Lewis on charity

I have said before I sometimes feel like a "Mary Christian" in a "Martha Church."  My fellow United Methodists are whirling around saying "Let us DO something" while I am content to listen and pray.  Of course, there is a time for prayer and a time for work - ora et labora is the ancient motto - and perhaps in the wisdom of God it is good for "Mary Christians" and "Martha denominations" to get put together.

Certainly one of the great strengths of the Methodist movement has always been the outward focus - the realization that our personal holiness, nurtured in prayer, sacrament, and Scripture, should always flow outward into social holiness and active service.  Works of piety should lead to works of mercy.  And we Wesleyans are certainly active: from missionaries to social action advocates to disaster relief to children's homes to environmental action, from fighting malaria to fighting poverty; where there is a need, the Methodists no doubt have a system in place to address it (or at least a committee working on that).

Our tradition has done and continues to do much good in the world.  There is so much good that a vast and well-organized church can accomplish all around the world, because as a church or denomination, we really do have the resources to address so many needs all at once, and that is how it should be; it is, you might even say, a sign of our "catholicity." 
 Yet for the individual Christian and the local congregation, I think there can be a temptation to try to do too much, to try to focus in too many directions all at once and end up with no momentum in any one direction.  Here I think the words of C.S. Lewis are quite instructive:

"I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help.  This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can to do those we know.  God may call any one of us to respond to some far away problem or support those who have been so called.  But we are finite and he will not call us everywhere or to support every worthy cause.  And real needs are not far from us."

Since one person will be overwhelmed by all the need that is "out there," I believe the Christian should begin by supporting one or two worthy ministries that really stir his or her interest (or address pressing needs close to home), and trust that God will provide passionate workers to address the other needs as well. 

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Foster on the "Pater Noster"

"For sheer power and majesty, no prayer can equal the Paternoster, the "Our Father" (Pater Noster = "Our Father" in Latin; Matthew 6:9-13)...The Paternoster is the prayer given by the Lord for disciples of the Lord, namely, you and me.
The Paternoster is really a total prayer.  Its concerns embrace the whole world, from the coming of the kingdom to daily bread.  Large things and small things, spiritual things, and material things, inward things and outward things - nothing is beyond the purview of this prayer.
It is lifted up to God in every conceivable setting.  It rises from the altars of the great cathedrals and from obscure shanties in unknown places.  It is spoken by both children and kings.  It is prayed at weddings and deathbeds alike.  The rich and the poor, the intelligent and the illiterate, the simple and the wise - all speak forth this prayer.  As I prayed it this morning when I met with my spiritual formation group, I was joining with the voices of millions around the world who pray in this way each day.  It is such a complete prayer that it seems to reach all peoples at all times in all places."

- Richard Foster, from Prayer, p. 184-185

In the Methodist Liturgy we do pray the Paternoster every Sunday and it is also called for in all four of our Daily Offices (the services of Morning, Midday, Evening, and Nighttime Praise and Prayer as found in our Hymnal and Book of Worship).  This daily use fits the pattern of the earliest Christians: The Didache, one of the earliest Christian writings we have outside of the New Testament states (chapter 8) that the normal Christian practice for the generation of Christians just after the time of the Apostles is to pray this prayer three times a day (perhaps along with mealtime prayers).  It is a prayer that unites all Christians: Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, because it is Biblical; praying this prayer together is the truest ecumenism, uniting us to believers in all ages.  It is also a thoroughly Jewish prayer that Rabbi Jesus has given to us.

For several years I attended a "Bible church" that actually never prayed this prayer for some reason, despite the positive command of our Lord in the Bible to do so.  Perhaps there was a fear that praying any memorized pre-scribed prayer was "vain repitition."  Yet not all repititions are vain, some are good and holy habits that we ought to cultivate - thus I tell my wife "I love you" every day. 

Yet it is true that since so many of us know this prayer by heart and say it so often, it may become precisely one of those "religious motions" we go through without giving it much thought.  Yet this can (and should) be a very rich prayer for all of us.  If you are looking for a good resource to help you (re)discover this prayer given by our Lord, so that you may pray it more fervently, I invite you to read The Lord and His Prayer by N. T. Wright.  May the Lord help us to discover great power in the prayer that he gave to us.   

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Some Cool Proverbs

In recent weeks for Morning Prayer (which I ususally pray either at home before going to the church, or in the sanctuary shortly after I arrive) some of my readings have been from the Book of Proverbs. 

Proverbs is one of those Biblical books that is much-overlooked in the Lectionary, so it has been a while since I've spent much time in it.  For me it is an easy book to "coast" through quickly without gaining much wisdom, and so it is one that I must read quite slowly.  Here are a few verses that have "stuck out" to me lately that I wanted to share (all are RSV).

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
(Prov. 16:32)
I've been saying for a while that self-control is perhaps one of the most counter-cultural Biblical virtues, because it flies in the face of an economic system based upon impulsive buying.

He who forgives an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter, alienates a friend.
(Prov. 17:9)
I wish I had read this before preaching on forgiveness just a week or two before.  To forgive the friend, or spouse, is to consciously let go of the need to keep bringing it up, to let go of the need to "rub their nose in it" or "keep score."  These are all subtle ways that we - presuming to act as judge - attempt to punish the wrongdoer.  In fact, it is only by letting go of that desire that we can "seek love" and remain in relationship, otherwise we will only have "alienation" (see Luke 15:25-32).

Why should a fool have a price in his hand to buy wisdom, when he has no mind?
(Prov. 17:16)
Might that be a commentary on our college and university system that has long since become a "credential factory" for anyone and everyone who has the money to pay (afforded by the college-loan industry)?

For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.
(Prov. 4:17)
"They" in this verse refers back to "the wicked" in verse 14.  They are wicked because they 'eat the bread' and 'drink the wine' of wickedness; that is what they participate in, that is what they share in, that is what they commune with.  This verse uses the sacramental image of bread and wine much like in 1 Corinthians 10:15-16, but in reverse (and in 1 Corinthians Paul is talking about a spiritual reality that is connected with literal bread and wine that are consumed in the worship gathering). 
In both cases, to the eat bread and drink the wine means to share in what it represents and to become shaped by it (see also Prov. 9:5).

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The Challenge of Pope Francis

Since the election and installation of the new bishop of Rome, many commentators - secular and faith-based alike - have been impressed by the humble and simple lifestyle of Pope Francis (recalling his namesake St. Francis).  As an archbishop he opted for a simple apartment instead of the episcopal palace (and has done the same now as pope), he cooked his own food, took the bus to work, spent time visiting prisons, and so on.  The Out of Ur blog considers how the lifestyle of the new pope can challenge pastors - Roman Catholic and Protestant alike - to truly seek to be like Christ; Check it out here

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