Tuesday, April 28, 2009

a church or but a congregation?

I have been asked more than once (sometimes in jest, and sometimes in earnest) in what way Unitarianism is a "real" church. Its not a new question and Cyrus Bartol addresses it in this sermon from his collection of 1853, "Discourses on the Christian Body and Form"


Matt. xvi. 18. — Upon This Rock I Will Build My Church, And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Here is proof from Christ's own lips, that he came not only to reveal truth from heaven, but also to establish a church on earth; or that his object was not only to enlighten individual minds, but to unite his followers in affectionate fellowship together...

It is often said, that religion addresses the soul in its pure individuality; that it is something between every man alone and his Maker; that hosts of numbers are as nothing, and no company is counted in the relations between the solitary heart and conscience and their sole original Fashioner and Inspirer. It is true that Christ speaks to us as individuals. More than any other teacher, he makes every one of us know that we are created by God, immediately connected with him, personally responsible to him, and open to the secret warning and solicitation of his spirit; that we can hide from him in no crowd, and be shielded from him by no interposition. But, with equal explicitness and no inconsistency, he teaches that those who listen to his voice and receive his lessons, becoming like-minded in conscience and love, will be a band of believers and associated laborers to his honor, for their own and all men's salvation.

Are we of the church of Christ? To help you to consider or solve this question, I have to offer no logical definitions, no curious tests, no rigid articles of any private or sectarian creed of church-membership. Be the principles of the decision as large and liberal as our reason, in all its length and breadth, can lay down, or as our freedom, in all the honest extent of its motion, may demand. The soul which, won by the beauty and loveliness of Christ's character, stirred by his purity, and inflamed with the holy fire of his self-sacrifice, flows into cordial agreement with all other trustful souls about it, so likewise attracted and kindled; the soul that is willing with them to celebrate and carry out its reverence and love for the common Lord in every evangelical and Christian way, according to its fair understanding of his design, is a member of Christ's real church.

In this broad allowance of liberty, there is no license, but a holy severity greater than in any dogmatic interpretation or ecclesiastic imposition. It gives inevitable point to the inquiry, " Do we so flow and so proceed together ? " Are we a church, or but a congregation?...Ah, my friends! we can go to heaven in no such solitary, unsympathizing way, apart from our kind. Heaven is not a country whose direction the single traveller can find, or a shore the lonely navigator can reach. The strongest are too feeble, and the wisest lack sagacity, for an unaided achievement like that. The very road to heaven lies through one another's hearts. There is no path beside. The very outset and course we must take is that mutual communion which is hardly less essential either to virtue or joy than our communion with God...

The central principle of Christianity is not strictly a moral, but a spiritual, principle of love; and there is, in the teaching and institution of Christ embodying this principle, a dignity which has in its favor the verdict of all good sense and philosophy, of all knowledge of man or God. The love of God, which is the first spark of all religion and excellence, kindles the love of man, and touches philanthropy with its own holiness. Then out of this human love, thus quickened and sanctified, issues, in its best and finest quality, all morality, all lowliness, generosity, charity, justice, and truth. The church of Christ is the hearthstone on which these fires of divine and human affection are lighted. The services and ordinances of the gospel are the fuel with which these fires are fed. God's children and Christ's disciples, well called a flock, gather around the sacred flame for warmth and illumination, and bear away their burning lamps and ardent hearts into all the coldness and darkness of the world, to fill it with saving beams of lustre and heat."


Sunday, April 26, 2009

fullness of forgiving love...

Forgiveness is not an easy thing. It is sometimes not easy to give, but even more difficult to receive. Henry Wilder Foote looks at the Divine Side of forgiveness in our continuing Sabbath Series on the Lord's Prayer:
"Forgiveness: The Divine Side"

What is history, but the proof of the unforgiving sequence of cause and effect ?
Hence arose the idea of Fate. Men felt the iron laws constraining them, deaf to their cries, ordaining their lot of loss and pain, crushing them, while still the sunshine laughed and the skies were blue above them and Nature disregarded their calamity though their hearts should break. The austere and antique genius of Michael Angelo has caught the spirit of the old fable, in his picture of the Parcae, where the three withered crones who spin and sever the thread of human life, sit in aged majesty of mien, and look forth from the canvas with stony, unsympathiz- ing eyes on the humanity whose destinies they shape, but do not share.

And yet, side by side with an iron fatalism has gasped for life the human sense of need. Men have felt the need of forgiveness, and their longing has cried out even to the heavens which they believed deaf, in all manner of uttered and inarticulate petitions. Their sins and their sorrows were stronger than all their theories of destiny; and, as so often, the warmth of the heart has melted the icy logic of the head.
It is therefore one of the most interesting of all questions which concern the relations between man and God, — what the nature of Divine forgiveness is, and how we are to believe in it

The only theory of the Divine forgiveness which will hold in face of the New Testament, or of a true idea of the nature of God as drawn from that of man, or of the moral law, or of the needs of our own souls, is that which makes forgiveness a part of God's fatherhood. His all- embracing love is the only thing which will break the stony silence of nature's unforgiving laws, or solve the riddles in which human ingenuity has involved the free grace of God.

The doctrine of God's forgiveness lies at the root of the religious life.
1. It gives a ground for hope, because it gives an opportunity to start anew, feeling that the future is not mortgaged beyond remedy to our error-laden past.
2. It gives a ground for faith, because it reveals to us a God whom we can trust and love. It makes repentance a stepping-stone to truer living, and prayer a real cry to one who really answers.
3. It takes hold on life itself, to make it divine by breathing into it the same spirit of forgiving love. Men have learned this hardest of all the graces by trying to imitate God. This is the spirit which glowed in the Christian martyrs. John Huber, a distinguished Huguenot galley-slave, has recorded the following experience: —
" We arrived one night at a little town, chained, my wife and my children with fourteen galley slaves. The priests canoe to us, offering freedom on condition that we abjured. We agreed to preserve a profound silence. After them came the women and children of the place, who covered us with mud. I made my little party fall on their knees, and we put up this prayer in which all the fugitives joined: ' Gracious God, who seest the wrongs to which we are hourly exposed, give us strength to support them, and to forgive in charity those who wrong us. Strengthen us from good even unto better.'"

"From good even unto better." This is the aspiration of the human soul. And from better unto best we still look up adoring at the perfect fullness of forgiving love which is in the bosom of our Heavenly Father. When the Pharisees heard Jesus, they said, "Who is this, that forgiveth sins also ?" But all men since have recognized in this very thing the sure evidence that he is the Son of God. And so far as we are touched with his spirit, we shall rise into his likeness, and " forgive, as we also are forgiven."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"What do you believe?"

From its conception, Unitarianism has been labeled a negative religion, a religion based on reaction to and criticism of "orthodoxy." And the label is often just-for a tradition that is so based on "tolerance" we spend an awful powerful amount of time in criticizing-and even ridiculing-certain other religious expressions. This is, of course, hurtful to others, but its greatest damage is to ourselves as spiritual beings. Cyrus Barol speaks today on:

"Positive Faith"

"Paul was in Athens, and Athens was another name for a place of philosophic and religious speculation...The apostle, with his characteristic ardor, plunges into the midst of every little gathering swarm of debaters in the synagogue and the market; and, either by the superiority of his power or the singularity of his views, soon attracts general attention, and becomes the central figure in that motley, many-tongued group...The take him, carry him to their high court of Areopagus, and ask of him a fuller exposition of his faith...The calm utterance of his unwavering convictions in that scene of scepticism, contradiction, and intellectual curiosity, suggests to us the importance of a positive religious faith; and to this subject I invite your attention...

Passing in review the various forms of opinion that have prevailed from age to age, or that now have dominion in one or another section of the church or the world, it is easy to see how much they express which we do not believe..But, meantime, amid all this negation and contempt, the question comes back and thunders upon us,-What do you believe? What is your true substitute for the supposed erroneous ideas of past centuries or present millions?...

A positive faith, though alloyed with superstition and error, is better than dull apathy or a negative unbelief; for it at least brings the eternal world near to move with luminous, attractive weight on the soul, however it may be misjudged in some of its features. And who of us can judge aright the whole height and depth, length and breadth of those features?...

Let us lay aside, then, as of inferior import, our doubts, disbeliefs, denials, and questionings, upon which we may have falsely prided ourselves; and let us gather up our convictions, as wheat sifted from the chaff. Let us positively establish our faith and enthrone it over our life."


Friday, April 24, 2009

a living embodied religion

Yesterday we had Bartol's take on what it means to "put on Christ" and it reminded me of a discourse by William Ellery Channing called "The Imitableness of Christ's Character." Jesus is too often admired, says WEC, and not often enough imitated. Of course many in Channing's day felt the same about Channing...in fact Jesus sounds, in this discourse, much like Channing himself which, I suppose, is the point.
Some excerpts:
"The Imitableness of Christ's Character"
The example of Jesus is our topic. To incite you to follow it is the aim of this discourse...He came not only to teach with his lips, but to be a living manifestation of his religion,-to be in an important sense, the religion itself.
This is a peculiarity worthy of attention. Christianity is not a mere code of laws, not an abstract system, such as theologians frame. It is a living, embodied religion. It comes to us in a human form...It breathes, it moves in our sight. It is more than precept: it is example and action...
The importance of example, who does not understand?...I hardly need say to you that it is impossible to place ourselves under any influence...so quickening as the example of Jesus. This introduces us to the highest order of virtues. This is fitted to awaken the whole mind...
Multitudes-I am afraid great multitudes-think of Jesus as a being to be admired rather than approached...Men think, indeed, to honor Jesus when they place him so high as to discourage all effort to approach him. They really degrade him...This vague admiration is the poorest tribute which they can pay him...
Genuine greatness is marked by simplicity, unostentatiousness, self-forgetfulness, a hearty interest in others, a feeling of brotherhood with the human family, and a respect for every intellectual and immortal being as capable of progress towards its own elevation.
The mind of Jesus Christ, my hearer, and your mind are of one family...He always invited men to believe on and adhere to him, that they might receive that very spirit, that pure, celestial spirit, by which he was himself actuated...
We were made to grow. Our faculties are germs,and given for an expansion...Jesus respected human nature; he felt, as no other felt, a union of mind with the human race, felt that all had a spark of that same intellectual and immortal flame which dwelt in himself.
My friends, we may all approach Jesus Christ. For all of us he died to leave us an example that we should follow his steps. By earnest purpose, by self-conflict, by watching and prayer, by faith in the Christian promises...we may all unite ourselves in living bonds to Christ."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

sympathetic and reproducing power...

Moral example was important to the Boston Unitarians. They both sought to emulate great and good people and to be worthy of being emulated as great and good people, hence their love of writers like Plutarch. Their greatest model for living was, of course, Jesus, and Cyrus Bartol's take on what that means follows in excerpts from his sermon, "Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ."

"Rom. xiii-But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ"

There are two methods of moral improvement: first, acting from ourselves according to an abstract principle; and, secondly, living over again the example of actual excellence...

The lofty worth we steadily hold up before our emulous soul, like the landscape through the daguerreotyper's lens, leaves a more indelible print. The justice we admire, the charity we love, the holy zeal and endurance we revere, the fervent adoration and self-devotion which makes our hearts burn,-all these we possess and become, 'growing in grace' and translated out of the poor limitations of our individual or merely private nature, 'from glory to glory';blessing God, as we advance, for this privilege of increase which he has given us...

'Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.' The whole gospel is preached and summed up in that single exhortation...not a conceit of speculation...not a figment of the theological brain...but a practical, vital assimilation of him, of his mind and spirit and undying love, according to the simple laws of our being...This, verily, is Christs life and example, Christ's cup and cross...all dependent for their virtue and efficacy upon the exercise of this sympathetic and reproducing power, through which his majesty and lowliness, his submission and self-sacrifice, his sinless virtue and everlasting love, melt like the expressive traits of some grand and pathetic picture into our souls.

Thus, coming to the point of our whole meditation, this impersonating, reproducing energy of the soul which may be abused or used to trivial ends, we devote to its highest and most precious purpose...let us dwell in the sight of those matchless features, and 'put on the Lord Jesus Christ."


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

broad ocean of worldy business...

Cyrus Bartol's question this morning is only just the meaning and object of life. The vision thing. Vision is, to me, deeply important and deeply dangerous. Vision held too rigidly leads to intolerance and worse. Vision never attained is painful. Tom Petty asks a friend who is fading, "Was it something you could picture and never could quite touch." And yet a life without vision seems, well...visionless. This from Cyrus Bartol's Sermon, "The Object of Life"

"So my intention in this discourse will be answered, if I can prevail on you so much as to define such an object to your own thoughts...Decide at all upon living for an object, choose something to which you soberly consent to devote your existence, and you can hardly decide wrong...but will be constrained...to determine on the right, to choose religion, obedience to God, and confidence in the final demonstration of his justice...To express this, cherish it, and use earthly time and opportunity to build it up as the vital principle of our being's health and growth, is indeed for man, woman and child-or even the child can understand it-the object of life.

The principle may be put into various forms of statement. You may recur to the old preacher's language, or you may say with the modern catechism, the the 'chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy him for ever.' You may speak in the phrase rightly understood, of the philosophy of our time, 'Self-Culture:' or in the phrase, profoundly interpreted of the philanthropy of our time, 'Reform.' All these mean essentially the same thing...

The adoption of so grand an object of life, taking in our whole career, does not abolish the minor callings and aims of activity, of study, or traffic, or mechanical skill, in this world. It but leavens them with a higher spirit, and turns them to a nobler influence...It does not shut us up in a narrow place of hermit stiffness and seclusion, but goes with us over the broad ocean of worldly business, only asking that it may stand a divine pilot at the helm."

What is your vision? Blessings

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A little more living by the day...

A couple of possible opportunities have me thinking far too much in the future (and regretting bits of the past.) Today's sabbath sermon from Henry Wilder Foote on the Lord's Prayer (part of a series deferred during Lent) is a good reminder...


Give us this day our daily bread. — Matt. vi. 11.

WE have felt, I think, as we have gone on together meditating on the successive clauses of our Lord's great prayer that it was more full of teaching, of doctrine in the true meaning of the word, than we had supposed. And now as we come to the first petition which touches our personal wants, there is a lesson for us in the very place which this link holds in this golden chain which binds His asking children to the throne of God. This is the first word in which we speak of our own needs. We have approached our God not merely in the attitude of suppliants before an omnipotent Monarch, but as children coming to their Father; we have prayed that His Name may be hallowed; that men may know Him in His perfect attributes and may worthily honor Him; that His kingdom, which is over all, may more and more prevail; that His perfect will may be done, not simply borne, with free, willing service, everywhere as it is by the blessed ones in heaven. All this has taken you away from yourself, if you have really prayed it; it has filled the universe for you with God, nay, has not filled it, but has opened your eyes to see His fullness in it, who filleth all things. It seems as if Christ said to us, Wait, before you venture to ask for yourself. At the threshold of the Temple, lay aside all selfish thoughts, and try to make your own soul a living temple; when.you have done that, you can trust yourself to approach the altar and ask your gift from it...

But the prayer is only for this day. Again, how strange a contrast to the temper of our anxious, foreboding way of life, which is continually borrowing from tomorrow care to cloud the happiest present! Are we to say, then, that Christ really taught that we were to live as if there were no morrow, with spendthrift lavishness beggaring our future, or with indolent acquiescence leaving it unguarded ? Did he mean that we were so to consider the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field ? The question is its own answer. We interpret Christ by Christ; and in the spirit of his religion, and in other words of his, we find the meaning, and in our own lives abundantly the wisdom of his warnings against that feverish worry and strain, that rush after wealth at any price, those discontents and repinings which spoil the sweetness and mar the peace of so many. There are few of us who would not be helped if they could be met tomorrow in their hurry down town by one who would say to them, " A little more living by the day in the wise quiet of a sober mind would not hurt you, my friend. Try, for to-day, to possess your soul in patience. You have this day to live in. Put all the life into it you can, of goodness and love and trust.

Give us this day our daily bread." I suppose there is no single sentence in the Bible or in all literature more in contrast with the average habit of mind of the average man of our time. Daily bread! is that what he is striving for, slaving for, wearing out his life to get ? It does not in any wise follow that it would not do him good to try honestly to tone down his desires to this bounded limit. One thing is certain, — the richest man in America really gets for his wages only his food and clothes and a roof over his head. If he wins real respect, it is because his character justifies it; if he has intellectual tastes or pleasures to enrich his life, his money does not buy them. And if we would school ourselves to ask for daily bread, meaning a more sober limit on our hot ambitions, our race after money, our temptations to luxurious life, we should bring whole new horizons of light into our spirits."

Just today, "put all the life into it you can." Blessings

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sabbath eve hymn

This hymn by William Henry Furness:

The Temple of the Heart

To the Truth that makes us free,
To the Light that leads to Thee
We this hour would dedicate.
And thy blessings, Lord, await.

Canst Thou be approached by men?
Angels and archangels, when
God His brightness on them sheds,
Veils their faces, bow their heads.

Yet we know, O God, Thou art
Present in the lowly heart;
There will He descend and reign.
Whom the heavens cannot contain.

In our hearts Thy temple rear;
Show us, God, Thy glory there;
Fill us with that light divine,
Which shall make all places Thine.

Have a blessed sabbath.

Friday, April 17, 2009

these flitting meteors of the mind...

(Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation, Hans Memling about 1485)

Have you been saved? The question has never offended me as I think we all feel the need to greater or lesser degrees for salvation. And it is a question that has always been at the heart of religious controversy...What is salvation? Where does it come from? Who has it? etc...In his sermon, "Working Out Our Own Salvation," Cyrus Bartol takes aim at salvation from a fairly common Boston Unitarian perspective. It comes from his book Discourses of the Christian Life and Spirit (1850.)

"God is the author of salvation, and Christ is the way of salvation; but salvation never can be ours unless we work it out. It is not a thing to be seized in some happy moment...but a work...

"There is a higher working than in outward observance, or even visible conduct. It is a working which includes and enlivens both,-unites both with the heart's faith; making religion neither mere formality, nor mere morality, nor mere spirituality; but binding spirit, morals, and forms in one living whole...But men have preferred any other method of salvation to this divinely commanded one.

"I believe the Spirit of God is as impartial as the breezes of the skies. It is no respecter of persons. There is no favoritism in the court of Heaven...As the sun and rain visit all nature, but it is only where the hand of cultivation has been that the precious grain is reaped, and yet all the labor in the world could no reap a kernel without the sun and rain; so the divine Spirit folds all minds, but the growth is poor without inward industry, though all human struggles could bring forth not one germ of virtue without that Spirit.

"For it is not to be doubted, that all men have moral ideas ever in the ascendant of their actual lives...'Thou art capable of something purer, nobler, infinitely better, than thou has become.' And what are these but the Spirit that must not be quenched,-the Divinity that should not be resisted?

"Is there any exhortation, then, so important as that in the text, 'Work out your own salvation'? Fix these flitting meteors of the mind, as guiding stars, in your soul's firmament. The question of every man's actual salvation lies just here, in his slighting or living up to these higher suggestions...We are made, not holy, but to become holy.

"Here, I suppose, lies the truth in the dispute about native depravity,-not that the All-holy has given us a constitution that is depraved, but one by which we are tempted to depravity; for thus only could our spiritual power be brought forth, and our highest glory consummated."

I invite you, then, as to your highest good and joy, to this inward work of the soul."


Thursday, April 16, 2009

a soaring mind...

The bookplate in My old copy of William Phillips Tilden's "Leaflets for Lent," tells me that it was originally donated to The General Theological Library in Boston by Cyrus Bartol (1813–1900) a fascinating Boston Unitarian minister, transcendentalist, and supporter of free religionists. Octavius Brooks Frothingham said of Bartol:

"In the list of the Transcendentalists Cyrus Augustus Bartol must not be forgotten, a soaring mind enamored of thoughts on divine things, inextricably caught in the toils of speculation. Acute and brilliant, but wayward; with a quick eye for analogies, fanciful and eccentric, of clear intuitions, glimpses, perceptions astonishingly luminous; but without fixed allegiance to system, and therefore difficult to classify under any school. In the Unitarian controversy, which was a tryer of spirits, it was not always plain to observers in which camp he belonged; not that his fundamental principle was unsteady, but because his curious and critical mind was detained by considerations that others did not see; and his absolute sincerity gave expression to the moods of feeling as they passed over him. Some words in Parker’s farewell letter to him seem to imply that at critical junctures they had been on opposite sides, but the difference could scarcely have touched fundamental truths. No man was further from the school of Locke, Paley or Bentham than C. A. Bartol. His Transcendentalism had a cast of its own; it was not made after any pattern; it took its color from an original genius illuminated by various reading of books, and by deep meditation in the privacy of the closet, and the companionship of nature of which he is a child-like worshipper. No wealth of human sympathy prevents his being a solitary. His song is lyrical; his prophecy drops like a voice from the clouds. In the agitations of his time he has had small share; organized and associated effort did not attract him. To many he represents the model Transcendentalist, for he seems a man who lives above the clouds,—not always above them, either.
His faith in the soul has never known eclipse. It waxes strong by its wrestling, and becomes jubilant in proportion as nature and life try to stare it out of countenance. Ballast is wings to him."

Bartol will be our companion on the way the next few days. Blessings

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

universal sympathy with genius...

Some time ago I bought "Emerson's Plutarch" by Emund G. Berry, from Alibris (I have written here before about how much I love used books-I was surprised to find in this volume an inscription from the author, "To both at 201 S. Maple, where I worked on this sometimes in the bedroom. With love, Edmund"). Published in 1961, the book describes the vicissitudes in Plutarch's reputation and calls Emerson the last great Plutarchian.
The Boston Unitarians from Adams to Emerson loved Plutarch( AD 46 – 120) for his moral Lives, and, to a lesser but sometimes important degree, his Moralia. A Hellenist, Plutarch had wide ranging interests, was a great popularizer, often taught in maxims and epigrams and he has a quality best described as genial that makes him very attractive.
A couple of quotes from Emerson:
"Plutarch cannot be spared from the smallest library; first because he is so readable, which is much; then that he is medicinal and invigorating. The lives...are what history has of best..."

"Plutarch's memory is full, and his horizon wide. Nothing touches man but he feels to be his; he is tolerant even of vice, if he finds it genial..."

"Plutarch is not a profound mind; not a master in any science; not a lawgiver...not a leader of the mind of a generation, like Plato or Goethe. But if he had not the highest powers, he was yet a man of rare gifts. He had the universal sympathy with genius which makes all his victories his own."

Have a great day and blessings.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

'Not here, but risen."

May you all have a blessed Easter!

"Day of the Resurrection (Scripture Reading)

IN the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre, . . . bringing the spices which they had prepared. . . . And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
And the angel said unto the women, Fear not ye: he is not here: for he is risen, as he said. And they remembered his words.

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she . . . seeth two angels in white . . . and they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou ? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

Matt, xxviii. Luke xxiv. John xx.

" The Great Morning." (Tilden's Meditation)

'"THANKS be to God that every night, however dark, has its morning! We wake; the light of a new day streaks the East. We go at once to the tomb, as Mary did, carrying our spices of deathless love. We wonder if there be any power strong enough to roll that stone away. But lo! as we look, it is rolled away, and an angel voice says, " Not here, but risen." This is God's world; He owns it all, its sepulchres as well as its gardens. God's angels of comfort are a mighty host, and He knows just what ones to send to roll our stone away. The graves of our loved ones are empty now. New hopes glorified take the place of old hopes buried. It is Easter with us, the octave of our Palm Sunday. The old note of joy is not repeated; but another note is struck, an octave higher. The promise of our Palm Sunday is fulfilled, but not in the way we then hoped. Two suns rise this morning: one to quicken the earth, the other to quicken the soul. No wonder it has been called "The Great Morning." Would we could always live in the light of it; that all the experiences of our Passion Week, our season of Promise, of Purification, of Controversy, of Bargain, of Communion, of Crucifixion, of Darkness, might be lighted with the Resurrection hopes of the Immortal Day!

AND they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures ?
Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,
And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. . . .
And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you.



Saturday, April 11, 2009

the deeper the darkness...

"It always darkest before the dawn" is one of those saying that always struck me a singularly unhelpful. And yet, like most such sayings, has some profound truth lost in the repetition. We all have times in which prayer doesn't come and the "clouds hide the heart." Rev. Tilden reminds us that the "the deeper the darkness, the nearer we are to the light."

EASTER-EVEN (Scripture Reading)

AND now when the even was come, because it was the
preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea, an honorable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. . . .
And . . . he gave the body to Joseph.
And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred weight.
Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, . . . and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre.
And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus beheld where he was laid.

And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment.
Mark xv. Luke xxiii. John xix.

Passion Week of Human Life (Tilden's Meditation)

We are with the Marys, preparing the spices with which to embalm our buried treasures. Just as that long silent Saturday, when the dead body of Jesus lay in the tomb, was darker than the tragical Friday, so the period that follows close upon any great grief is harder to bear than the day the sorrow came. Our treasures are entombed, and a stone, too great for us to move, is laid over the door of our sepulchre. All is dark, and God seems too far away to hear our cry. Here is darkness indeed! But the deeper the darkness, the nearer we are to the light, though we know it not. The clouds may hide the stars, they can never extinguish them. God's voice is in the cloud, though we may not hear. But this is only a day. It may be a long one; still, like all days, it will have its close. We fall asleep in our tears, our prayers half said, it may be. No matter. God knows.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday of the soul...

A torrent of words have, of course, been written on the Crucifixion. Who was responsible? Why was Jesus crucified? Rev. Tilden reminds us of the simple reality that we all suffer the crucifixion as a part of living human life. It matters not your theology or your politics. May your day of crucifixion become the Good Friday of your soul.

Holy Week.
DAY OF THE CRUCIFIXION (Scripture Readings)

AND when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
Then Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. . . One of the malefactors said, . . and we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou contest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shall thou be with me in paradise.
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama, sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, . . saith, I thirst.
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

Mark xv. Luke xxiii. John xix.

Passion Week of Human Life
CRUCIFIXION (Tilden's Meditation)

FRIDAY stands for The Great Tragedy.
We use the word Crucifixion in a very modified sense, as symbolic of those deep experiences when our fondest hopes are crucified, and the sun that made our life shine with the glory of heaven becomes darkened at noon-day. Not all of us may have come to the Friday of Passion Week; but it lies in our life-path. The River of Life, to some, runs almost without a ripple from source to sea; while, to others, it is full of dashing rapids, falls, whirlpools, and counter-currents. Few do not know of crucified hopes, when we pour out our prayers and tears beneath the olives of our grief. Some show such seasons more than others, and wear the Cross on their garments, as the Crusaders did ; some bear the Cross in their souls, and give no sign. It is only when we have passed on through these experiences that we can understand how the Friday of Crucifixion can become the Good Friday of the soul. "

Thursday, April 9, 2009

arise and gird ourselves...

Jesus washing the feet of the disciples is, for me, one of his greatest teachings. If he can do it, we must do it. And then a wonderful and true line, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." For Rev. Tilden, this means "girding ourselves like the master" and comforting those wearier than we are...

"Holy Week.
THE LAST SUPPER (Scripture Reading)

NOW when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve.
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. . . .
And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives.
And supper being ended, . . . He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. . . .
So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you ?
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. . . .
If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
Matt. xxvi. John xiii.

Passion Week of Human Life.
COMMUNION (Tilden's Meditation)

"THURSDAY brings us to The Upper Chamber, the Feast of Love, the eating of the Passover, the Last Supper, the memorial washing of the feet, and those wonderful discourses in the heart of John's Gospel which have comforted countless souls for near two thousand years. Here we have Communion with the Soul of souls; seasons when we rise out of controversy into trust; when tempting thoughts leave us, and angel thoughts come to minister to us; when we feel God near, and make His arm a pillow for our weary souls; when faith becomes sight, and hope, fruition ; when lowliest services, wrought in love, are fragrant with the breath of heaven; when the bread of life is broken and the cup of blessing poured; when our prayer forgets to ask, in its desire to praise. Let us come closer to that Holy Spirit in which Jesus lived. But we cannot stay in this Upper Room. Like the Master we must arise and gird ourselves to wash the feet of those more weary.

May your path be fragrant with the breath of heaven. Blessings

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

an age of Bargain...

As Rev. Tilden says in today's Leaflet, "The bargain of Judas is one of the most astounding acts in the New Testament." So astounding that we rarely compare ourselves to Judas-rarely contemplate our own propensity to bargain away our principles. What to do? "Bless the Home world," do what we can.

"SELLING THE MASTER (Scripture Reading)

'THEN entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve.
And he went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you ? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.
And he promised, and sought opportunity to betray him unto them in the absence of the multitude.
Jesus being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.
And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made ?
For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her.
And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. . . .
She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.
Eerily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.

Matt. xxvi. Mark xiv. Luke xxii

Passion Week of Human Life (Tilden's Meditation)

THE bargain of Judas is one of the most astounding records in the New Testament. So base a deed for so small a sum! We are not tempted to the Judas act; but are we never tempted to betray the truth and spirit that Jesus stands for in this world ? Our age is an age of Bargain. How many, since Judas, have betrayed Christ's principles for less than thirty pieces of silver ? The tempter whispers, So many pieces for so much principle. But if, by the power of God, we can say, "Get thee behind me, Satan," we are lifted into a purer atmosphere, and are prepared to go at the close of the day to Bethany. This scene in the house of Simon the leper has its counterpart too in human life. How suggestive of what we may do to honor The Master. We cannot anoint his head or his feet now, but we can open our heart's alabaster box and pour our love out to bless the Home world. Here the alabaster box of very precious ointment is broken, whose fragrance goes all around the world; and here love utters itself, and brings from the Master's lips those words that have comforted lowly hearts ever since, — " She hath done what she could."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

wrestling with the stormy wind...

Self sufficiency, quibbling, and unbelief. Today's Leaflet talks of the day of "faith battling doubt" and very few are immune (no matter the content of your faith.) The image of the oak tree, strengthened through "wrestling with the stormy wind" is a powerful one for me. May it be so for you as well.


"AND they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words. . . And they say unto him, . . . Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?
. . . But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.
And they brought it. And he said unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesars.
And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.
Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; . . . And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the Scriptures, neither the power of God ? ... He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law ? Jesus said unto him, Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second ts like unto it, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.

Matt. xxii. Mark xiii

Passion Week of Human Life (Tilden's Meditation)

"THE cleansed temple within does not stay cleansed. The sheep and oxen and money-changers, though they leave at our bidding, come again, and need renewed expelling. Jesus is supposed to have purged the temple near the beginning of his ministry, as well as at its close. The Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees of eighteen hundred years ago, give us little trouble. But we find in each of our hearts Pharisaic self-sufficiency, that makes us content with tithing mint, anise, and cumin, even though we omit justice, mercy, and truth; we find Herodian quibbling, bewildering us with subtle questions about tribute paid in pennies, when our whole souls should be a tribute of praise to God; and Sadducean unbelief, telling us there is no spirit, that death is the end of man, and immortality a false hope. It is the great day of faith battling with doubt. There are those who do not know of this conflict; to whom faith and hope are as easy as song to the bird. Let all such thank God and sing on! Happy, too, are they who, having doubted, having gained strength in the struggle, as the Oak grows strong through wrestling with the stormy wind, can silence unbelief, as Jesus did."

Sing on! and blessings

Monday, April 6, 2009

an house of merchandise...

Much has been written of the purging of the moneychangers, and for good reason. It has such profound implications theologically, politically and socially. Rev. Tilden reminds us in today's Leaflet that the the first temple that needs scourging by us is us.

PURGING THE TEMPLE (Scripture Readings)

"AND Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves ;
And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.
And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changer's money, and overthrew the tables;
And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.
And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.
And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased,
And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise ?
And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany ; and he lodged there.
Malt. xxi. Mark xi. John ii.

Passion Week of Human Life (Tilden's Meditation)

"WE are in the city now, but it is not the Jerusalem of our hope, nor from above. The Palm branches lie withered by the way-side. We see a work of purification before us, not in the city, but in our souls. It is not the old temple built by Solomon, but the new temple of our hearts, built by God and for the Holy Ghost, that needs purifying now. Sheep and oxen are in the House of Prayer; moneychangers are turning it into a place of traffic. The animal is usurping the spiritual. We need to hear the prophetic voices of the children still crying, " Hosanna," in the Temple. The scourge we need, to drive the appetites and passions out of our sacred places, is not made of hemp, but heroism; a heroism that is valiant in the conscious aid of an Invisible Arm. The moral sentiments must be quickened, conscience voiced, faith stimulated, hope brightened, selfishness driven out by self- denial, and the Father's House purified for the Father's service. " Know ye that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?"

Sunday, April 5, 2009

tropical prophecy of a good time coming...

Palm Sunday signifies much about the spiritual life and the revolution that Jesus brought to what that kind of life would look like. Rev. Tilden reminds reminds us that Holy week comes to all of us in one way or another by virtue of our being human. Today is about "good time coming" and yet we know so much more is before us.

AND they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments
on him; and he sat upon him.
And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strewed them in the way.
Much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,
Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. . . .
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.
And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.
And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.
The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him
And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?
And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.

Matt. xxi. Mark xi. Luke xix. John xii.

PALM SUNDAY. PROMISE (Tilden's Meditation)

PASSION Week comes to us in our human life, not always in consecutive order, seldom crowded into so brief a space. Some spend a longer, some a shorter, time among the Palms, breathing the soft air of fond hopes, and feeding eye and heart on the tropical prophecy of a good time coming. We all have our palmy days, days of bright Promise; they are our spring seasons when the snow melts on the cold slopes of life, and the daffodils come out to greet us. This may be in youth, it may be in ripe manhood or even while nearing sunset. These days of promise come to every season of life, just as summer, autumn and winter have each their bright invigorating days. Our souls are awake. Every cause we have at heart is gaining strength and power. Song is not only in the air, but in our hearts. We think what we would do. We lay our plans. We map out our way, and gird up our loins to walk in it, thanking God that the stones in our path are so few, and the flowers so many. No lions in the way, no slough of despond to cross; a clear, smooth path seems opened right up to the City of God. Palm branches of great expectations are spread in our path. It is our Palm Sunday; we are on our way to Jerusalem."

May your Holy Week be a blessed experience.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

let down your nets...

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week. In today's Leaflet, Rev. Tilden helps us to prepare. "Let us launch out into the deep and let down our nets." No matter your particular religious home, Holy Week is a time to let down our nets-to fully trust and accept.

"THE LAST MORNING (Scripture Readings)

AFTER these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias. . . .
They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.
Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.
And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. . . . And for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord.

John xxi

THE LAST MORNING (Tilden's Meditation)

"THOSE early disciples, who belonged to the true peerage in the realm of Character, who answered his first call at the sea-side, obey now his word by the self-same sea. Listen to the call, " Children, have ye any meat ? " Often, like these faithful followers, we, after having toiled all night and caught nothing, shall hear a voice, " Cast the net on the right side and thou shall find." Happy for us if we know, as did Jesus' loved disciple, "It is the Lord." Let us launch out into the deep and let down our nets for a draught; and lo! the unbroken net will be full! We can tend the lines and draw the seines ; but lines and seines and boat and sea are made and owned by a higher Power. How sublime is the faith of Jesus that no word of his could ever be lost, though spoken only to listening ears! The human soul was his chosen papyrus; on this only he wrote."
May we all tend the lines and draw the seines! Blessings

Friday, April 3, 2009

the dawning of a higher life...

The heart of prayer is "Thy will, not mine, be done." I have only scratched the surface of what this means in my own prayer life, but deeply believe it to be true. Rev. Tilden, in today's Leaflet equates prayer with trust; a radical trust that emerges with "the dawning of a higher life."

"THE LAST PRAYER (Scripture Readings)

LET not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe
also in me. . . .
I go to prepare a place for you.
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee. . . .
And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. . . .
I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. . . .
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
John xlv. xvii.

THE LAST PRAYER (Tilden's Meditation)

WORDS that never grow old! Springs of comfort that never fail! The troubled heart pants for the comfort they give. His spirit breathes upon the heart.
All who have felt the dawning of a higher life in their souls know what Prayer is. Prayer rises into trust; so prayer and trust are one. When first we long for the Christian life, how natural the cry, Father, help me. When sorrow for sin is waked, Father, forgive me. When great joy comes making the heart glad, Our Father, I thank thee! Prayer opens the door of that angel ministry at Gethsemane, and it lets angels of comfort into sorrowing hearts still. Gethsemane might lower and Calvary rear its cross before Jesus, but the will of his Father was his will. The Christ-spirit qualifies all its asking with, "Thy will, not mine, be done." Prayer is the child clasping his Father's hand, looking into his Father's face, warming himself in his Father's smile, asking nothing but to be closer, closer, closer to Him."
May angels of comfort be with you. Blessings

Thursday, April 2, 2009

great heart of love..

In his autobiography, Rev. Tilden describes his experience with the idea of the Holy Spirit. "Orthodoxy had given me the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, which old-fashioned Unitarianism had said little about; but it was linked with a trinity I could not understand. The doctrine of the 'Immanence of god' gave the Holy Spirit to me in sweeter, tenderer, more rational for,-an ever present holy influence from god, not going and coming like a revival preacher, but a perpetual, indwelling presence." Today's Leaflet is about that promise.
"COMING AGAIN (Scripture Readings)

A LITTLE while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.
Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father?
They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith.
Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye enquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me ?
Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. .
I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

John xiv. xvi.

COMING AGAIN (Tilden's Meditation)

JESUS knew his work on earth was short. This "little while" troubled his disciples. It was himself, as well as his teaching, that won their hearts. He made their yoke easy and their burden light. His going away would break the spell of his personal presence, even though it brought the Comforter. How does Christ come ? He is coming again and yet again, always coming, as Son of God and Saviour from selfishness and sin, stimulating us to live as heirs with him of the Life Eternal. This world is fairer, life richer, human loves deeper, hope brighter, God nearer, and heaven dearer, for the coming of His Spirit in our midst. Let us feel the beating of his great heart of Love. Lowly hearts cannot let' him go; heroic hearts cling to him ; philanthropic hearts receive a new baptism of his spirit. Whose heart does not say, All hail! to such a coming, not in the clouds of heaven, but in the souls of men ? "
I will come to you."
Come Holy Spirit Come! Blessings

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

ascending the Mount with the Master...

Though I grew up believing fully in the divinity of Jesus, it was scenes like this, when Jesus went apart (or with the disciples) to pray, that had the greatest impact on me. Here was "just a man" who "needed the Mount" just as I did...and do. And yet, as Rev. Tilden points out, we are kept from the mount by our self-sufficiency or our self-distrust (and often both at the same time.) Our minds and hearts are often pretty "noisy valleys" and we need a good climb.

"THE MOUNT OF OLIVES (Scripture Readings)

AND in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
And in the day time He was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the Mount of Olives.
And all the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, for to hear him.
And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him.
And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the Mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him.
And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.
When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.
And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.

Malt. xiv. Mark i. iii, Luke xxi. xxii. John vi.

THE MOUNT OF OLIVES (Tilden's Meditation)

IF Jesus, pure and exalted as he was, needed the Mount, how much more do we, weak as we are, dim of vision, easily tempted, so liable to fall ? Our Mount of Olives becomes the Mount of Vision. It faces the City of God; it overlooks the valleys of trial, and the plains of daily toil. From this height we never see life a failure. The valley where we live is so full of noise that the higher call gets faint response; but when a Divine Power lifts us to the Mount, the echo of that call comes sharp and clear from every peak of our soul's range. What should we do in sorrow, if there were no Mount of Olives we could flee to for comfort ? Our Gethsemane is here; and, if we follow the old familiar path trod by the Man of Sorrows, we, too, shall find strength. Who so strong or so weak, who so wise or so foolish, who so self-sufficient or so self-distrustful, as to feel no need of ascending the Mount with the Master ?"
Go up higher and many blessings.