Ninth Month 30

Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example. – Philippians 3:17

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As Paul tells the Christian fellowship in the Macedonian city of Philippi of his background and transformation before arriving at his present spiritual awareness, he warns of others whose behavior “with minds set on earthly things” (3:19, RSV) is leading to self-destruction. He is confident that his daily practice is now sufficiently attuned to his faith to serve as an example – which also continues his admonition that their own lives be models.

As Friends say, “Let your lives speak!”

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Although I did say, That all the Children of the Lord are taught of the Lord, yet I did not say, that all are his Children; for ’tis they, and they only, who are led by the Spirit of God, that are the Sons of God. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

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Ninth Month 29

But you, my dear friends, must build yourselves up on the foundation of your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit … – Jude 20

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Once, while traveling in ministry, I found myself presenting a message that kept going into more and more details about carpentry and a carpenter’s tools – not my strongest suit, by the way – and how we need a blueprint and carpenter’s square and plumb line and measuring rod when we set out to build onto our house – how so many Friends these days seem to think that our spiritual insights are all equal, that ours is a religious democracy, but it really isn’t – that some are indeed living more righteously or more gifted than others (etc.) – that we wouldn’t take anybody straight off the street and hire him at union rates to remodel our kitchen . . . but we would instead go out and hire the best carpenter we could find . . . and then, the words fell from my lips – “and we HAVE a master carpenter, who wants to teach us and guide us and share with us His precious knowledge” – believe me,  nobody could have been more surprised than me at that point. Afterward, my traveling companion told me, “Jnana, if I didn’t know thee better, I would have said thee had written that message out earlier, it was so good.”

Well, maybe that’s just an example of building on a solid foundation. If we’re faithful.

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He must needs be his Peoples Rule; for he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Ninth Month 28

…  He is, therefore, exactly the kind of High Priest we need; for he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin, undefiled by sinners, and to him has been given the place of honor in heaven. He never needs the daily blood of animal sacrifices, as other priests did, to cover over first their own sins and then the sins of the people; for he finished all sacrifices, once and for all, when he sacrificed himself on the cross. –Hebrews 7:24-27 (Living Bible)

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I remember a discussion in Barnesville, Ohio, where Jack Smith took a large sheet of paper, drew a line down the middle, and on each side placed a circle representing Christ at the top and a row of stick figures, representing the body of believers, at the bottom. On one half, representing a situation where the Bible was considered the Word of God, he put a book between Christ and the people; then, between the book and the people, he put another layer – the preachers whose role was to interpret the book to the people. Thus, there were intermediaries between Christ and the individual believers. On the other half of the paper, representing the situation where Christ is the Word or Logos, he drew direct, uninterrupted lines to the people and said this is the model of our Quaker faith.

When someone asked, “Where, then, do you put the Bible in the Quaker model?” Jack responded by drawing a little book in each person’s arm.

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So that it appears, the Scriptures are owned of them, and are believed by them, and are practised amongst them, but they dare not ascribe them that Glory which is due to God, nor exalt them above his Son Christ Jesus, nor prefer them in his Spirit’s Stead; neither yet is it any Derogation from the Scriptures, to exalt Christ and his Spirit more than they. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Ninth Month 27

But Jesus lives forever and continues to be a Priest so that no one else is needed. He is able to save completely all who come to God through him. Since he will live forever, he will always be there to remind God that he has paid for their sins with his blood. … – Hebrews 7:24-27 (Living Bible)

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In the culture of the Hebrew Bible, members of the tribe of Levi, or the Levites, were entitled to serve as priests in the Temple, were they upheld an elaborate set of sacrifices and rituals.

I wonder if modern Christians can imagine the range of thought and feeling such practices expressed: the idea of killing an animal as an acknowledgement of the mystery of life is only one element. (I do, however, see something special in a sacrifice that becomes part of a festive, communal feast, giving thanks for abundance.)

For early Christians, however, the experience of the Temple was still vivid. Where would they turn for their ritual and priesthood?

Paul has an astonishing answer: they already had one. No living human need apply.

This is also the scriptural basis for those of us who proclaim a priesthood of all believers. As we serve and worship, “We have a high priest exactly of this kind” (Hebrews: 8:1).

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Yea, this seems to be the End of Christ’s giving himself for his Church, That he might sanctify and cleanse it, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having Spot or Wrinkle, or any such Thing, but that it should be holy and without Blame. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

Ninth Month 26

no longer as a slave, but as something much better than a slave; especially dear to me … I make no mention of a further debt, that you owe your very self to me! … I am writing with complete confidence in your compliance, sure that you will do even more than I ask. Philemon verses 16, 19, 21

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With the early church already persecuted for its attacks on the practices of Roman rule, Paul dared not add abolition of slavery to the list.

But in his brief letter to Philemon, he couches a subtle argument that no Christian can hold another believer as personal property. Paul proclaims that the crucifixion of Jesus bought our own release from the bondage of sin, in effect freeing each believer from enslavement to evil. And since Paul brought the salvation of the Cross to Philemon, a special debt exists to the messenger. (Please don’t make me mention it again, he says by way of emphasis.) Besides, Christ also makes all believers brothers and sisters in practice. (How dare you own your own family as your slave?) In the midst of playing puns on the name of Onesimus, “profitable,” Paul even argues that the slave’s previous debts be forgiven. Sound familiar?

Admittedly, Paul has his own motive: he is asking that Onesimus might be liberated to travel in ministry as a companion and partner.

The question remains: how could this book be ignored so completely by slaveholding Christians? What else was kept distant from their teaching?

For that matter, what kept the Society of Friends so long from abolishing slavery in our own ranks?

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And for this Cause he is the Mediator of the New Testament … Thus ’tis confest, that in Christ Jesus we are elected, called, reconciled to God, sanctified, justified, adopted; by him we obtain Pardon and Redemption from all Sin through Faith in his Name we find Access to God, and Acceptance with him, in him we are made Victors over Satan, and Heirs of Life eternal. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)