by John Armstrong
The disputes which divided the Western Church in the 16th-century are being resolved. We have not solved all of them (for sure) and we will not certainly solve them all at once. Long standing family issues that divide families are never resolved without profound effort. But slowly and effectively we are finding ways to resolve our past hostilities and we are learning to live faithfully with our remaining doctrinal differences.
The modern ecumenical movement began in the late 19th-century but the biggest boost clearly came in 1906 in Edinburgh. Missionary leaders from around the world gathered to address the pressing question of how to resolve the scandal of Christian disunity on the mission field where non-Christians saw the fruit of our division and rejected the Good News accordingly. These leaders felt it was time to work for visible oneness in the church. Their efforts launched a movement. This movement became global when Vatican II issued a decree on ecumenism that marked out a new path to follow in seeking oneness between baptized Christians.
As you listen to various Christians talk about the Reformation today you hear two sets of responses regarding the 500th anniversary. One set follows the narrative that the Reformation was not only needed, but any departure from its specific language and polemical arguments is a denial of the gospel. I once adopted this language, at least for a decade or so of my life. The other set of responses falls into the category of “commemorating the anniversary” as a time for both repentance and thanksgiving. In the 1980s I began to consider this second response and by the 1990s I saw it for myself. What altered my perspective? In one word: mission.
But agreement on prayer, mission and common cause does not mean there are no sticking points in our present context. Let me explain.
In 1999 the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) paved the way for new insights and dialogues about one of the central disagreements of the 16th-century. This document suggests that much of the disagreement was a matter of word choice and emphasis. Lutherans stressed that faith alone saves us. Catholic insisted that we cooperate with grace by living good lives. By refining the debate around the meaning of justification language the churches drew up confessions that rigidly stood in contrast to one another. This debate has been falsely called the “faith vs. works” divide. For some it remains the greatest divide of all. I fell into the camp that this was the really important reason for division until the 1990s. But JDDJ clarifies some of the (muddled) language of the 16th-century and affirms that we are truly saved by faith alone, but this faith is not alone because good works are the result and sign of a living and real faith. This document, which is well worth reading if you’ve not seen it, was formally agreed upon by both the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.
This year the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America agreed on a joint way forward called: Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist. Another huge step forward has been taken. This declaration is a unique ecumenical text that draws on 50 years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in preparation for the 500th Reformation anniversary. As happened in the formation of the JDDJ, there is a mutual reinforcement between global and local conversations, including those held within the United States.
The heart of this Declaration is the Statement of Agreements that draws together a litany of 32 consensus statements, where Catholics and Lutherans already have said there are not church-dividing differences between them. An elaboration of these agreements grounds them in the dialogues’ work. Finally, a more tentative section identifies some “remaining differences” – not intending to be comprehensive but suggesting some ways forward.
The Declaration does not solve all our disagreements. But it demonstrates just how far Lutherans and Catholics have come together on three crucial topics: church, ministry and eucharist. It clearly indicates much ground that does not need to be retraced again. It also offers these formal Agreements to the churches to be received into their common life. In this way it helps inspire continuing work toward the visible Christian unity, which is Christ’s prayer.
The theologians who worked on these documents crafted them to “help us to respect the teachings of both Churches,” says Bishop Denis Madden. Both sides agree that we need the encounter of dialogue. When this happens, as it began to happen for me nearly thirty years ago, I began to understand that the other person, and other Christian communions, had something that was of value for me to hear and receive. Not all communions have signed this agreement. The Methodists have signed the JDDJ but the Reformed have not, at least not yet. Baptists and Pentecostals remain major groups of churches that have not responded as positively but they are not at all outside this ongoing work for unity, at least informally. The light of love which guides us toward unity is not limited to documents and formal denominational efforts, thus we should pray for more light and love to fall on all of us in the days ahead.
John Armstrong is a friend of A2J. You can read more of his work here
Sharing by Father Raniero Cantalamessa during the Vigil – CCR Golden Jubilee 2017
From the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2:
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?
Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:5-13)
This scene is repeating itself among us today. We too have come “from every nation under heaven,” and we are here to proclaim together “the mighty works of God.”
There is, however, something else to discover in this part of the story of Pentecost. Since ancient times it has been understood that the author of Acts—and this means first of all the Holy Spirit!— through this insistence on the phenomenon of tongues, wanted to make us understand, that at Pentecost something takes place that reverses what happened at Babel. The Spirit transforms the linguistic chaos of Babel into a new harmony of voices. This explains why the account of Babel in Genesis 11 is traditionally inserted among the biblical readings for the Pentecost Vigil.
The builders of Babel were not, as it was once thought, wicked people who intended to defy God, a kind of equivalent of the Titans of Greek mythology. No, they were pious and religious people. The tower they wanted to construct was a temple to the divinity, one of those temples with layered terraces called ziggurat, whose ruins can still be found in Mesopotamia.
What then was their sin? Let us listen to what they said among themselves when they started to work on it: “They said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth’” (Gen 11:4). Martin Luther makes an illuminating observation about these words:
“Let us build ourselves a city and a tower”: let us build it for ourselves, not for God. . . . “Let us make a name for ourselves”: let us do it for ourselves. The people take no concern for the name of God to be glorified; they are concerned with making their own name great.
In other words, God is being exploited; he must serve their desire for power. They perhaps thought, according to the mindset at that time, that by offering sacrifices from a great height they could win victories from the divinity over the neighboring peoples. This is the reason God was forced to confound their languages and derail their project.
This suddenly brings the matter of Babel and its builders very close to us. How many of the divisions among Christians have been due to a secret desire to make a name for ourselves, to elevate ourselves above others, to relate to God from a superior position in comparison to others! How many have been due to the desire to make a name for ourselves or for our own church more than for God! This is where our Babel comes from!
Let us turn now to Pentecost. Here too we see a group of men, the apostles, who are preparing to build a tower that goes from earth to heaven, the Church. At Babel they still spoke one single language, but at a certain point people no longer understood one another; at Pentecost all the people are speaking different languages, but everyone understands the apostles. Why? It is because the Holy Spirit had brought about a Copernican revolution in them.
Before this moment the apostles were also preoccupied with making a name for themselves, and they often discussed “who among them was the greatest.” Now the Holy Spirit has shifted their focus away from themselves and refocused them on Christ. The heart of stone has been shattered, and in its place beats “a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26). As Jesus had promised before leaving them, they were “baptized in the Holy Spirit” (see Act 1:5-8), that is, they were completely submerged in the ocean of God’s love that was poured out upon them (see Rom 5:5).
They are dazzled by the glory of God. Their speaking in diverse languages can also be explained by the fact that they were speaking with their eyes, with their faces, with their hands, with the amazement of people who have seen things too lofty to put in words. “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” The reason they all understood the apostles is that they were no longer speaking about themselves but about God!
God is calling us to bring about that same conversion in our lives: a conversion from ourselves to God, from the smaller unity of our parish, our movement, our own church, to the greater unity that is the unity of the whole body of Christ, indeed of all of humanity. It is the bold step that Pope Francis is urging us Catholics to take and that representatives of other churches assembled here demonstrate they want to share!
St. Augustine had already made it clear that ecclesial communion takes place by degrees and can occur on different levels: from a full degree which consists in sharing both the sacraments and the interior grace of the Holy Spirit, to a partial degree that consists in sharing the same Holy Spirit. St. Paul included in his communion “all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Cor 1:2). This is a formula that we perhaps need to rediscover and go back to appreciating. Today that communion also includes our brothers and sisters who are Messianic Jews.
The Pentecostal and charismatic phenomenon has a specific vocation and responsibility in regard to the unity of Christians. Its ecumenical vocation appears even more evident if we think back to what happened at the beginning of the Church. What did the Risen One do to prompt the apostles to welcome the Gentiles into the Church? God sent the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household in the same way and with the same manifestations with which he had sent the Spirit on the apostles at the beginning. Peter could therefore only draw the conclusion that “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17). At the Council of Jerusalem Peter repeated this same argument: God “made no distinction between us and them” (Acts 15:9).
Now we have seen this marvel repeated before our very eyes, this time on a worldwide scale. God has poured out his Holy Spirit on millions of believers who belong to almost all the Christian denominations and, lest there be any doubt about his intentions, he has poured out his Spirit with the identical manifestations, including the most unique one of speaking in tongues. We too are left to draw the same conclusion that Peter did: “If God then has given them the same gift he gave us, who are we to continue to say that other Christian believers do not belong to the body of Christ and are not true disciples of Christ?”
We need to look at what the charismatic path to unity involves. St. Paul outlined this plan for the Church: “speak the truth in love” (see Ephes 4:15). What we must not do is bypass the issues of faith and of doctrine in order to be united in the sphere of shared action in evangelization and social issues. Ecumenism experimented with this path at its beginning and experienced its failure. Divisions inevitably resurface quite soon, even in the sphere of action. We must not substitute charity for truth but rather aim for truth with charity; we need to begin to love one another in order to understand each other better.
The extraordinary thing about this ecumenical path based on love is that it is possible at once; the way is completely open before us. We cannot “cut corners” concerning doctrine because there are indeed differences that are to be resolved with patience in the appropriate settings. However, we can skip some steps concerning love and be united right now.
It is the only “debt” that we have toward others (cf. Rom 13:8). We can welcome and love one another despite our differences. Christ did not command us to love only those who think the way we do and who fully share our creed. If we love only those people, he warned us, what is special about that since the pagans also do that? (cf. Mt 5:46)
We can love each other because what already unites us is infinitely more important than what divides us. What unites us is the same faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Lord Jesus, true God and true man; the shared hope of eternal life; the common commitment to evangelization; the shared love for the body of Christ, the Church.
Another important thing also unites us: the shared suffering and shared martyrdom for Christ. In so many parts of the world, believers from different churches are sharing the same sufferings and enduring the same martyrdom for Christ. They are not being persecuted and killed because they are Catholic, or Anglicans, or Pentecostals or from some other denomination, but because they are “Christians.” In the eyes of the world we are already one single group, and it is a shame if we are not also that in reality.
How do we concretely put into practice this message of unity and love? Let us recall St. Paul’s hymn of charity. Each of his phrases acquires a new significance when applied to love among the members of the various Christian churches in ecumenical relationships:
Love is patient.
Love is not boastful.
Loves is not rude.
Love does not seek its own interest (in our case, the interests of other churches as well). Love keeps no record of wrongs (in our case, the wrongs suffered from the hands of other Christians) (see 1 Cor 13:4ff)
St. Francis in one of his Admonitions says, “Blessed is the servant who rejoices in the good that God does through others as if he had done it through him.” We can say, “Blessed is that Christian who is able to rejoice at the good that God does through other churches just as he is for the good that God does through his own church.”
Those who listened to Peter’s discourse on the day of Pentecost “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, . . . and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37-38). A renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit will not be possible without a collective movement of repentance on the part of all Christians.
Take courage, all you people of God, and work because I am with you, says the Lord! My Spirit will be with you.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa is an Italian Catholic priest in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. He has devoted his ministry to preaching and writing. He is a Scripture scholar, theologian, and noted author of numerous books. Since 1980 he has served as the Preacher to the Papal Household under Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.
To learn more click here to visit his website
It is with great joy that we share we arrived home safely. Our transition has been good so far, it helped a lot to have our family, friends and A2J community welcome us home. They not only threw us a welcome home party but also cleaned and organized our house and filled our cupboards and fridge with food. What a gift! It was an amazing 395 days in Europe. Our time was very fruitful and through the grace of God we accomplished our goals serving as the President of Antioch Network. We also experienced so much wonder and beauty as a family. We trust that in the days, months and years ahead we will continue to experience the fruit of this time both as a family and in our work.
Thank you for supporting us prayerfully, personally and financially in this time. We could not have done the work without you.
We will send a comprehensive report later and plan to host a time to share in person this Fall. Until then, below are a few highlights from our last two months
Visiting our team
Most of the past two months was focused on connecting in a deep way with our team member in Europe. God has blessed us with a strong and beautiful team.
Celebrating Pentecost in Rome
It was a surreal experience to be on the stage with Christian leaders from around the world. We were diverse yet one in Christ. There were Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Anglicans, non-denominational and even Messianic Jews. There were five Cardinals and of course at the center was Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome. It was very meaningful to participate in this monumental event, standing side by side with my friends and fellow co-laborers from Wittenberg 2017 and John 17.
Pope Francis began his Pentecost celebrations at an ecumenical vigil June 3 with some 50,000 Catholic charismatics and Pentecostals from more than 125 countries gathered for praise and worship at the site of the ancient Roman Circus Maximus
“We have chosen to meet here in the Circus Maximus,” said Pope Francis, “where so many Christians were martyred, just for laughs. Today there are more martyrs than in those times. Today’s martyrs are not asked ‘Are you Catholic? Orthodox? Coptic? Pentecostal?’ before being killed. They are killed because they are Christian. We are united by this ecumenism of the blood.”
If those who want to kill Christians believe they are one, he said, it is urgent that Christians be
“united by the work of the Holy Spirit in prayer and in action on behalf of those who are weaker. Striving to Walk together. Work together. and Love each other,”
Pope Francis shared with us that, being baptized in the Spirit and knowing how to praise God, “are not enough” if we as, Christians don’t also help those in need.
Here is the Big Question:
In this year marking the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s protest, can we seek to be united simply as followers of Jesus Christ?
Meeting Pope Francis as a family
It was an amazing honor to be able to be with Pope Francis as a family, we were the only family in this meeting. We thank God for our friend Julia Torres, who made it possible. Our kids were so moved by this experience. Pope Francis was so excited to greet our children.
John 17 Meetings
This was our second John 17 Gathering in Rome to visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican. This gathering included roughly fifty participants, predominantly from evangelical and Pentecostal churches in the United States, and was initiated by the gracious invitation of Pope Francis and the Vatican, geared towards building bridges between Catholics and Protestants for the glory of Jesus, relational unity of his people, and good of the world.
If you would like to read the transcripts from our meetings with Pope Francis that a friend put together you can do so by clicking here
Two minute video summary of our time in Rome
The love and peace of Christ to you,
Ryan for the Thurman family
by Ryan Thurman
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants
Remember those leading you, who spoke the word of God to you, consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
It takes no special talent to look around and point out things that are numbing and depressing. But becoming keenly and consistently aware of what’s good, true, and beautiful requires we be intentional: we must open our eyes, minds, and hearts, and keep them open.
One way to do this is to recognize and reflect on the people who have marked our lives. I have been thinking about this lately and want to write around this theme. It is a way for me to follow God’s instruction to be a 'remembering' people, who remember God’s work of grace throughout history and in our own lives. This is also a way for me to publicly honor those God has placed in my life.
We live in a time where it is hard to maintain healthy relationships in our lives, from our own family, to our friends. We have been disappointed often by those closest to us and we are aware that we too have failed those we love most. But here is the mystery; although we are weak and frail God chooses to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God to others.
We also are formed from a very early age by a message, that says we need to be independent and self-sufficient. As Frank Sinatra so famously sang, "I made it my way." But I think this is wrong. The Biblical example is that we are to follow and learn by imitation from those who walk with Jesus in an intimate way. We need these spiritual mothers and fathers who can love us and point us to Jesus and allow us to walk with them as they walk with Jesus.
Father Peter Hocken is one of those people in my life. I have gotten to know him over the past few years as we have been part of the Wittenberg 2017 initiative together. At first I was enamored with him as a gifted teacher, and then this grew into deep respect as I watched him interact with others so genuinely and humbly. This past June while we were in Wittenberg, Germany together we moved into friendship as we had different opportunities to sit together and share a meal. One of the last evenings I was able to spend one on one time with him. We walked through the old town and stopped at a cafe and he bought me a Heineken. As we sat together enjoying our beers I was able to ask him many questions about his life. It was one of those events that are sealed into my memory as a transformative moment. Father Peter, at age 85 continues to pour out his life as an offering and a testimony to the love and power of Jesus.
Who have been the people in your life that have helped shape who you are today?
Who are the people in your life whom God might be leading you to pursue and invest in. And who knows, one day may write about the importance of your investment in their life?
Fr Peter Hocken writes about his teaching ministry
In the mid-1990s the Lord gave me a new understanding of the centrality of the second coming of Jesus in the biblical revelation, that His coming in glory is what everything else is preparing for, along with the place of Israel and the Jewish people in the Father’s plan from before creation. I saw that everything the Holy Spirit is doing is preparing for this wonderful consummation. My earlier teaching had focused on the renewal of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council and on the importance of Christian unity in this renewal. The new light on Israel and the second coming gave a fuller context to that teaching based on a more complete biblical vision. The Lord raises up His Coming in glory and that sheds new light on everything else. Some people have told me I give a “big picture” teaching.
Only in the last three years have I had a website making these teachings of recent years available: www.peterhocken.org
Some of the main areas of this teaching are:
by Ryan Thurman
Yesterday, during the Ash Wednesday service in the Anglican church here in Gozo, we were all surprised, including the priest, to find out that the Catholic Bishop of Gozo had written a letter to us, and sent his secretary to read it on his behalf. In this letter the Bishop shared with us that during this season of Lent he was calling on all the Catholic churches in Gozo to take up a special Lenten offering that would go to the Anglican church to help with the very costly and necessary renovations of St. Paul's Church in Valletta where the Anglican church has been worshipping for 175 years. Can you imagine this? How did this happen when Catholics and Anglicans have such a painful past, each having deeply wronged the other and both historically viewing the other “with suspicion and hostility,”
Why did the Bishop of Gozo make this gesture? Here are a few thoughts:
1) Jesus prayed to the Father that Christians would be one in him and the Father is answering this prayer. (John 17)
2) There is a rising tide of Christians from all traditions whose passion is to offer themselves to see this prayer of Jesus become a growing reality in our day.
3) The Holy Spirit is breaking down barriers and opening up unimaginable possibilities.
4) This Bishop is simply following the example of Pope Francis.
Earlier in the week Pope Francis continued his journey of firsts. He became the first Roman pontiff to set foot in an Anglican parish inside his own Diocese of Rome. He spoke to a crowd of both Catholic and Anglican faithful affirming that things are changing and today Catholics and Anglicans recognize one another as we truly are: brothers and sisters in Christ, through our common baptism.
He exhorted Christians everywhere to follow the example of Paul, who “did not give up in the face of divisions, but devoted himself to reconciliation.” In Corinth, while helping the communities work through division he encountered deep tensions in their relationship, “these did not have the final word,” Francis said, explaining that the two communities eventually reconciled, and the Christians in Corinth eventually helped Paul in his ministry to the poor and needy.
I believe as Christians from different traditions learn to walk together as brothers and sisters in Christ, building friendships of trust and empowered by the Holy Spirit, follow the example of Jesus by humbly serving one another and serving together those in need the merciful face of Jesus will be made visible in our cities and the world will believe that the Father sent Jesus
I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind--
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are--
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.
-John 17:20-23 The Message
by Jeff Skeens
Peace. What do you think of when you hear this word? It’s a loaded word, full of millions of ideas about what it is, what it looks like, and how it would work in a world full of division, dis-integration. There’s no sugar-coating one could do to cover up the lack of peace that we have on earth. Sure, we could speak of all the good, beauty, love, and sacrifice that exists and has been demonstrated, but just as all the hate can’t cover up the goodness, so all the goodness can’t cover up all the hate. This is true for the Church as well, and this is where my heart breaks and feels the tension of a people who have been reconciled to God, but we can’t figure out how to be reconciled to one another. I know one major reason is because we all have a different idea of peace, which actually effects how we see justice at work.
We can’t minimize our situation, no matter how painful it is, in an effort to try and make our lives feel better. We are dis-integrated and dis-membered. Maybe one of the only ways forward at this point is to re-integrate and re-member (or in many instances, to integrate and member for the first time). I hope to speak of peace in such a way that helps you long to be re-integrated and re-membered to your brothers and sisters whom you’ve been dis-integrated and dis-membered from. In the narrative of Scripture, the prophet Isaiah refers to the Messiah (the promised redeemer) to be born in years to come, calling him, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6).
Later on, the Apostle Paul refers to Jesus as being “our peace.”
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace… (Ephesians 2:13-15)
Jesus is our peace, Paul says. He’s the one who broke down the wall of division between Jews and Gentiles by becoming the curse of mankind and absorbing the wickedness of humanity into himself. That’s why his death is so important, and powerful. His death is not some sick celebration of sadistic people who glory in pain and suffering. His death is a celebration because it is God himself (John 1:1), who became human, to put to death the consequence and finality of death and wickedness. In his death, all the evil and wickedness on earth now has a chance to be made into life-giving goodness. This is also why his resurrection means so much. In his resurrection, we see not only a God who has power over wickedness and death, but a God who invites us into his resurrected life, indeed to be the ones who walk out of the tombs and be Christ to one another.
But Jesus also says something in Luke 12 that stirs the pot and moves us into more questions regrading peace: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).
What’s Jesus doing here? Is he contradicting himself? I thought one of His names was “Prince of Peace”? Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the One who often said, “Peace be with you,” knows that for true peace to be made in a world full of dis-integration and dis-memberment, there must be a stirring, a shaking of the pot, a realization that we are not alright and all right. Peace then sometimes entails bringing to light that which others want to corruptly keep hidden… this will cause division and anger, but peace will prevail, eventually, even if in death. In many cases the death that must take place among those who are Jesus’ people, is the death of pride, of the desire to self-protect and be right, of the desire to payback and be with only those who think and act similar.
Maybe an understanding of shalom will help in this discussion. Shalom is a Hebrew word that has been translated in English as the word peace. But shalom is a loaded word in the Hebrew language. Shalom does mean peace, but it means more than that. It means peace with justice, universal peace, flourishing of all creation, the way things are supposed to be. So when we speak of peace, we could think, “the way things are supposed to be.” This is how Cornelius Plantinga Jr. puts it. He calls sin a perversion against God’s gracious plan, which is “not the way it’s supposed to be.”
Shalom was seen in the Garden of Eden, and sin “vandalized” shalom, says Plantinga. On this side of the Garden, maybe shalom is one of those concepts that we learn what it means more by seeing/realizing the absence of it. Where shalom is absent, we begin to grieve the way things were supposed to be, and then maybe we receive a new set of lenses with which to view and interpret life because of that experience. This is why the disruption must take place for peace to become real in the hearts of God’s people. To be re-integrated or re-membered to people you don’t think you belong to or are separate from, means we need to be re-minded that things are not the way they’re supposed to be, and in this re-membering, our hearts would break that we have been the ones who’ve contributed to the dis-integration of our own people.
Being a presence of peace when things are chaotic and full of injustices, will always disturb first. It’s like turning on really bright lights in a dark room when people are sleeping or just waking up; angry shouts are hurled at the one who turned the lights on. “Turn them off!” as a pillow or a shoe flies across the room at the one who turned the lights on. And if that person keeps the light on, you are sure that there will be a confrontation. The sleeping ones who’ve been awakened will often get out of bed and turn the lights back off. Now what to do? Do you take the risk and turn the lights back on, or do you get the point and move on? I’m not here to answer specifics as to what to do, but I do know a stirring must take place for peace to be real.
The late Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for his peaceful protests amongst his enemies. In one of his essays, “Non-violoence: The Only Road to Freedom,” King says that the way to shalom “will be accomplished by persons who have the courage to put an end to suffering by willingly suffering themselves rather than inflict suffering on others.” This is one way of turning on the lights. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says, “for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). In the book Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger say this about contentiousness (which is the opposite of peaceableness): “Like a parasite living on a host, contentiousness feeds on rage and rancor, antipathy and animosity, to fan the fire of discord and accelerate the spiral of violence.” (214).
To confront the lack of peace in this world takes courageous sacrifice, because where it is absent, there will be hostility towards those who want to make it present. So this is where we are at. We have a church filled with different ideologies, different commitments, and allegiances, and different passion that move us and motivate towards the idea of peace we have been taught to seek. I hope in reading this, you may be re-centered to the peace God longs for his people, peace that puts nothing above Christ, peace that seeks first the Kingdom of God over every other kingdom that presents itself as the answer to peace. I hope that you may be stirred to confess kingdoms you’ve loved more than God’s Kingdom and begin seeing your call as a child of God as a call to be a peacemaker, a reconciler, a re-memberer. Allegiance to a way of life different than that of God’s way of life in his kingdom will not suffice, and will never see peace.
And may this work begin within the household of God so our witness of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection be proclaimed without hypocrisy and with great love, a great love that loves all the peoples of all the nations and not just the peoples of our of own nation. This is the work of peace that will change us, radically, and I warn you, if you like your life, this will be a dangerous work, for it will not leave you as you are, and life as you know it will be disrupted, but praise be to God, for it will be for the sake of our God and our Christ being known in the world as a God of peace who radically loves and longs to restore shalom, life the way it’s supposed. Life where all men and women are seen and valued as equals.
This will certainly take death if it is to come to pass.
Jeff Skeens is a friend of A2J! You can read more of his writings here: jeffskeens.com
by Amber Hunter Jesse
My mom really loved my dad, and I think he really did try to love her back. Together, they brought me and my big brother Cliff into the world, and they wanted to make us a happy family.
But our family broke and fell to pieces.
I cried my eyes out on their bed, as mom told us she was divorcing him. I was only eight years old. I understand now that she couldn’t live anymore with his unwillingness to get the help he needed for his depression and mental illness. He often stayed home while she worked full-time at the courthouse and we were dropped off at mediocre babysitters, the only one’s mom could afford.
When I was 11, my mom cried as she told me that my dad would be spending the rest of his life in prison. He had shot a man to death. I remember my young and puzzled brain, trying to make sense of it. I think I went into survival mode. My immediate response was, “It doesn’t matter. I’m fine. He was nothing but a sperm donor to me.” Looking back, I can see that I was traumatized. My mom was limited in her understanding and ability to walk us through a healthy, healing process. She tried to bring it up throughout the years, but I had made it an “off-limits” topic. I was ashamed and terrified that people would find out that I was the daughter of a murderer. “Anguish” isn’t too strong a word to describe how I felt realizing I had lost my dad forever.
In the middle of my senior year of high school, my mom was diagnosed with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor. In other words, cancer. She died only four months later. I remember a conversation we had maybe a month before. She said, “Amber, there will be times in your life when you think, ‘I wish my mom was here,’ but I want you to know that I already know. I already know that you’ll do so many amazing things in your life.”
Since then, I’ve been on quite a journey! After graduating from college and spending a very inspiring summer in Pemba Mozambique, I was invited to move into Downtown Phoenix , to start community of people called “Apprenticeship to Jesus, (A2J for short).” These past eight years, we’ve tried to walk closely together, on a common path into the beautiful heart of Jesus. I’m so thankful for how God has surprised me with this miracle of community! It’s been a safe harbor where I’ve consistently felt known and cared for, and where I’ve had a sense that I belong. Our shared life has also been a place of transformation; we’ve come to understand that relationships are the context where God matures, heals, and forms us in Love.
When I moved into the A2J community I was very passionate about Jesus, but I was also more injured than I knew. I was limping, spiritually and emotionally. I was extremely sensitive and when a wound got touched I lashed out at the people who loved me the best. My A2J family supported me through a much-needed season of mourning. I pinned this large burlap cross above my bed and, for two solid months, I wept and ached in the presence of God. My community also gave me the courage to begin unpacking my painful places with a professional counselor. Over these years, I’ve experienced significant growth and heart-healing that, upon reflection, causes me to gasp in amazement.
What’s even more amazing is that my brother Cliff decided to jump on board! Cliff is one of my best friends and one of my very favorite people. You should see him! The love of God has completely transformed him, along with his beautiful wife and kids. It’s been a dramatic and beautiful thing to behold.
Four years ago, my brother called me up and said “Amber, I think it’s time for us to go visit our dad.”
We had reconnected with our dad through letters, but we’d never gone to see him in prison.
I knew Cliff was right, it was time. So, we sent him a postcard to let him know we were coming and, before hearing anything back from him, we drove the eighteen hours to the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas to visit our dad for the first time. We hadn’t seen his face or heard his voice in over fifteen years.
My heart was pounding as I sat at that picnic table waiting for him to come. His letters had revealed significant mental illness and instability, so we had no idea if he would even come out, or how he would respond to us. Would he be angry or overwhelmed? Would he say strange things? I wasn’t even sure how he felt about me. Would we hug? Would that feel weird?
I looked up and saw a frail inmate in an all-white jumpsuit. He had grey hair, and he was unfamiliar. “Well, that’s not him,” I whispered to my brother. But as he came a bit closer, Cliff leaned over and said, “that is him!”
When our eyes met, my dad gave a hesitant smile. I found myself jumping out of my seat as he sped his own steps. We threw our arms around each other and I said, “Hi dad.”
As tears welled up in his eyes, my dad said, “do you remember the last time I saw you? I’ve replayed it over and over in my mind. I just can’t remember if I hugged you… if I told you that I love you.”
Our visit inspired me to write a song called Freedom Road.
It’s been a long road, learning what it means to forgive my dad for all the ways he wasn’t there for me when I needed him. I’m still learning to trust God with my dad. This process has opened my heart and allowed love to grow and to blossom.
Since then, our dad has sent me a lot of his amazing original artwork, and I’ve created art books that I’ve sent back to him. He said to me “they’re the best gifts I’ve ever received and that comes right from the center of my heart!” As I sort through all his creations, I feel so proud of him and thankful that we've found this way to collaborate and make something beautiful together.
I cannot imagine the pain of spending life in prison, let alone with his serious mental illness, and in one of the harshest prisons in America. He's starting to become more open with me, even sending a drawing of the inside of his cell. Art helps this dad and his kids to connect.
Last month, my brother and I went back for a second visit. It went beyond our hopes.
We arrived on the rare picture day and were able to get a photo with our dad! I was so excited! We didn’t even think that was possible.
Our dad has the sweetest smile. Cliff says that it’s his favorite thing about our visits. This time, dad shared stories from his childhood that made our hearts hurt, and helped us to understand him so much more. He sang for us a new song he had written. Yep, it turns out all three of us are songwriters! His song was gentle and emotional, and his tears made his chin quiver as he sang. He said it was the best visit ever, and that he felt like “a free man, outside of the fences.” We all agreed together that God is restoring so much in our family.
As we were leaving, and he was headed back to his cell, I got this urge and I ran back over to give him
another hug. It caught him off guard, and he smiled.
We left that prison with a mix of joy and sorrow in our hearts.
I remember my mom’s words. “Amber, there will be times in your life when you think, ‘I wish my mom was here,’ but I want you to know that I already know. I already know that you’ll do so many amazing things in your life.”
I feel an ache as I read those words.
I wish my mom was here to see this photo.
by Ryan Thurman
This is the second in a series of writings aimed at honoring God and those who have impacted my life. The first writing was about George Miley and you can read it here
In 1998 I left a secure and very well-paying job, as a UPS driver and entered into vocational ministry with Young Life. This was a huge decision on many levels, not least, that I would be decreasing my salary by 75%. I would also have to trust God to provide this reduced salary through the gifts of God’s people. This was a crucial season for me. I knew this path would lead to a life of wonder and adventure with God but I also knew it would be challenging and require a deep work of healing and maturing in my heart.
I was just beginning to explore spiritual practices such as solitude, silence, and fasting and I was intimidated and excited all at the same time. This led me to Merciful Heart Hermitage in Black Canyon City. I was alone in the middle of nowhere, wondering how I was going to make it through a 24 hour silent retreat. I was hoping that my 'sacrificial' fasting would usher in a mystical experience with God but instead I was just hungry and irritable. Fortunately I had as my guide a catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen. He wasn’t actually with me, that would have been amazing, but I had one of his books, the Way of the Heart.
His writings helped guide me in my journey of knowing God in a personal way. Henri’s honesty and simplicity was so revolutionary for me. His passion to experience the love of God and allow that love to define and direct every aspect of his life was compelling. Henri helped me learn to pray, by sharing his own struggles with prayer and I began to see this active wrestling with God was itself the most authentic form of prayer. Henri wrote:
"Why, O Lord, is it so hard for me to keep my heart directed toward you? Why do the many little things I want to do, and the many people I know, keep crowding into my mind, even during the hours that I am totally free to be with you and you alone? Why does my mind wander off in so many directions, and why does my heart desire the things that lead me astray? Are you not enough for me? Do I keep doubting your love and care, your mercy and grace? Do I keep wondering, in the center of my being, whether you will give me all I need if I just keep my eyes on you? Please accept my distractions, my fatigue, my irritations, and my faithless wanderings. You know me more deeply and fully than I know myself. You love me with a greater love than I know myself. You even offer me more than I can desire. Amen”
Henri left a very successful career at Harvard Divinity School to move to the L’arche community, first in Trosly, France and then to Daybreak in Canada. There he served as a priest to six disabled people and their assistants. He was among people who had never read his books, nor cared how well he could lecture or preach but instead only cared if he loved them, simply by being with them. Philip Yancey who got to know Henri over the years wrote this about him:
For me, a single image captures him best: the energetic priest, hair in disarray, using his restless hands as if to fashion a homily out of thin air, celebrating an eloquent birthday Eucharist for an unresponsive child-man so damaged that many parents would have had him aborted. A better symbol of the incarnation, I can hardly imagine
Henri Nouwen not only helped me go deep with God but also began the process of leading me to repent of my sinful attitudes I had about Catholics. Before receiving the gift of Henri's insights into the spiritual life, I had a belief system that Catholics were not 'real' christians and needed to be converted and become Protestants like me. I was so wrong! Henri helped open the door to me to receive the spiritual gifts of the Historic Church, like the writings of the Church Fathers, Monastic Spirituality and the beauty of liturgy.
This has not only changed my spiritual life but has formed in me a passion and calling to see the Body of Christ, that is now so divided, take seriously the prayer of Jesus, "that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
The time is now dear friends to cross over the lines that have been drawn and to break down walls that separate us as Christians and stand united together in support of our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted and together dispense the grace and living water of Jesus to a desperate world. It begins with little steps by learning to make friends, pray and serve with others outside of your own church and tradition and learn to experience an ‘exchange of gifts.’ This exchange happens when we learn to emphasize the best of the different traditions, and share what we have received from God, and also receive the gifts that God has placed in others.
Thank you Henri for your life and example! You not only helped teach me to pray and plunge deeper into the abyss of God's great love, but you also help changed my view of who are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Indeed the trajectory of my life has forever been altered for the better.
If you would like to go deeper with Henri Nouwen. I recommend his books, Return of the Prodigal Son and In The Name of Jesus. You can also read some of my favorite quotes of his by clicking here
6 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,
“In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. ~ 2 Corinthians 6:1-2
Day 7 - Now is the Time
Despite what many think about grace, the unmerited favor of God's goodness and love, it is possible to make vanity out of it. This is to diminish God's work in such a way that it becomes lifeless and without result in the lives that it is to be at work among. For Paul this vanity of grace came in the unwillingness to embrace God's work in and through him and his team. The appeal to receive them was due to the fact that they themselves were working with Christ and to receive them was to receive God's grace at work in them.
Paul proceeds to remind the church in Corinth that the Lord is one who hears prayers and not one who abandons them in their time of need. His desire for them is to know his love in its fullness, which is why they must also receive the ways in which he as work in the world to express that love. The day of God's deliverance is not some distant reality and Paul emphasizes the favor in which they now stand in light of the resurrection.
The church in its 2000 year history has done much to make vain the grace of God within it by its splintered fellowship and the discord found between those who confess the reconciling truth of the Gospel in Christ. It has forgotten that its working together is a working with the one who expresses his love in service, humility and sacrifice. This appeal to remember God's favor and working is now an appeal through the Spirit to us, reminding us that God is once more a deliverer and is capable of bringing his saving power to our disunity and divisions.
Much time is spent speculating on the circumstantial will of God and how we are to use our time. We can become mired in our inability to know how and in what way the Lord is leading us. In situations like this though the will of God is clear. Now is the time of God's favor, the time of healing and reconciliation, where once more his grace finds its fullness in us, those who are working together with him in his salvation.
Thank you for journeying with us during this 108th annual week of Prayer for Christian unity. We hope that God spoke to your hearts throughout this week and pray that you continue to have the grace and courage to move closer to the heart of Jesus, who still prays that we would be one in him.
O generous and loving God, we praise and thank you for your gifts.
We acknowledge our failure to heal the divisions
that exist among the followers of your Son, Jesus Christ.
We pray for your help and guidance to overcome
the barriers that continue to separate Christians.
We ask that the power of your Holy Spirit be fully alive within us;
and for Your love to give us the strength
to mend the hurts that separate the followers of Jesus.
Help us build bridges of love and understanding with all humanity.
May the love and forgiveness of Jesus guide us each day
as we journey with our sisters and brothers in Christ's name.
We pray for the day when it will truly be said
of all who follow your Son, Jesus Christ:
"They love one another as Jesus loves."
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:21
Day 6 - The Inverted Justice of Love
The foundation of the Christian life is a sacred exchange. The prophet Isaiah spoke of it in that the wounds of another would be the healing of many and that by chastisement there would be peace. The chosen one who was despised and rejected, would himself become the sin offering through the altar of his life and death. In this, Christ, in his righteousness, bore the Father's wrath by taking upon himself and becoming our sin, exchanging his glory so that men and women may walk in union with him.
For centuries the anticipation of this exchange played out in the sin offering prescribed to Israel in Leviticus. The unblemished lamb who was without spot was now revealed in the sinless life of Christ, only now the atonement would bring more than just peace with God, it would bring union with his very essence. His righteousness became ours as our sin became his.
Moving against our natural inclinations to what is just and fair, the call to be ambassadors and representatives of the one sending us is to walk also in his nature. That God is just is true, but in Christ that justice was inverted to reveal the depths of his love and redemption. The one who was worthy gave himself for the unworthy that they themselves may be worthy as well. This inverted exchange, which is our foundation in the Christian life, is also the foundation of reconciliation.
Just as Christ gave himself as sin so that we may become the righteousness of God, we also must lay our lives on the altar of God's love so that our enmity and strife with one another may become peace and fellowship. The sacred exchange invites us to lay down our sense of what is just and right, and in turn to move in the initiating love of God. That we now belong to the righteousness of God means that not only are we capable of living it out, but that in Christ it belongs to our nature as well.
I will never forget a meeting I was part of in a small German city in 2003. A group of Christians from different traditions and countries had come together to pray for God’s blessing on this particular city, suffering under the weight of un-forgiveness and division. During the meeting a young Lutheran pastor said some hurtful things about the Catholic church, rooted in his own painful experiences. The tension in the room was palpable as we waited to see what would happen next. An older Catholic woman walked towards this young pastor and knelt down before him and asked for forgiveness for the specific ways he had been hurt by some in the Catholic Church. He extended his hand to her and helped her up, then they embraced and wept. Forgiveness and healing in Christ, won the day
Have you ever considered asking someone for forgiveness for sin that was done against them by someone that you represent. In Daniel 9:16, Daniel confesses to God not only his own sins but the sins of his father and of his people.
Triune God, following the example of Jesus, make us witnesses to your love. Grant us to become instruments of justice, peace and solidarity. May your Spirit move us towards concrete actions that lead to unity. May walls be transformed into bridges. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.