These church fathers and mothers knew that they were loved. They moved beyond the fear and rejection of their world and embraced the love of God. Out of that love flowed their genius.
The fire in many of us lies untended. We live in real or imagined fear and rejection. In his famous liturgical play Murder in the Cathedral, T. S. Eliot speaks through a chorus, â€œWe have seen births, deaths, and marriages . . . / In a void apart. We / Are afraid in a fear which we cannot know, / which we cannot face, which none understands (lines 182 – 185).â€ As fervently as secular authhors such as Kafka, Sartre, Hemingway, and Nietzsche have developed that fear, church fathers and mothers such as Origen, Bonhoeffer, McDonald, and Mother Teresa have stood against that fear. And the church is winning the war!
Because modern people are so afraid, they rarely risk true intimacy. Intimacy cannot thrive in fear. However, as we read the church fathers and mothers – this gathhered inheritance – we sense that there is no fear, but only love, love foor God that nearly takes our breath away! That comely, winsome love draws us first to the author, and then to his or her God! They intensely loved their God and his people. Among these readings and in the lives of these saints, we meet the God celebrated by James Weldon Johnson in his poem â€œCreation.â€
Then God reached out and took the light in His hands,
And God rolled the light around in His hands
Until He made the sun;
And He set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said, â€œThatâ€™s good!â€
This is part of the gathered inheritance, the blessing that belongs to us all! And thatâ€™s so good!
Our church fathers and mothers, a cloud of witnesses, draw us into blessedness.
Blessedness is always at risk. The inheritance is at risk. Always! Sarah is apparently barren. And so is Rachel. Abimelech may kill Abraham. The promised people are enslaved in Egypt, and then in Babylon. So our church fathers and mothers wrote in risk, and in hope. They gathered the inheritance for us to cherish, for us to enlarge.
There is a power that wishes to thwart that progress. An apocryphal story circulated around Princeton Theological Seminary, where I once attended, about Professor Bruce Metzger. Professor Metzger is considered to be the most eminent and capable New Testament scholar of the twentieth century. Once, while lecturing in a class called â€œThe Person and Work of Jesus Christ,â€ Dr. Metzger mentioned that Jesus met Satan in the wilderness – a staatement that drew a snicker from a brave and foolish student. Gently, Dr. Metzger stopped and asked the student why he was laughing.
â€œBecause,â€ the student replied, â€œI donâ€™t think there is a devil. Do you?â€
â€œYes.â€ Dr. Metzger calmly replied.
â€œReally?â€ the confident student asked. â€œHow do you know there really is a devil?â€
â€œBecause I have met him,â€ the imminent Dr. Metzger replied. â€œBecause I have met him.â€
It is important to remember that the church fathers and mothers knew the evil one. Satan was real to them, and notwithstanding our modern sophistication, he is as much a reality in our world as he was in theirs. But just as saints of past ages moved ahead in confidence, we can go on unafraid. The great Reformer Martin Luther said it well:
A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing.
Our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing,
for still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great,
and, armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the man of Godâ€™s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he!
Lord Sabaoth is his name,
from age to age the same.
And he must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure.
One little Word shall fell him.
That Word above all earthly powers –
no thanks to them abiddeth.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours,
through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill;
Godâ€™s truth abideth still.
His kingdom is forever. Amen!
Fear is dissipated by promises; evil is overcome by good. It is all here in these pages. Promises, hope, goodness, and life. A gathered inheritance. We again recognize that the secret things belong â€œto the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children foreverâ€ (Deuteronomy 29:29). A gathered inheritance!
Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, â€œThe lightning illuminates all and then leaves it again in darkness. So faith in God grasps humanity, and we respond in ecstasy. And the darkness is never again the same, . . . but it is still the darkness.â€
All of Godâ€™s saints – past, present, and future – are flashes of lightning in the sky. And the darknesss is never the same again because the light reveals what life can be in Jesus Christ. â€œMemory allows possibility,â€ theologian Walter Brueggemann writes. Ignatius, Nee, Tolstoy, Guyon – they flash across the sky on these pages. A gathereed inheritance. They bring memory. They bring possibility.