Burns and the Bible: From Whence Comes Your Worth?

 

Yesterday was Robert Burns day and today I would like to do something a little different. For those of you who don’t know, Robert Burns is Scotland’s most famous poet. He lived in the 1700s and wrote numerous poems, many of which have been turned into songs like Auld Lang Syne, the one we all sing at New Year’s as well as a whole bunch of other ones like Scots Wa Hae and one of my favourites A Man’s a Man for a’ that.

Burns had a flare for political reformation and a deep love for the common folk of Scotland. He had a vision that one day the world would unite in peace and the separations of class and rank would dissolve. His vision was very much in line with the teachings of Jesus. The song A Man’s a Man for a That is written in Scots. So while much of it will sound just like English a good portion of it might be hard to understand. But I’ll go through the bits I think are the most important and translate them so that it all starts to make a little more sense.

 

The first line that really pops out to me is when he says,

“The rank is but the guinea’s stamp, The Man’s the gold for a’ that.”

The Guinea was the first standard coin minted in Britain after the Romans left. Like other coins of its time its true value was in the measure of Gold it was made of and it had a stamp on the surface to signify it was made by the state and of genuine value. So what Burns is saying is that a person’s value comes from what they are made of and not the external stamp that they are marked with. We have value by virtue of the fact that we are made by God, the mere fact that we are human is what gives us worth. The Guinea stamp, what he is using as a metaphor for rank in society is of little consequence compared to that, as the gold will always be more valuable than the mark upon it.

In the second verse he says,

“Give fools their silks and knaves their wine…the honest man though ever so poor is king of men for all that”

Here he takes the idea a little further and says that despite riches and status what truly decides a person’s value is her honest nature, we might say that is the measure of how pure the gold in the coin is. It is the honest person who is the purest gold and worth the most regardless of the clothes they wear or the expensive food and drink they can afford.

In the third verse he says,

“You see that birkie (which means arrogant young man) who is called a lord, who struts and stares and all that though hundreds worship at his word he is but a coof (which means idiot) for all that…the man of independent mind, he looks and laughs at all that”

Not only has Burns declared that rank is of no value but he is saying that a person who walks around and shows pride in his rank is an idiot, supposedly because he is unaware of the true measure of a person which is an internal characteristic and not an external one. He says that a person who has an independent mind looks at this fool and laughs about how mistaken he is.

In the fourth verse he says,

“A prince can make a belted knight, a marquis duke and all that but an honest man is above his might…the pith of sense and pride of worth are higher rank than all that”

He is saying that even though a prince may distribute rank to those around him the honest man is still above his might, he is still beyond the reach of royalty because the true essence of intellect and reason and a sense of self worth are higher rank than anything the prince could bestow.

In the fifth verse he finishes with a prayer:

“Then let us pray that come it may, As come it will for all that, That Sense and Worth, over all the earth, Shall bear the gree and all that for a that and a that It’s coming yet for all that, That Man to Man, the world over, Shall brothers be for all that.”

Now, bear the gree is an expression which means to win the competition, or take home the trophy – so Burns is praying that one day the people who lead us, who will have won the trophy and earned our respect will be the people who have the most sense and the most worth. There is a prayer that I can get behind. And he is sure that it will come true. He is sure that one day rank will be decided on ability and integrity as opposed to birth and wealth. It is the ultimate democratic dream that those who lead our society will be chosen to do so based on genuine merit and honest dealings. And in that he believes that the inevitable outcome will be that the people of the world will recognise the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God and embrace one another in peace and cooperation.

In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, he said they lay heavy burdens on the shoulders of others yet refuse to lift a single finger themselves, they make sure they get the nicest seats in the synagogues and wear fancy clothes so that people will respect them. They sound just like the Lords and Princes in Burns’ song who strutted around in fancy silk clothes bossing people around. The same issues troubled the people of Jesus’ time as did the people of Burns’ time, and unfortunately they still trouble us, in our time.

For as long as history can record humanity has had certain groups of people who believe themselves to be greater than others, because of what they own, the name they carry, the type of work they do, or whether they are a man or woman. But, as we read in Galatians, in Christ we are all one, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. No distinction of religion, class, or gender exists in the eyes of God. This sentiment can be found all throughout the Bible both New and Old Testaments. I would like to look at one more passage, found in Acts 17:24-28:

“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things…..that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.'”

In this scripture we see not only that we are God’s children but that God does not dwell in temples made with hands, instead he has made each heart his temple. He dwells within each of us and from his presence in our very beings we derive that every person is of equal value. For there is nothing of greater value than God and it is of God that we exist and are given life. And this is true of every person across the Earth, we are all united by God and are truly inseparable in that. And any distinctions which we make that separate the people of the world are not only arbitrary but in direct opposition to that most holy command of Jesus to love God, who we see in the face of every person without fail and in turn to love our neighbour as ourselves for both we and our neighbours are truly expressions of God himself, made in his image and loved completely by him.

So I say to you now go out and be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you go; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; and then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; and in this process you will be a blessing to all those you meet and by realizing that of God within them you too will be blessed. And so let us pray, that come it may, as come it will for all that. That sense and worth over all the earth shall bear the gree and all that. For all that and all that, it’s coming yet for all that. That man to man the world over shall brothers be for all that.

Amen

Evangelism and Fish Nets: Sharing the Good News With the World

Evangelism isn’t something we talk about much in liberal church circles. It’s a strange word with a variety of meanings. Evangelism actually means the same thing as Gospel. It comes from an old Latin word evangelium and translates as “good news”. So, to evangelise is to spread the gospel – to share the good news.What possible reason could there be not to share good news? To share good news is to give hope, peace, and fulfillment to people. So, I practice evangelism everyday – or at least I mean too.

The word Evangelical has come to take on many varying definitions and opinions. It has become a denomination of sorts and no longer means what it once meant – to share the good news of the salvation from sin.

In Mark 1:14-20, after John was arrested, Jesus found himself ready to switch from living with John’s teaching and John’s baptism to his own. He was, in a sense, like a disciple of John – He was baptised by Him after all and praised his place among mortals and prophets alike. But John was gone now and Jesus couldn’t do this alone. So he walked along the shore and met two men, Simon and Andrew. Simon would later be given the name Peter, from the Greek Petros which means “the rock”. Simon would become the rock upon whom Jesus built his church – making a line of succession from John through Jesus to Simon called Peter. This makes the lineage from Old Testament prophetic tradition to the Church flow through Jesus directly.

Jesus walked up to these two men, Simon and Andrew, and told them to drop everything they were doing and follow him – So these guys just dropped their nets and follow him! The Spirit must have come and changed their hearts because who would do that? Who would walk away from their life to follow a stranger? Furthermore, who would want to go fishing for people? What is that even supposed to mean? I can hear Andrew and Simon saying to each other “who is this guy shouting nonsense at us from the shore?” The Bible must leave that part out.

The important thing is that over and over Jesus calls us to leave things behind so that we may follow him. Immediately after he picked up Simon and Andrew he walked a little way down the shore and did it again! He yelled out to two more people who also left their nets, and even their family, behind to follow this stranger.

I usually like to think that when Jesus talks to the disciples it’s the same sort of thing He would say to me. The disciples are so perfectly human that they show us how to interact with the Christ – by success and by failure. So when Jesus told Simon and Andrew that he would make them fish for people, I hear Him speaking to me as I choose to follow Him. So I better figure out what that means!

Frances Ellen Watkins wrote a poem called Fishers Of Men. It is about a dream she had, what sounds to me like a prophetic dream. I’d like to take a look at what she has to say.

I had a dream, a varied dream:
Before my ravished sight
The city of my Lord arose,
With all its love and light.

The music of a myriad harps
Flowed out with sweet accord;
And saints were casting down their crowns
In homage to our Lord.

My heart leaped up with untold joy;
Life’s toil and pain were o’er;
My weary feet at last had found
The bright and restful shore.

Just as I reached the gates of light,
Ready to enter in,
From earth arose a fearful cry
Of sorrow and of sin.

I turned, and saw behind me surge
A wild and stormy sea;
And drowning men were reaching out
Imploring hands to me.

And ev’ry lip was blanched with dread
And moaning for relief;
The music of the golden harps
Grew fainter for their grief.

Let me return, I quickly said,
Close to the pearly gate;
My work is with these wretched ones,
So wrecked and desolate.

An angel smiled and gently said:
This is the gate of life,
Wilt thou return to earth’s sad scenes,
Its weariness and strife,

To comfort hearts that sigh and break,
To dry the falling tear,
Wilt thou forego the music sweet
Entrancing now thy ear?

I must return, I firmly said,
The strugglers in that sea
Shall not reach out beseeching hands
In vain for help to me.

I turned to go; but as I turned
The gloomy sea grew bright,
And from my heart there seemed to flow
Ten thousand cords of light.

And sin-wrecked men, with eager hands,
Did grasp each golden cord;
And with my heart I drew them on
To see my gracious Lord.

Again I stood beside the gate.
My heart was glad and free;
For with me stood a rescued throng
The Lord had given me.

The beauty of salvation, which opens our eyes, which saves us from ourselves, is so miraculous that it must be shared. We must all fish for people, we must all be evangelists. Evangelism does not have to mean creeds and denominations, it is not defined by any one belief. We can help rescue people from themselves and from the hardships of this world. We can turn away from our pearly gates, and reach instead back into the world which suffers. Evangelism can be mercy, compassion, and forgiveness in a world in such dire need of them all.

The way we live our lives is a huge part of how we share the gospel. One sure fire way to help transform the world is to be transformed ourselves. We must allow Christ to work through us for the benefit of all. And through that we will evangelise, we will share the good news. But evangelism doesn’t just mean living a good life it can also mean talking, preaching, and teaching. However we do it, We bring people closer to salvation – to being saved by God’s love from the dark sides of life. Because coming close to God, no matter which path you may take to get there, makes you a kinder and humbler person.

Evangelism does not have to be pushy, it proves itself. They will know we are Christians by our love. It is loving to want to share the hope of peace and a world of kindness with everyone you meet. To me this is just common sense. How could you do anything else?

There was a time in my life when I was in the pit of despair. I saw no goodness – there was no light in the darkness. I have found in God what this world never gave me. I once was lost and now I am found – and I would not dare keep that to myself when others are lost as well. So, though I may use the word very differently than most, I am happy to call myself an evangelist. Because I want to always and in everything I do encourage people to seek God and be saved. Saved from spiritual sickness. Saved from loneliness. Saved from a life of self harm. Saved from a life of harming others. Saved from a life lived in fear of judgement. Saved from the selfishness which inevitably arises out of all these things. Because salvation is real and it can heal the world and we must share it.

So, my friends, I encourage you to think about Simon and Andrew. Think about James and John. The call to leave behind the ways of this world and dedicate ourselves to another kind of world – the Kingdom of Heaven, is not just for those fishermen of old. In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 Paul addressed the church in Corinth. He encouraged them to leave behind their families and their possessions to follow a greater cause

Think about The Christians in the church in Corinth Paul was speaking to in his letter. He was giving words of encouragement to his disciples there. He encouraged them to completely change their lives. He thought Jesus was coming back next week and so it was a no brainer for him to drop your proverbial nets and get on board. While Paul was wrong and 2000 years later Jesus has still not returned, truth remains in these words. Sometimes living a gospel life means changing the very way you live your life. I try not to imagine when Jesus will come back, because he told us himself that we can not know the hour of his return. But I do try to let go of those things life here on earth teaches you and pick up a new way. Learning to live as Christ lived. Learning to live as Christ taught. Learning to live as Christ guides even today.

So cast down your nets. Go fish for people. The Christian life happens in every moment. We must live as fishers of people if we want to help save the lost and oppressed from the burdens of sin – selfishness, despair, resentment. Believe me when I say you will come to know yourself and God better in the process. Do not hide your light under a basket, sisters and brothers. For our world is lost, our nations and our communities are full of sadness and dysfunction.

We often speak of eternal salvation, but Jesus does not have to wait for death to save us. Christ can save us now. Christ can save this world now. But Christ waits for us to get there on our own. The work of salvation is one we partake in. God gives us free will and wants us to use it. The more we encourage others the more we grow. The gospel is a message of hope and compassion. True compassion for the brokenness of the world means an active role in how the kingdom of heaven is realised. The good news is meant for the whole world, and you and I both must share it. Share it and see joy grow. Share your faith, not your list of beliefs, but your faith. Share your love, not just with your family but with your enemies too. Share the good news in every moment and be one piece of this world that shifts to God and makes things better for everybody.

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Every Christian Should be a Pickle

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In Mark’s telling of Jesus being baptised (Mark 1:4-11), John told his disciples that he baptises with water but the messiah will baptise with the Holy Spirit. Baptism with water is an ancient tradition, it didn’t begin with John and it is certainly not reserved for Christianity. The practice of baptism in many pagan religions of the time of Jesus and John seems to have been based on a belief in the purifying properties of water. In ancient Babylon, according to the Tablets of Maklu, water was important as a spiritual cleansing agent in the cult of Enke, lord of Eridu. In Egypt, the Book of Going Forth by Day contains a treatise on the baptism of newborn children, which is performed to purify them of blemishes acquired in the womb.

Water, especially the Nile’s cold water, which was believed to have regenerative powers, was used to baptize the dead in a ritual based on the Osiris myth. Egyptian cults also developed the idea of regeneration through water. The bath preceding initiation into the cult of Isis seems to have been more than a simple ritual purification; it was probably intended to represent symbolically the initiate’s death to the life of this world by recalling Osiris’ drowning in the Nile.

Baptism survived from ancient times to modern times in many forms. Jews today, like in the ancient world, still practice Mikvah as a ceremonial washing when new converts join Judaism. Sikhs also inherited this tradition and practice Amrit which is another variation of baptismal initiation. Many other cultures, practice some form of ritual washing. Muslims today undergo a ritual washing before prayer and use it to represent a cleansing of their soul as well as their body before approaching God. John’s baptism was part of a long tradition which came before him and continued after him.

His baptism in water was a washing away of sins. It was a ritual act which represented the repentance his disciples were undergoing. They demonstrated their inward cleansing with a symbolic outward washing. John, as the second coming of the prophet Elijah (read my other post: Was John the Baptist Elijah?), continued in a long line of Israelite prophets who preached repentance. Who taught the importance of kindness to strangers and family alike. But the word repentance doesn’t necessarily capture the full essence of the Greek word John and Jesus both used in the New Testament. The word we so often translate as repent in the New Testament is usually the Greek word metanoia which means literally to change your mind. What John called for was not a change in behaviour so much as a change in thinking. A change in world view. A change in understanding.

Since John came to prepare the way for Jesus in the spirit of Elijah John’s baptism is the forerunner to Jesus’. It is the prerequisite if you will. Before being immersed in the Holy Spirit we must first be immersed in a change of thinking. The old way which we understand ourselves, the world, and our place in it must be washed away if we wish to be fully transformed by God’s Holy Spirit. The word baptism comes from the Greek baptizo. I would like to share with you a little excerpt I found from an article printed in Bible Study Magazine in 1989 describing The difference between the word baptizo which means to repeatedly immerse something and bapto which simply means to dip.

The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be ‘dipped’ or bapto into boiling water and then ‘baptised’ or baptizo in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change. When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. For instance later in Mark’s gospel Jesus says ‘He that believes and is baptised shall be saved’. He is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle.

So, to repent is to make a full and complete change not in how we act but in who we are, not in what we do but in how we think. That sort of fundamental change is demanding of a soul. It is no small task. But it is essential to the Christian message. Every true Christian needs to be a pickle. Every Christian needs not only to have been washed in the water but fundamentally changed by the vinegar. John’s baptism washes us clean and makes us ready for Jesus’s baptism. Because baptism with the Holy Spirit changes who we are, and like the cucumber that has become the pickle, we can never go back to the way we were.

Jesus’s baptism with the Holy Spirit can come upon us in ways we never imagined. I would like to share with you a poem written by sister Carol Bieleck called Breathing Under Water. In it she describes God as the ocean, and tells us about her religious life, transitioning from the solid base of John’s baptism to the watery domain of Jesus’s. It goes like this

 

I built my house by the sea.

Not on the sands, mind you;

not on the shifting sand.

And I built it of rock.

 

A strong house

by a strong sea.

And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.

Good neighbors.

Not that we spoke much.

We met in silences.

Respectful, keeping our distance,

but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.

Always, the fence of sand our barrier,

always, the sand between.

 

And then one day,

-and I still don’t know how it happened –

the sea came.

Without warning.

 

Without welcome, even

Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine,

less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.

Slow, but coming.

Slow, but flowing like an open wound.

And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning and I thought of death.

And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it reached my door.

And I knew, then, there was neither flight, nor death, nor drowning.

That when the sea comes calling, you stop being neighbors,

Well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance neighbors,

And you give your house for a coral castle,

And you learn to breathe underwater.

 

I just love how much she has said here, I love the images she creates. Our comfortable home with the sure foundation can remind us of the sense of identity and assurance of salvation we imagine from John’s baptism, the baptism with water we so often call a sacrament. But the true sacrament is Jesus’ baptism which comes like wine across the sand, which actually takes us away from the security of our stone house. We start with johns baptism but we leave it behind when we follow Jesus.

In the book of Acts, when Paul encountered the Christians in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6), the baptism with water John offered was all they had known and they did not even realise there was a baptism of the Holy Spirit or that they were missing it. How much has the church today become like the Ephesians in this story? We baptise with water but I don’t think most of us realise there is a more important baptism, the baptism of the Spirit. But what, then, was this new baptism that Jesus was to offer? What does it mean to be baptised in the spirit? Johns baptism was only a symbol. A symbol of an internal repentance. A symbol of a change of mind.

But Jesus’ baptism is not a symbol. It is a true washing. It is a cleansing of the soul. It is Christ’s real and powerful action within our hearts. John’s baptism is something we choose, something we decide, something we work for. Jesus’ baptism is something that just happens, once you’re ready. You might know you’re ready, you might not. You might think you’re ready and be wrong. You don’t get to decide. Christ decides. You only accept it and embrace it. Because fighting it is like fighting the tide, you’re bound to drown. Some people say we are all on the path to salvation and there are two roads, we can take the hard road of suffering or we can take the easy road of repentance.

It’s not a matter of if we will be saved but when. When you swim against the tide the tide still wins, it just takes a little longer and hurts a little more. So do not resist the ocean when it rolls across the fence of sand between you and God. Do not struggle against it but simply trade in your nice house with its firm foundation and live in the coral with the fish, and learn to breath under water. That is the change that can’t be undone. Once you learn to breath under water, you are fundamentally transformed. You are no longer a cucumber, but you become a pickle and there is no turning back.

So my friends, I encourage you, as you go about your day, to think about your baptism:

What did it mean?

How has it changed You?

Have you received John’s baptism but not Jesus’s?

Have you had the water placed on your head but not received the Spirit in your heart?

What does it mean to repent?

Have you ever really had to change your mind about something?

John’s call for repentance, his message of metanoia, was meant to change the minds of those who heard it. To repent means to let go of what you might know, of what you hold to be true. It is a change of world view, a shift in consciousness. What good is baptism without repentance? What good is the water without the Spirit? Don’t be satisfied with the outward symbol but seek after the inward motion. If you sit long enough by the shore, one day the tide might roll in and change your everything. When Paul laid his hands on the Christians in Ephesus they began to tell prophesies. Their religion shifted from a belonging system to a transformation system. The clear message in that passage from Acts is that the ritual washing is not enough, but that it is the Spirit who changes us.

John’s baptism with water was only the first step, repentance was only the beginning. After John’s repentance came Jesus’s baptism, the baptism of the Spirit which fundamentally changes who we are and opens us up to prophesies from Heaven. Once we have experienced this, we learn to breath under water, we give up our stone house with its sure foundation, and we live in the power of the Spirit. There is no turning back, just like a pickle can never be a cucumber, someone who has been baptised by the Spirit can no longer live as they used to. Their eyes are opened and they see the world in a whole new light. They do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God.

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Mystery in the Stars: The Story of Epiphany

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Today is the feast of Epiphany in the church calendar. The day when we celebrate those three wise men who came to visit Jesus and bring him gifts. The word epiphany itself comes from ancient Greek times. Before it was used to describe the moment of Christ’s being revealed to the world it was used to describe the celebration of any god who had appeared in a particular place and time. Such as the epiphany of Apollos at Delphi or the epiphany of Zeus at Panamara.

When Christians speak of Epiphany we speak specifically of the epiphany of Emmanuel at Bethlehem. The appearance of the heavenly Father in the form of a human child. The feast of Epiphany in Christianity marks the celebration of Emmanuel being revealed to the world. However, the word epiphany in common use today has come to mean something less specific. It no longer means a God made manifest in the world, now it means a spiritual realization, something which changes us and who we are.

If I were to say to you that I had an epiphany, you would assume I meant I had an a-ha moment, that I had screamed “Eureka!” and leaped out of the bath tub like Archimedes. This is because today epiphany means a profound realization, typically one which changes who we are in some fashion. An Epiphany is a life changing understanding which comes to us in a flash. This is likely because somewhere in the subconscious of our culture we still assume inspiration comes from God.

But either way, whether you use the word in the ancient Greek sense, the traditional Christian sense, or the modern secular sense, the word epiphany denotes a sense of interaction between the world of the mundane and the world of the divine. It implies a sort of revelation, whether it be physical, mental, or spiritual. Today, on the celebration of Epiphany, we recognize the beauty that is God’s presence in the world.

We recognize God’s presence in the world as the baby Jesus in particular, but also generally, in our own lives, in our hearts and minds, and even in the stars and in our dreams. The story from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 2:1-12) of the three wise men fulfills the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 60:1-9)

Isaiah was prophesying about the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. Specifically, wise men who came bearing gifts and following a star. These wise men must have had great faith to follow a mysterious star through the night to a little insignificant barn in a little insignificant town so that they could worship a baby born to two lowly peasants and resting with animals in the hay.

But how could they have known to follow that star? How could they have known it would lead them to a baby? And how could they have known that this baby was born king of the Jews? What sort of wisdom is this that allows them to know these things, as the wise men themselves put it, simply by “watching his star rise”? There is some sort of mystery which we do not have knowledge of here. Not only the mystery of what these wise men knew and did but the mystery of Isaiah’s prediction of it 700 years before it happened.

The word mystery comes from the Greek Mysterion, which means a secret rite or doctrine. The Bible speaks about the mysteries of God and of Christ in many instances. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2), Paul speaks plainly about secret mysteries only available to those who are, what he calls, “mature” or “spiritual”. So, these mysteries are not something which is unknowable, but something which is only understood by those who have matured in their faith.

The mysteries of God are something which can be known, at least in part, by those who are dedicated and earnest. God’s mystery is not unknowable but infinitely knowable. We can constantly know more and yet never know it all. Much like the wise men who were able to interpret the meaning of the stars and greet the infant Christ, or the prophet Isaiah who was able to see the entire scene 700 years before it happened, we are able to tap into the mystery of God. God’s wisdom is out there waiting for us to find it.

Paul says that these mysteries were revealed to him, and his companions, directly by the Spirit. Paul explains that the Spirit of God searches all things, even the depths of God, and that it alone knows God’s being in entirety. Paul emphasizes that these teachings are not of this world, nor communicated by the words of men, but that these things can only be taught by the Spirit. The true wisdom of God cannot be communicated through words, it is something which surpasses all language and all the wisdom of this world.

This means that even Paul himself cannot communicate these mysteries to us completely. Even his teaching can only show us God’s mysteries, as he put it later in his letter, as if we were looking at them through a dirty window. The only way to come to understand the mysteries which surpass language is direct revelation from the Spirit itself. This revelation can come in many forms. At the end of the passage we read from Matthew the three wise men are warned in a dream not to return to Herod with information about the location of the baby Jesus. Of course, Herod would have killed the boy if he had found him, so it is very fortunate that they had this dream, and that they acted upon it.

Dreams are one method by which we can encounter the mysteries of God, but it is not always easy to interpret them or understand them, sometimes they are weird and confusing, they don’t always make sense. They are often entwined with the incoherent ramblings of our subconscious minds. If one is looking for easy answers, dreams are not usually the place to look. But God does not necessarily want us to have easy answers, sometimes we are meant to sit in awe of the mystery which is God.

The mysteries of the Lord may be something which we can know in part but the knowledge of God never ends and we can never reach the depths of that sea. Kallistos Ware, a contemporary and English speaking bishop of the Eastern Orthodox Church, has this to say about the subject:

“We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder…In the Christian context, we do not mean by a “mystery” merely that which is baffling and mysterious, an enigma or insoluble problem. A mystery is, on the contrary, something that is revealed for our understanding, but which we never understand exhaustively because it leads into the depth or the darkness of God. The eyes are closed—but they are also opened.”

He says here that a mystery is something which has been revealed for our understanding. The word reveal has the same root as the word revelation which is the Latin revelare. Revelare means to unveil, uncover, or lay bare. In the religious sense revelation is an act of God upon the human mind which uncovers the truth hidden there. We often speak of scripture as divine revelation, something which was physically written by human hands but which was made known to the person writing it by a divine act of unveiling.

The Holy Spirit has the ability to remove the veil which covers our eyes. As Jesus often put it, we are given eyes which can see or ears which can hear – as if our eyes and ears are covered by veils which need to be removed. This act of removing the veil which covers our eyes reveals something which was there all along. The issue is not that the mysteries are far removed from us, the issue is that we have eyes but do not see, ears but do not hear.

The magi in the reading from Matthew followed a star. Now, a star is not something which is hidden, it is a bright light in the sky for all to see. Yet Herod, who wished very much to find the baby Jesus as well, while being perfectly able to see the star, could not understand its true meaning. He had eyes but could not see. He did not understand the significance of the things around him. There was a veil which prevented him from understanding the mystery of the Heavens. The veil which covered Herod’s eyes was the meditation in his heart, his intentions were evil and he was full of pride. The wise men, on the contrary, were humble. They traveled a great distance to bring lavish gifts to and kneel before a baby in a barn.

It seems, from this story at least, that humility is the key which opens the door to God’s mysteries, those who praise the Lord, even when he comes in the form of a helpless child in an insignificant town in a faraway land, those humble and wise men will have the mysteries of the heavens revealed to them and the Lord will speak to them in their dreams. While the proud, people like the king Herod who wanted to maintain his position of power and who was willing to manipulate the wise men so that he could kill the Lord incarnate, a proud man like this had his eyes covered, he had ears but could not hear.

We must kneel before the power of God and be humble before the innocence of the Christ child if we wish to have the veil removed from our eyes. The mysteries of God can be found all around us. They can be found in the stars and in our dreams, they can be found in scripture and sacred music, they can be found in the words of our family and loved ones, in the rising and setting of the sun, they can be found in silence, they can be found anywhere and everywhere.

But, if we are to see them, we must mature in our faith. We must be the spiritual people which Paul spoke of. We must live in the glory and power of the Holy Spirit and be simple servants of what is good and just. We must be humble enough to kneel before an infant, have faith enough to follow a star to a distant land, and be wise enough to listen to our dreams.

So my friends, I encourage you to look deeply at the world around you, see what is on the surface but also see what lies beneath it. Do not be afraid to hear God’s call, do not be afraid to see God’s mysteries in the stars, or in your dreams, or in the way the sun rises or the way the wind blows. Our God is master of all of nature and he can speak to us in any way he chooses. But know that God is speaking to you, always and forever. In every moment there is a message from Heaven for those who have eyes that see and ears that hear.

We need never be in doubt or feel lost, for our savior leads us along the path of life. We never need to feel alone for God is present in the rolling thunder and the quiet stillness, God is present in everything, just barely hidden underneath the veil of this world. Lift that veil, peek behind the obvious and behold the mysteries which await you there. And in so doing, you will come to know the mysteries of God, you will come to understand where God is leading you and what God is telling you.

You will come to live in communion with the Holy Spirit and partake in its power and its peace. And once you have found this place, this place which is here hidden beneath the veil of pride, doubt, and distraction, you will become instruments of God’s peace and servants of the infant Christ. This is the most important task in the Christian life: to know the mystery. Not to understand it and dissect it, but to have touched it, to know how vast and loving it is.

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