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Stanley Hauerwas: Wealth darkens and chokes us

Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. Matthew 13:12

“The parable of the sower is not often considered by those concerned with the loss of the church’s status and membership in Europe and America, but it is hard to imagine any text more relevant to the situation of the churches in the West. Why we are dying seems very simple. It is hard to be a disciple and be rich. Surely, we may think, it cannot be that simple, but Jesus certainly seems to think it is that simple. The lure of wealth and the cares of this world produced by wealth quite simply darken and choke our imaginations…”

Stanley Hauerwas in Matthew (BTCB; Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006) 129.

In the last six days of 2018, I will reflect on biblical texts linked to my theme for 2018, abundance. Today’s Scripture verse comes after the parable of the sower when Jesus explains its meaning. At first glance, it is confusing to read. Why would those who have be given more and those who don’t have lose whatever they had?

Hauerwas offers a helpful explanation for this enigmatic statement of Jesus. People think having an abundance of money is the answer to life. Even disciples of Jesus fall into the trap of believing this. As God blesses them with resources, they tend to trust in the resources rather than God who supplies. How do we avoid falling into this trap?

The key is to put it to work faithfully what God has supplied in order to be resupplied and not have our supply removed from us. In short, we depend on God and not money. Wealth only ruins those who hold on to it. Those who don’t remain faithful will crumble and waste away because wealth does not build the kingdom, obedience does.

Those who hold on to wealth end up finding their perspective darkened, their faith choked, and they fail to produce an abundance of fruit. Their allegiance to money contributes to their struggles, and so it is with the church in the West. Her wealth has largely destroyed her. However, not all churches and not all disciples have succumbed. Have you

Father, teach us by your Holy Spirit to use what we have so we don’t lose what we have. Help us steward whatever wealth you supply obediently, trusting in your ongoing resources to sustain us and so that our lives will bear much fruit for your glory. Hear our prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Cyril of Alexandria: Christ in the manger

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

“Look not therefore upon Him who was laid in the manger as a babe merely, but in our poverty see Him who as God is rich, and in the measure of our humanity Him who excels the inhabitants of heaven, and who therefore is glorified even by the holy angels. And how noble was the hymn, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and among men good will!” For the angels and archangels, thrones and lordships, and high above them the Seraphim, preserving their settled order, are at peace with God: for never in any way do they transgress His good pleasure, but are firmly established in righteousness and holiness.

But we, wretched beings, by having set up our own lusts in opposition to the will of our Lord, had put ourselves into the position of enemies unto Him. But by Christ this has been done away: for He is our peace; for He has united us by Himself unto God the Father, having taken away from the middle the cause of the enmity, even sin, and so justifies us by faith, and makes us holy and without blame, and calls near unto Him those who were afar off: and besides this, He has created the two people into one new man, so making peace, and reconciling both in one body to the Father.

For it pleased God the Father to form into one new whole all things in Him, and to bind together things below and things above, and to make those in heaven and those on earth into one flock. Christ therefore has been made for us both peace and goodwill; by whom and with whom to God the Father be glory and honor and might with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen.”

Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) in Commentary on St. Luke, Sermon II (From the Syriac. MS.12,154).

It’s Christmas. I conclude this series, Advent in Alexandria, with today’s post. I write in celebration with Cyril that my poverty has been exchanged for peace and goodwill because of Jesus.

With this post we behold the greatest act of generosity in human history. The One who was rich came to earth and became poor so that we might become rich. This act was all made possible by grace.

In so doing God did not leave Jesus lowly but lifted Him up and gave Him a name above every names, that at the name of Jesus, every knee would bow and tongue confess, “Jesus is Lord!”

How great is our God. To imitate His generosity, we too must become poor so that others might become rich. When we do this in obedience to His teachings, we don’t end up empty, but rather, enriched for greater generosity.

We, like Jesus, become agents of peace and goodwill to our neighbors, to our community, and to all the peoples of the earth. Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth, goodwill to all people! Happy Christmas everyone.

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Clement of Alexandria: Gifts of God

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

“For he who holds possessions, and gold, and silver, and houses, as the gifts of God; and ministers from them to the God who gives them for the salvation of men; and knows that he possesses them more for the sake of the brethren than his own; and is superior to the possession of them, not the slave of the things he possesses; and does not carry them about in his soul, nor bind and circumscribe his life within them, but is ever laboring at some good and divine work, even should he be necessarily some time or other deprived of them, is able with cheerful mind to bear their removal equally with their abundance. This is he who is blessed by the Lord.”

Clement of Alexandria (150-215) in Who is the Rich Man that shall be Saved? XVI.

Those who view possessions as gifts of God use them for the sake of others more than themselves. They cheerfully labor at “some good and divine work” relying on God so they can handle either the removal or an abundance of resources.

Is that you? Are you using what you have more for others than for yourself trusting in God to sustain you?

I am now safely home, but something happened when I was in Alexandria, Egypt. In seeking to serve brothers and sisters with a “cheerful mind” and spend time with them I did not expect how God’s love would flow through them to me.

Sure, I can’t wait to return there, but I must first reflect on my experience.

When we use the gifts of God in service to others, we can minister in beautiful ways. But we also receive unimaginable love and kindness from unexpected sources. We discover that we are blessed by the Lord for more than anything we gave!

As tomorrow is Christmas day in the West (the East observes it on 7 January 2019), ask yourself if you are prepared to welcome Jesus into every aspect of your life, especially related to your living, giving, serving, and loving.

If you desire to be generous after Advent, use all you have for others more than for yourself. Be not a slave to possessions, but make them your slave. It takes time and practice with humble obedience to learn this.

You can do it because Christ is with you. He is with all of us, always.

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Cyril of Alexandria: Cut off from compassion and care

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. Luke 16:19-21

“Let us look at the pride of the rich man puffed up for things of no real importance; “He was clothed, it says, in purple and fine linen,” that is, his study was to deck himself in beautiful attire, so that his raiment was of great price, and he lived in never-ceasing banquetings; for such is the meaning of his feasting every day: besides which it adds that he feasted sumptuously, that is, prodigally.

All the luxury therefore of that rich man consisted in things of this sort: in clothing clean, delicate, and embroidered with linen, and dyed with purple, so as to gratify the eyes of beholders. And what is the result? Differing but little from the figures in statuary and painting, the rich man is indeed admired by those who are destitute of sense, but his heart is full of pride and haughtiness: he has high thoughts of himself and is boastful, and while there is nothing of excellence in his mind, he makes variously colored hues a reason for his empty pride.

His delight is in expensive banquets; in music and revellings; he has numerous cooks, who labour to provoke gluttony by carefully prepared meats: his cupbearers are beautifully attired; he has singing men and singing women, and the voices of flatterers. Such were the things in which the rich man lived; for the disciple of Christ certifies us. saying, “that all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of the world.”

Meanwhile Lazarus, bound fast by sickness and poverty, was cast down, He says, at his gate. For the rich man dwelt in lofty halls, and spacious mansions nobly built: whereas the poor man was not so much laid as cast down, thrown there in neglect, and not deemed worthy of any account. Cut off from compassion and care, he would have liked, to satisfy his hunger, have gathered the worthless morsels that fell from the rich man’s table.

He was tormented moreover by a severe and incurable malady: “Yes, even the dogs, it says, licked his sores,” and that, as it seems, not to injure him, but rather, so to speak, as sympathizing with him, and tending him: for with their tongues they allay their own sufferings, removing with them that which pains them, and gently soothing the sore. But the rich man was more cruel than the beasts; for he felt neither sympathy for him nor compassion; but was full of all mercilessness.”

Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) in Commentary on St. Luke, Sermon CXI (From the Syriac. MS.12,154).

I hope you like the new header photo on my final day in Alexandria. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. I got to spend time outside with dear fellow servants, Adel, Ereny, Sylvia, and Feda, who serve the broken and hurting with AYC.

By the time this posts, I will be on the long journey home. In a way, we are all on the same journey, for in this parable the rich man and Lazarus both made it to their eternal home.

Where will you end up?

Many, like Lazarus, are “cut off from compassion and care” because riches have tempted the wealthy to focus only on finery and feasting at holiday times, rather than on people, and specifically, the poor around them.

Where do you find yourself in the full story (read Luke 16:19-31)?

As you read it, remember that the name Lazarus literally means “the one God has helped.” It should sober and shake people to realize that the eternal destination for the rich man and Lazarus was linked to what they did in this earthly life.

So what’s the lesson from Doctor Cyril today on generosity?

Use whatever you have to help the spiritually and materially poor. Don’t send help. Do what God did on the first Advent. Go to the broken and the needy.

What difference will your service make?

It will make a difference in every single person you serve for God’s glory. But there’s something much more important that will happen. It will shape your eternal destiny!

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Clement of Alexandria: Truly blessed

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Galatians 5:22-23

“It is not he who has and keeps, but he who gives away, that is rich; and it is giving away, not possession, which renders a man happy; and the fruit of the Spirit is generosity. It is in the soul, then, that riches are. Let it, then, be granted that good things are the property only of good men; and Christians are good. Now, a fool or a libertine can neither have any perception of what is good, nor obtain possession of it. Accordingly, good things are possessed by Christians alone. And nothing is richer than these good things; therefore these alone are rich. For righteousness is true riches; and the Word is more valuable than all treasure, not accruing from cattle and fields, but given by God — riches which cannot be taken away. The soul alone is its treasure. It is the best possession to its possessor, rendering man truly blessed.”

Clement of Alexandria (150-215) in Paedagogus (The Instructor), 3.6. He served as the instructor of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, helping teach God’s people in the Church to connect truth to everyday life.

Will you be rich this Christmas at year-end and in the new year?

I am not referring to how much money you will possess, but rather, how much you will give. We discover that righteousness is not serving as a container of God’s blessings but as a conduit. The instructor reminds us that only conducts are positioned to grasp true riches.

Offer what you have to Jesus, and receive the unimaginable in return.

As I have spent Advent in Alexandria and will return home shortly, I had make many sacrifices to come and serve. I had to do an enormous amount of work prior to the trip to be able to come “give all I have” on this trip. But, just as God promises, I find myself returning home not empty but enriched with unfathomable blessings.

I depart as a man who was privileged to bless many people. But in return, I’ve been rendered, as Clement would say, “truly blessed.”

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Cyril of Alexandria: Perfect praises

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. Luke 12:33

“It is an act therefore that becomes the saints, and is worthy of perfect praises, and that wins the crowns above, to set no store by earthly wealth, but distributing it among those that are in need, to gather rather that which is in heaven, and obtain purses that grow not old, and possess a treasure that fails not: and next in order comes the employment of a sort of artifice, so as to obtain those for friends who are especially near unto God, by giving them some portion of their wealth, and comforting the many who are afflicted with poverty, that so they may share what is theirs. And something of this sort the very wise Paul also advises, saying unto those who love wealth: “Let your abundance be for their want, that their abundance also may be for your want.”

Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) in Commentary on St. Luke, volume 2, sermon CVIII (From the Syriac. MS.12,154) 510.

I had a sweet moment last night.

Nerviet Monir (the 66-year old mother of Ereny Monir, the friend with whom I am staying in Alexandria) asked what I thought about what she and her friends were doing to serve the poor. In broken English mixed with Arabic, she shared how she and her friends had collected resources to aid the poor.

Candidly, she wanted to know if it was alright if the funds did not pass through the church. She and her friends were purchasing clothing for children, providing books for college students, and sharing money for people to start small businesses for community development. Again, she asked what I thought of this.

I affirmed her with a smile and loving affirmation. I reminded her that she and her friends are the church, the Body of Christ, and that what they were doing was great. With “perfect praises” I encouraged her to continue in this good work of sharing generously for God’s glory.

Is there someone you could comfort this Advent who is afflicted?

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Cyril of Alexandria: Consistent and Simple Life

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey — no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” Luke 9:1-5

“For this reason very fitly He bade them take nothing with them, wishing them both to be free from all worldly care, and so entirely exempt from the labours that worldly things occasion, as even to pay no regard to their necessary and indispensable food. But manifestly One who bids them abstain even from things such as these, entirely cuts away the love of riches and the desire of gain. For their glory, He said, and, so to speak, their crown, is to possess nothing. And He withdraws them even from such things as are necessary for their use, by the command to carry nothing whatsoever, neither staff, nor scrip, nor bread, nor money, nor two coats.

Observe, therefore, as I said, that He withdraws them from vain distractions, and anxiety about the body, and bids them have no cares about food, repeating to them, as it were, that passage in the Psalm: “Cast thy care upon the Lord, and He shall feed thee.” For true also is that which Christ said: “Ye are not able to serve God and Mammon.” And again; “For where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.”

That they may lead, therefore, a consistent and simple life, and, being free from vain and superfluous anxiety, may devote themselves entirely to the duty of proclaiming His mystery, and labour without ceasing in publishing to men everywhere the tidings of salvation, He commands them to be indifferent both as regards clothing and food. And to the same effect the Saviour elsewhere spake: “For let your loins, He says, be girt, and your lights burning.” But by their loins being girt, He means the readiness of the mind for every good work: and by their lights burning, that their heart be filled with divine light.”

Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) in Commentary on St. Luke, Sermon XLVII (From the Syriac. MS.12,154) 203-204.

Our Lord commands the disciples to take nothing for the journey to teach them to learn to trust Him to supply. What about you? Have you allowed him to cut away the love of riches and the desire of gain from your heart?

The journey of life is too short to fill your heart with “vain and superfluous anxiety” on the way. This will steal our joy and surely limit our generosity. How about casting all your cares on the LORD to prepare your heart to celebrate Christmas?

Cyril rightly connects the dots in Scripture to remind us of the reason we are to live this way. We are lights intended to shine. This means we do not just point the way to life but we also show people how to live. We must do this with peace, kindness, and love.

I have had many interesting conversations with Christians and Muslims on this trip to Egypt, and while I have many thoughts, one things is clear to me. When disciples of Jesus live a consistent and simple life, free of anxiety and rich with generosity, they are bright and radiant witness.

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Clement of Alexandria: Good activity with enthusiasm

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. Galatians 6:4

“This then is the first good activity of the perfect man, when it is done not because of any usefulness in his own affairs, but because he considers it right to do good. His activity being borne along with enthusiasm becomes good in every act, not being good in these matters and bad in those. But it is settled in a disposition towards good conduct, not for the sake of glory, nor as the philosophers say for good report, not for the sake of reward whether from men or from God, but to bring one’s life in accordance with the image and likeness of the Lord.”

Clement of Alexandria (150-215) in Stromateis, Book IV, 137; Book II 308, 333 as recounted in The Philosophy of Clement of Alexandria, Texts and Studies: Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literature, ed. C. H. Dodd (Cambridge: University Press, 1957) 99.

I found this excerpt in a book on my visit to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria), the second largest library in the world (pictured above). This excerpt comes from Stromateis (which is translated “Miscellanies”), which is the collection of good advice from Clement the Instructor of the Catechetical School of Alexandria.

So, what’s Clement’s advice for those who want to be generous?

We need to do good for the only right reason, which is for the glory of God. Do not do good for reward or for being able to give a good report (perhaps so that we might get praise of people) but for bringing our lives into conformity with the “image and likeness of the Lord.”

We must want people to see Jesus when they see us. That is what the “perfect” or “mature” person desires. My charge to readers everywhere today, echoing Clement, is to do good activities with enthusiasm. You will figure out as you live out this instruction that it shapes people and circumstances.

People cannot help but notice such good activity or generosity.

At that moment, don’t say to yourself, “I want to do this again for people to like me.” Or maybe, “If I do this my boss will give me a pay raise.” The mature person says, “I do this because I want everyone around me to see the love of God today. Do it for that reason.

Soon we welcome the advent or coming of our Lord Jesus on Christmas. What a day to celebrate! In the meantime, let us make the most of every opportunity to do good activity with enthusiasm, so that people see Jesus through us. That’s my prayer so that each day is like Christmas.

We want our arrival or advent in any setting to be like Jesus in the room. When that’s our aim, we are generous, and He is glorified.

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Cyril of Alexandria: Disregard all these things

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:16-27

“Many were invited by Him who gave the feast. But they were men indifferent to it: for “they made excuse, it says, with one accord, and said, one that he had bought a field, and must needs go to see it: and another, that he had bought five yoke of oxen: and a third again, that he had married a wife:” and by employing these feigned excuses, they vexed Him who invited them. We are therefore given most clearly to understand, that when God calls us unto Him, to make us partakers of His bounty, we must disregard the lusts that are of the flesh, and minister to the flesh, and set no value whatsoever upon the things of this world, but exerting all our force must advance unto those things which will never have to be abandoned, and which fill us with all blessedness, as God bestows with bounteous hand upon us His gifts, and like one welcoming us to a costly banquet, admits us to the right of rejoicing with the rest of the saints in the hope of future blessings. For the things of earth, are but of little value and last only for a time, and belong to the flesh solely, which is the victim of corruption: but those things which are divine and spiritual constantly and without ceasing accompany those who have once been counted worthy of receiving them, and reach onwards to unending worlds. What value therefore will men of sense set upon earthly farms, or the love of carnal pleasure, or the respect due to kinsmen in the flesh, if it be laid down that for love’s sake unto Christ? We must disregard all these things that have been named.”

Cyril of Alexandria (376-444) in Commentary on St. Luke, volume 2, sermon CV (From the Syriac. MS.12,154) 490.

Think about what Doctor Cyril is trying to tell us. Earthly property, carnal pleasures, respect to fellow kinsmen, and even the value of one’s own life must not rival devotion to Jesus. We must “disregard all these things” lest they cause us to miss the offer from God to take a place at His banquet table.

What does this have to do with generosity?

Disciples of Jesus must not treat Jesus as an “add on” but be “all in” to receive God’s generous offer of a place at His table. This means we relate differently than the world does to possessions, pleasures, and we don’t succumb to peer pressure. The offer goes to everyone, and yet, the cost of discipleship is everything.

Does your life reflect that you have disregarded all these things?

Earthly things “are but of little value and last only for a time” so we must not get attached to them. We release their power over us by letting go of them and giving them away. The irony is that when we do this, repeatedly, our hands are free to attach to the only One and only thing that matters.

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Clement of Alexandria: Bestow lovingly

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:3

“Riches are then to be partaken of rationally, bestowed lovingly, not sordidly, or pompously; nor is the love of the beautiful to be turned into self-love and ostentation…The best of maxims, then, ought to be perpetually repeated, “That the good man, being temperate and just,” treasures up his wealth in heaven.”

Clement of Alexandria (150-215) in Paedagogus (The Instructor) chapter 6, “The Christian Alone Rich.”

Since only those who know Christ can possibly possess true riches, Clement the Instructor, reminds us what to do with them. We must bestow them with the one trait for which Christ would have us be known: love.

Too many people focus on self-love. It’s the opposite of bestowing lovingly.

We must live with unselfish awareness toward others. That’s a trait I see in my Alexandrian hostess, Ereny Monir. She may call it Egyptian hospitality, but it appears as unselfish awareness of the needs of others and a willingness to bestow lovingly with temperance and justice.

What will your reputation be when you host visitors this Advent season? I suggest you bestow lovingly with temperance and justice. That means you make everyone around you feel deeply loved, just like Jesus would do if He was in the room.

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