Independence Day

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and  or us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. - Lesser Feasts and Fasts, p. 285

From its earliest days, the church has celebrated special days in the life of God’s people along with the remembrance and celebration of the lives of the saints and martyrs. The Episcopal Church has its own calendar of these major and lesser feast and fast days. Among these, one finds the obvious major feast days such as Christmas and Easter, and some others that may come to mind in a moment’s thought such as the Feast of the Epiphany, the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, the Ascension of our Lord, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday. Further thought, and some good guessing, may identify so-called “lesser” feast days such as those of each Gospel evangelist, feast days of the disciples, and feast days of important early church leaders. Over the years, the calendar has grown to include a diversity of people in whom we recognize a special incarnation of God’s grace and through whom the Kingdom of God has been furthered. This reflects the ongoing and lived experience of people who continue to journey with a living God. It reflects God’s people proclaiming that God is still active in the world and claiming new stakes for God’s Kingdom. So, along with the Christmas and Easter events, along with the lives Saints Peter and Paul, those of Saints Augustine and Aquinas and the remainder of the “so great a cloud of witnesses,” we also find Independence Day. It may seem odd that a secular, political holiday would be found among other holy days. As Saint Tertullian (b. 155AD) questioned, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” What does philosophy have to do with the church, the political with the religious, a state holiday with a calendar of church holy days? The answer comes from our lived experience, our claiming, and our proclaiming. As Saint Paul claimed and proclaimed in Athens that the altar to an unknown god belonged to the one true God (Acts 17:16-34), and as Saint Patrick and the Celtic monks, while affirming the Irish search for God, claimed and proclaimed that the high stones, sacred groves, wells, and fairy pools of the Irish belonged to the one true God, the church throughout history has baptized and assimilated the world to itself. Likewise, the Episcopal church has claimed Independence Day as a day belonging to the one true God. Like the altar in Athens and the land of the Celts, we baptize our world and the events that transpire within it, claiming those for God and proclaiming through them our lived experience of the living God. For Episcopalians, Independence Day is a holy day where we proclaim the presence of God’s grace in history and we remember the call to God’s people to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God that all people may live in righteousness and peace. Happy Independence Day, Fr. Bill

Country Fare takes a Sabbath

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.
— Ecclesiastes 3:1

Twenty five years is a long time. Twenty five years ago I was a graduate student in Tallahassee working on finishing a dissertation and looking forward to spending the next year as a visiting faculty member at East Tennessee State University. Twenty five years ago, Susan I were “just” dating and having lots of fun. Graduation, marriage, and children were not even on the radar. Twenty five years ago, Bill Clinton was elected president, Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi were Wimbledon champions, AOL (American Online) was just one year old and Yahoo would not appear for another two years. Twenty five years later, I am a priest in the Episcopal Church with two grown children, one of whom is graduating from college. Good thing I am just as tall and slim as twenty five years ago. You know that I am kidding. Twenty five years, good years for the most part, is a long time. During that time I had a season for being a professor of sociology, for starting and raising a family, a season of living is several places in the South and the Midwest, a season for sharing time with inlaws and for seeing them die too young. I am sure that your experience over twenty five years is also one of seasons and change. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.

About twenty five years ago a bunch of servants of God started Country Fare, that wonderful gathering of this faith community in an effort to provide quality discount goods and raise funds to help the needy. Over the years that event has changed and has seen changes in leadership, and this community has changed along with it. There were years when for practical or other reasons Country Fare was not held, but mostly for the past twenty five years this church has gathered and pulled it off one more time. It has been a huge effort with untold blessings for those who have participated as workers and guests. I do not think anyone doubts that Country Fare has been a good thing for this church and our community. But we also recognize that our community has changed. When Country Fare started, there were not the number of thrift stores we now have. Country Fare provided at its start something not readily available to the local population. These stores provide both a place for us to donate our gently used items and the low cost goods that benefit so many in our community. We should also recognize that we have changed. Hauling furniture and long hours moving, sorting, organizing and preparing items for sale takes a physical toll. Country Fare is a tall order for a parish with an average age of about 70. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Country Fare has had its season and will be on Sabbath for at least this year.

In this season where we now find ourselves, we have several on-going and newer ministry activities into which I invite your participation. Upcoming is the annual Parade of Tables. With that on-going, I ask that you make that an event where you invest your time, talent, and treasure. Be generous in your donation of an auction item. Attend and be generous in your bidding. All funds raised will be carefully used to further the mission of God in the world. I also ask, if you are not already doing so, that you participate in our Ingles Gift Card program. Ingles cards can be used for all your grocery, prescription, and gas purchases. The church receives $5 for outreach for every $100 of gift cards sold. We have only 20-25 families of our approximately 190 who regularly purchase Ingles Gift Cards and that could be greatly increased. Doubling that number would generate about $9000 annually for our outreach fund. For your convenience and so that you may earn your card program bonus points, credit cards will now be accepted for Ingles Gift Card purchases. We are asking that you pay the 3% credit card fee or an extra $3 on each $100 in cards that you purchase. Lastly, take note that our church now has a ministry team called the Holy Smokers. The Holy Smokers prepare and sell smoked meats and sides to raise funds for the church and its mission. You will find them holding events at church and throughout our community. Those looking for fun and fellowship out in the community along with your service might consider becoming part of the Holy Smokers team. Please feel welcome to ask me about any of these ministries and how to get involved.

Grace and peace,

Fr Bill+

Maranatha

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus and save your people. Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.

One of the few Aramaic words in the New Testament, maranatha means both “Our Lord, has come” and “Come, Lord.” We say maranatha to proclaim that God has come to earth. We say maranatha to affirm our belief in the incarnation. We say maranatha in witness to the on-going ministry of Christ in the world through the church. It is a word befitting a church that has seen Christ and still sees Christ incarnating the world through the church in places where disease and darkness remain. Into our present darkness, against our present darkness, we cry “maranatha.” It is our proclamation of hope. It is our one word gospel in a nutshell. In the Easter season, our Epistle lessons come from the Book of Acts. Reading Acts, one sees that much of the preaching of the very early church focused on maranatha. See, for example, the preaching and ministry of Peter (1:22-35; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 10:34-43), Stephen (7:2-53), Philip (8:29-35), and Paul (13:16-41; 17:2-3; 17:22-31; 22:3-16). The proclamation of the early church was that the man Jesus, who was killed in Jerusalem, was the messiah, but that after three days, he rose from the dead and by his life and death made atonement for all who would believe. Maranatha!

It is also a word befitting a church in waiting, a church that has seen our Lord come, who knows something of the power of his love, and looks forward to that time when Christ will come again - a time when God will create a new heaven and earth, when wars will cease, when there will be no more crying, and when death will be no more. “Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus and save your people. Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.” This maranatha is a cry, a petition, and a pleading that our Lord return quickly. It is a maranatha that points toward the end of our liturgical year and the Feast of Christ the King. This year, we will hear from the gospel of Matthew. The Lord has returned with his holy angels and sits in judgement of the world, separating the sheep and the goats. How we live as the church in waiting does matter. It has never been the case that all that is required is belief. As James (2:17) writes, “... faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Charitable acts, works of mercy, doing good for another and praying for the well-being of others are all indications of a living faith. The ancient Christian theologian Tertullian (b.160 AD) quoted this pagan view of the early church, "Look," they say, "how they love one another and how they are ready to die for each other." Can you imagine nonbelievers saying the same of the church today? Perhaps? We might pause before we next cry “maranatha” and ask ourselves how we are doing.

Maranatha, come Lord Jesus,

Fr. Bill+

Remembering Anamnesis

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this for the anamnesis of me.’” Luke 19:22

“In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, for the anamnesis of me.’” 1 Corinthians 11:25

Anamnesis is a Greek word with the seemingly simple meaning of remembering. To do anamnesis is to remember, to recollect. Many are most likely familiar with anamnesis as it appears in our Eucharistic prayers: “On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.’” 

That likely sounds familiar and sensible in its plain meaning. “Do this as a memorial, as a refreshing of your memory, of me.” Perhaps there is some reminiscing with an emotional response like “Yeah, I remember Jesus’ love for his disciples. That must have been a memorable evening. It is worth remembering.” While there is value in this, the truth is that there is much more to anamnesis that simply this. Remembering anamnesis and the Jewish context of Jesus’ ministry can lead us to a more meaningful and helpful understanding. 

In Genesis 9, after the flood, God establishes a covenant with Noah, all living things, and future generations. God says that the rainbow will serve as a reminder to himself of his covenant that he has made with all living creatures. Remembrance is about calling into the present the covenant once established. It is a reaffirmation of that covenant and a reassurance that the covenant still holds in the present. It is a making present what was in the past and unites history, the past with the present. Likewise, the Jewish celebration of the Passover described in Deuteronomy is a remembrance of the events of Exodus 12. In the rabbinic teaching on the Passover feast we read “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he himself came out of Egypt; as it is written: ‘This is done because of that which God did to me when I came out of Egypt’” (Talmud, Pesachim 116b). This is no mere bringing to mind, but again is making present what was past and uniting the Jews of the Exodus with all Jews of all times in the blessings and salvation of God. This is the sort of anamnesis that Jesus would have had in mind for his followers. We take and eat the bread and drink the wine to make the moment of the Last Supper present in all its significance and all its saving grace. When we gather and do anamnesis, it is not a merely a refreshing of memory or a reminder to be thankful, through those might be included, but we make Christ present in the same way that the rainbow brings the fullness of covenant into the present moment and the Passover feast brings the fullness of God’s exodus salvation. This is a powerful remembering and our hopes and expectations for Eucharistic anamnesis should be equally powerful. I bid you to come to the table with all your hopes and dreams, because it is Christ who truly invites you to come.
Fr Bill+

Union in the Body

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
— G.K. Chesterton

It is not easy for any group of people to be the church. The fact that we have over thirty-five thousand Christian denominations worldwide is evidence of how hard it is for the people of God to be the united body of Christ. I find much in Saint Paul’s letters that tell me he was often working just as hard or even harder to hold the church together as he was working to build the church. At his first church plant at Corinth there were status differences and indifference dividing the community, and there were factions following Apollos versus those claimed allegiance to Paul. There were troublemakers at Thessalonica, idle folk who were gossips without enough holy work to do. At Philippi, there was quarreling between leading members of the church with supporters lining up behind each side. Judgment and condemnation passed between factions in the body of Christ at Rome. Imagine the passive-aggressive behavior. Again and again, Paul preached to the church about the need for unity, the desirability of putting on the mind of Christ and practicing humble service, of seeing each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, of overcoming the world and the ways of the world. These internal challenges were likely influenced and compounded by the challenges coming from the outside. Saint James also knew about the struggle and especially took note of how what we say can be so damaging. He called the tongue a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” I believe these divisions and our current divisions in the body grieve the Holy Spirit. I believe they also diminish our clam to be followers of Christ, our baptismal vows, and our witness to the world. 

Jesus says “love your neighbor as yourself.” And he famously added, “love your enemy.” As Saint James notes, with the same tongue that we bless God, we curse others. This must not be by the words of our mouths, by the pen, or the keyboard. As followers of Christ, our nly option is to love even those with whom we strongly disagree. This is not about your feelings, not a command to hold particular warm and fuzzy emotions, but is about how you treat others. No one is authorized to judge or condemn another. No one is authorized to speak harshly to another, to call someone a fool or stupid. No one who claims to be a Christian is allowed to gossip, lie or spread lies, engage in hateful speech or spread that speech. Union in the body requires this and our witness to the world requires this. This is not to say that we must agree on everything. Unity is not the same as conformity of thought. Of all denominations, it is us non-doctrinal Episcopalians who should appreciate that the most. We are a conciliar and a “big tent” people. We gather and we talk and we listen, and we seek common ground. There is no allowance for an attitude of “my way or I take my ball and go home.” We make room for varying opinions and, if no where else, we find our communion in our confession that we have again grieved the Holy Spirit and in our healing by Christ at the altar rail. 

In our current political climate, it is especially important that we are mindful of our baptismal covenant. We promise before God that we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, no exception both within the church and as well as outside the church. So, when we degrade another, we degrade Christ. When we serve another, we serve Christ. We promise to strive for both justice and peace among all people. We cannot seek one without the other nor can we seek one at the expense of the other. We are not likely to be all of one mind on how to best accomplish these ends, but as we promise to respect the dignity of every human being let us be ever mindful of practicing that respect for individual dignity within the church as well as outside the church.

A friend often reminds me of my own words, “it is not easy being church.” It never has, but maybe some mindfulness of the times and how they affect us, some willingness to put on once again the mind of Christ and to love and serve others in humility, and some individual and corporate repentance (Greek metanoia - to think again and to have a change of mind) would serve this faith community well. Saint Paul thought so.


Grace and peace,
Fr Bill+

Connecting with the Spirit of God

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
— Matthew 4:16
That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.
— Aldous Huxley

History does in some general way repeat itself. The players and the places change, but one can see the broad patterns. In part, that is how we are able to make connections with others though our common experiences where history has unfolded in some similar way across our individual lives. Common experiences, and that the experience of life is not complete randomness and chaos are to be expected for those who believe in the Christian God. We trust that God tamed and organized the chaos into a home for us. God gave that creation patterns of day and night, and set the sun and stars and planets in their places. God separated the dry land from the sea and the air and put each animal is its proper place. There is regularity, there is pattern, and there is renewal as things die and things are born.

Isaiah was a prophet in the royal court in the latter part of the 8th century BC. At that time, the Neo-assyrian Empire had conquered Syria and Israel (i.e., the northern kingdom of the divided monarchy). That Empire was now threatening the southern kingdom of Judah. Part of the captured northern lands were the tribal lands of two of the sons of the patriarch Jacob - namely, Zebulun and Naphtali.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
— Isaiah 9:2

The promise in Isaiah is that to those people walking in darkness and to those now being threatened by darkness, a new hope from God has dawned. Centuries later, history is repeated. Details change, but the pattern is there. The ancient tribal lands are now the “Galilee of the Gentiles” and the oppressor of God’s people are now the Romans. The smell and the shadow of death are ever present, but again God brings hope. Can we learn the lesson of history: that darkness comes in a variety of ways, but God is faithful in bringing new hope? And, can we learn to search for the meaning of our lives and hope for our lives in the story of the Bible? Certainly, Matthew points back to Isaiah in order to bring hope to a new day. 

My German heritage includes something like an exodus story. A group of German settlers journey to a land where things for them are better. They work hard and become numerous and wealthy. Their religion, culture, and language become the common currency. Then there is war, retribution, and darkness and death. The light of God came in the form of the American Red Cross. Survivors made their exodus to a new home, not welcomed back home as “real” Germans, and scattered to many places across the sea. In our history, we are like the children of Jacob in our journey, like the Samaritans in our reception by others of our motherland tribe, and like all, we are children of God for whom a new light dawned. This is part of my story and how I connect with the story of God. I want to know your story and I want to know how your story connects with my story. 

Will you tell your story too?
Fr Bill+ 

Made in the Image and Likeness of God

“God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’”
— Genesis 1:26 - - The Tanach, Jewish Publication Society tr. [1917].

I had a professor once who spoke in what seemed to me to be riddles. “Thing as thingness is” and “The quiddity of the thisness and the thatness,” he would say. It has been a while since he spoke those and other memorable phrases, but they did stick and I have come to understand some of what he was saying. I do not know if he considered himself Christian, but it seems to me that his criticism of our perception of the separateness of things and our treatment of others as “others” is also a Christian criticism of the way our modern world is presented and the way we moderns too often live. Early in the book Genesis, we read that we are all made in the image of God. That first and primary statement of our identify is that we all have one identity. It is not that some people in some places are and others are not. It is not that some people know or do or profess the right things and therefore are in the image of God, and that others who do not are not. It is simply that God made all - male and female; black, brown, white, yellow, red; Jew, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist; theist, atheist - in the image of God.

What I find so profoundly unifying in this common identity is that God not only made us in God’s image, but that God also signed humanity with the name of God. Although the scriptures give many names for God, the primary name is YHWH for the God who said my name is “I am.” YHWH, the “I am” is pure being, existence, and reality. We human beings carry the name of God in our physical being. Written in the Hebrew language and turned vertically, can you see it? You might try tracing God’s name on your body. Trace your thumb across your forehead and down the center of your face, then across your shoulders and down your arms. Next trace from your neck to your waist, then from hip to hip and down each leg. You have now written God’s name, which is God’s essence and being, on your being. 

Genesis 1:26 continues on to say that we are made in God’s likeness. The likeness of God is the way that we live and it is related to but independent from our image. Image is, if you will, a given, but likeness is a choice. Like identical twins look the same but can have different personalities, being in the common image of God is no guarantee that we will act in the common likeness of God. Some will and others will not. God’s likeness is justice, mercy, compassion, peace, and holiness. God’s likeness is to defend the orphan, the widow, and the alien. The prophet Micah put being in the likeness of God this way: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Some do this and some do not. Perhaps seeing the first half of Genesis 1:26 is necessary for the living out the second. Perhaps only when we see God’s image in ourselves and our common image, and that all are signed with the name of God, will we be able to live into God’s likeness, no longer divided into “thisness and thatness,” “the us and the them,” “those who God loves and those whom God hates.”  There is a Jewish legend that says an angel of God goes before all of us saying, “Behold, the image of God.” It is as much an announcement of who we are as it is a command to be observant of who others are as well. It is a hopeful thought and one with which I wish you a Happy New Year of living in the image and likeness of God.

Fr Bill+
 

The Main Thing

Fr. Bill Breedlove

Fr. Bill Breedlove

This past weekend I had the surprise opportunity to lead worship in the Chapel of the Transfiguration at Kanuga as part of our 95th annual Diocesan Convention. The Gospel text for that service came from the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to John. It was the lakeside scene where Jesus asked Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” It appears that Jesus wanted Peter’s full attention because he did that thing some mothers do when call us by our first and middle name. “Mary Katherine!” Having thus gotten our attention, they say something we should take to heart and head. So it is with Jesus. “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” And as if to make sure Peter knows what he is most to love, Jesus asked Peter twice more, “Do you love me?” 

Much had transpired between the last meal they shared in the upper room and fish breakfast they shared that morning of questioning. Peter had said things and made promises he could not take back. Peter and the others had run away from the fight for God’s reign in this world. While they were grieving, others were probably feeling some relief or even joy that this troublesome young rabbi had finally been silenced, his movement snuffed out, and that his followers were in disarray. This is the way things often appear to us in a lifeworld of winner and losers. Winners celebrate and losers wonder what went wrong. Winners claim the trophy, losers are forgotten. I wonder if those on both sides ever hear Jesus asking them, “Do you love me?” “Do you love me more than your trophy, and the adoring crowds, and your championship rings?” And to those who are the losers, “Do you love me more than your need to win?” “Do you love me more than your need to be right?” 

I recall the difficult time the church in South Carolina faced in 2003 when Gene Robinson, an openly gay and partnered man, was elected Bishop of New Hampshire. Having been duly elected by the people of New Hampshire to be their chief pastor, that election went before the General Convention for the necessary standing committee assents. The leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina was strongly opposed. There were winners and there were losers. Winners celebrated and the losers wondered how this could be. Our rector had to deal with the fallout in a parish that was not of one mind and where there were many who wanted the church to make some strong proclamation and take some strong action in response. I know where he stood at that time on matters of human sexuality and I also know that he was seeking to hold together a church family he loved under conditions not of his making. I recall him saying that the matter was important, but it was not and would not be our primary concern. It was not the main thing and that we would keep on “main-thinging.” What is the main thing? It is how we answer the question, “Do you love me more than these?” I hope our answer is “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you more than these,” that we will continue to keep that the main thing, and that in first affirming our love of Jesus above all things, we will continue to be true to our baptismal promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to respect the dignify of all people, and to repent when we fail. 

Grace and peace,

Fr Bill+ 

Storytelling

In the past couple years, I have been working on recovering my story: who I am and where I come from. It turns out that you can find a lot of free genealogical information on the Internet. My paternal grandmother lived in a textile mill town in the upstate of South Carolina, one of those with company owned houses, company stores, and company scrip. My paternal grandfather was born in California and his paternal grandparents are listed in a census report as “born in Ireland.” Through one descent reckoning, I am related to an English Congregationalist who is one of the co-founders of Norwalk, Connecticut. Norman Rockwell is one of my distant relatives. On my mother’s side, my ancestors were part of a great 18th century migration of German Roman Catholics to what later became Yugoslavia. It is quite possible that I am related to the Dupont family and people originating from Alsace-Lorraine. I recently completed a test of my ethnicity and found out to my surprise that my DNA comes from all over Europe. I grew up with stories from my mom’s German side and later found that my father claimed to be of Irish descent. But DNA testing showed much more variety. By far, the greatest proportion of my DNA, about 56%, is what is characteristic of people who have lived a long time in Britain. According to this test, I am 13% Western European, 10% Eastern European, 7% both of DNA characteristic long time residents of Ireland and of Greece/Italy, as well as having trace amounts of DNA from the Iberian Peninsula and Scandinavia. Most delightful, I found that I have 2% DNA characteristic of European Jews. I think my ancestors got around, at least around in Europe, and mixed it up with diverse peoples. So, pass a pint of ale and the baklava, and Mazel tov!

While I have been doing this investigating I have also been thinking about the story of the Bible. It is the story of God’s people. It is our story - yours and mine - and if you read it as an on-going story, you see that the life events, the triumphs and the tragedies are telling a story that extends beyond the pages of the book. In my family story, I see a migration of a people into a promised land where they became prosperous only to have world event impose tragedy and death, and then a exodus back to ancestral lands. There is a story to tell, and I am working on recovering that story. My hope is that I will be able to one day visit the Holy Land and experience first hand that part of my story, to learn more about the story of the Bible by being there. My hope is that I will be able to visit the villages where my German relatives lived and died in what is now Serbia. And I hope to pilgrimage to the Abbey of Iona to explore more of the Celtic spirituality that is part of my story as a Briton and an Episcopalian, and that is part of the spirituality of a people who lived in a land that looks at times something like our part of God’s kingdom.

We all have a story to tell and the necessary part of telling that is, of course, to know your story. Do you know your story? Do you know how your story is the on-going story of God’s people? I would like to know mine and yours, and our story.

Grace and peace,

Fr. Bill

Finding Our Center

Fr. Bill Breedlove

Fr. Bill Breedlove

It was years ago that someone brought to my attention that the first four of the Ten Commandments regard our relationship with God and the next six concern our relationships with others. I found that helpful at the time, seeing that those commandments framed the expectations for all my spiritual and natural relationships. I also found it helpful for seeing the heart of God - that my relationship with God and God’s with me had a kind priority over other relationships, that God’s heart desires that, but also that those other relationships were pretty important as well, and not just to me but also to God. They are so important, in fact, that God thought we needed commandments to guide and protect them, and even more commandments than given for our spiritual relationship with God. I continue to find truth in that sense of a God-first priority because I have found so many times that my relationship with others is affected by how much I give toward my relationship with God. If I am facing a challenging situation that requires extra grace and love, it matters that I have first spent time in relationship with God who is the source of all grace and love. As I have said publicly before, “You cannot give away what you do not have.” Making that daily or more check in with God and keeping that the priority is key not just to keeping those first four commandments, but to being prepared to keep the next six and for all our dealings with others. 

As Christians, we often seek the pre-incarnate Christ in the Hebrew Scriptures, and so in this God-us/us-other framework of the Ten Commandments we see both the vertical dimension and horizontal dimension of his cross. We recall that in Christ, God came down to earth, and taking on human form joined with our humanity, lifting us up and making of children of God and
co-heirs of the Kingdom. God is God and we are not, but we are now joined through Christ with God and others at the vertical center of the cross. We also remember the words and life of Jesus. He taught that the law is summarized as loving God and loving our neighbor as our self. Loving
our neighbor is like loving God. There should be no reservation and no distinction in loving a neighbor or in loving one neighbor over another. In so many ways he taught that status differences and all things that divide us would be overturned in God’s Kingdom. On the horizontal dimension that represents our relationships with others, there is no one on the left of us, no one on the right, no one who is to us “other.” On the cross, it is not just the vertical dimension that collapses to the center, but the horizontal does as well. All are the same in God’s eyes and so it should be all for all who are Christians. Finding our center means that we journey daily to the center of the cross through prayer and it means that we treat others with the God-given love we receive in our daily prayers. It means embracing what God has done for us in Christ and our co-equal identity as children and heirs of all that is our Father’s Kingdom, and that we in turn love and share without distinction. 

Blessed be our God,
Fr Bill+