Holy Week is really intense for me. I have been working to have a sense of peace, but things are often a bit chaotic with last minute preparations.
Today I woke up early and decided to make some oatmeal. I texted upstairs to my wife who was waking up for the day and she said she’d like some oatmeal. Despite texting her on silent in order to keep our communication silent, our toddler heard the buzz. We broke the first rule: We woke the kid.
I began to prepare oatmeal for my family. I split the oatmeal into our three bowls. We each had our own type. The toddler had dried fruit in hers, my wife’s was plain and ready to be doctored, and my oatmeal was mixed with some eggs and spices. As the bowls sat there, I thought about two things. I thought about Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Today’s Rethink Church prompt is “Rest.” Today I decided to share an image of rest within a family. Remember, even on Palm Sunday, that there are many ways to use your cutlery. You cannot run off to a parade with cloaks and palms with messy hair… By the way, she’s never seen “The Little Mermaid.”
The word for the day for the #RethinkChurch Photo-A-Day challenge is “chosen.” Being myself, I can’t leave well enough alone, so here’s a haiga! When I was a child my dad asked what I wanted to play in the band. I said drums. I was told to choose again. I said trumpet or bugle. I joined the choir. When my eldest asked if she could do percussion, my heart smiled. She has chosen well and I am blessed to be chosen by God to be her dad.
So, it is almost Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America. Many forks are preparing to gather with loved ones for a day of feasting, conversation, and merriment. Thanksgiving is a blessed day for many people.
Not everyone likes Thanksgiving. Some people are dreading Thanksgiving this year. There are challenging conversations which may take place over pie. United Methodists risk conversations about the Special Session of General Conference and other church dramatics. Citizens risk discussions of politics, voting choices, and future outlooks. Many folks know there are traditional arguments over family matters, cooking styles, or other matters. Conversations can be difficult on Thanksgiving.
On a personal level, some folks dread Thanksgiving because of what it will tempt them to eat. Will power is a necessity for many on Thanksgiving. Exercised muscles and hard earned toning will face the hordes. They cry out things like “It is a holiday!” Invitations to live a little often correspond with an expectation to consume a lot.
Let us begin with the Desert Abba, although it is likely that the epistle predates the sayings of the Abbas and Ammas. Here’s the quote for you today: (pg. 104)
“A brother questioned Abba Hierax saying,’Give me a word. How can I be saved? The old man said to him, ‘Sit in your cell, if you are hungry, eat, if you are thirsty, drink; only do not speak evil of anyone, and you will be saved.’ “
I want to stretch our understanding of what Abba Hierax says by breaking the passage down into three concepts. The brother sought a word about salvation. We are not seeking salvation in the eternal sense this Thanksgiving. Still, there is wisdom in seeking God’s salvific power to fill every day of our lives.
So, the first idea! Beloved, stay in your cell! For the Abbas and Ammas, the cell was the place they rested and prayed. The cell was a challenge to some and a a blessing for others. One could find out a lot about their being by remaining in their place. The cells had space for introspection. These places had space for rest. These rooms space for blessing.
Beloved, stay in your cell! When invited to a seat, enjoy that seat! You may not enjoy everyone around you in that place, but there may be room for blessing in your seat. Is your neighbor getting your goat? How is that neighbor getting your goat? What does that tell you about yourself? Why does that neighbor get your goat? What does that relationship tell you? Is your neighbor a challenge or a mirror for reflection? Is your neighbor an irritation or someone trying to connect? What if they only have certain tools and just need encouragement? Maybe something like sarcasm is almost their native language? Is this trouble is an opportunity to show love, to show grace, and to open a doorway to a better relationship?
Now, I strongly recommend that you do not stay if you are being abused. Be aware there may be possibility for personal growth growth if you figure out how it simply irritates you, annoys you, or frustrates you. You may leave your seat blessed beyond your imagination. Thank you Abba Hierax!
So, the second idea. Beloved, if you are hungry, eat. Beloved, if you are thirsty, drink. Sitting at the table is an opportunity to find sustenance for your body and soul. You may not like everything, but that is okay. There may be something at the table that will do more than sustain you. You may leave the table inspired to eat more of something strange. What if you do like that weird looking Brussel sprout dish? What if that one taste opens a door to a lifetime of new experiences? If you are hungry, eat.
Now, let’s be clear. Few of the Abbas would say to eat or drink to excess. Many of the Abbas and Ammas were clear that a person should engage in intentional moderation. So, if you are hungry, eat. When you have had enough, you may no longer be hungry. When thirsty, a glass of water may quench that thirst. If you eat when you are hungry and drink when you are thirst, you may leave your seat blessed beyond your imagination. Thank you Abba Hierax!
Finally, beloved, let us take this final word from Abba Hierax seriously. Beloved, do not speak evil of anyone. I saved the quote from the Epistle of Barnabas for this point in the post. The epistle says: (pg. 159)
“The principles of the Lord are three in number. Faith begins and ends with Hope, hope of life; judgement begins and ends with Holiness; and the works of holiness are evidenced by Love, and the joy and gladness it brings.”
If we are a people of faith, this epistle would recommend that our faith requires us to be a people of hope. We hope for life. When we speak evil of others, that never brings life into the equation.
If we must speak out of a place of judgment, the epistle would also ask questions of us. Do our actions begin in a place of holiness? Do our actions lead to a place of holiness? Remember, in this model holiness are evidenced by love, joy, and gladness. If love, joy, and gladness are not present when there is a temptation to be judgmental, then we should stop ourselves. If love, joy, and gladness are not the ultimate result of our actions, then we should stop ourselves.
Speaking out of a place of evil never does us well. Matthew 12 records an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees where he was accused of acting out of an evil place. Jesus was charged with casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Jesus pointed out that this is madness. Jesus could not have acted out of an evil place to conquer evil—such actions would not stand the test of time.
If we are to be like Jesus, we should never meet evil with evil. We should never speak evil of anyone. As it says in 1 John 2:6, “Whoever says, ‘I abide in him,’ ought to walk just as he walked.” If speaking an evil word about another person is something you think would be unimaginable for Jesus, then you should seek to never speak such words. Thank you for the reminder and invitation back into truth and faithfulness to both Abba Hierax and to the author(s) of the Epistle to Barnabas.
In conclusion, I hope this little journey into obscurity encourages you this Thanksgiving. It is doubtful any of these authors would have understood at first glance our celebration of Thanksgiving. Still, one last aside. Abba Anthony once entered conversation with a hunter where the hunter became afraid that drawing his bow too many times would damage it. I’m sure the same thing is true of basting your turkey. Keep that oven door closed!
Last Sunday was Father’s Day and my family celebrated with me after church. The weather was hot, so they took me down the street to Kelli’s Deli, which is air conditioned. They ordered me a ridiculous pizza for lunch which I normally would not order. My younger child is a picky eater, so I do not generally order strange things. My wife knew that I had wanted to try the pizza for at least a year. On Sunday they bought the pizza for lunch. Yes, they ordered a cheeseburger pizza for lunch.
Cheeseburger Pizza! Delicious!
The strange pizza was an utterly ridiculous gift to a person who appreciates simple gestures of affection. I spend a lot of time cooking for my family. I love saucy and spiced foods but we rarely eat them in our home because of our children’s tastes. I love pickles but we rarely have them as a part of our meals because of our children’s tastes. I love a lot of food that I never cook because my children have turned their noses up at foods that were too strange or too different.
My kids sitting with me and eating a weird pizza with me was a great Father’s Day gift. My youngest might have struggled to eat anything but the crust, but she still tried to make an attempt to eat a single bite with only minimal complaining. She only tried to change our order twice to something she would rather eat and that’s an improvement over most meals lately. Don’t feel too bad for her—she ate at least three pieces of our church’s Fathers’ Day cake at Fellowship Hour.
It seems strange, but it really is the little things that help a person feel appreciated. I invite you to remember that sometimes a kind word or a bit of love can turn a person’s day around. Today you may have the opportunity to make the world a better place for someone you come across in your life. I invite you to share love—be ridiculous if necessary. Sometimes it means more than you know.