notice new and intimidating faces among the people worshiping with him. He noticed that cars seemed to be following him and waiting outside of the church and his home. He knew well that they were hoping to intimidate him into silence. He also knew that if they failed in this then they would find other ways to end his resistance. As he drove back to his home one Saturday night in October, he barely saw the obstruction in the road. He jerked the wheeland found himself skidding out of control. Hemiraculously escaped the car accident and made it back to his parsonage. It was now very clear to him that the Soviet secret police had tired of trying to persuade and intimidate him and would now be content with destroying him. He continued his pastoral duties until the next Friday.

The agents crept into his home and seized him in the middle of the night. They hoped that they could break the back of the Solidarity movement by kidnapping Jerzy. Once they had him secreted away, they murdered him away from the public eye. They had tried to do it in a deniable and secretive way by engineering a car accident. When that hadn’t worked, they killed him and dumped his body in a river. This is a powerful testament to the fear inherent among the Soviets. Their actions–and all evil actions–could not face the light of day and scrutiny. They could not afford to act powerfully and in public because their control over the people would not hold. Instead, they had to work by secret and subterfuge so that they might manipulate the wills of the people. Jerzy died a martyr because he refused to stop speaking truth to the Imperial Communist State.

G+M Worship – October 21, 2012

The following was written by Joshua for the service of worship and prayers held at Grace and Main Fellowship on October 21, 2012.

Worship on the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost – October 21, 2012

Preparing and Setting the Altar

Lighting of the Christ Candle

Lord Jesus, we welcome you into this place and ask you to teach us your way so that we may truly live.
Be present among us, Lord. Fill this place with your Spirit.

Sharing our Stories

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us—sinners that we are—and hear these ours prayers:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

As we learn from our Lord who lived, died, and was raised for us, let us sing.

Singing

Lord, who loves the least and the little, teach us to trust in your deep, deep love for each of us.

Psalm 119:97-104
Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.
I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

 


Lord, who loves the least and the little, teach us to trust in your deep, deep love for each of us.
1 Kings 17:1-16
Lord, who loves the least and the little, teach us to trust in your deep, deep love for each of us.
Matthew 5:1-2, 6:25-34
Lord, who loves the least and the little, teach us to trust in your deep, deep love for each of us.

We Listen and Interpret Together


Our sister, Corrie ten Boom, was a 20th century Dutch Christian whose family hid Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. In 1944, her family was betrayed to the Nazis. She and her sister Betsie were arrested and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Corrie survived and was liberated, but Betsie died at Ravensbruck. She later commented: “Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Prayers for OthersThe Lord’s Prayer

Singing

Go now in peace, knowing that our Lord has clothed flowers of the field with glory far greater than any you can make or find. If our God, who loves birds, flowers, and all the little things of this world, has told us not to worry, then it must be because God has declared love, grace, and mercy even more so for you and me. Go in peace.


May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.
Amen.

Malchus, the Captive Monk

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

The walls of a cave are greedy things that suck the warmth from your bones and offer no comfort or consolation. Malchus was getting stiff waiting in the mouth of the cave for his pursuers. They intended to kill him when they found him and that is understandable–he had run away from them in hopes of escaping slavery. He was an asset to them that had become a liability. He could resist the call of home no longer so he had seized some food and water and set out to flee with a companion. He had seen their camels approaching speedily and knew that he could not outrun a camel. Further, he and his companion were running out of food and water and needed to find some place to stop and rest.As he awaited his master and another slave who would kill him and his fellow slave where they hid, he reflected back upon how he had ended up in this place.

 

He had strongly desired to follow after Jesus by living the monastic life of prayer and service. His family had resisted this calling because they expected it would not be especially profitable–and it wasn’t. In fact, Malchus had given up much to live a life of prayer and service but felt that he had gained much, too. He had crept out of his home in the middle of the night and was living among the monks by the time his family knew he was missing. He enjoyed the monastic life but wondered if there wasn’t something more waiting for him–if maybe he was called to something else. He heard word that his parents had died and he was grief-stricken. Then, he heard that they had left him a sizable inheritance and he became apprehensive about material gain. Under his superior’s direction, he returned home to receive the inheritance and visit the graves of his parents. However, that’s not what happened.

The Bedouins had come over the hill and surprised him. He suspected that this would not go well. They seized him and the woman he was traveling with and enslaved them. They weretorn from their plans and intentions and dehumanized as commodities to be traded and spent. For many years, Malchus served his new master without letting the poison of hatred seep into his heart. He was a good servant to the man and earned a reward for his consistent and dependable service. Malchus’ master thought it would be a great reward to give the woman he had been traveling with to Malchus in marriage. He didn’t understand that Malchus had two problems with this: (1) Malchus had taken a vow of celibacy, and (2) the woman was already married. Malchus could not do what was asked of him and prepared to take his own life so that he might not sin in this way. As he drew his blade he said, I must fear your death, my soul, more than the death of the body. Chastity preserved has its own martyrdom.Let the witness for Christ lie unburied in the desert; I will be at once the persecutor and the martyr.” The woman stopped him and said: “Take me then as the partner of your chastity; and love me more in this union of the spirit than you could in that of the body only. Let our master believe that you are my husband. Christ knows you are my brother. We shall easily convince them we are married when they see us so loving.” They had been “married” by their master but remained celibate and took care of each other in captivity.

Malchus looked ahead when he heard the men dismount their camels and approach the mouth of the cave. “This is it,” Malchus thought, “this is where I die and where my bones will lie and be bleached by desert winds.” Yet, as they approached and called out to Malchus–right before Malchus revealed and refused to defend himself–a lion leaped from the mouth of the cave and snarled menacingly at the two men. They rushed back to their camels but were unsuccessful in escaping and the lion killed both of Malchus’ pursuers before slinking off away from Malchus. Malchus stood awestruck as he called his “wife” from the cave and to the untouched camels. There was food and water and plenty of supplies to get them out of the desert and back to Malchus’ monastery. They had left so that they might return to their homes and found that God was providing for them in unpredictable ways.

When they returned, Malchus was excited to find that his monastery welcomed him back with open arms. But, his companion’s husband had died in the time she had been a slave. She mourned his death but moved to a nearby convent where she could live a life of prayer and service like Malchus. They continued to take care of each other and perpetuate the bond that had brought them together in captivity. Their unorthodox union became one of mutual support and sustenance and preserved them until the day they died.

Jerome would distill their story, years later, by writing:”Tell the story to them that come after, that they may realize that in the midst of swords, and wild beasts of the desert, virtue is never a captive, and that he who is devoted to the service of Christ may die, but cannot be conquered.”

Gerard Majella, Falsely Accused

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

Gerard’s family life was fairly typical for the nearly Neapolitan families of Italy. That is, it was fairly typical until his father died when Gerard was twelve. The family was plunged into poverty because of a lack of income and a lack of social power. As a widow, Gerard’s mother was often incapable of providing for her family because she was so easily overlooked. Like so many other widows, she was overlooked because her tragedy made others uncomfortable–almost as if they feared it was contagious. She did, however, realize that her son Gerard could be apprenticed to a tradesman and help provide for himself and for his family. So, Gerard was sent to his uncle (his mother’s brother) to learn the trade of a tailor.

He was an eager student if he was slightly weak and small for his age. He learned the trade under his uncle’s tutelage but Gerard’s uncle was very busy and not always around. Isolation and loneliness would have been preferred to what happened, however. Gerard’s uncle sent a man to help teach Gerard and watch over him as he continue to learn the trade that he had been apprenticed to. The man his uncle sent was abusive to Gerard and took advantage of him. For whatever reason, Gerard remained silent and did not share with his uncle what his hired man was doing in addition to teaching his trade. The uncle found out one day and confronted the man who immediately resigned and fled Gerard’s uncle. Damage had been done, however, and it’s hard to say what baggage Gerard carried with him as he pushed onward.

He longed to join the clerical professions and take vows at a nearby Capuchin monastery. He was rejected from the monastery–partially because of his ill health and weakness–and applied instead to a Redemptorist monastery known as the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. He was accepted as a lay brother and took on a variety of labor-intensive jobs that were of incredible service to the monastery. His work ethic was spoken of with glowing words. He was described as a model of Christian obedience because not only did he seek to do as he was told to do but to intuit why so that he might know what to do when not told specifically. In other words, Gerard wanted to do right because it was right and not because it gained him something. So, it came as a great surprise many years later when a young–obviously pregnant–woman came to the monastery.

She insisted that Gerard was the father of her child but he refused to fight her. Instead, he withdrew to silence and prayer. There was an outrage in the nearby villages and towns that one of the brothers of the monastery had broken his vows and, furthermore, had fathered a baby out of wedlock. As Gerard’s reputation was eviscerated and defiled, he remained silent and focused on prayer. Surely, his brothers must have doubted him and considered that the woman was telling the truth–after all, he offered no defense. But, Gerard felt that the truth needed no defense and was confident that the Truth would set him free.Months later, she recanted her story and denied her previous accusation.

It was not Gerard’s desire to rage against injustice and pain. Instead, Gerard wanted to find God through pain and suffering.This was not masochistic pleasure but joy inspired through a willingness to lose everything if it meant following after his slaughtered savior. He had given every penny he didn’t need to barely survive to his mother or to the poor of the nearby cities. He knew obedience in a way that so few people can comprehend partly because he knew suffering intimately and deeply. About all this, though, he was known to say, “Consider the shortness of time, the length of eternity and reflect how everything here below comes to an end and passes by. Of what use is it to lean upon that which cannot give support?” He found no rest or solace from things of the world and, instead, endeavored to find his support in Jesus. When the brothers came to his cell and found him dead they noticed that obedient and quietly-faithful Gerard had left a small note on the cell of his door. This note fitly summarized Gerard’s outlook on life: “Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills.”