11/28/2017 § 3 Comments
In the seventh chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus is invited to a respectable house to dine. The dinner is interrupted by a woman whom the host knows to be a “sinner.” She brings an alabaster jar of myrrh, settles at Jesus’ feet, and undertakes what clearly is an act of regret and reverence: weeping, she kisses and anoints his feet, wiping them with her hair. After a plain-spoken exchange with his host, Jesus concludes a little parable with the statement that her many sins are forgiven because she has loved much. One can draw lessons from the story so far about pride, and the importance of love (agape) in the hierarchy of virtue.
But this morning I was struck freshly by Jesus’ words directly to the woman: “Your faith has rescued you; go in peace.” This is a phrase that Jesus uses not infrequently, when he is healing. A standard interpretation, which is what I have carried around in my head, is that the woman is forgiven because of her faith in Jesus, as a sort of reward for acceptance of his numen, his teaching, or his mission. This fits with the prior story, in which the analogue of “sin” is “debt.”
This morning, however, I hear another message in what Jesus says. When he tells someone “Your faith has made you whole, has healed you, has rescued you,” he is saying that they have faith. However empty their hands, or heavy their afflictions, this one thing is at work in them, which enables them to see a path to more abundant life: “The just shall live by faith (Habb. 2:4).” Moreover, they have (even by touching the hem of his garment in a crowd) acted on that faith (as Bill Taber construed the prophet’s words, “The just shall live by faithfulness”) And in these stories, Jesus is turning the focus away from his own agency to the evidence in the seeker that the divine author of faithfulness is at work. (“Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” Luke 18:19).
Modern Friends often abbreviate “the gospel as traditionally understood by Friends” to some such dry phrase as “everyone has access to the divine.” I often worry that this unintentionally (?) puts the emphasis on the human agent and flirts with the language of ownership and individuality. In the unwary, it can reduce a multidimensional message to a simple one more easily accommodated to our complacency.
The power that works in us does seek our opening to it, however tentative — “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” — yet it often is working where and as we cannot see. Our inward, unspoken poverty or hunger is invitation enough, and the Word of judgment and consolation can enter, cleaning and opening the springs of life. Therefore, saying “In case you didn’t know it, you have faith, you are not abandoned, and the evidence is that you came here to me” is itself a powerful gift (a gift full of power), and can be a healing one, and a door to hope, of which we so much stand in need!
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This is one root of the power of the Quaker message: God is at work, and you can see the evidence, even in your trials, your regrets, and your longing for hope, and for transformation: Come and see where the pearl of great price glows for your enrichment!
Here a passage from James Nayler’s Love to the Lost (in the section on “Justification,” and the immediately following one on “Hope”).
faith… is the gift of God, believes in the light, and follows it, and so leads to the life; and this faith that stands in the light and life, is the living faith, never without works, which works are love, meekness, patience, mortification, sanctification, justification, &c., the works of God in Christ Jesus, in which God’s workmanship is seen in the new creation, received in the faith, and in the obedience, to which the soul is purified, and victory witnessed over the world, sin and death….
Hope is a gift of God, and is pure, showing the purity of God, and His righteousness in Christ Jesus, the beholding whereof stays the soul from joining to the wicked one, when he tempts, because he sees in the light a better work to serve; so that until the time of that work being fully manifest, the hope is as an anchor to stay from following the unclean one, and so keeps out of the sin, and so makes not ashamed, even then in the time of want it hopes against hope.
When that life of Christ is not yet seen in its full power, yet it is evidenced in the hope, which is wrought in the patience and experience, whereby the love appears and the faith works… And this is that hope that enters within the vail, into the holy place, where the life and immortality is brought to light, which the mortal eye nor carnal senses cannot approach to.
And this is the living hope, which hopes to the end, that Christ and His righteousness may be revealed, to take away sin, and save from it, and out of it; and in hope of this, the children and babes of Christ wait in the obedience of the Spirit…but as He who has called to that hope is holy, so in His holiness is their conversation who are in His hope.
11/21/2017 § 3 Comments
Finally I’ve turned back to my “library” section, and am pleased to offer a short article by T.E. Harvey which I have found very valuable over the years, “Our Quaker ministry since the cessation of recording.”
A little context: The great movement to re-energize Quakerism in the late 1800s and early 1900s was more than a Quaker version of the “social gospel,” more than a revisiting and reinterpretation of Quaker theology and history, and more than an engagement with modernity (especially issues of labor and equity, the challenges of modern science, and the insights of Biblical scholarship). These elements were there, of course; as was a desire to move past the divisions and parties of the Age of Separations.
In among all these strands, however, was a mission to build up and unleash a ministry (preaching and teaching) that drew nourishment from a robust encounter with the times, and also offered spiritual and intellectual resources for that encounter. A recent study by Alice Southern argues that the Rowntree Series of Quaker histories were in part intended to educate and encourage this ministry — but this is old news. A.R. Barclay, J.S, Rowntree, J.W. Rowntree, Edward Grubb, John William Graham, Neave Brayshaw, Rufus Jones – these and other leaders of the Quaker aggiornamento wrote powerfully about the need for the renewal of Quaker ministry, and argued that the decline of the ministry was a contributing factor in the decline of the Society in the 19th century.
One outgrowth of the desire to encourage a more adequate ministry was a debate that raged for at least 3 decades, about whether the institution of the recorded ministry was outmoded, and even harmful — the reasoning being that it inhibited some Friends from making their contribution to the liveliness of worship. In 1924, London Yearly Meeting ended the practice, though it continued naming elders.
Harvey’s little article is an interesting reflection about 20 years after this action. As a young man, he had been in favor of abolishing the recorded ministry, but his meeting recorded him anyway, and he accepted the meeting’s discernment. When the Yearly Meeting moved to lay down the process, Harvey united with the decision. This background makes his reflections particularly valuable, since he had, as it were, been on all sides of the question, both in opinion and in experience.
The bits I find most valuable in this essay are two:  his examination of the question, Has this change had the effect we hoped, leading to a stronger and more widely shared ministry? and  what benefits of the old system (as he could report from experience) had just been lost?
This article, and others of its ilk, got me thinking, long ago, in terms of functions and processes that make for a healthy religious community — rather than specific organizational machinery. I encourage you to read it, and maybe pass it around your circle of friends for conversation.