Telling the Stories that Matter: July 29 – Martha of Bethany, Unafraid to Hope


Martha had a home in Bethany near Jerusalem and it was here that Jesus often rested and visited. Her brother and sister–Lazarus and Mary–are regularly mentioned with her. Often, the story that we remember of them is when Jesus visited and Martha was busy preparing and working to provide for Jesus. Her sister, Mary, was sitting at Jesus’ feet.Martha chided Mary about not helping and Jesus corrected Martha saying that Mary had chosen correctly by being present with him. It’s a popular scene for sermons and stories and, yet, it is not the only place we see Martha–whom Jesus loved.

Mary and Martha had sent word to their friend Jesus that Lazarus was sick and likely to die. They expected him to come quickly because of his dying friend and provide the healing that they had seen with their own eyes. At first, their anxiety was high but their hope remained fixed on Jesus’ intervention. They had seen him heal strangers so, surely, he would heal a dear friend like Lazarus. Yet, he did not come immediately. Instead, he waited and conversed with his disciples. He took the moment to teach those close to him even if it involved anxiety and pain.

As the days passed, hope dwindled and confusion reigned in the minds of those close to Jesus. Martha must have wondered why Jesus delayed. Every passing traveler must have attracted her attention even as she cared for and served her brother. Finally, Lazarus died and with him Martha’s hope. They buried him, they mourned him, and they wondered what could possibly have kept Jesus. They gave up hope. They wondered if Jesus had been waylaid by bandits. They wondered if Jesus had forgotten them.Martha–whom Jesus loved–was forced to deal with the anxiety and pain of the cold grip of grief.

Finally, Jesus arrived at the entrance to their land and somebody told Martha that he had come. She left her family and friends and ran out to meet him. Mary remained with the mourners. Who can know what thoughts flew through Martha’s head as she ran? When she met him, she lamented: “Lord, if you had been here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.”Feeling a faint glimmer of hope that begged to be believed in but demanded to be doubted she continued, “But, even now, I know that you can do anything…” Perhaps, she was just telling him that she still loved and trusted him even if he had let her down. Perhaps, she was asking for a miracle. And yet, perhaps, she didn’t really know why she was saying it except that she had faith in this Jesus whom she loved–and whom loved her. She was asking for permission to hope.

“Lazarus will rise again,” he said.

Martha, not wanting to fan the flames of hope if they would only die away again, replied, “Of course… on the last day–in the great resurrection.” Martha had grown used to the saccharine sweet words of the mourners and friends who comforted her with anxious phrases.They saw her hopelessness and offered sickly assurance to replace it. She thought that Jesus was offering bland support because he didn’t know what else to say.

Instead, Jesus said something shocking: “I am the resurrection. I am life. Whoever trusts me will live, even though they die. Death is not the end of all things for those who trust in me–I am life itself and I shall conquer death.” Having said this, he asked her, “Do you trust me?”

Martha looked into his eyes and knew that hope and trust placed in this man–Jesus–is not misplaced. She replied, “Yes, Lord, I trust you. You are the Messiah. You are the Son of God.You are what happens when life takes a body.”

In the story, Jesus goes to the tomb and calls Lazarus out of death. Jesus defies the powers of the world that say that death is the end and the ultimate threat. Instead, Jesus shows that those who place their trust and hope in the incarnation of life have nothing to fear in death. Jesus defied the hope-killers by offering life even in the presence of death. Lazarus comes out of the tomb and continues to live. This is an amazing scene but it is not the only amazing scene in the text. Before Jesus raises Lazarus from out of death, Jesus resurrected Martha’s hope by assuring her that death is not the end and is not insurmountable–a point he would make again through his crucifixion. Jesus gave hope back to Martha and this is, perhaps, as amazing of a miracle as the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2v9bmZD

Advertisements

Telling the Stories that Matter: July 17 – Bartolome de las Casas, Priest, Bishop, Opponent of Slavery

Bartolome de las Casas was born in Seville, Spain, in 1484 and so he was only nine years old when Christopher Columbus returned to Seville to tell of the world he had discovered to the west.Columbus had gained the favor of queen Isabella and king Ferdinand II by insisting that there was another route to the East Indies that didn’t involve traveling through Arabia but, instead, meant sailing west from Spain to approach the Indies from the other side. This interested the Spanish nobles because access to the East Indies, unencumbered by Italian and Arabian merchants and rulers, meant a lucrative trade in spices. In other words, the rich could get richer if Columbus was right. Columbus, of course, was wrong and had severely underestimated the circumference of the Earth but in his error he had stumbled upon the land we call the Americas. Bartolome was fascinated by the tales of a distant land and different people and so he was thrilled when Columbus brought several of their men and women off of his ship and paraded them before the curious crowds. They came in chains and did so unwillingly but this fact was overlooked by those who were enchanted with dreams of foreign riches and conquest. When Columbus returned for his second voyage, Bartolome’s father and uncle went with him and Bartolome was left behind to imagine.

Bartolome’s father brought him a slave to be his servant and he developed a friendly relationship with the man. When Bartolome was eighteen, he went with his father and uncle to what we now know as Hispaniola aboard the ship captained by Nicolas de Ovando. Bartolome had spent years imagining that foreign land and it had become something mythical in his own imagination. Consequently, Bartolome was horrified to see the brutality and cruelty being perpetrated against the people of the island by virtue of their different appearance and different language. The Spanish settlers were given land to which they had no legitimate claim and slaves with which to work their ill-gotten gains. Bartolome was uncomfortable with the savage approach the Spaniards were taking and, as a Dominican priest, began to wonder if this wasn’t a repudiation of Jesus’ way of love and mercy. Columbus was sending native peoples back to Spain as currency to repay his debts to the crown and wealthy financiers. Bartolome began to question the rightness of such barbarism. Bartolome began ministering to the native people in whatever little ways he could but it never seemed to be enough. Then, one day, Bartolome heard a Dominican priest named Antonio de Montesinos preach about the evil being committed against the people and being called “progress.” Antonio’s preaching–he was the first clergy member to vocally oppose the Spanish actions in the colonies–seemed to give Bartolome permission to join the fight for liberation and love.

Bartolome’s first decision was to free every slave on his settlement and to renounce the land he had been gifted. Having set an example of the way of the Kingdom of God he called upon other settlers to do the same, yet they refused and Bartolome was forced to travel back to Spain to seek reform. At his impassioned request he received permission to establish a settlement at Cumana in the northern portion of the region we call Venezuela. Bartolome imagined a settlement where native people and Spaniards would co-exist and help each other to live peacefully and comfortably. The problem, though, was the tension that had already developed between the Spaniards and the native people in the region. When Bartolome left the settlement, fighting would break out and people would die. Eventually, Bartolome left the settlement after Spanish raids took most of the native people as slaves and went to the Dominican monastery in Santo Domingo. From there he began to write accounts of the brutal murders of native people by Spaniards who claimed the yoke of Christ the Crucified. He lobbied Spain for laws that would protect the people upon whom they had intruded so much already. Meanwhile, he engaged in missionary work among native tribes and led many to place their faith in Jesus even though counter-arguments abounded in the colonists with whom they were acquainted. Though it meant defending himself against treason, Bartolome returned to Spain and was able to bring about new laws that abolished Columbus’ way of doling out land for support and slaves for loyalty. When Bartolome died in July of 1566 he was in Madrid but his heart still rested with the people he had learned to love in a distant and fantastic world.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2tiDytl

Telling the Stories that Matter: July 10 – Felicitas and her Seven Sons, Martyrs

Felicitas was well acquainted with the costs of her faith. She had lost her beloved husband in service to the Church–likely to the transforming furnace of martyrdom–and been left behind to raise her seven sons without his help. She was very wealthy thanks to the considerable financial resources that she and her husband had accumulated together. Of course, like nearly all of the early Christians, she understood herself–and her husband as well when he was alive–to be a steward of gifts given to the Church. The Church was obligated to pour itself out for others and its stewards were charged with putting the wealth and valuables of the Church into the hands of those in need of God’s gifts and blessings. She provided food to the hungry and shelter to the homeless and in doing so she advanced the Kingdom of God among a people outcast from polite Roman society. But those who had something to lose with the advancement of the Kingdom of God–those with power and influence in the empire–were understandably uncomfortable with Felicitas and her seven sons: Januarius, Felix, Philip, Silvanus, Alexander, Vitalius and Marcial. If they wanted to stop her and her sons then they would have to devise a plan to manipulate those who had the power to put an end to Felicitas and her seven sons.

So, the priestly advisers to the emperor Marcus Aurelius plotted against Felicitas and decided that she could be forced into denying her faith and affirming the values of Rome if the leverage was sufficient. They dressed up in their most impressive ceremonial regalia and came before Marcus Aurelius with deceit in mind. They insisted that the gods demanded a sacrifice to appease their terrible anger and stay their horrible wrath. Furthermore, they said that there was a particular woman being called upon by the gods to make this sacrifice: Felicitas. Marcus Aurelius conceded to their demands and called upon the prefect of Rome–Publius–to arrest Felicitas and force her to make sacrifice to the Roman gods.When they brought her in, they decided to bring her seven sons along with her to serve as leverage because they had heard of her considerable commitment to the God of the Christians and suspected that she might resist their demands–they had no idea how right they were. At first, they simply demanded that she do it to appease the gods of Rome and protect its people. But Felicitas identified their deception for what it was and so Publius questioned her sons, as well. Publius was furious to find out that her sons were equally as devoted to the Christian faith. He didn’t want to report his failure to Marcus Aurelius–especially considering the glares he was receiving from the emperor’s advisors–and so he decided to try one more tactic.

Labeling Felicitas and her seven sons as traitors to Rome, Publius commanded them to make sacrifice or suffer the consequences. One by one, the sons were dragged before the judges appointed by Publius and forced to kneel to accept their punishment. Publius offered to stay his wrath if Felicitas would make sacrifice and then, each time when Felicitas refused, he ordered the executioners to kill one of her sons. First, her eldest son Januarius was whipped to death while Felicitas was forced to watch. He forgave his murderers and professed his faith and each of his brothers followed in his footsteps. Each of them knew that it was their calling to profess their faith in God’s mercy and grace even if it cost them their lives. Each of them knew that it was their mother’s calling to refuse sacrifice no matter the cost. Second, they beat Felix to death with a club. When this proved especially gruesome, they decided to beat Philip to death with the same club. Amazed that Felicitas still refused to make sacrifice, they threw Silvanus from the balcony and he died on impact with the ground. Fifth, sixth, and seventh, they beheaded Alexander, Vitalis, and Martialis as if they had grown tired of slaughter and simply wanted the task done. Finally, when Felicitas still refused to make sacrifice, they threw her into prison for several months hopefully to dwell in her grief. When she was brought again before Publius she maintained the faith that had cost the lives of her seven sons and was herself killed for it. Felicitas and her seven sons knew the costs associated with faith in Jesus and paid them willingly and eagerly because it was meager in comparison to the rewards of their calling.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2tGnChE

Telling the Stories that Matter: July 1 – Moses the Black, Martyr, Peacemaker, Convert

Moses was a slave to an Egyptian slaveholder and did his job only because he was forced to do so. He was known as a man of excess who ate too much and drank too much as well as being sexually immoral and physically and verbally abusive. Eventually, he was cast out of the home of his master because he was finally caught stealing from the coffers and then he had murdered another slave to cover over his offense. He was cast into the wilderness but his hard life and dark desires had formed him into the kind of man who could survive for quite a while with very little. For those years he was fueled only by a dark rage and vengeful passion. He assembled around himself a band of thieves and bandits who obeyed his commands and executed his sinful desires. Having placed himself in a position of dominance and control he was able further to drift into the grasp of corruption–indeed Moses could be said to “live by the sword.” One night he swam across a stream, with a knife clenched in his teeth, to murder a man in his sleep. He had targeted this man because the man’s dog had foiled a previous robbery attempt by Moses and his fellow bandits. In that attempt, many of the band that followed Moses were arrested. Luckily for his victim–and for Moses–the dog alerted the owner and the authorities yet again. Moses knew he would be executed for his many crimes if he was caught and so he fled so that he might keep his freedom.

He fled from the authorities who were now searching for him and found refuge in a monastery in the desert of Scetes near Alexandria. At first, it was a convenient place to hide where the authorities would not come and take him and nothing more but through the slow and steady ministry of the monks, he began to be converted to the faith of his hosts. After many long day, he finally professed faith in the one who had said that all who live by the sword will die by the sword. He renounced his past life and sins and devoted himself to the monastic life even as he failed to fit into it well. He was a novice in the faith and often asked questions of his brothers so that he might learn how to live like a Christian. He now believe that his previous way of living was bankrupt and led to death but he knew no other way and so he had to be taught slowly. One night, thieves broke into the monastery to take some of their meager possessions. Being a big man and given to adventure, he disarmed each of the men and dragged them by the collar of their clothing into the chapel where the monks were praying. He interrupted their worship to ask their advice: “I don’t think it’s Christian to hurt them,” Moses said, “so what do I do with them?” The thieves looked at the peaceful man who had skillfully disarmed them without a weapon and were impressed by his words. If Moses the Black could find peace through Jesus, they reasoned, then they could do the same. Soon, they converted.

Moses spent the rest of his life trying to become the best follower of Jesus that he could be. It was hard and though he was not especially gifted for the monastic life–his background game him no assistance–he grew slowly and steadily. Once, he was asked to attend a meeting of monks to discuss an appropriate penance for a brother who had sinned against the others.Moses didn’t show up on time and so they sent a man to fetch him but Moses was unwilling to come. Finally, the brother in charge of the meeting went to bring Moses to the meeting and Moses agreed to do so because of his love and respect for the man. Before he left, though, he grabbed a jug of water that had a small hole in it. They walked all the way back to the meeting with the water leaking out behind him. When he finally arrived they asked him why he had brought a leaky jug with him and 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 group dismissed themselves to reflect upon the message that Moses had brought to them and later decided that grace, mercy, and forgiveness were the appropriate responses to a brother who has sinned when each of us–all of us–has the same problem and same need.

Years later, Moses had become the leader of a group of desert monastics. As a group of Berber raiders bore down upon the monastery the monks argued that they must prepare to resist their attackers. Moses–who had once lived by the sword–forbade any resistance and, instead, instructed his monks to pack their things and flee the monastery immediately. He insisted it was better to run or to die than it was to take up the sword in resistance and when he said it he spoke from dark and painful experience. Most of the monks took him up on the offer but Moses and seven others stayed behind and waited for the raiders with open arms and plates of food. Moses knew that his own martyrdom was fast approaching and insisted that this was a good thing for he had lived by the sword and, now, he would gladly die by the sword. When the raiders arrived, they had no time for the hospitality of the monks and cut them down where they stood. Moses the Black who had misspent his youth found redemption not on the day he was martyred but on the day he met a group of monks who taught him another way–a way of peace, love, mercy, and grace.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2scGvXM