RIGHTEOUSNESS . . . Something to boast about . . . boast about knowing God

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.” (Reference: Jeremiah 9:23-24 )

Pretend, beloved, that this is a quiz.

Who delights in kindness?

Who delights in justice?

Who delights in righteousness?

If you know the answer to these three things, you can boast about it!

Do you have insight and understanding about the Being who delights in these things?

If your answer is yes, you can boast about it!

Do YOU know how to exercise kindness?

Do YOU know how to exercise justice?

Do YOU know how to exercise righteousness on the earth?

If can answer YES to these three things, you can boast about it!

All other possessions, treasures, and knowledge that are based on the attributes of this world are not worth boasting about. May you, beloved, boast with all the saints and spiritual forefathers & foremothers that have gone before us. Selah!

RIGHTEOUSNESS . . . It can be a rough road

The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.” (Reference: Psalms 34:16-22 )

After spending a third of a year hearing scripture from a Historic Anabaptist perspective, I am imaging you can guess with little effort as to how they viewed verses such as this. Hendrick Verstralen wrote to his wife in 1571, “Hearken, my wife, my dearest love on earth, follow my advice for the Lord’s sake; go and sell all that you can spare, which is little, and live as plainly as possible, for a widow can get along with very little . . . The Lord shall care for you; He who gives the wild ass his food in the wilderness, when he cries for thirst, and who feeds the young ravens that cry unto God, as David says (Ps. 147:9), will also feed you, my dear lamb, when you, my widow, my chosen lamb, shall with my young orphans cry to God. Though your tears fall here upon earth, they shall not cease until they penetrate the clouds and appear before God. Then shall you find consolation, as David says: “The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles; yea, the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him from the heart.”

The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible classified them as words of consolation. It takes a particular heart and spirit to hear these words and find encouragement in them. In essence it says, “This is your lot in life now my dear. God says the Lord will provide for you. At least I hope this is true.” I do not say these things because I believe that the sacrifices the historic Anabaptists made for the sake of their faith were folly or foolish. I believe just as strongly as they, and as God gives me strength would stand by my faith. But the “righteous” that is applied to here may not be as evident as we would like or wish. And many times it is only by looking back to see what you have gone through that you realize God was there. Those who have gone on to the life after this may not realize that it can be harder for those that are left behind then those who have gone ahead imagined. (That is an awkward sentence – I hope you know what I mean.)

Put more simply beloved – those who sacrifice all they have for their faith commend those left behind to God. So I pray both for those who have become martyrs, but also for those whose loved ones have been martyred. Their road inevitably becomes the toughest road. May all the promises that the writer of Psalms speaks of become manifest a thousandfold. Selah!

COMMUNITY . . . When it calls on you to give all to the common good

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Reference: Acts 4:32-35 )

Andreas Ehrenpreis was very clear and definite in his writings found in Brotherly Community (1650). He wrote They who would enter into life must come through love, the highest commandment; there is no other way through the narrow gate, Matt. 22:34-40; John 14:1-14. Hundreds of Scriptures and many witnesses make it very clear that whoever wishes to have the precious and hidden jewel must go and sell everything, yes, hand over everything they possess, Matt. 13:45-46; Acts 2:43-47.” Perhaps the historic Anabaptists of that time, while committed to the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of all believers, and equality before the eyes of God, did not particularly want to share the financial resources and possessions that they had. There might have been a great disparity between different believers; we can see this when looking at the family history and background of some of the historic Anabaptists. Perhaps that is why Ehrenpreis wrote further, “Different interpretations of these texts have been given because people want to keep what they have, but we cannot deny the work and power of the Holy Spirit, by which the apostles set a firm example in the first church in Jerusalem and three thousand were aded [sic], Acts 2; Acts 4:32-37. Therefore no one can think otherwise of this truth, or prove that the people did not understand what they were doing, or that they acted wrongly, or that it was not necessary to sell their houses and land to have community. They laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles; no one said that anything belonged to them; they had everything in common.”

Do you think it is fair, beloved, to glean from this the interpretation that the historic Anabaptists might NOT have shared equally what each had, and that they did NOT sell what they had (houses and land) to share with their less well off brethren? It was the very attitudes of entitlement by leaders in the state church that caused the historic Anabaptists to break free of those fetters and establish a faith for the common person. How then do you reconcile that with retaining wealth and possessions? Especially in the face of persecution of your brothers and sisters?

One of the things that sets apart Anabaptists/Mennonites who follow faith practices from the 1700’s & 1800’s (and perhaps later decades) is that they do not have or believe in insurance or social security. They say, we take care of our own. This is both to uphold the sense of community and to not mingle with non-believers. This is very easy to do when faith is lived out in an agrarian culture. Harder to do with a more technology based life.

There is much to think about here beloved; reason to search one’s own heart and faith practices. Do we pay only lip service to sharing what we have with others? Or are we finding new ways to help others that is more compatible with our modern lives, and keeping to the spirit of this passage with dedication and authenticity? May you beloved ponder these things in your heart. Selah!

COMMUNITY . . . Seeing the need and providing for it

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Reference: Acts 2:44-45 NRSV )

If I am remembering correctly, I had said near the beginning of the year that Anabaptists were not the only group that came out of this time of faith reformation and renewal. The Hutterites evolved as a separate and distinct group, taking their name also from one of their prominent leaders of that time. The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible said the Hutterites took these words from the book of Acts most seriously. The communal sharing of temporal goods, they believed, reflects true spiritual surrender to God. The following Hutterite instruction was written in 1545.” The editors do not note who wrote the instruction that is excerpted Most probably, keeping with the communal nature of the Hutterites, the writing of the instructions were a collaborative effort. This except says “Community, both spiritual and temporal, is a cornerstone and foundation of the entire Christian life of the believers, whose hearts grow together in mutual trust, bound one to another through grace. [Matt. 19:21; Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-35; 1 Cor. 12; 1 John 1:3] The inner community, attained through true surrender to God and his only Son Jesus Christ, is mirrored in their outward actions, in wholehearted, genuine service to all God’s children, seeking not one’s own advantage but that of the many. The whole life of Christ is our best example for this. [Matt. 8:15; Luke 16:11; John 12:26, 17:21; 1 Cor. 10:17, 13:4-7]

While the community efforts of the early Christian church faded away over time and under the persecution of state authorities, the Hutterites maintain their way of life up to today. I am not sure if there have been significant changes, but the intent of living together and sharing with one another remains strong. Neither do I know if their numbers are growing or whether they have seen younger generations drift away. You, beloved, could just as well as I do internet searches about such things.

And if you would dig deep enough into history there would probably be just as many incidents of faith at it’s deepest and strongest as there would be incidents of faith gone wrong. What is important beloved is that we learn from our mistakes and determine to live out our faith more perfectly. And doing that in community, sharing each other’s burdens, celebrating each other’s success and binding up each other’s wounds is just as important as sharing with each other as one has need. We think, sometimes to our chagrin, sharing as each has need means only financial or substantive possessions. But it is far easy, beloved, to give someone money than it is to sit down and listen to their story and support them in their sorrow and duress.

I hope and pray that you are within a good faith community, and that there are those around you who care for you and support you. May you extend to them what you receive from them, empowered by our risen Lord! Selah!

ALMS . . . Wisdom for all sides

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (Reference: 1 Timothy 6:17-19 )

Paul, in his advice to Timothy, seems to be taking a careful middle line. And raising the issue of using one’s wealth to a spiritual and theological discussion. I always find it interesting to read Paul’s advice to Timothy, for it is a window to how Paul feels ministry should be done. Paul has not only Timothy’s congregation in his focus of concern, but Timothy as mentee and pastor also. It will be good for the rich, Paul says, to be generous with their wealth for it will win commendation in the life to come, and stop them from hoping that they can “buy” their way into heaven. And presenting it in this well, he advises Timothy, will make sure you do not offend them and cause them to stop helping those who are need. Now, Paul does not say that here explicitly, but knowing Paul that is what is behind his advice.

So, what does it mean to be rich? What does it mean to be poor? And what does it mean to be neither one . . . not rich enough to never worry . . . but not poor enough to always worry? Because I think that is where most of us would find ourselves. Being in the middle means that we are not sure which way to turn. Should our occasional worry be met with assistance? Should our confidence in having the resources we need move us to share with others? There is an old expression – borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. It means taking what is in one hand only to give it to another hand. It does not get you any further ahead (maybe even gets you a little behind), but it sounds good that you have been able to give something to Paul!

May you beloved in-the-middler have all that you need and a little more so that you can share with those on one side and be a good example to those on the other. Selah!

ALMS . . . Giving of earthly possessions so that you might store up heavenly ones

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Reference: Luke 12:32-34 )

Historic Anabaptist believer Andreas Ehrenpreis wrote “This is also the true worship of God. Giving a penny is not enough. No, those who want to be a light in the world must give themselves and, in giving light to others are themselves consumed, Matt. 5:14-16. That is what Christ did, but he also admonished the young man to give what he had to the poor and to come and follow him, Matt. 19:16. Whoever claims to belong to Christ in love, but cannot give their possessions to the community for the sake of Christ and the poor, cannot deny that they love worldly goods, over which they have only been placed as caretakers for a time, more than Christ. Therefore Christ says, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, Matt. 5:3. Yet Christ does not ask this simply for the sake of the poor, but also that his followers may be free and surrendered and not have a treasure on earth to which they tie their heart, about which he warned, Luke 12:22-34. Let everyone seek the welfare of others. Love does not seek to meet its own needs, 1 Cor. 13.”

If ever there was a delicate balance, it is in the giving alms. Taken to one extreme or the other could be perilous. If you give too much, there is the danger of needing the alms yourself. But if you give too little, what you keep for yourself will turn to dust in the life to come. In THAT live things of the earth mean nothing. But compassion, caring and giving mean everything. Ehrenpreis does, if you read carefully, advocate that balance. We are to be caretakers of what we have in this life, but not so tied to it that we “invest” little or nothing in heaven.

How are you doing beloved on this balance? I hope and prayer that you “seek the welfare of others”, and that when you have need others look of for your welfare. In the faith community this is one of the important tasks, and is also an important task of being a neighbor. May you build up such a treasure in heaven and use wisely the treasures on earth that God has blessed you with. Selah!

FASTING . . . Learning how to do without

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

I wanted to make some comments about these verses before you read the rest. I find it interesting that the writer of Matthew seems to believe that these scrunched-up-faced suffers have already received their reward for fasting. They have received attention and perhaps a pious (meaning puffed up religious feeling that is not exactly complimentary) reputation, but nothing that really nourishes the soul and spirit. Can’t you just see them stumbling around clutching their bellies looking peaked, deprived and malnourished, yet in rich clothing and still possessing a substantial belly?! They are not fooling anyone!

“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Reference: Matthew 6:16-18 )

I read some place years ago that if you are feeling unwell but have to be up and around to do things, the best thing to do is to wash carefully, dress well, and take care in your grooming. These verses seem to echo just that – do not look like you are avoiding food, but look well nourished and in good condition.

Now one would hope, beloved, that your fasting does not truly endanger your health. I do not think the Divine wants us to do injury to ourselves. The purpose of fasting can be seen on a spectrum, from skipping a meal in order to diet, to forgoing a meal in order to meditate or worship, to saving money to give to those more needy, to observing religious rituals.

Yesterday we read in Isaiah about fasting that results in changes and better conditions for those victimized by society and circumstances. Here fasting is an action taken literally – not eating. And I do have to wonder, beloved, what reward there might be for not eating. I have never (at least I do not remember) fasted as a spiritual discipline. But the fasting from yesterday’s scripture passage is something I have done often.

The Historic Anabaptists, as we read yesterday, considered fasting a spiritual discipline. In his Apologia (1527) Balthasar Hubmaier wrote, “Although to the Christian all days are fast days, in the sense that he should use food and drink with seemliness and thanksgiving, nevertheless, for the chastisement of the body, also in order to be better fitted to pray on some days, one may himself choose and set aside a particular day.” This is also the perspective held by many modern Anabaptists/Mennonites. Hubmaier writes further, “In brief, I think highly of fasting and of self-denial if one does it voluntarily with regard to food and drink so that his evil and worthless flesh does not grow too wicked and thus, like the uncontrolled oxen, run without discipline and throw the ark of God’s commandments into the mud, 2 Sam. 6. And if I were to give advice in these dangerous times, I would advise, and also do it myself, that one should fast often and hold general assemblies in prayer, that God may graciously turn his anger and wrath away from us and aid us to come again to peace in soul and body . . . in good hope and confidence in God that it would soon get better.” You can sense the perspective of body-as-evil and mind/spirit-as-good in his writings. We know now that mind and body are linked and one is no more good or evil as the other. In fact it is the mind/body connection that makes going without food a trial and tribulation.

May you, beloved, refrain from the things that are not wise and healthy, and follow God’s advice and wisdom for keeping mind and body in harmony with the Divine. Selah!