Gnostic America

March 16, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Saturday of Invocavit: Ministering to Jesus

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Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

On Judgment Day, Jesus will return. The sheep will be at his right hand, the goats on His left. The judgment will be based on how they received Christ in His weakness. Hungry, thirsty, a stranger, in prison, weak, naked, these are the words describing Jesus in His humiliation, culminating, of course, on the cross.

The sheep will be judged as having received Him through “His brethren,” that is, the apostles He sent out. Matthew 10 provides a good backdrop. Jesus sends out the apostles on a mini-mission and promises them that they’ll be without clothing, without food or clothing, imprisoned, and estranged. Yet, “whoever receives you receives Me.” It’s the same theme as what happens on Judgment Day.

The goats, by contrast, do not receive Christ in His weakness or His apostles who bear His cross. Listen to what they say on Judgment Day: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?”

Ministering to Jesus is what the saved do. And that simply means receiving Him in His weakness, or in our case today, receiving them whom Jesus sends, the pastors and missionaries who often bear great burdens in their administration of the Gospel.

In the wilderness, Jesus was at an incredibly low point. He was the scapegoat thrust out into the wilderness, having just been baptized and bearing the sins of His people. The devil had just attacked Him with challenging trials, leading Him to doubt Himself: “If you’re the Son of God…”

In the end, the devil left Him. The devil had no compassion, no room for ministering to Jesus. He abandoned Him in the wilderness to die.

Not so the angels. The angels came and ministered to Him. What did this mean? It probably at least meant they gave Him food and drink. A few verses back in the Gospel we learned the angels had hands with which to bear up them that fall, so it shouldn’t be too strange to imagine angels bringing food for Jesus. They also provided companionship, visiting Him and speaking with Him. Bringing up a theme we’ve been returning to regularly, speech has the power to strenghthen the soul. “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life,” says the Proverb. What holy conversation they had!

Did Jesus need clothing? Did He need a way out of a vast desert? Who knows, but whatever He needed, the angels provided.  The painting above suggests they played music for Him!  Why did they do this? Because they are “spirits sent to serve” yes, but also because they love their Lord.

And this is among the many reasons why, when Jesus returns, He’ll be with His angels.

Many Christians and pastors are in the wilderness right now, and not just because its Lent and they might be in a “wilderness training program.” They are suffering for the Gospel, for the Word of God, for their advocacy of God’s Law in an antinomian world. They often struggle financially. How many Christians or pastors find themselves isolated because of what we believe? How many have to endure dangerous temptations of body, mind, and soul because Satan targets God’s children?

Those who minister to them are like the angels, and they will be with Jesus on Judgment Day, not wondering where Jesus was when He was among them as hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, weak, and in prison.

Consider St. Paul’s words to Timothy: “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me – may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day!—and you well know how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.”

May we all be Onesiphorus, ministering to the saints, ministering to each other, ministering to Christ, as the angels did.

March 16, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Friday of Invocavit: Satan’s Plan to Reverse Babel’s Curse

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Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

To what extent were all the kingdoms Satan’s to give? In Luke’s account of Christ’s temptation, Satan says, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.”

Here we see whatever Satan has to give out, it’s because something was delivered to him.   He was delivered something by Adam.  Adam had dominion over the world, and he handed it to Satan. Now Satan manages the nations, the rulers of our age.

Let’s probe deeper. Adam executed his dominion by naming the animals. Human language is how man masters his world.  Whether it’s a political community handling finance, trade, and land management, or a scientific community sharing knowledge about the latest way to increase production of corn, the human capacity of  speech is what gives us our dominion. From the Word, by the word, through the word, man lives out what it means to be in the image of God.

At Babel, speech became corrupted as a judgment for our humanistic attempts to name ourselves. To “make a name for” yourselves, as they did at Babel, corrupts speech. God makes the things that get named, not us. On one hand, Babel was man’s attempt to be like God and make things to be named. God had given His name to Seth to invoke; at Babel man was setting up a name for mankind to invoke. It was self worship.

On other hand, because to name is to have dominion over, man was setting up self-dominion, or self-rule, or government.

Kingdoms are fascinating phenomenon in the Bible.  On one hand, nations are little principalities of demons. The nations, the prophet Daniel suggests, had prince-demons overseeing them. Or again, Satan claims ownership of the kingdoms in his temptation to Jesus.  On the other hand, the Lord sets up government; the Lord sees to the rising and falling of nations; and the Lord sets up the boundaries and borders of the nations. So are nations, government, and self rule good or bad?

Like everything in this fallen world, governments and nations accommodate our fallen existence.  They are a blessing and a curse. They keep order, but so often do so in a perverse way. Without the governments which have arisen from Babel, the world would have fallen into a vicious anarchy-tyranny cycle: each man doing what he wants followed by a world orderer imposing order.

At least with the advent of diverse languages, we’ll always have feuding nations keeping each other in check. Such is the benefit of Babel’s curse. Also, within the confines of a given nation – where all speak the same language generally – you have echoes of language’s original glory, the ability to work together to execute dominion over one’s little world.

Man is always trying to reverse Babel’s curse. The desire to “make a name for ourselves” and build a humanistic idol is always in us. It’s the desire of nations to be empires. It’s the quest for one world government. It’s the presumption of science to conquer all that ails humanity. It all begins with the same offer given in the beginning and given to Jesus: worship Satan; yield to him.

Now, let’s look at things from another perspective in order to hone in on the issue. St. Paul calls Satan the “prince of the power of the air.” (Ephesians 2: 2) This is appropriate, because it is a Gnostic error to say Satan’s power in our world is over anything God created. Everything God created is good and to be received with thanksgiving. What, then, does Satan have authority over?

The things that aren’t. The vacant spaces between stuff. The “stuff” that when activated negates what is. And that is the human will. Think about it. If a man shoots another man and kills him, was his finger evil? the arm? the nerves leading from the brain to the trigger finger? the neurons in the brain? No. Was the gun evil? the bullet? No, in fact they were quite good, good at what they were created to do.

Where then was the evil? Was it not in “the air,” the vacant spaces where Satan reigns, and what does he reign over? Human will. God is the author of all that is good. Satan tempts us to gain knowledge of evil, which is really nothing more than will-against-God, the ability to choose against Him.

Jesus said, of the “ruler of this world,” “he has nothing in Me.” No, Jesus was a body, and bodies are not vacant places; and Jesus was in complete submission to His Father’s will, so Satan had no perverse will working in Jesus.

Satan tempted Jesus to choose against His Father and finish the Babel project. But because it would only be a reign over the vacant spaces, it would only be a negating project, something like what fascist German or communist Russia inflicted on the world, but on a worldwide scale. It would fulfill Satan’s quest to reverse the created order. That was his lie and deceit to Jesus.

Jesus submitted to His Father’s will and had no room for Satan’s will working in Him. He didn’t want to inherit Babel’s curse. He wanted to restore Eden, and this wouldn’t happen through one world government, but through the Kingdom of Heaven, where He is king.

At the end of Matthew, we learn how Jesus would truly gain authority over heaven and earth. It happens after He dies and rises again. He meets His disciples and says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus’ authority is executed through baptism in the Triune name and by teaching the Gospel. And it’s executed through the Twelve whom He sent, and after their deaths – because Jesus would be with “them” to the end of the age – to men set up (ordained) in the apostles’ names.

Another word for all this is the Church. The Church is Christ’s kingdom. The Church is the reversal of Babel. The Church is where men and women of all races and nations come together in one speech, even as Christians all over on Sunday morning partake of one creed, one liturgy, one song. And the Church will be fully manifest at Christ’s return, being revealed as the glorious restoration of Eden it is.

March 14, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Thursday of Invocavit: Let Go and Let God

“If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down.”

How many people recognize in Satan’s second temptation the popular piety, “Let go and let God”? “Throw Yourself down,” said Satan to Jesus, because God’s angels would surely bear Him up and save Him from all harm.

According to this temptation’s modern incarnation – Let go and let God – the piety assumes a cosmic context that’s not exactly the biblically accurate way. Say someone “feels in his heart” he should – or, God says he should (because if he’s feeling it, must be God, right?) – give up his job and go on a mission in a faraway place. But how could he make this happen? All sorts of questions and anxieties attack his soul. How will I pay for the trip? Where will I live? How will I begin my mission? What about my family I’m leaving behind? What about my job?

In the face of this – because, after all, it’s God telling him to go – he finds comfort in the words, “Let go and let God. Just stop worrying and thinking you’re driving this plan. Sit back and let God take over. He will get you to where you want to be. Because, if God’s the one telling you to do something, surely He’ll make it happen, right?”

Hand in hand with this piety is the “surrender” piety you occasionally see referenced. “Just surrender to the forces at play and you’ll find inner peace.”

The idea actually finds its roots in Medieval mysticism, but has an element of stoicism in it as well. The assumed cosmic context is that God is what we name this universal divine force out there steering everything toward its ends. We find inner peace insofar as we work with this divine force instead of treading upstream against it. It communicates with us internally, in that “still small voice” sense. So, if you just turn down the noise and chaos of everyday life and listen to your heart, you’ll sense what the divine force is leading you to do, and once you surrender to it, you’ll be destined to where you should be and have that peace.

Medieval mystics like Meister Eckart used the term gelassenheit (“releasement” or “let it be”) to describe the piety. The Anabaptist traditions as well embraced the concept, relating it to Jesus’ words, “thy will be done.” The philosopher Heidegger resurrected Eckart’s gelassenheit as a component of his ultimately gnostic philosophy, which believed man has a role in bringing about “being,” by “being willing to not will” and be open to the mysteries of being, which in turn is related to God’s emergence.

The problem is not with the idea of setting aside one’s own corrupted will and “letting” God’s will prevail. The problem is where and how we interact with knowledge of God’s will. For the Anabaptist, mystical, and Heideggerian traditions, “letting go” means some sort of disengagement with external truths, most particularly as revealed in the Scriptures, but also as they are revealed in nature.

A wife and mother who “feels in her heart” that God wants her to get a job in ministry or missions, but is worried how she will take care of her family and other such details, is not being directed by the external truths revealed in Scripture and in nature. Scripture provides her calling, and nature backs it up: she’s a mom! She has her ministry and mission staring her in the face.

The “let go and let God” way of the devil would be to surrender to the heart’s feelings and pursue whatever mission she feels God’s sending her on. The “thy will be done” way of Christ would be to become obedient to what Scripture and nature are saying, not arguing with nature and calling motherhood a “construct” but seeing it as a reflection of God’s own will.

We could say the same about the callings men feel they are called to, or the gender changes others feel called to, or so many of the callings our hearts tell us to do. In many ways we’re testing God when we do this.  “Sure, God made me a male, but I feel God has made me a female trapped in a male body; and I feel He wants me free, and I’m going to go with that feeling.”  That’s testing God, and it’s a test that usually fails miserably.

God never told Jesus to jump off temples. And for us, God outlines clearly in His Word what His will is for us.

Most people remember that silly exercise at retreats where we have to close our eyes and fall backwards, trusting someone will catch us. That’s supposed to be analogous to God, how we should just fall backwards – whatever this means on a personal level for each of us – and trust God will “bear us up.”

We need to be careful with this, because it’s the second temptation of the devil. “Thy will be done,” yes. And His will is clearly outlined in written, external words, not in “still small voices” heard in your heart.

This again is an act of projection-idolatry masquerading as “Christ” or “God.” And its antichristian. Christ is not you. He’s not whispering in your heart. He teaches clearly from the outside. Why? Because He’s flesh and blood. There’s a clear point where His body ends and yours begins. The only way He communicates with you is the normal way any human body communicates, from lips to ears. And the only way He enters your body through flesh and blood is when these elements are accompanied by the words, “Given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.”

March 13, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Wednesday of Invocavit: Command These Stones to Become Bread

Image result for Turn these stones to bread
“If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”

If you notice, Satan’s first temptation to Jesus is exactly his temptation to Eve. Read his words backwards: Have food to satisfy a desire, and thereby fulfill your God-like potential. Eat the fruit, and you shall be like God. Both temptations, at root, are Satan’s attempt to get man to follow his example and make a claim to divinity outside of the way God intended.

Traditional Judaism has an interesting view on Satan. They believe the world wasn’t “very good” until Satan was created. And by this they don’t mean Lucifer before he fell. They mean Satan just as he was, as he appeared on the scene in Genesis 3. Why was he created? And why was the world only good until he was created, thereby becoming “very good”?

Because, they believe, Satan was needed so man could reach his full potential. Simply coming on the scene living in the glory and goodness of his creation was good, but having to use his free will to choose the good and reject the evil is even better. It’s very good. So Satan was needed as a challenger to the creation made in God’s image.

Just about all of this would be rejected on several grounds. However, one aspect of their view is intriguing. They believe Satan’s temptation – “You shall be like God” – is in fact a proper goal for mankind. The problem was not the end result, but the pathway there. Satan tempted them to become Godlike by rejecting His Law, which for Jews is obviously the central path toward becoming like God.

Is becoming Godlike a noble quest of mankind?

Supporting a negative answer are several passages. We think of the Babel project, when mankind attempted to make a name for themselves, an event which serves as the foundation for all humanistic attempts to “be like God.” Or there’s the name of the angel Michael, which means, “Who can be like God?” It’s as if God established among his angelic testifiers the eternal statement that no one can be like God.

Supporting a positive answer is our creation in the image of God. What does that mean in terms of being Godlike? What does it mean that the one who restores us to God’s image is not just Godlike, but God Himself? What does St. Peter mean when he talks about participating in the divine nature?

It boils down to what one means by being Godlike. Satan’s temptation is for us to assume God’s creative power, to usurp what God alone has done, which is creating all things in heaven and on earth. He is the maker, the only maker. God created a world and it was good. Evil is the manifestation of what is not.  Put another way, if “is not” were a thing, that would be evil.  To know good and evil is to muster the mind toward “things” outside the creative order, and these will always have a negating effect (hence putting “things” in quotes, because whatever it is will always be a force of “no-thing-ness”).

Satan tempted Adam and Eve with the ability to create beyond the good creation – evil – and therefore to have something they might “know” in addition to the good, for you can only truly “know” things. Man’s first creation, as noted in a previous meditation, was clothing, the covering up of their physical, good bodies. What a sad moment. (Also what a sign of the Gnosticizing tendencies of many to come, to look down on the body in shame and cover it up.   God at least covered it up with flesh, foreshadowing Christ’s fleshly covering of our sin.)

Satan wanted Jesus also to be a creator according to rules he set up. The Father sent Jesus into the wilderness to fast. That was His will for Him. Satan tempted Jesus with making “no-thing” bread, bread that won’t last, bread man can’t live by. Interestingly, Jesus would one day make bread, but from other bread, not from stones. Jesus redeems the creation; He doesn’t start anew.

Jesus teaches the right way of restoring the image of God, of being Godlike in the proper way, and that is through faithfulness and obedience to God. As far as this goes, the Jews are correct. Obedience to God’s will as expressed in His Law is the proper way to be Godlike.

Where Jews go wrong is not recognizing God’s goodness is something “lived in,” not chosen. Adam gained nothing by “not choosing” the evil of eating the fruit. He had it all, and the “very good” of the sixth day seals that truth.

Jesus doesn’t restore our ability to choose good and reject evil, by Himself showing how it’s done and giving us grace to do the same, so He can step out of the way as we save ourselves by His grace.  Someone would have to prove the Gospels teach this at some point. What the Gospels do teach is that Jesus recreates all things, that He saves us from our sins, that we are born again to a new state of existence, that the kingdom of God is at hand, that Eden is restored. In other words, the Gospels teach that there is a new goodness to “live in” that has nothing to do with human choosing or rejecting.  The goal of Christian faith is living in fellowship with Christ, that we “live in” Him, our restored Eden.

This gets to a bigger point about why Jesus entered the wilderness alone. Did He go to show us how it’s done? So we could be like Him, Godlike? Or did He go to undo Adam’s original sin, defeat the one who defeated him, and become the source of a new, redeemed race of children born of God, not of Adam, of children who live in the joys of the new life.

We would say the latter, not the former.

March 12, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Tuesday of Invocavit: Living by Words from the Mouth of God

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“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”

Of all the subtle aspects of Gnosticism that intrigue me and have helped highlight beauties of orthodox faith, the role of the Word in our creation is probably the most intriguing.

What is the Gnostic understanding of the word, or of human language. Remember, the Gnostics despised the creation and all things physical, or with material properties. Physicality and matter cause there to be divvied up “things.” This results in a word of multiple beings all divided one from the other, and this is a “fall” of what should be one and unified, the Pleroma, into multiplicity. This is the basis of wars. This is the basis of “walls.” This is the basis for all the so-called “constructs” of this world: male, female, family, church, state, law, order, etc. Only in a material world do such things matter. True liberation means becoming woke to the arbitrariness and illusiveness of this world order, and ascending up and out, by the spirit, back into the pre-existent oneness.

In such a world with multiple beings you have a world of multiple words. Words arise from beings. You wouldn’t have the word “cat” unless there was a being called a “cat.” And likewise with all the varied species of God’s creation. By contrast, what role would a word have if everything is one and undifferentiated?

In fact, this was what the Romantic poets hoped to attain. The Romantic poets fed off the popular Transcendentalism of the day (i.e. Gnosticism) and believed they had a role in collapsing language in order to yield a wordless flight into the great nothingness beyond.

The Scriptures set up something completely different. On each day of creation, God created something by separating one thing from another (light from darkness, for instance, or land from water), named it, and then declared it good. The naming is hugely important, for it grants man access to it.

For what is human consciousness and human reason, but the ability to communicate, to reflect our divine image and create complex community among our fellow man through the instrumentality of words. As it was for God Himself – who through the Word brought in all creation and established a cosmic community of Himself in fellowship with man – so it is for mankind. By begetting the word from our lips – like the Son begotten of the Father – we foster human life.

A beautiful proverb says, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life.” Think of that. And think how foundationally this is rooted in the Trinity, the creation, and eventually Christ’s coming. God’s wholesome tongue begot the Word made flesh, the source of eternal life for us, our Tree of Life at the cross.

So also for us, even if our tongue has become a rudder (St. James tells us) that can steer our ship afoul.

But not God. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Every word that proceeds from the mouth of God are the words that built our world. With man’s disruption of that order and its return to chaos, God didn’t give up on His creation, but came to “seek and save” it. Now, the words laid down in the Scriptures are the words of a new creation.

How many words in Leviticus set up the tabernacle in the Old Testament. That tabernacle and the temple which followed were types of the new creation!

And today, Christ is our Leviticus, so to speak, Who Himself is the Word made flesh and “tabernacling among us,” the temple which was destroyed and rebuilt in three days, the New Creation itself. But for us His Word is a Leviticus building us into temples of the Holy Spirit, each word doing its work of creating in us the new creation.

These words are truth and they are life. And those who live by them live by far more than mere bread.

Man lives by every word coming from the mouth of God. Each Word of Christ is just that, a precious jewel and treasure we meditate on, ponder, and claim as our own. By these words we live.  And in the Church, the new cosmic community built from God’s Word, we receive this life.

March 12, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Monday of Invocavit: He Was Hungry

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If the flesh is important – and it is if God created it and became it – it matters how you build the flesh and sustain it. And the thing that builds and sustains the flesh is food. In so many ways food is a glorious intersection between God and man. Man cannot make food on his own, even as he can’t make life on his own. He must be a steward of some product that eventually came from the seed (or sperm), that is, from the instrument of God’s Spirit.

Not only that immediate stewardship, but think of the sort of communication needed to cause seeds to feed some 6 billion people. Think of all the naming – the investigating and categorizing of plant and animal properties – needed so as to apply agricultural principles. Think of all the work of community-building needed, to establish trade routes and methods of delivery, to defend from foreign enemies who ransack the land. Communication is a reflection of our divine image, and in the production of food to feed us, it’s staggering to consider how many forces conspire together to put a loaf of bread on my table.

For God to give me this day my daily bread, this bread that builds the flesh.

From the beginning to the end of the Scriiptures, food plays a huge role. Just a few of the highlights: the forbidden fruit, the manna, the Last Supper, the everlasting banquet of the life to come.

Adam and Eve turned food into something other than what it could be. They turned it into a their ticket to godhood, to self-salvation. If this is the original sin, it remains as the foundation of all sin, the idea that some earthly thing will be our ticket to self-salvation. This is why St. Paul said covetousness is idolatry. It’s when created things become the basis of phantasms representing the possibility of self-exaltation. Phantasms are projections of human covetousness. An apple is no longer an apple, but something we covet, to make us wise and be like God. That’s not a problem with the apple, but a problem with the human mind and will, for nothing is ever wrong with God’s creation.  It’s human will that makes the creation to be something other than what it is, a phantasm of the original crafted from human will and imputed with human meaning.

God had to train His people in the proper use of food, as a builder of flesh and not a builder of humanistic fantasies. Consider, in the wilderness Israel was dreaming of the foods they had back in Egypt, all the cucumbers and leeks and melons and whatnot. But that dream hid the fact they were dying in slavery in Egypt. By contrast, the manna God gave them from above was building them for a life in the Promised Land, their place of rest and peace. He was teaching them man doesn’t live by bread alone – He does live by bread, but not bread alone – but rather by the Word of God.

Jesus, our second Adam as well as our second Israel (in the wilderness for a period of 40, like Israel), lives by the Word proceeding from the mouth of God, that is, by Himself. That’s why He can fast for 40 days. As God, He’s self-sustaining and doesn’t need food. He lives “by Himself.”

But as man Jesus had a human body which necessarily needed food, and so He was hungry. He needed to eat. And eat He would, but not in Satan’s or humanity’s way.

By Jesus going hungry, He was changing the rules, so to speak, of how the process of life-sustainment in the creation will go. The original plan was – eat food, live forever. Adam and Eve turned that into – eat what you imagine food to give you, die forever. Jesus rejects this food, but sets up the foundation for a new eating – eat the Word become flesh, live forever. Just as He said in John 6, He who eats this bread will live forever.

A new conspiracy of activities brings about this bread for us to eat, and again the human element is mustered. Mary bears the Seed. Disciples hand him over to the Jewish authorities and eventually Pontius Pilate, so the women can bury Him. The apostles harvest the fruits of His resurrection, the fruits of thanksgiving and confession, and ministers distribute the eucharistic bread which brings life.  The Church as a divine community is set up to make it all happen.

So that we might be given this day our daily bread.

March 12, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Invocavit: Begin at the Wilderness

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If in Epiphany Jesus “established His credentials” as the Son of God, as one able to do the heavy lifting of saving us, in Lent now, Jesus begins that work. What exactly was His work? This is an important question. What, after all, does it mean that Christ “saves” us.

“The Son of man came to seek and save that which was lost.” What was lost, and how is it sought and saved? Answering these questions helps understand Jesus’ actions in today’s Gospel, that is, entering into the wilderness.

Let’s first set aside what Jesus seeking and saving us doesn’t mean, that is, according to the Gnostic salvation plan. The Gnostics, as with everything, have historically had a problem with extremes. Ultimate puritanism or ultimate libertinism. Any sort of moderate view of existence, or healthy view of life in this world would give legitimacy to existence in this world. The only proper posture toward this world must be to scorn it puritanically or to take a cynical or ironical view toward it, for example to indulge it in an “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we will die” sense.

On these terms, Christ came to make us “woke” to the prison house we are in. For them, Christ coming to us only appeared to be “in the flesh” because, why would God take on such an evil thing as human flesh? He appeared in flesh so He could teach us the way to escape our flesh and our world. He came to save us from our very existence.

But let us review the orthodox theology according to that phrase “seek and save that which was lost.” He “seeks” us, meaning He comes to us where we are at and in what we are in, that is, human flesh. It’s difficult to emphasize enough what the simple act of the incarnation means in terms of our salvation. Aside from all the subtle theology involved in the incarnation, or how it’s related to the crucifixion and resurrection, simply consider the basics: to save us God became flesh. Do you think the flesh is important and means something? Of course! It means everything.

And what does it mean to save that which was lost? Well, what was lost? The creation. God’s creation was “good” because He made it and give existence to all the innumerable creatures. What the Gnostics see as the fall – the “fall” of what should be one and unified (the Pleroma) into the individual beings made possible on account of matter and physicality – we see as glorious and good. Individual existence – i.e. life – is wonderful, and people will endure untold sufferings and tortures without a thought of suicide, because they know living is a good thing.

It was lost because man handed stewardship of the creation – which God had given him – over to Satan. As things stood, Adam and Eve knew only good. They lived in God’s goodness. Satan introduced knowledge of good and evil, and the possibility of choosing the evil. They wanted to be like God, and be able to, like God, make things to be “good.” The problem is, we’re not God, so how can we make things to be “good.” We can’t “make things” in the first place! Therefore any attempt to make things to be “good” (in our image) will tainted by evil. And what is that evil? It’s the inability to create life in all its beauty. Man only makes dead things, or rather, lifeless things. But we can steward God’s living things.

Adam’s work went from naming animals – being a steward of God’s creation – to making clothes – to hide his nakedness. His first creation as “god.”

All this is to say that death entered the world, because as god man cannot make life. We’re like scuba divers thinking they can live on their own without the oxygen tank. Can’t work, and we’ll die. So also with Adam.

Jesus came as a second Adam, to do things right. In a strange way, Jesus fulfilled what Adam and Eve were tempted to be, “like God.” If that’s the case, it simply demonstrates how God works all our evils towards His good, like when Israel wanted a king against God’s wishes, and He worked their misguided idea into the Messiah, the anointed King.

Adam and Eve want to be like God, so God shows them what “like God”means, and sends Jesus. Jesus is not just like God, but God Himself. He shows what “like God” means, and also shows us what “man” means as well.

So on one hand, He is obedient to God. If Adam was supposed to live in God’s goodness, Jesus too lived in the creation, but as it had become, a wilderness devoid of life. He submitted to God’s will for him to enter the wilderness and live there in communication with God, what Adam should have done, continuing his “naming” project of divine communication.

On the other hand, Jesus is God and has the power of life in His hands. Adam’s lack of ability to create life results in our world becoming a wilderness. This is what we do. We turn green into brown. We turn the fertile crescent into Iraq. We turn the North African bread basket into the Sahara. We turn cities into desolate post-apocalyptic dystopias. It’s what we do.

And we all know what we do to human life as well, in our efforts to enhance life we end up taking it away. We invent the internet thinking ourselves brilliant and masters of the universe. We end up with a population of out of shape zombies with back problems.  Man’s attempts at god always end up in death.

Jesus has life in Him, and gives it out. And one of His first acts as our Savior is to enter the wilderness, the place where life is rare. It’s like He goes to the nadir of our fall, in order to rebuild things from the bottom up. He will cause the deserts to blossom to life.

Before He entered the wilderness, He was baptized in the Jordan. There, He met the sinners He so desperately loves and wants to save. No, specifically, He met the repenting sinners – the sinners that wanted to be saved – at the Jordan. After all, if your project is to save sinners, where do you find them? You find them where sinners respond to the message, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Baptism isn’t only a sign for us that this is where we are forgiven. It’s also a sign for Jesus that, this is where the sinners are at. At the font.

At the Jordan it’s as if Jesus made a pledge to sinners, that He would make things right. So the next day He goes out into the desert to rebuild the world. Like a contractor after a flood promising a family he’ll fix everything, he first gets to work on the foundation.

Jesus finds the devil there in the wilderness. As if it’s his kingdom there, ruling among the lifelessness and demon-animals. If Jesus is to be a new Adam, He must first defeat the one that defeated Adam. He must start at the beginning.

March 9, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Saturday of Quinquagesima: The Blind Beggar’s Liturgical Form of Faith

I’m always amazed how often the structure of Biblical episodes have a liturgical structure. What do I mean by a “liturgical structure”?

Well, consider what the liturgy is. (1) Jesus is present (by invocation); (2) we acknowledge our unworthiness and “beggarly” status; (3) we beg for mercy; (4) we’re healed; (5) we glorify God; (6) we’re in joyful communion with Jesus. Old Testament worship was structured along these lines; specific episodes in the lives of the saints (for instance, Isaiah in Isaiah 6) are framed this way; and most of the accounts of Jesus healing someone follows this pattern.

Most certainly it is true in this week’s Blind Beggar Gospel.

He first hears the word that Jesus is passing by. This is faith arising from the preaching of the Word. He calls upon Jesus’ name. This is invocation. He begs for mercy. This is Kyrie or Confession of sins. He gets healed. This is absolution. He glorifies God and follows Jesus. This is the Gloria in Excelsis and Holy Communion. His confession that Jesus is the Son of David would parallel the confessing of the Creed. It’s all there!

People often like to make a distinction between formal and informal worship. Worship must be formal, because we have a formal Lord, that is, one who “took the form of a bondservant.” Faith, as we have been contemplating, is not an end in itself, anchored in the misty projections of self. Faith has the exact contours of the formal Lord which is its object. Faith, therefore, is formal.

The blind man didn’t cry, “Please, oh universe, take this blindness away.” No, it had formal reference points – the idea of a messiah, an anointed one, a son of David, and all the host of words from the Old Testament carrying those ideas. Thus, the blind man’s faith had clear doctrinal outlines, even as his prayer “Have mercy on me” had a formal structure.

The Church’s historic liturgy was not a bunch of monks in the middle ages – the creative worship team of the 1300s – getting together and praying the Holy Spirit might move them to have uplifting worship that one week in 1347. No, the Church’s liturgy is simply what happens when faith in a formal Lord takes shape.

Where is Jesus right now? What’s He doing? How are we related to Him in this state of being? Those are really the questions the liturgy answers. A teacher of mine once said, “The best questions are the ones for which the Lord has answers.” And all those questions have answers which the liturgy answers.

Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us. We leave our sins behind and commune with Him. The liturgy from beginning to end simply fills in the details. One example. We leave our sins behind when we confess them. What happens when one sinner repents? The angels rejoice. What are the angels singing? Two places in the Scriptures answer this question, Isaiah 6 and Luke 2. They are singing, “Glory to God in the highest” and “Holy, Holy, Holy.” These two songs serve as the basis of the canticles, Gloria in Excelsis and the Sanctus. These canticles are sung because we sinners are at church!

Oh, and if Jesus is present – which He is because He promised to be – but also sitting at the right hand of the Father, then of necessity we must be with Him at the right hand of the Father. We’re in heaven! So, these two canticles not only confess that we are forgiven sinners over which the angels are rejoicing, but that we are in heaven!

Formal elements of a formal worship of a formal Savior. The Kyrie, the prayer of the blind beggar, is an incredibly powerful and beautiful moment of the liturgy. Like we contemplated before, the Kyrie weaves through the whole service. This prayer, this prayer of a forgotten, pathetic blind beggar, whom we know as Bartimaeus, has been put on our lips, joining us to him, so that Jesus can say to us as well, “Your faith has made you well.”

Why would anyone cut out the Kyrie? If it was powerful enough to have Jesus proclaim Barimaeus’ name throughout all time – “If you confess my name before men, I will confess your name before my heavenly Father” – will it not do the same with your name?

March 9, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Friday of Quinquagesima: The Beggar’s Faith (Part Two: Subjective Faith)

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Last devotion we meditated on how the blind man laid the foundation for his faith in the objective truth that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah. The objective aspect of faith is the foundation for subjective faith.

Both are essential, of course. A purely objective faith the demons have, St. James tells us, and they shudder as a result. Many Christians may have that faith as well. They objectively know Jesus is Lord, but don’t believe He’s Lord “for them.” So they shudder too.

A purely subjective faith, by contrast, can slip into idolatry. How so? Because the reference is all the self – what I think; what I feel; what I’m willing – any reference about Jesus simply becomes projection. “I feel Jesus would tolerate gay marriage, because wasn’t he all about love and tolerance?” Well, no. What you’re doing is projecting your own values and naming them “Jesus” so as to deceive yourself that what you believe is something more than solipsism. Your “Jesus” has become your idol. This indeed is the Antichrist, a replacement Christ.

So the faith of demons or the faith of Antichrist are the two sides we must avoid as we contemplate faith.

What then was the subjective faith of the blind man? It was pretty simple: “Have mercy on me!” Yes, that’s subjective! “Lord, I know objectively you are the Messiah, the Son of God, my Lord. Now, please, I beg you, use your authority to heal me, for I have no power to do so myself, beggar that I am.”

“Have mercy on me!” of course is the Kyrie, the prayer of the liturgy that goes, “Lord, have mercy on us.” The ecclesiastical version is beautifully rendered with the more communal “us” rather than “me.” The liturgy is very much like the four friends carrying the lame man to Jesus, and Jesus saw “their” faith and healed him. The liturgy is all of us carrying each other to Jesus, so that again Jesus might see “our” faith and heal us. It’s a communal thing like the Our Father is a communal prayer.

An essential component of faith is taught in that the blind man didn’t give up. When others tried to keep him quiet, he cried out all the more. Faith without patient endurance is not faith. Faith cries out until answered. The Church prayers her Kyrie until Christ’s return.

In fact, the Kyrie is a prayer woven throughout the entire liturgy. It begins as a “stand alone” prayer, the Kyrie. But it’s also in the Gloria in Excelsis, almost as if the Gloria in Excelsis shows how the Lord will answer our prayer. It comes up again in the Agnus Dei, prior to receiving communion.

Why so many times? Well, ask the blind beggar. When you’re a beggar and you objectively know someone else can relieve your distress, you don’t give up. That would be a loss of hope. So, even when others were trying to silence him, he just cried out louder.

Who or what is trying to silence you? Perhaps the accuser dormant in your own soul. Perhaps the judging stares of others. Perhaps a pop culture mocking your faith in “unicorns.” Perhaps nagging doubts. Whatever it is, are you a beggar or not who knows objectively that Jesus is the risen Lord? The answer is, “yes” and “yes.” So don’t stop praying. You will be answered.

March 9, 2019
by Peter Burfeind
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Thursday of Quinquagesima: The Beggar’s Faith (Part One: Objective Faith)

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Jesus of Nazareth was passing by And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”This passage is a perfect illustration of faith. Not seeing with his eyes, the blind man still had the sense most related to faith, hearing. As St. Paul writes, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Against Gnostics old and new, we uphold the word and language as having one to one correspondences with the truth. Language is reality’s herald. God spoke the world into existence and by language we, made in the image of God, speak community into existence. And in the communion-community of the Church, the Word once again speaks the new creation into existence. The spoken Word has done it since the beginning, being Truth’s herald. Gnostics who deny fabric of reality likewise deny the ability of the word or language to herald anything but illusions and lies.

But not orthodox faith. For us, the word names, identifies and singles out unique, separated, distinct truths. When that truth is the Truth, Jesus, that word is great indeed.

What was the word in today’s Gospel? “Jesus was passing by.” When Jesus passes by, and beggars hear of it, they cry “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Here you see two aspects of faith, the objective and subjective aspects. The objective aspect is “Jesus, Son of David.” The subjective is “Have mercy on me.” Both aspects are necessary. Both aspects are the basis of our liturgy. Today we focus on the objective side.

So often when people think of faith, they see it as an end in itself. “Keep the faith,” they say. The question is, “Faith in what?” They’re missing that objective quotient of faith. Yet, unpack what is often meant, and you get some variation of “have faith in yourself.”

That is not the faith of the beggar. If faith is in the content of “things unseen,” the beggar more than anyone knows and “sees” one thing: he can’t be any object of any sort of faith. He’s helpless.

But the beggar did have faith in the Messiah. As a Jew, he knew the Jewish teachings on the coming Messiah. He obviously had heard that Jesus was doing things that fulfilled the messianic expectations. So when he heard that Jesus passed by, there was a lot of “word” going on behind that. And so he confessed this faith: “Jesus, you are the Son of David. You are the messiah. You are the one who is promised to be a healer of the blind.” On that objective foundation, he proceeds with his subjective faith: “Have mercy on me!”

We are very much the blind man. We are those who “have not seen, and yet believe.” And when we hear that Jesus is “passing by” on the basis of His promise, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am present among them,” faith compels us – if indeed we are beggars! – to cry out and lay the objective foundation for His having mercy on us.

Notice how this plays out liturgically. The service begins with the invocation, the gathering “in his name” which signals His presence. And then for almost the first third of the service we get this interplay between objective and subjective faith. Most especially we observe this in the Gloria in Excelsis. What objective things do we confess of Christ? He’s the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He’s seated at the right hand of the Father. He alone is the holy one. And so on.

Leading in to the Gloria in Excelsis is exactly what the blind man cried, the Kyrie: “Lord, have mercy.” We pray the Kyrie, and then confess why Jesus can, should, and will have mercy on us. Because objectively speaking, He is our Savior, who takes away our sin, who intercedes for us at God’s right hand, who alone is holy. (Of course, the creed adds to the objective foundation as well.)

The point is, faith without this objective, doctrinal side can drift off into solipsist, narcissistic platitudes that mean nothing. Or worse, faith becomes a psychological game we play with ourselves. We ourselves are doing something, but to sanctify what we’re doing we project something of ourselves outward and name that “Jesus.”

Keeping faith objective prevents this temptation. The doctrinal foundations for our subjective faith are spelled out clearly. This is what Jesus did. This is who Jesus is. I.e. This is not who we are or what we did. Never the twain shall meet.

An objective basis for faith is premised in the rather obvious truth that Jesus is an outside of us, objective Savior. This might seem obvious but how often do we hear people talk about “what Jesus means to me,” and how often is that nothing more than people trying to sanctify or justify an aspect of themselves.

But Jesus is an objective, outside of us Savior, and this because He is in flesh and blood. He is completely “other,” therefore there are objective things to be said about Him, like “Son of David.” By contrast, when Jesus “leaks out of” His body and blood, then that’s where the line between Him and us becomes fuzzy, and the line between objective and subjective faith becomes fuzzy as well.

Not so today. The blind man knew Jesus was completely other, and that His only hope was this objective Jesus being true to what He was objectively expected to be, a Savior.