Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, TX. April 9, 2017
3:1 And next I suppose that you are especially anxious to hear why Christians do not worship in the same way as the Jews. 2 The Jews indeed, insofar as they abstain from the kind of worship described above, rightly claim to worship the one God of the universe and to think of him as Master; but insofar as they offer this worship to him in the same way as those already described, they are altogether mistaken. 3 For whereas the Greeks provide an example of their stupidity by offering things to senseless and deaf images, the Jews, thinking that they are offering these things to God as if he were in need of them, could rightly consider it folly rather than worship. 4 For the one who made the heaven and the earth and all that is in them, and provides us all with what we need, cannot himself need any of the things that he himself provides to those who imagine that they are giving to him. 5 In any case, those who imagine that they are offering sacrifices to him by means of blood and fat and whole burnt offerings and are honoring him with these tokens of respect do not seem to me to be the least bit different from those who show the same respect to deaf images: the latter make offerings to things unable to receive the honor, while the former think they offer something to the one who is in need of nothing.
4:1 But with regard to their qualms about meats, and superstition concerning the sabbath, and pride in circumcision, and hypocrisy about fasting and new moons, I doubt that you need to learn from me that they are ridiculous and not worth discussing. 2 For is it not unlawful to accept some of the things created by God for human use as created good but to refuse others as useless and superfluous? 3 And is it not impious to slander God by alleging that he forbids us to do any good thing on the sabbath day? 4 And is it not also ridiculous to take pride in the mutilation of the flesh as a sign of election, as though they were especially beloved by God because of this? 5 And as for the way they watch the stars and the moon so as to observe months and days, and to make distinctions between the changing seasons ordained by God, making some into feasts and others into times of mourning according to their own inclinations, who would regard this as an example of godliness and not much more of a lack of understanding? 6 So then, I think you have been sufficiently instructed to realize that the Christians are right to keep their distance from the common silliness and deception and fussiness and pride of the Jews. But as for the mystery of the Christian’s own religion, do not expect to be able to learn this from a human being.
Questions as you Read and Annotate
What in these readings surprised you?
What Jewish practices mentioned above, although often done with wrong motivation, would be helpful to imitate as Christians?
Apply the Goldilocks Test to this week’s reading: Was the author’s argument against Judaism too strong, too weak, or just right?
A collection of prayers and services to be used by God’s people throughout the year and throughout one’s life. A Prayer Book may include a simple collection of prayers (Valley of Vision, etc) or it may contain all approved worship services, prayers, and other ministries for a particular Christian Tradition.
Examples of ancient Prayer Books:
Before the BCP, the wealthy and literate might be able to afford personal Prayer Books (mostly in Latin) that included daily readings and prayers.
The BCP, first created in 1549, was intended to be a Common Prayer Book for English-speaking Christians.
What does Common mean in this context?
The official Prayer Book for the Anglican Communion, locally adapted in each Province.
Latest American version: 1979 (1549 oldest, 1662 seen as most “authoritative.”)
In the opening chapter of the letter, we learn that Diognetus has three “clear and careful” questions about the Christian faith.
Who is Diognetus?
There are some throughout history who have held that the intended recipient of this letter was none other than Diognetus, the tutor of Marcus Aurelius. Whether this is the case or not is difficult to determine historically. What we do know is that Diognetus at least represents somebody within the Roman empire who is curious about the Christian faith.
Disregard the World? Despise death?
Though we will learn more about what the author of this letter means by these two phrases, it is worth highlighting the nuances of two Greek words used by the author.
The word translated as “disregard” means literally to overlook someone or something. To disregard the world appears to mean to intentionally overlook the ways of the world (i.e. those ways of living that are in contrast with the Christian faith) as viable ways of living.
The word translated as “despise” means to look down on something because it has little value or power.
Prayer for Speakers and Listeners
The author ends this opening chapter by asking God to allow him to speak in a way that benefits those who are listening. He also asks God to allow his audience to hear him in a way that leaves the speaker without regrets. These are two good prayers to keep in mind for those who speak and those who listen.
The Epistle to Diognetus is an ancient (probably 2nd or 3rd century) letter written by an anonymous Christian to someone in the Roman Empire who has questions about Christianity.
Regardless of what outcome you expected or hoped for in the 2016 Election, you likely noticed the same thing I did along the way: we Christians need to think better about how our faith should drive our interaction in a pluralistic society. Put in biblical language: how should Christians today be in the world but not of the world. The Epistle to Diognetus was written, in part, to answer this very question.
Throughout Diognetus we see glimpses of an early Christian community living within the Roman Empire in a way that is inspiring and worthy of emulation.
(You can read more about how I read this letter with my Senior Theology class at Coram Deo Academy in the days following the election.)
It is easy to assume that all modern industries and cultural spheres are operating at the “state of the art.” We often assume that the way we do things now is the best they have ever been done.
In some areas, this is likely true. Automobiles are safer, more reliable, and more efficient than ever before. Space exploration is beginning to bridge the gap between science and science fiction. But is everything at the state of the art? What about education? What about our ability to think well and speak clearly about things that really matter? What about Christian political theology?
We are studying an ancient text because some problems are so big they require the wisdom of those who have come before us.
We can never really exhaust the beauty and relevancy of the Christian Scriptures. So why would we spend a semester studying an ancient Christian epistle and not a New Testament epistle?
New Testament epistles were written to a specific audience for a specific purpose, and we simply do not have a New Testament epistle whose purpose matches that of the Epistle to Diognetus.
The Epistle to Diognetus relies heavily upon and only makes sense in light of the Christian Scriptures. Most weeks we will actually read a passage of Diognetus along side a passage of Scripture.
One of the greatest encouragements of All Saints’ day is that an unfathomable majority of the Saints are never named as such.
Different Christian Traditions have various official and unofficial ways of canonizing or otherwise recognizing the faithful departed whose lives of holiness have made a profound impact on the Body of Christ. Some of these Saints even have Feast Days on the Church Calendar to recognize their life and work. But a vast majority of the People of God throughout the ages who have lived quiet and holy lives are not recognized with a Feast Day.
This is part of the point of All Saints’ Day: to recognize the unrecognized Saints throughout history, in an attempt to encourage every Christian to be an unrecognized Saint.
This is a daunting vocation: become a saint. It should stir within each of us a sense of impossibility.
But perhaps the first—and final—step to living a holy life worthy of the title “Saint” is a recognition of how impossible that task truly is. It is also hard to imagine a Saint that does not spend serious time each day in prayer and the reading of Scripture. But I think there is another significant step to becoming a Saint, one that St. Paul teaches us in his epistle to the Corinthians: imitate people who imitate Christ.
Classical education, at its best, introduces students and their teachers to many such people. Some of these people are flesh-and-blood figures in history, and others are mere fiction. In his wisdom, God has allowed us to learn faithful endurance from both St. Monica of Hippo, the mother of St. Augustine, as well as Samwise Gamgee, the friend of Frodo.
If religion and science are correct — or if it is even probable that they are correct — when they claim that the being inside a pregnant womb is human, the government has the constitutional right and the moral responsibility to intervene.
And when you choose an incompetent sleazebag as your party’s presidential nominee, it turns out you forfeit the opportunity for that case to be made on national television.
Better luck next time, GOP. But hopefully there won’t be a next time for the GOP.
You may have noticed a delay in my response-time for emails lately. This is because I started using email as its namesake suggests it should be used: as an electronic mailbox.
As technology advanced in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the smartphone transitioned from an executive novelty to the norm, very few of us—including myself—stopped to ask whether this was actually a good thing. We can access email 24-hours a day on our phones, but should we? Are humans the type of beings who are able to flourish when we are never truly disconnected from our work? I would suggest that we are not. I know with certainty that I am not.
My tendency, over time, became to use email as a slower version of instant messaging. I had email access on my phone and on my computer, and each of these devices notified me the instant a new message arrived. I then replied as soon as I possibly could, often feeling as though my work was not finished until I responded to every new email that arrived. This, as you can imagine, led to a sense of never feeling like I was “off-duty.” I am not alone in feeling exhausted by the “always-on” approach to email.1
All of this means that I am now using email as an electronic mailbox. Like my actual mailbox, I may check it occasionally throughout the day if I am expecting important information. Otherwise, I will likely only check it once or twice. This means that I no longer have email or internet access on my phone. (Pro-tip: you cannot really disconnect from email after-hours if you have any possible way of accessing it on your phone. iOS 10 allows you to delete the native Mail app and disable the App Store and disable Safari. I could not break my email-checking habit without making it
impossible annoyingly difficult to check email on my device. You might need to do this as well.)
If you need to contact me immediately, you should probably give me a call. If you do not have my phone number, then I am probably not the person that is best equipped to handle your emergency.
If you are thinking, “I would love to do this, but my industry does not allow it,” then I would suggest two things:
(1) I thought the same thing; you are probably wrong, or
(2) You are right, but I imagine you can find a way to limit the “always-on” email mentality to regular work hours.