Crucifixion

Memory Eternal: For Brandon

“Lord, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.”  (Luke 23:42)

Just when he started to make some good choices, death chose to take him from us.  Just when the potholes in his road were being filled so he could go somewhere, he went away.  Brandon not only turned his life around.  But, he was young and had plenty of time to achieve great things.  At least, that’s what we thought.  That’s what I thought as I admired his laughter and good nature as we all sat and joked around the table this past Thanksgiving.  None of us knew that the crime he tried to turn from would turn on him.

Memory Eternal Brandon Glover

Memory Eternal Brandon Glover

There was a thief on a cross who, unlike Brandon, had no hope of redemption on this earth.  He was condemned and nailed.  Left to hang on that tree until breathlessness or a merciful death blow would relieve him.  And yet, the thief did have one hope.  It was in a world to come.  It was through the Sinless One that was crucified with him.

Among the better decisions Brandon made, he looked upon Jesus as his source of hope.  He did’t know all there was about discipleship.  Nor did the thief.  But, they both had sense to believe in and call on the gateway to a better world.  Christ answered the one with faith,

Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.  (Luke 23:43)

The thief on the right of Christ is the upward side of the lower bar.

The thief on the right of Christ is the upward side of the lower bar.

May Brandon’s faith suffice for his deeds.  Lord, please let his confession be sufficient for salvation.  Let your mercy shine upon him both now and forever.  And may your spirit of comfort be on his family.

Today’s Sermon: The Demand of Self-Denial

I am back in the pulpit this morning.  I thank God for my friends, Rev. Randolph Graham and  Rev. Keith Lewis, who preached in my place and for my college buddy Dr. Wayne Weathers, for his stirring Homecoming message.  We were blessed to have the word of God delivered by Dr. Vincent Smith, Dr. Reginald Davis, Min. Marlene Fuller, and Pastor Willie Barnes for our revival services.

Again, I am most grateful to Fr. David Arnold and the St. Cyprian of Carthage Orthodox Church (OCA) and Fr. James Purdie and the St. Basil the Great (Antiochian) Orthodox Church for the wonderful Divine Liturgy, hospitality, and friendship.  Had I not known Christ or had been a nominal Christian, I would have asked to be a catechumen.  But, I must remain where I am until the Lord calls me to do otherwise (besides, gas cost too much for me to drive all the way out to Powhatan or Poquoson).

Yes, we had a great revival at Trinity Baptist Church.  Now that we have been revived, let us follow Jesus more closely!

Outward (© John Gresham)

 

THE DEMAND OF SELF-DENIAL

Mark 8:34 – 9:1

(introduction) We African-Americans have suffered external denial

(thesis) In the midst of that time, we cultivated lessons of (internal) self-denial to survive

(antithesis) With our liberation, we no longer consider self-denial important to our faith

(propositional statement)  Without self-denial, it is impossible to follow Jesus

(relevant question)  What makes self-denial so crucial?

(points)

  • self-denial puts ego aside (v.35)
  • self-denial holds the soul higher than earthly gain (v.35, 36)
  • self-denial gives us the strength to bear the cross (v.34)

(conclusion)  Shun the shallow theology of Gospel “catch phrases” and let the mind of Christ be in us (Philippians 2:5 – 8)

 

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (Third Tuesday): Cyprian and Nicodemus

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, …

John 3:1, 2

The Path (© John Gresham)

Before I began to seriously consider Orthodoxy, I was drawn to St. Cyprian of Carthage.  First of all, I thought the name sounded cool and I was proud of the fact that he was an African.  I have an icon of him (I printed from an online image) beside the computer in my study at home as a reminder to avoid pornography websites.  I began to watch websites that talked about how horribly the women are treated in the industry and have no desire to indulge in it again.  I never prayed to the icon (as Orthodox and Catholics are falsely accused of).  Nor did I even think to venerate him, unless naming my Second Life avatar after him and living as an Orthodox monk was a way of paying him deep respect and admiration.  The icon was there when the Holy Spirit freed me from that sinful desire.  Thus, I consider Cyprian as one in the cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1, 2) that interceded for me.

As I have become increasingly diligent about the ancient faith, I am seeing myself in the light of another in that cloud whose walk with Jesus is a forerunner of mine.  Nicodemus was a well-trained religious authority.  He had status and clout among the Jewish hierarchy and as long as he towed the party line, all would be well with him.  But, he met this man who had kicked over the money tables, did a number of signs, gave a strange answer of his authority, and didn’t set up a clique to rival the Jews right then and there.  Instead of dismissing the rabble-rouser, this Pharisee and Priest saw that he must have been sent by God, asked questions, and listened.  He would later be rebuked by his colleagues for suggesting that the Galilean be fairly investigated before being completely denounced.  At the burial of the Crucified One, he brought one hundred pounds of aloes and myrrh.  In some Christian and Jewish traditions, Nicodemus was martyred for accepting Jesus as the Messiah.

I am a Baptist among Baptist.  My certification of studies comes from one of the most respected African-American seminaries.  I have pastored for 15 years and serve as a Moderator of a local association.  I now serve on a state-wide commission for evangelism.  If I play by the rules and work my contacts in high places (and finish my M.Div.), my star could rise in the Baptist faith.

But, I saw this faith that gave the world the first confession of Jesus and compiled the Bible.  This faith that never considered skin color to be a badge of racial supremacy nor inferiority from the time they were first called Christians.  This faith that gives guidelines in pursuing a spiritual life and becomes a way of life.  I am observing Orthodoxy the same way Nicodemus observed Jesus.  The more I see, listen, and understand; the more I accept it.  Because of my position, I cannot follow the faith right now.  There will come a time of conversion.  I pray that when that day comes, that I will have the courage to do it, even if it means martyrdom.

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (Second Wednesday): The Mind

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Romans 8:6

My Icon Corner (© John Gresham)

How many clichés and quotes are there that teach that a man will wind up where his mind is?  My late grandfather-in-law and mentor, Rev. Carter Wicks, used to say that “A Man Is His Mind.”  If his and other similar words are true, I think it pays for us to do more than periodical reality checks.  We need daily monitoring and adjusting.  Because there are so many strong temptations to keep us thinking about the things of the world rather than the things of God.  This is not to say that we should all become strict monastics and leave everything we have to live in a cave the rest of our lives for the sake of prayer and contemplation.  But, unless prayer throughout the day becomes a part of our lives, we risk our faith eroding into spiritual uselessness.

I am not simply talking about the obvious sins that hold us down such as lust, anger, hate, greed, and the like.  Anything that separates us from the love of God and love for our fellow-man is carnal.  Take politics (and throw it in a cesspool where it belongs), conservatism and liberalism are two sides of the same coin of our need for earthly government.  We will all take a different stance from one another for various reasons.  But, in order for a coin to have any value, it has to have both a head and tail.  Both sides must work in cooperation with each other.  Due to the presence of wealth and winner-take-all power hyped up by the likes of Fox and MSNBC, we have harsher polarizing arguments than constructive agreements.

What saddens me is that Christianity is buying into this earthly coin and the argument that we must staunchly defend one side or the other.  As people of this nation, of course we will have opinions of which direction this nation should take.  But, we who have been given the Gospel of God’s redeeming love should never give into vilifying those whose political opinions do not match our own.  If anything, we should be a mediating force between (no, above) the right and left and seek Godly solutions to our national, state, and local problems.  As Martin Luther King Jr noted in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” rather than being a thermostat that controls the temperature in a house, the church has become a thermometer that only measures and reflects the temperature.  And when we spend more time reflecting our chosen sides rather than seek after something of far greater value, we make ourselves useless (and sometimes harmful) to the Gospel.

So, to my brothers and sisters to the left and right, I make this suggestion.  For every minute you spend watching Fox News or MSNBC, spend a minute and a half in honest and sincere contemplative prayer.  For every moment listening to Beck or Maddow, spend a moment and a half in self-reflection in light of the Lord who created and loves both equally.  Most of us who are in our 40’s have, perhaps, another 30 to 40 years to call ourselves Americans.  Where we go after that depends on where we have put our minds.  If we have set our minds on earthly divisiveness and strife based on one side or the other of a political coin that will eventually be destroyed, that is where we can expect to spend eternity.  If we have set our minds on seeking spiritual purity and loving others, we will be in that place of eternal wholeness.

 

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (First Saturday): His Peace

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

John 14:27

Parrot Island Sunrise (© John Gresham)

I imagined the disciples were troubled in their hearts and minds.  They knew that Jesus would be violently taken away from them.  They heard their Lord predict their coming cowardice, even that of the most outspoken of them.  And if the enemies would dare come after and have victory over the Master, what hope was there for the servants?  Yes, Jesus did tell them that he would rise again.  But, in times of imminent danger and suffering, words of eventual victory are hard to hear.

In his wisdom and mercy, the Lord left his disciples with the gift of His peace.  A peace that is His light that overcomes the world’s darkness.  In John’s account of the Gospel, we don’t find Jesus expressing anguish and resolve in Gethsemane.  He tells of a Lord who calmly goes forth to meet his fate.  Before doing so, he gives the gift of this peace to his weak and fearful close friends.  He gives something of great value to those who can least afford it.  He gives His rock in the midst of a storm while he is about to go through his own storm so they could overcome theirs.

The peace of Jesus Christ is here for us today.  The ability to face hardship with an overcoming sense of calm is available to all who follow and rely on him.  Just as John, the Theotokos, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene found strength to remain at the cross; so can we find strength to withstand the heartbreaking sorrows of life.  Just as He endured his brutal and torturous death, we can also go through hell on earth.  His peace makes this possible.  His peace has no price tag and is offered to all who follow and believe.

Accept the gift.

 

No Greater Hell

… and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 24:51

But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly I say to you I do not know you.’

Matthew 25:11

And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:30

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. …”

Matthew 25:41

Crossing (© John Gresham)

Is there a worse version of hell than the descriptions Jesus gave to his disciples during the eschatological discourse?  Can the reasons for going to such a hell be more frightening?  Note, if you would, the ten virgins who were locked outside of the banquet hall being told by the bride groom, “Assuredly I say to you I do not know you.”  These women are left disowned and vulnerable.  The wicked servant fares no better being counted among the hypocrites for abusing his fellows and carousing with drunkards.  He and the virgins did not live in expectation for something greater.  They mistakenly believed they had plenty of time before being in the full presence of the bridegroom and master.  The unprofitable servant made no effort to increase the wealth the master gave him, not even to give the gift to those who could make some sort of profit.  He too goes to the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In these three examples, the graphic punishment is not some demon in a red suit armed with a pitchfork.  To be disowned by the Lord Jesus Christ and left vulnerable in great tears and agony goes beyond any sort of vengeful torture.  This is why the martyrs endured the wild beast, burning pitch, and other horrors of earthly cruelty.  They chose to die brutally rather than be separated from the source of life and life eternal.  And the source of life is to do well to one’s neighbor, practice self-control, increase love and spirit, and to anticipate a glory beyond what this world can give.

Indeed, to ignore the plight of the least of humanity is the apex of being separate from Jesus Christ.  The Lord identifies himself with the “least of these.”  The cursed are to suffer the same total separation as the ultimate rebels against God not because they committed some act of immorality.  They are punished for their lack of compassion and mercy.  Morality is good.  But, it is no substitute for the love that gave it’s self to our unworthy humanity for our salvation.  If we do not love likewise, we have missed the whole point of the crucifixion and resurrection.  If we miss the point, we will miss his return.   There can be no greater hell than that.

Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect

Matthew 24:44

Let us live in his presence believing that his greater glory will come.

A Most Corrupt Force

The chief priest and elders, however, had persuaded the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus.  Matthew 27:20

During my morning worship, I couldn’t help but to be struck by this verse.  The jealousy of the religious leadership would rather preserve a criminal element that does not threaten their status than an innocent (indeed divine) presence that would upset their positions.  It is this corrupt force that is able to do two things that kill the truth.  First, it stirs up a large crowd of the ill-informed.  Jesus is not tried before a jury of his peers with any sort of fair representation with the crowd kept away from propaganda that would prejudice their thinking.  No, it is the self-centered religious leadership that persuades the crowd to call for the release of Barabbas and execution of Jesus.  “If the chief priest and scribes want him killed, it must be for our good.  After all, they are the guardians of the faith.”

Taskinas Valley Sunset (© John Gresham)

With the ill-informed masses brainwashed, this corrupt force then forces the hand of government to do its will.  Government does not stay in power on might alone.  It also appeases popular opinion no matter how uniformed it may be.  If the innocent is insignificant in wealth or power, it can be thrown to the will of the masses so that government can have peace.

Capitalism vs Socialism?  That argument is a sideshow compared to the struggle between the indulgent vs. the innocent.  The corrupt force of the selfish religious leadership brings true death to a nation as the people blindly follow their chief priest and scribes and government follows the popular opinion.

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Holy Saturday)

… “You see these great buildings?  Not a single stone will be left on another; everything will be pulled down.”  Mark 13:2

We are often awestruck by the things we make.  The disciples, some poor Galileans perhaps, couldn’t help but to note the enormity of Jerusalem’s skyline.  There is no crime in noting good craftsmanship or recognizing feats of labor and skill.  Yet, they tried to get someone greater than the city to be as awestruck as they were by it.  The “stone the builders refused” proclaimed an end to the ones that had been erected.

We make such fuss and fanfare over the things we build.  Skyscrapers to shopping malls are our landmarks.  Our homes are our castles.  Churches are being constructed as grandiose “worship centers” with every amenity we can think of.  Those who shepherd in such places can expect to be well housed themselves even as the one in whose name they preach had no place to lay his head.

Path to a Great Stone (© John Gresham)

We need buildings for everything.  Mega-churches are not inherently bad.  And pastors should receive compensation according to the church budget.  But, let us not be distracted by what we have made because it will all come down.  Even, dare I say especially, the things that we make for the sake of holy worship.  The disciples were raving about buildings while their master was about to be put in a grave.  So if Jesus was to be brought down, what is a temple?  The Hagia Sophia and Notre Dame are tourist attractions.  Other great churches of the east and west have fallen into rubble.  Likewise, our storefronts will be stores again while our “praise tabernacles” will one day meet the wrecking ball.

Only one that had been brought low was resurrected and done so with even more power than before the fall.  Only one was the temple that is the temple that makes us temples.  Only one can bring us to a city that can never be ruined by the will of man.  That city is built on the word of God.

Your Brother In Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

 

Seeking Thirst (Good Friday)

“I am thirsty.”  John 19:28

It would seem more reasonable that we seek refreshment than thirst.  Any trip to a convenience store or grocer will provide us with a wide range of beverages from upscale fine wines to bottled water.  Our consumption of high calorie sodas and juices is responsible for much of our diabetic and obesity issues.  In fact, often what we seek is not refreshment.  Rather we indulge in our taste which results in problematic consequences.

Living Water (© John Gresham)

Here we have hanging on a cross an innocent man who without proper clothing cannot enter 7-11 or Food Lion to buy a drink.  He has been unjustly condemned, brutally beaten, and assaulted with insults.  And now, after showing mercy to the woman who bore him, Jesus gives this one complaint of torment in John’s account of the Gospel.  “I am thirsty.”  I offer you tonight that the thirst of our Lord has nothing to do with not having change for a vending machine.  No, this thirst comes from completing the task God had for him and a desire to fulfill the word.  I challenge you that our true calling is not to over-indulge in this worlds offerings.  But, to seek Thirst.

Jesus knew that everything had now been completed.  He said all and done all he was called to do as the Messiah on earth.  He humbled himself to be baptized by one he could have baptized himself and kept wine at a wedding party.  His compassion went to a Pharisee and Samaritan woman who were willing to listen and learn.  Where there were ill and infirmed people, He gave healing.  Where some built walls with legalism, he tore them down with the word of love.  He proved that God gives life in resurrecting Lazarus, gave his disciples the example of faithful service, and has combined all of the lessons, love, and power into one simple sentence.  Jesus was thirsty.

The prophets declared his way would be made straight  by a voice crying out in the desert.  He offered living water so that no one would thirst again.  His food was to do the will of the one who sent him.  His very flesh became bread and blood became wine so that anyone who ate and drank of him would have eternal life.  Where as the religious authorities taught only from a handed down tradition, Jesus taught as he was the word, the word was with him, and the word was him.  And now the embodiment of the law, prophecy, and the pre-existing truth makes one last claim on the world that knew and received him not.  “I am Thirsty.

Thirst is the condition of completion and fulfillment of God’s will in our lives.  Too often we settle for foretaste of God’s glory in worship on Sundays, Wednesdays, or special conferences and concerts.  And yes, the foretaste is divine.  But, if we are to claim his name, we must aim for the same.  The true pursuit of Christ has nothing to do with our sporadic moments of “getting a praise on.”  We are called to complete his will in our lives.  That is to be done with the utmost diligence and persistence.  We are called to fulfill the word of God in how we live.  Not being moral fearing God’s wrath.  But, living in the Spirit because He is Spirit and gives his Spirit to dwell in us.

The point of thirst cannot be reached easily.  It requires us to be pierced with thorns and climb a difficult hill.  In spite of what we endure, we must still have compassion and seek the preservation of humanity even as ours has been shamefully mistreated.  And even still, the best the world can give us is sour wine.  Let us seek this thirst.  Those who are thirsty shall have a refreshment and restoration that the world cannot give and never take away.

John Robert Gresham, Jr.

Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church

Moderator, Pamunkey Baptist Association

PBA Division of Clergy Good Friday Service 2012

Rock Spring Baptist Church in Manquin, Virginia