A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

9 Destroy this Temple

9 Destroy this Temple 

Today's sermon comes from
John 2:18-21:

"18Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”
21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken."

These words, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,” are spoken just after Jesus has cleansed the temple of the moneylenders. His enemies, as usual, are hoping to extract some seditious or blasphemous statement from Him by asking Him by what authority He does these things. With His usual flamboyance Jesus comes up with a reply that both evades and confounds His enemies. The sound bite, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,” became a kind of signature for Jesus during His short stay in Jerusalem. "Oh yeah, He's the guy who's gonna tear down the temple, and throw it back up, har, har."

One of the interesting things I noted while researching this scripture was that there are several aspects of Jesus' statement that are open to interpretation; for instance, many people think that for the scene to make sense it requires some dramaturgy--some staging. There are disagreements. To whom is Jesus speaking when He says, "Destroy this temple"? Is He motioning with his finger toward Himself or toward the Pharisees? Which temple is He referring to, the stone temple in front of Him, or the human body in which His own spirit now dwells? The story is like Shakespeare--you can stage it many ways, but the bottom-line interpretation remains the same: this temple, this body is temporal, but the spirit is eternal.

The historical significance of the story is that it is Jesus' first public declaration, in Jerusalem, of His Divine mission as the Messiah. I place emphasis on this, because the three years He spent ministering in the countryside OUTSIDE Jerusalem function as mere prelude to the final week He spent INSIDE Jerusalem--the Big Apple. True, this particular trip to Jerusalem, the first reported in the Bible since Jesus was 12, was only one of several times that Jesus visited Jerusalem; but it must be admitted that His impact for good and ill was greater in the city than in the country, and each time He visited the city His enemies became more enraged and vindictive. Thus, His adventures in Nazareth, Cana, Bethany, and there and about, were material for myth to be sure, and they provide us with the stories and sayings that constitute the sacred Gospels, but, truth to be told, the culmination of His plans to initiate the building of a Heaven on Earth takes place in Jerusalem, where the big political forces lived and made history. Thus, in the very beginning are sown the seeds of the end, because from the beginning Jesus states His business, and prophesies the outcome--His crucifixion. The cycle of birth and death runs as an irresistible background behind every word Jesus speaks.

I thought that, while we're talking about temples, you might like to hear some background on the temple in question:

Second Temple‬
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"The Second Temple was an important Jewish shrine which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BCE and 70 CE. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon.

The accession of Cyrus the Great of Persia in 538 BCE made the re-establishment of the city of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple possible. According to the Bible, when the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem following a decree from Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:1-4, 2 Chron 36:22-23), construction started at the original site of Solomon's Temple, which had remained a devastated heap during the approximately 70 years of captivity (Dan. 9:1-2). After a relatively brief halt due to opposition from peoples who had filled the vacuum during the Jewish captivity (Ezra 4), work resumed c. 521 BCE under the Persian King Darius (Ezra 5) and was completed during the sixth year of his reign (c. 518/517 BCE), with the temple dedication taking place the following year.
Around 19 BCE, Herod the Great renovated the Temple, which became known as Herod's Temple.

The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE under Titus, decisively ending the Great Jewish Revolt that had begun four years earlier. The lower levels of the Western Wall form part of the few surviving remains of Herod's complex.
Traditional rabbinic sources state that the Second Temple stood for 420 years and based on the 2nd-century work Seder Olam Rabbah, place construction in 350 BCE (3408 AM), 166 years later than secular estimates, and destruction in 70 CE (3829 AM)."

So, we're talking about a building that had been around a LONG time. The mere suggestion, to the Jews, of destroying such an established entity, a primary signifier for the identity of the entire Jewish State, must have struck fear into the pharisees' hearts down to the very foundations. Notice how Jesus takes the material of the moment, (the Temple), and uses the smoke and mirrors of language to unveil the cosmic significance of it. Very cool. And He can do that with ANYTHING! So, was it just a metaphor, or did Jesus speak true words of prophecy (since we know the temple was completely destroyed by the Romans a mere 70 years later)? As usual, with Jesus, it's both--
1. symbolic statements, in the style of the parable, and
2. true prophecy.

What a guy! I mean you have to admire the STYLE on the dude--He was so on top of those Pharisees--He saw them coming way down the road. And yet he rushed into their arms, loving them all the time they were killing them! I'm sure that one of the most infuriating things about, Jesus to the Pharisees, was His great beaming smile. And yet, we may be sure that the compassionate Jesus was laughing with them not at them; with a little condescension, to be sure, but still perfectly accepting. Would that I could be half as accepting.

The following is an Easter Meditation on John 2:13-19 written by Tim Melton on April 23, 2011. It includes more history about the various temples, and comes to a conclusion about the significance of Jesus' promise to raise the temple in three days:

You Will Tear It Down, But I Will Raise it Up Again

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.
You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves,
and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area,
both sheep and cattle;
he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said,
“Get these out of here!

How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

…Then the Jews demanded of him,
“What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
How do we understand these words of Jesus?  What does He mean,
“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

“You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.”

 To understand, we have go back to that ancient Garden, the Garden of Paradise, the very home of God, where the Lord dwelt together with Adam and Eve in peace and harmony.  This is the setting of our original design. This was our home.  Our Temple and God’s Temple. God dwelling with man.  Indeed, all the world was a temple of the Holy Spirit.  All the world was the Holy Place.  All the world was where man reclined himself in the arms of God.  And so we rested safe in Him, delighting in His Love, resting in His Grace, until that fate filled moment.  That moment when the Serpent of old cast doubt in our hearts…and we ate of that forbidden knowledge.  We swallowed darkness.  We kissed the mouth of shame.  And thus we were cast from the bosom of our God, cast away from the Garden, cast away from the Temple, the dwelling place of God. But in Genesis 3:15 is the whisper…”

“You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.”

And all men after dwelt on the face of the earth in pain, in darkness, and in death.  But then, the Lord appeared to Abraham and a promise came.  A promise of the Garden, A Land, A People.  God would dwell with man once more.  God would not leave us forsaken.  He would not leave us without hope.  Then with the Prophet Moses, the promise grew.  A people specially chosen to dwell with Christ.  A nation of blessed ones received the Garden once more.  And so, coming down from Holy Mountain Sinai, inside these people, inside their mobile city, inside their makeshift camp, inside a tent, deep inside…the Word of God rested within a tiny box.  Here was a tiny swatch of the Garden, a footprint of paradise, here was the Tabernacle. God dwelt with men once more.

“You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.”

Yet, the Garden had no home.  No permanent place to rest.  So King Solomon, son of David, gave a stationary home to the Garden.  Still a swatch.  Still a patch.  Only a fingerprint of Eden. Only a fingernail of Glory. Yet, this tabernacle of wood and cloth came to rest upon a land of promise, and a cornerstone was laid in Zion, upon the Holy Hill of God.  Glory.  Glory.  Glory.  Bedecked with jewels and gold, this Holy structure blazed in the noon-day sun.  God dwelled among men.  The Temple was established.  The City set on a Hill.  The City of God.  The Garden now stood still and men poured forth from all four corners of the world to get a glimpse of the Holy Wall, around the City, around the Holy Place, around the Holy of Holies, the Word of God kept safe within a tiny box, the Ark of the Covenant, where a tiny patch of Eden housed the Glory of God.

“You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.”

But just like before, the garden could not last.  The Kings of Israel and Judah sinned against God just like their Grandparents before them.  They bit the fruit of forbidden knowledge.  They swallowed darkness.  They kissed the mouth of shame.  In 786 B.C. the glory of God departed.  Walls: burned.  The Temple: torched.  The tiny box containing the Word of God was torn from the fingers of men.  And just like Adam and Eve before them, the people were cast out of the Garden in Shame, led away in tears.  Led away in chains.

“You have torn it down, but I will raise it up again.”

70 years later a second temple was built again by Zerubbabel.  This time.  No beauty.  No glory.  Just a shell really.  The tiny box of Eden was gone.  Without the Word of God inside the Ark of the Covenant, the temple was as hollow as old woman’s womb.  Like a barren wife, the people of God laid down and wept.  They wept for the Garden.  They wept for the Glory.  They wept for the Word.  They wept, longing to be held once again in the bosom of their God. But a promise came through the Prophet Haggai.  “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? It seems like nothing to you. But now be strong.  Be strong, for I am with you. I will keep my promise.  My Spirit remains among you.  I will take care of you.  I am with you. Do not fear.  The Desired One of all nations will come to you I will fill this house with His Glory. The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the one before it.”

“You have torn it down, but I will raise it up again.”

Then one night, underneath a Shepherd’s Star, the garden of Eden returned.  Inside a cursed city.  Inside a stable.  Inside a barn.  Lying in a manger.  Wrapped in swaddling clothes.  The Word of God, not in a box, but made one with a little boy.  The Word made flesh dwelt among us.  The tabernacle of God inside a baby’s chest.  The Garden of the Lord resting in a young girls’ arms.  And so He grew, the Word of God, and fulfilled Haggai’s promise.  As the very Glory of God, breezed into the temple and said “This is my Father’s House.  This house belongs to me.” And further he went.  Into the Holy Place, and behind the curtain, into the Holy of Holies.
The Word of God made Flesh said this is my Home.
And so the religious leaders demanded of him,
“What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”

And they did. 
They tore him down.  Down.  Down.  Down. They reviled him.  They dismantled him.
They insulted him. They cursed Him.
They tore that Temple of Flesh and Blood down to the ground.
They Spit on the House of God.
They mocked and jeered the Word of God made flesh.
They stripped Him down in Shame.
They Defiled the Holy Garden.
In Bloody Sorrow, they ripped that Temple down.
And like a barren wife, the people of God laid down and wept.
They wept for the Garden.
They wept for the Glory.
The wept for the Word.
They wept…
And But not for long.  Not long at all.

Because He did.
They did.But He did.

For three days later, never more to fall,
Glory came back to the World,
The Garden raised up from the ground,
Sin and Death and Shame were Slain.
The Curse was Cursed.
And all the world became the Holy Place.
And all God’s People became an everlasting Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Because Jesus, now and forevermore, has raised it up again.

The following online article: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up, gives a very good summary of the important points of this story:

"Scripture: John 2:13-25 
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business.
15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade."
17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me."
18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing this?"
19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
20 The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?"
21 But he spoke of the temple of his body.
22 When therefore he  was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
23 Now  when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did;
24 but Jesus did not trust himself to them,
25 because he knew all men and needed no one to 
bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.

Meditation: What can keep us from the presence of God?  Jesus’ dramatic cleansing of the temple was seen by his disciples as a prophetic sign of God’s action.  The temple was understood as the dwelling place of God among his people.  When God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt, he brought them through the sea, and finally to Mount Sinai where he made a covenant with them and gave them a new way of life embodied in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).  God gave Moses instruction for worship and for making the Tabernacle, or tent of meeting, which was later replaced by the temple. The New Testament tells us that these “serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary” – God’s Temple in heaven (Hebrews 8:5).  Jesus’ cleansing of the temple is also a prophetic sign of what he wants to do with each of us.  He ever seeks to cleanse us of sin and make us living temples of his Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). Do you thirst for holiness?

Jesus referred to the temple as his Father’s house which was being made into “house of trade” (John 2:16) or “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). That is why he used physical force to expel the money-changers.  The prophecy of Malachi foretold the coming of the Lord unexpectedly to his Temple to “purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord” (Malachi3:1-4). Jesus' disciples recalled the words of Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” This was understood as a Messianic prophecy. Here the disciples saw more clearly Jesus as the Messiah who burned with zeal for God's house.

The Jewish authorities, however, wanted proof that Jesus had divine authority to act as he did. They demanded a sign from God to prove Jesus right, otherwise, they would treat him as an imposter and a usurper of their authority. Jesus replied that the sign God would give would be his resurrection: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up". The Jews did not understand that the temple Jesus referred to was his own body. The “tent of his body” had to be destroyed to open the way to the presence of God for us. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus not only reconciles us with God, but he fills us with his Holy Spirit and make us temples of the living God (1 Cor. 6:19-20). God's word enlightens our minds and purifies our hearts that we may offer God fitting worship and enjoy his presence both now and forever. Do you burn with zeal for the Lord’s house?

"Lord Jesus Christ, you open wide the door of your Father’s house and you bid us to enter confidently that we may worship in spirit and truth. Help me to draw near to your throne of mercy with gratitude and joy".
We begin to see that Jesus claims with authority from his ability to perform miracles--His own resurrection."

This is from Barnes' Notes on the Bible
"Destroy this temple - The evangelist informs us John 2:21 that by "temple," here, he meant his body. It is not improbable that he pointed with his finger to his body as he spoke. The word "destroy," used here in the "imperative," has rather the force of the "future." Its meaning may thus be expressed: "You are now profaners of the temple of God. You have defiled the sanctuary; you have made it a place of traffic. You have also despised my authority, and been unmoved by the miracles which I have already performed. But your wickedness will not end here. You will oppose me more and more; you will reject and despise me, until in your wickedness you will take my life and 'destroy' my body." Here was therefore a distinct prediction both of his death and the cause of it. The word "temple," or "dwelling," was not unfrequently used by the Jews to denote the "body" as being the residence of the spirit, 2 Corinthians 5:1. Christians are not unfrequently called the temple of God, as being those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells on earth, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16. Our Saviour called his body a temple in accordance with the common use of language, and more particularly because "in him the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily," Colossians 2:9. The temple at Jerusalem was the appropriate dwelling-place of God. His visible presence was there especially manifested, 2 Chronicles 36:15; Psalm 76:2. As the Lord Jesus was divine - as the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in him so his body might be called a "temple."

[Sidebar: The identification of the human body as the temple of God is more than a poetic construction; here, Jesus is claiming an intimate identification of himself with the church--He is saying, "I am the church; and if you follow Me you will become the church!" Saint Paul says, in
1 Corinthians 3:17:

"If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."

Thus, we are the church in exact proportion to how closely we identify with Jesus and His divine establishment.

As an historian, of sorts, I have often contemplated the effect that Jesus had on the world. It really is, indeed, a staggering accomplishment; there have been unbelievable acts of subhuman cruelty performed in the name of Jesus, but I think it is fair to say that the church established a heaven on Earth, not because the church building is heavenly, but because this bureaucratic structure, this warehouse of the Holy Scriptures, continues, through the years, to make the wisdom, and grace of Jesus universally accessible. I don't think we have to quibble about whether Jesus is for everyone--as we have seen many times in our discussions of parable, many people can handle just so much Jesus before they tap out. Still others hear His words to the fullest and live transformed lives and transform lives accordingly. In short, you can give Jesus to all the people some of the time, to some of the people all the time, but you can't give Jesus to all the people all the time; it is a flawed system, but it works. It works for us, it works for me. Thank you Jesus.]

On with Barnes' Notes on the Bible:

In three days I will raise it up - The Jews had asked a "miracle" of him in proof of his authority that is, a proof that he was the Messiah. He tells them that a full and decided proof of that would be his "resurrection from the dead." Though they would not be satisfied by any other miracle, yet by this they ought to be convinced that he came from heaven, and was the long-expected Messiah. He refers them to the same evidence, revealed on other occasions, that he was the Christ. Thus early did he foretell his death and resurrection, for at the beginning of his work he had a clear foresight of all that was to take place.

This knowledge shows clearly that he came from heaven, and it evinces, also, the extent of his love that he was "willing" to come to save us, knowing clearly what it would cost him. Had he come "without" such an expectation of suffering, his love might have been far less; but when he fully knew all that was before him, when he saw that it would involve him in contempt and death, it shows compassion "worthy of a God" that he was willing to endure the load of all our sorrows, and die to save us from death everlasting.

When Jesus says, "I will raise it up," it is proof, also, of divine power. A mere "man" could not say this. No deceased "man" can have such power over his body; and there must have been, therefore, in the person of Jesus a nature superior to human to which the term "I" could be applied, and which had power to raise the dead - that is, which was divine."

Once again, we see the propensity of Christians to depend on miracles as the foundation of belief; to somehow insist that it is the power to work miracles that is the defining trait of divinity, rather than the idea that divinity brings with it a plethora of powers, of which the working of miracles is merely one of many subordinate ones. My problem with this is that, as we have discussed before, we are surrounded by little miracles every day, so it is hard for me to condone belief based on sensation, phenomenology. Understand, it is not hard for me to accept the miracle, and it is not hard to believe the miracle, it is simply dangerous to place too much emphasis on the phenomenology of the miracle. There are so many wonders in this world that may seduce our attention away from God--miracles, if given too much weight, may become even such a distraction. Plus, I keep remembering Jesus' words to Doubting Thomas:

"Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

There is another aspect of this story that I wanted to comment on before we close: I wanted to think about what this story has to do with attachment. All this talk about destroying evokes, in the listener's perspective, a warlike or some other negative attitude, an attitude which may not be consistent with the scripture at all. Notice that death and rebirth are contained in the same sentence, death and rebirth are presented as a unity. If Jesus points His finger at the Pharisees when he says, "Destroy", He is affirming the existence of man's ancient tendency toward negativity in the face of the unexplained; if Jesus points His finger at Himself when he says, "Destroy", He is adding to the resonance of the metaphor by equating Himself with the Church, He is prophesying, AND He is suggesting that all life will die and be reborn. This is really Jesus' big message: THERE IS NO DEATH. Out of this one FACT, every moral principle known to Man logically follows. The fact that there is no death is a first principle from which every other principle springs.

What does this have to do with attachment? Well, it's not too difficult to suggest that part of the reason people are selfish, or stingy, is because they think there isn't enough to go around--they think they have to hoard everything they have, because, if they don't, you might get some of theirs, and then they will be in want. Boo hoo. They think that there isn't enough, because death ends it; the fear of death, the effort to put off death by accumulating goods, the losing of the self in the gutter of sensation and phenomenology--these things motivate every immoral act; and every immoral act is wrong because it just doesn't admit to eternal life.

If everybody had the sense that there was infinite time, and infinite material, and everybody has forever to get, or see, or do EVERYTHING, maybe they wouldn't be so grasping; maybe they would realize that there is time enough, and space enough, and enough stuff for everybody. Jesus is not only saying that the things of temporal existence are impermanent, illusory, but He is saying that there is no point in being attached to these physical things because they are just going to die and become something new anyway. It is a miracle how lightly Jesus throws off His physical body--as if the rebuilding of the Human Temple was the snap of fingers! You can't get attached to a sunbeam--no matter how you try to contain it, it slips right through your fingers. We are beings of light and cannot be contained by physical constraints, any more than can a sunbeam.

John 2:18-21:

"18Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”
21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken."

Before we close, I wanted to point out a delightful synchronicity that has reared its nose into our recent activities, to whit: You will no doubt have noticed that I am sometimes oblivious to seasonal signifiers, like turkey sermons on Thanksgiving, etc. I usually have my own agenda, which consumes my attention, at the expense of sensitivity to current events. Last year I went through the Synoptic Gospels a section at a time, and now I'm slavishly going through John a section at a time; we are at the very beginning of John, barely out of the second chapter. The interesting thing, vis. a vis. seasonal considerations, is how I stumbled onto an Easter sermon, evoked by an event that is cited at the very beginning of the book, something that happened at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem. For, indeed, this first public statement of Jesus contains the beginning and the end in a single moment. Just as Christmas always has the shadow of the crucifixion hanging over it, so does Easter proclaim a rebirth.

To be sure, I had intended to start talking about Easter stuff pretty soon, but little did I suspect that I would be stumbling, so soon, into seasonal synchronicities and epiphanies. I mean to say that, as Easter approaches, if we can kindle the same enthusiasm and interest in Easter that we did for Christmas, we will have have a glorious numinous moment when the moment arrives. We are drawn to it--we are drawn to the tomb, and are exalted when we finally manage to look past it.

Let us pray: Jesus thank you for your wisdom. Your words are ever gentle on our hearts. Fears and anxieties may invade our sleep, but Your Presence, carried to our minds through Your words, soothes our panting brains, and gives us peace. Thanks again for that. Amen

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Little Miracles

8 Little Miracles
The following scripture refers to the first public (notice I say public) miracle of Jesus, the turning of water into wine at the marriage of Cana.

John 2:11
11This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

We have spoken of miracles before. I believe in them--I watch for them every day. Recall my statement to ACS when I signed on there:

"I have be honest--I don't really CARE about the whole evolution controversy: my whole life is a stream of little miracles, one after the other, such that it is no problem for me to accept the possibility of creation in a moment of time. In a supernatural world, created by a supernatural God, what DIFFERENCE does it make whether six days is an allegorical expression or a literal expression? The miracle is there regardless of how you think about it, and it defies us to achieve any rational apprehension of it. Faith is the evidence of things not seen, and yet it takes no faith to see the world right there in front of us--right now. Thank you God!"

Furthermore, it must be observed that the insistence of Creationists on the chronology given in the Bible does not take into account the fact that miraculous events involve a slipping through time. With a miracle, we leave time behind, and approach the Throne in a timeless eternal moment. Once again, in an eternal moment, who cares if the earth were created in 6 days or 6 eons? Within the context of a timeless miracle, 6 days and 6 eons are the same.

If a miracle can be said to be the projection of divine power and intelligence into the stream of daily mundane activities, then it may be fairly said that miracles are my stock in trade; all week I guide people into higher dimensions of themselves by helping them assimilate various levels of consciousness into a single heightened level of consciousness. These flights bring the student into contact with miraculous, or at least superhuman feats of concentration and transformation. This is what I mean when I say above, "my whole life is a stream of little miracles, one after the other." They may not be water-into-wine, but they are magical events that can claim as much solemnity and reverence as raising Lazarus.

Now, the attraction I had to the scripture this week had not to do with the Walt Disney side of miracles, but the clause:

"manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him."

The implication here is that miracles are a key to faith; in fact many mainstream, fundamentalist Christians base their faith almost exclusively on the evidence of miracles--whether they happened in historical fact is less important than the mythologizing of the events into spiritual eternity. Belief, then, is participation in the miraculous manifestation of Divine Glory; the question is which comes first, the belief or the miracle? If the belief comes first, the miracle may be thought of as a manifestation of the belief; if the miracle comes first, then faith is merely the evidence of things not seen. It is a question, always, in my mind, why people place so much importance on miracles? Why do they need miracles to believe? I guess most people are not as surrounded by miracles as I am, so a miracle is an unusual and exotic thing; maybe the belief in some impossibly big miracle makes all the other smaller miracles more believable. When Yoda lifts up Luke Skywalker's  space ship out of the swamp with his will, he says that picking up a space ship is no different than picking up a twig--the quality of the miraculous, the intersection of the eternal with the temporal, is the same.

Wikipedia always has some interesting historical trivia to offer; today we will trim it down because we have reviewed some of this before.

"A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that God may work with the laws of nature to perform what people perceive as miracles. Theologians say that, with divine providence, God regularly works through created nature yet is free to work without, above, or against it as well.

In casual usage, "miracle" is seen as any event that is statistically unlikely but beneficial, (such as surviving a natural disaster), or simply a "wonderful" occurrence, regardless of likelihood, such as a birth. Other miracles might be: survival of a terminal illness, escaping a life threatening situation or 'beating the odds'. Some coincidences may be perceived to be miracles."

[Sidebar: There are several pregnant phrases in that paragraph:
1. interruption of the laws of nature, and
2. God may work with the laws of nature to perform what people perceive as miracles.

Clearly, we are invited to conceive of nature as one vast miracle, the creation of which, (according to John and his claim that in the beginning the Word was with God), was the first, the single most important a prior miracle of them all. We have discussed this many times, and have come to the conclusion that it is the intersection of the divine with the physical, the Word made flesh, that is the model for all miracles worked between our two worlds since the beginning of time; thus, belief in miracles begins with belief in the very ground upon which we stand. And yet, there is something about miracles, this INTERRUPTION of the laws of nature, that is the attraction to the Disneyland mind set; it is this that seems to inspire belief.

Why do we need miracles to believe in the supernatural? Why do we need God to perform parlor tricks so that checker brains can understand? Well, maybe we don't need miracles, maybe miracles are merely a fact of life the presence of which we have, in general, underestimated rather than overestimated.

Like synchronicities, miracles are all around us waiting to be appreciated; every time life springs anew into the physical plane, we are reminded that every single moment of our lives is imbued with the miraculous; we are merely more or less aware of it, more or less engaged in the process of it.

And process it is--all sequential time orders events into processes which index the change from one physical state to another. The fascinating thing about spiritual practice is that you can witness the free exchange of energies between various planes of existence.

On with Wikipedia:

Explanations for miracles
Supernatural acts
A miracle is a phenomenon not fully explained by known laws of nature, or an act by some supernatural entity or unknown, outside force. Some scientist-theologians suggest that miracles are not violations of the laws of nature but "exploration of a new regime of physical experience".

Criteria for classifying an event as a miracle varies. Often a religious text, such as the Bible or Quran, states that a miracle occurred, and believers accept this as a fact. Many conservative religious believers hold that in the absence of a plausible, parsimonious scientific theory, the best explanation for these events is that they were performed by a supernatural being, and cite this as evidence for the existence of a god or gods. Some adherents of monotheistic religions assert that miracles, if established, are evidence for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God.

Events planned by God
In rabbinic Judaism, many rabbis mentioned in the Talmud held that the laws of nature were inviolable. The idea of miracles that contravened the laws of nature were hard to accept; however, at the same time they affirmed the truth of the accounts in the Tanakh. Therefore some explained that miracles were in fact natural events that had been set up by God at the beginning of time.

In this view, when the walls of Jericho fell, it was not because God directly brought them down. Rather, God planned that there would be an earthquake (or some such other natural disaster) at that place and time, so that the city would fall to the Israelites. Instances where rabbinic writings say that God made miracles a part of creation include Midrash Genesis Rabbah 5:45; Midrash Exodus Rabbah 21:6; and Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot 5:6.

Nonliteral interpretations of biblical accounts
Biblical literalism is not rigidly believed by all scholars: Non-literal interpretations of some scripture are held by both classical and modern thinkers. This may include the use of figure of speech, allegory, and exegesis.
In Numbers 22 is the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. Many hold that for miracles such as this, one must either assert the literal truth of this biblical story, or one must then reject the story as false. However, some Jewish commentators (e.g. Saadiah Gaon and Maimonides) hold that stories such as these were never meant to be taken literally in the first place. Rather, these stories should be understood as accounts of a prophetic experience, which are dreams or visions. (Of course, such dreams and visions could themselves be considered miracles.)

Joseph H. Hertz, a 20th century Jewish biblical commentator, writes that these verses "depict the continuance on the subconscious plane of the mental and moral conflict in Balaam's soul; and the dream apparition and the speaking donkey is but a further warning to Balaam against being misled through avarice to violate God's command."

Religious texts
Hebrew Bible
Descriptions of miracles (Hebrew Ness, נס) appear in the Tanakh. Examples include prophets, such as Elijah who performed miracles like the raising of a widow's dead son (1 Kings 17:17–24) and Elisha whose miracles include multiplying the poor widow's jar of oil (2 Kings 4:1–7) and restoring to life the son of the woman of Shunem (2 Kings 4:18–37).

New Testament
The gospels record three sorts of miracles performed by Jesus: exorcisms, cures, and nature wonders. In St John's Gospel the miracles are referred to as "signs" and the emphasis is on God demonstrating his underlying normal activity in remarkable ways. In the New Testament, the greatest miracle is the resurrection of Jesus, the event central to Christian faith.
Jesus explains in the New Testament that miracles are performed by faith in God. "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'move from here to there' and it will move." (Gospel of Matthew 17:20). After Jesus returned to heaven, the book of Acts records the disciples of Jesus praying to God to grant that miracles be done in his name, for the purpose of convincing onlookers that he is alive. (Acts 4:29–31). Other passages mention false prophets who will be able to perform miracles to deceive "if possible, even the elect of Christ" (Matthew 24:24, 2 Thes 2:9, Revelation 13:13).

Miracle in the Qur'an can be defined as a supernatural intervention in the life of human beings. According to this definition, Miracles are present "in a threefold sense: in sacred history, in connection with Muhammad himself and in relation to revelation." The Qur'an does not use the technical Arabic word for miracle (Muʿd̲j̲iza) literally meaning "that by means of which [the Prophet] confounds, overwhelms, his opponents". It rather uses the term 'Ayah' (literally meaning sign). The term Ayah is used in the Qur'an in the above mentioned threefold sense: it refers to the "verses" of the Qur'an (believed to be the divine speech in human language; presented by Muhammad as his chief Miracle); as well as to miracles of it and the signs (particularly those of creation).

To defend the possibility of miracles and God's omnipotence against the encroachment of the independent secondary causes, some medieval Muslim theologians such as Al-Ghazali rejected the idea of cause and effect in essence, but accepted it as something that facilitates humankind's investigation and comprehension of natural processes. They argued that the nature was composed of uniform atoms that were "re-created" at every instant by God. Thus if the soil was to fall, God would have to create and re-create the accident of heaviness for as long as the soil was to fall. For Muslim theologians, the laws of nature were only the customary sequence of apparent causes: customs of God.

The following is taken not from C.S.Lewis's book, Miracles, but from an online analysis of C.S.Lewis's book, Miracles; it is kind of like a Cliff Notes outline of the book. This section is from Chapter 3, and reveals a side of C.S.Lewis we only encounter in his most academic writing, the true philosopher following in the rationalist footsteps of Des Cartes:

“The movement of one unit is incalculable, just as the result of tossing a coin once is incalculable:  the majority movement of a billion units can however be predicted, just as, if you tossed a coin a billion times, you could predict a nearly equal number of heads and tails. 

Now it will be noticed that if this theory is true we have really
admitted something other than Nature.  If the movements of the
individual units are events ‘on their own,’ events which do not
interlock with all other events, then these movements are not part
of Nature.”

The knowledge we have of any information is observation + inference, thus all possible knowledge depends on the validity of reasoning.
i.  our observation demands that we recognize something outside ofourselves
ii.  when we recognize that which is outside of ourselves, then we arereasoning
iii.  “It follows that no account of the universe can be true unless that account leaves it possible for our thinking to be real insight. 

A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court.  For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished.  It would have destroyed its own credentials.  It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound—a proof that there are no such things as proofs—which is nonsense.”

            e.  If nature is explainable in terms of the whole system, it must, by definition, imply a cause & effect universe—cause and effect all of the way back to the beginning
            f.  In this view, then, reasoning must be nothing more than “one link in a causal chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of time.”
            g.  Thus, mental events are caused by previous mental events and nothing more—“knowledge” plays no role in the progression of these mental events—also mental events came into being in the same evolutionary way that physical events came into being—mental events to the naturalist, then are nothing
more than responses to stimuli.
            h.  Yet, the experience that things are always connected (fire burns you) is only of animal behavior, Reason comes into play when you infer something from the events
            i.  Nature cannot show how one turns sub-rational, animal instinct, into rational thought, thus a break in the chain occurs
            j.  Knowing is more than mere remembering what happened last time, but of inferring that what happened in the past will continue to take place in the future.  Inference, then is determined by genuine knowledge, not by cause and effect.
            k.  Inference and reason are the means by which we know and understand nature and how we explain nature and cannot be explained by nature."

The miracle of music is the brand of eternal moment that I prefer. Music puts me in touch (I SAY TOUCH) with supernatural realities every day. Music is an alchemy of transformation, a process by which abstract ideas appearing, on the mental plane, are given form in the material world. Remember, I didn't always think this--I used to think music REPRESENTED something. I no longer think this; I now know that music is a channel through which divine intelligence manifests itself, and touches us, and moves us.

Who has control of the miracle is an interesting question. I have made a case for the idea that epiphanies, ecstatic or intuitive episodes, or recognitions of a prophetic or synchronistic type, are governable by acts of will--that there are ceremonies, rituals, routines that the individual may enact that will promote the occasion of an epiphanic experience. However, most of what we call miracles, by any standard, come as a complete surprise--hence the intensified glamour of a miraculous event.

Miracles are generally felt to take place at random, not part of a chain of material causality, (possibly because each ascent into the spiritual dimension is experienced as an anomaly); but I suspect that there is large-scale cosmic clock that is keeping time to God's idiosyncratic rhythm. As we just read in the C.S. Lewis quote from above:

"The movement of one unit is incalculable, just as the result of tossing a coin once is incalculable:  the majority movement of a billion units can however be predicted, just as, if you tossed a coin a billion times, you could predict a nearly equal number of heads and tails. 

Now it will be noticed that if this theory is true we have really
admitted something other than Nature.  If the movements of the
individual units are events ‘on their own,’ events which do not
interlock with all other events, then these movements are not part
of Nature.”

In this paragraph, there is made a clear connection between nature and time; there is also the glaring implication that miracles exist outside of time. And yet, if a billion occurrences of heaven coming down reveal some kind of pattern, like great cosmic ocean waves, then it is possible to infer something else about the timetable and relative weights of miraculous events.

Let's look at these big miraculous waves and then consider the principle of fractals, one of the most important contributions, to human knowledge, of the so-called "new science. The idea of fractals simply states that the largest form in a piece of material is echoed down to the smallest sub-atomic level; the smallest part is the same as the larger part, for instance:

a a
a a
a a a a a

or, like a big tree seen from 50 feet away looks exactly the same as a small tree seen from 5 feet away.

So, I say, if we look at a big miracle as if it were a big rock thrown into a pond, we can see the rings spreading out in an ever-expanding circle from the center. Do not all these little waves, these echoes of the rock's big wave, share the same source and thus the same form as the the big wave? Certainly, the size and shape of the wave, taken at any two points in time, will be proportionally identical. Therefore, as we have already suggested, if the essential quality of all miracles is the same, then all these little miracles we can experience every day must be identified with that first big miracle, the miracle of creation--the Word made flesh. You cannot rationally go any further than this.

So, when all is said and done, it is a foregone conclusion that if there has ever been a miracle, EVER, it is only reasonable to suppose that smaller miracles may be (and probably are) happening all around us all the time. I believe that paying attention to these little miracles is one of the duties, nay, pleasures (notice how duty and pleasure are linked in the Christian system)--paying attention to these little miracles is one of the intense pleasures of the spiritual path.

Let us pray: Jesus, thank you for revealing your Divine Intelligence to us through miraculous events. Thanks for reaching out and touching us, across the bridge erected on the power of your ultimate sacrifice. Thanks for raising yourself from the dead so that all men could see and believe. Thanks for the wine, too. Amen.

Monday, March 12, 2012

7 Crying in the Wilderness

7 Crying in the Wilderness

Today's sermon is about speaking the truth to the silence of the desert--the barren, unpeopled desert. It also develops a link between the idea of "crying in the desert" with the idea of being "called". Like Jesus says, it is easy to love your friends, but harder to love your enemies; likewise, it is easy to speak the truth in a comfortable, supportive milieu in the city, but it is harder to seriously address a cactus with words of wisdom. Therefore, since the desert is, in principle, a crappy place to be, a place that no one in his right mind would CHOOSE to be, it's a safe bet that, any voices crying in any wilderness, were most likely sent there--sent there for a reason.

I have included a fair sized bundle of auto-biographical stuff, because I am using myself as an example of how each and every one of us is sent to preach the gospel SOMEWHERE SOMEHOW, even if it looks like nowhere.

To begin with the pertinent scriptures, here is:

Isaiah 40:3
"The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God."

Matthew 3
" 1In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
 2And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
 3For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

Mark 1:3
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

Luke 3:3-4
"3And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
 4As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

John 1:23
He said, I [am] the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.

My whole life, the expression, "a voice crying in the wilderness" has held an attraction for me, and I'll tell you why: it's because I always thought of myself as such a voice.

There were two things about the expression that I identified with:

first, there was the idea that I had been given a message from God that no-one but I could deliver to the thirsting ears of mankind--(music can be a living message from God, and I must be pretty cool to have been entrusted with such a message, eh what?--it's all about ME);

and, second,

I liked the desert idea, since I perceived my self-exile (to reaches on the earth ever further and further away from any possibility of professional success) to be somehow noble, or humanitarian-- (how heroically sacrificial of me to persevere, to surge ahead with my prophetic activities, singing my song to the heavens, even though here, on Earth, the bleachers were empty!). Anyway if you're a failure in the desert, who can fault you?

There is a third clause in this scripture that I have not heeded enough, but which I will pay greater attention to in the future: it is the idea of making straight the way of the lord. I'll be honest, I never really thought about what that meant--it always seemed like a poetic construction without much practical life application. In preparing this sermon I have discovered more of the meaning of the phrase "make straight the way of the lord." It refers to the announcing of the coming of the Messiah, and is not unlike any herald of royalty shouts out when the master is due to appear on a crowded city street. "Way for his majesty, make way!" Trumpet call here. These words are supposed get everybody to clear a path for the king--a straight path.

What I take "straight path" to refer to, in this context, is the potency and directness of the cry--emphasize "directness". In other words, if the devotee is sent by God into the desert, to announce the coming of the Christ, that announcement had better be clear as a bell, and completely pristine in its truth content--the straighter the better. This brings us to the music part:

What is this message that every person is sent to preach to the cactus? Everyone has a different message, every one has a different angle of God to express. For me it was a truth encoded into the specialized language of music; there has never been any doubt in my mind that I was burdened with some message, some insight, some unique brand of expression that it was my duty to set forth somewhere, but, although I demanded precision from my self, I was not that clear about WHOSE precision I was expressing. Over the past ten years or so I have become more and more humble on the subject of talents--that is to say I have taken less and less personal credit for my accomplishments, because I have become more and more aware of the guiding hand of Jesus in all my creative endeavors.

It is a common, shallow misconception that art is SELF-expression. If the art is good, it is because it is alive, it infects us with its energy, it moves us with its truth. If art tells the truth, is is speaking the Word. Thus, the best art cannot at all be properly attributed to the artist from whom it came, but must forever be associated with its true source, the Word made flesh.

Every piece has a specific spiritual component--that is, every piece brings down, into the physical, a different articulation of heavenly truth--living truth. Even if nobody hears it, the empty desert will receive it with gladness, because the truth of the tree falling silently in the forest is not the truth of the Word: the Word makes a sound no matter who is there to hear. Thus, my voice in the wilderness was music, resounding through eternity, because it comes from God, and goes back to God. Heaven comes down, and makes a heaven of everything it touches;thus is the desert made heaven by the announcement of the coming.

One of the forces that consigned me to the desert was the fact that I have always been something of a loner. I have never fit in much of anywhere, so, at an early age, it was natural for me to don the disguise of an heroic Steppenwolf, a misunderstood genius, a victim of cruel fate and the insensitivity of the World. I thought about becoming a saint back then, because I thought that sounded romantic. The image of the undiscovered genius fed my feelings of self-pity and my disdain for my fellow man. Thus, I wrote music that was written not for real people, but for some elite class of musical initiates, some happy few who understood the secret code while most did not. Nobody bothered to tell that this elite class does not exist--don't get me started.

Thank God, at a certain point in my life, I began to shed some of my college-trained egotism, and began to see--even though all my grandiose unrealized fantasies of recognition and reward were false, empty, and corrupt--that I actually am a voice crying in the wilderness; I just have always been crying in the wrong wilderness. Or perhaps its was the wrong song?

Anyway, the point is that I was objectifying my audience--I was stuffing them into boxes, making them into types, categories, generalizations--and I was missing the real people. At a certain historical moment I realized this. Well, duh! So, I instantly stopped writing for some falsely imagined audience of perfect vessels for the acceptance of my sacred utterances, and started trying to reach real people out there in my actual world. Heaven came down. Well duh!

Still, while seeking to simplify--to make straight--, I continued to feel the need for high level thinking in my music; this need came from the insistence that things were not so simple as they were to my mother and her band of small-minded Nazarenes. The complexity of the music is, in many cases an ides of the NATURALNESS of the music. It is well understood that a photograph gains in quality with the number of pixels in its image. Thus, the finer the resolution of musical content, the more natural, therefore the more truthful. The problem is to tell the truth while still making it accessible to people; the problem is the problem of parable, the problem of myth. And what better context for myth than the desert? And what better medium of transformation than the "voice"?

The following is from Advent 3 Sermon: John the Monomaniac by Pastor Samuel Schuldheisz

John has nothing to say about himself. He is a voice. Yahweh’s mouth-piece.  It’s not about John; it’s about Jesus. So the prophet Isaiah speaks for him: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”

Christ is the Word.  John is the voice. The advent man, preparing you for the Coming One.  Repent. Make Straight. Jesus is coming.  John fits the definition of what most psychiatrists call a monomaniac – someone with an excessive interest and an irrational obsession with one subject: yes that’s John, a monomaniac about Christ. He’s content simply to announce the coming of the Lamb of God.

This is a long story, and I have had enough long stories for awhile, but the bottom line is this: my life's deepest energies have been spent finding ways to transcend the problem of the abstract in art, to reveal high-level abstract concepts in the process of enlivening flesh and blood vessels, such that every note of musico/mathematical sense is also dignified by the transforming energy of the divine, raising it from a noisy, vainglorious cry of egotistical territoriality, into an incarnation of the Christ Consciousness; thus, music transduces spirit, through the flesh, into human form. It is the humanity of music that is truly spiritual, because it is the human that is illuminated with heavenly light. To be a great artist, it was necessary for me to learn that: it is my own humanity that dignifies my music, not the dignity of art that makes it human. Every piece is an anomaly, every person who hears it is an unique undying soul.

Additionally, it must be noted that it has been more the direct, personal connection between me and other musicians that has enriched my creative output, than it has been the cloistered contemplation of the infinite in my ivory closet. My development as a voice crying in the wilderness (a voice that might be worth walking across the street to hear), has had to include a huge dose of humanizing flesh and blood to bring its origin in spirit through the Earth to Paradise. In other words, the people out here in the wilderness with me, had ears to hear, and hearts to touch, and I didn't need to sing to the bleachers in heaven after all--the folk were right there all the time.

Feelings of envy once crowded my heart, and I felt alone and betrayed by fate. I felt I deserved a bigger audience--I felt my message justified it. I didn't think about how indirectly the big shots in the city touch their devotees. I now know that a man with a message is only effective to the extent that his words fall on fertile--uh--ears. The message of spiritual truth can only be delivered up close and personal. Up close and personal is contrary to the rampant depersonalized character of this information age, and therefore MUST be a good thing. So, although some musicians make occasional contact with an occasional elite audience, I, out here ion the backwoods, make one on one contact with undying souls every day, and my message is always the same.

The following is from a sermon by Martin Luther from his Church Postil, 1520's taken from volume I:114-133 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). ]

The Witness and Confession of John the Baptist;
and the Spiritual Meaning of His Witness


1. With many words the Evangelist describes and magnifies the testimony of John. Although it would have been sufficient if he had written of him, "He confessed," he repeats it and says, "He confessed and denied not." This was surely done in order to extol the beautiful constancy of John in a sore trial, when he was tempted to a flagrant denial of the truth. And now consider the particular circumstances.

2. First, there are sent to him not servants or ordinary citizens, but priests and Levites from the highest and noblest class, who were Pharisees, that is to say, the leaders of the people. Surely a distinguished embassy for a common man, who might justly have felt proud of such an honor, for the favor of lords and princes is highly esteemed in this world.

3. Secondly, they sent to him not common people, but citizens of Jerusalem, to wit, the capital, the sanhedrin, and the leaders of the Jewish nation. So it was as if the entire people came and did honor to him. What a wind that was! and how he might have been inflated, had he possessed a vain and worldly heart!

4. Thirdly, they do not offer him a present, nor ordinary glory, but the highest glory of all, the kingdom and all authority, being ready to accept him as the Christ. Surely a mighty and sweet temptation! For, had he not perceived that they wished to regard him as the Christ, he would not have said, "I am not the Christ." And Luke, 3,15-16, also writes that, when everybody thought he was the Christ, John spoke, "I am not he who you think I am, but I am being sent before him."

5. Fourthly, when he would not accept this honor they tried him with another, and were ready to take him for Elijah. For they had a prophecy in the last chapter of the prophet Malachi, where God says: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."

6. Fifthly, seeing that he would not be Elijah, they go on tempting him and offer him the homage due to an ordinary prophet, for since Malachi they had not had a prophet. John, however, remains firm and unshaken, although tried by the offer of so much honor.

7. Sixthly and lastly, not knowing of any more honors, they left him to choose, as to who or what he wished to be regarded, for they greatly desired to do him homage. But John will have none of this honor, and gives only this for an answer, that he is a voice calling to them and to everybody. This they do not heed. . . .
20. Some think the Jews here asked concerning that prophet of whom Moses writes in Deut. 18, 15: "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me, etc." But this passage St. Peter in Acts 3, 22 and St. Stephen in Acts 7, 37 apply to Christ himself, which is the correct interpretation. The Jews also certainly held this prophet in equal esteem with Moses, above Elijah, and therefore understood him to be Christ. They asked John whether he was an ordinary prophet, like the others, since he was neither Christ nor Elijah. For they had had no prophet since the days of Malachi, who was the last and concluded the Old Testament with the above mentioned prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah. John therefore is the nearest to and first after Malachi, who in finishing his book points to him. - The Jews then asked whether he was one of the prophets. Christ likewise says of him, Math. 11, 9: "Wherefore went ye out? to see a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet." And Matthew says in 21, 26, "All hold John as a prophet."

21. Now the question arises, Did John really confess the truth when he denied that he was Elijah or a prophet, whereas Christ himself called him Elijah and more than a prophet? He himself knew that he had come in the spirit and power of Elijah, and that the Scriptures called him Elijah. To say, therefore, that he did not consider himself a prophet because he was more than a prophet, is disgraceful and makes him an empty boaster. The truth of the matter is, that he simply and in a straightforward manner confessed the truth, namely, that he was not that Elijah about whom they asked, nor a prophet. For the prophets commonly led and taught the people, who sought advice and help from them. Such a one John was not and would not be, for the Lord was present, whom they were to follow and adhere to. He did not desire to draw the people to himself, but to lead them to Christ, which was needful before Christ himself came.

A prophet foretells the coming of Christ. John, however, shows him present, which is not a prophet's task. Just so a priest in the bishop's presence would direct the people away from himself to the bishop, saying, "I am not priest; yonder is your priest"; but in the bishop's absence he would rule the people in the place of the bishop.

22. John likewise directs the people away from himself to Christ. And although this is a higher and greater office than that of a prophet, yet it is not so on account of his merit, but on account of the presence of his Master. And in praising John for being more than a prophet, not his worthiness but that of his Master, who is present, is extolled. For it is customary for a servant to receive greater honor and reverence in the absence of his master than in his presence.

23. Even so the rank of a prophet is higher than that of John, although his office is greater and more immediate. For a prophet rules and leads the people, and they adhere to him; but John does no more than direct them away from himself to Christ, the present Master. Therefore, in the simplest and most straightforward manner, he denied being a prophet, although abounding in all the qualities of a prophet. This he did for the sake of the people, in order that they might not accept his testimony as the foretelling of a prophet and expect Christ in other, future times, but that they might recognize him as a forerunner and guide, and follow his guidance to the Lord, who was present. Witness the following words of the text:

"They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? that we, may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself ? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet."

24. This is the second part of his confession, in which he declares what he is, after having denied that he was Christ, or Elijah, or a prophet. As though he were to say, Your salvation is much too near for a prophet to be required. Do not strain your eyes so far out into the future, for the Lord of all the prophets is himself here, so that no prophet is needed.

The Lord is coming this way, whose forerunner I am; he is treading on my heels. I am not prophesying of him as a seer, but crying as a courier, to make room for him as he walks along. I do not say, as the prophets, "Behold, he is to come"; but I say, "Behold, he is coming, he is here. I am not bringing word about him, but pointing to him with my finger. Did not Isaiah long ago foretell that such a crying to make room for the Lord should go before him? Such I am, and not a prophet. Therefore, step aside and make room, permit the Lord himself to walk among you bodily, and do not look for any more prophecies about him."

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, June 14, 2011 by Chris Banescu

Each of us has a calling, a vocation, in life. Some discover their passion in their childhood or teen years and know from early on what they were meant to do. Some find their calling after reaching adulthood and encountering the real world. Some stumble unto their life’s work when faced with life-changing events, personal struggles, or tragedies. Some uncover their life’s passion in their old age, usually after retirement, when a growing awareness of their own mortality imbues them with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose. Tragically, many never find their life’s calling, either due to hardships, fear, or plain laziness; despite knowing what they should do, neither bothering to dedicate the time or energy required to follow their dreams, nor making the sacrifices necessary to fulfill their vocations.

By God’s immeasurable grace I am one of those blessed souls that has discovered his calling in life. I believe my vocation is to be a Voice Crying in the Wilderness, a messenger who strives to open men’s hearts and minds to timeless truths and principles, to help them discover what’s truly important in this life and in eternity. A messenger of the One who created everything in this universe, the laws that govern all matter and morality, the individual atoms and cells that make up my body and the soul that gives it life, and the very reason that allows me to think and write these words.

So it appears, once again that I am making a case for imitating the actions of people in the Bible by way of identifying with them and following their way. Why do I think that doing what people in the bible did is a good thing? Clearly there are some obnoxious fools haunting many a page of the Bible, and, to be sure, haunting many a pages of religious history. Still, if we can tell a hawk from a handsaw, we ought be able to tell a saint from a fool, and we ought to be able to tell which we should emulate. I feel that every accomplishment of men in the Bible is replicable by me--I claim my divine right to aspire to heavenly heights. Furthermore, I feel that the task of crying in the wilderness, of speaking the truth to no one, has more to it than meets the eye--there is a prayer uttered in silence that carries more weight than loud speeches in the vulgar and vulgarizing marketplace. I have come to see this calling as a privilege and a distinction equal or superior to the shallow trumpet calls of Earthly fame. It would be easy to conclude that this attitude is making lemonade out of sour grapes, but I really don't think so. I think that the people who are pissed off about being consigned to the desert, to preach to the dink-sized audiences there, have forgotten that the ears of God are everywhere, and that those ears hear our voices anywhere.

The following is a poem of mine on the subject of grasping.

Why supplicate with fingers curved above
Our heads, reaching, if not already giv'n in love?
What boon is worth the cost of asking
That is not within the scope of grasping

Why weep you, stolid mourners on the highway,
For that which is waiting down below, the mainstay
Of all your trust and hope? A promise made in part
To bolster doubting faith and answer wishes of the heart
Made at the end of shattered dreams and busy plans
To fill our groping, empty hands?

The point here is that, a voice crying in the wilderness may sometimes feel alone, abandoned, betrayed, but, at the end of the day, the support of the Christ will always be there.

The following is a poem, on something of the same subject, by Rabindranath Tagore [trans. from Bengali], found in his
Fruit Gathering

Time after time I came to your gate with raised hands, asking for more and yet more.
You gave and gave, now in slow measure, now in sudden excess.
I took some, and some things I let drop; some lay heavy on my hands;
some I made into playthings and broke them when tired;
till the wrecks and the hoard of your gifts grew immense,
hiding you, and the ceaseless expectation wore my heart out.

Take, oh take–has now become my cry.
Shatter all from this beggar’s bowl:
put out this lamp of the importunate watcher:
hold my hands, raise me from the still-gathering heap of your gifts
into the bare infinity of your uncrowded presence.

Let us pray: Jesus, as we contemplate the silent desert, we realize that that silence is filled with the ears of God. Let us enter your presence in silence, and come out singing. Amen.