Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mid-Day Devotion 3/24/10

Icon of St. James the Just, Martyr

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”
James 1:12

Kneeling there, the first stone cracked against his skin, then the second, then the third...

Even before he was ever dragged before the Sanhedrin, he knew what the events of his life would culminate in. He knew that they play out until finally this moment, unavoidable and inescapable in its inevitability, would finally be upon him. He might not have known when or how, Stephen had been stoned, (Acts 7:58-60) James, son of Zebedee, like John the Baptist before him, was beheaded (Acts 12:1-2), while Jesus had been crucified, hung from that wounded cross for the world to see and for the unbelievers to mock as they pointed and laughed at the fate of this man called the Christ until his final breath escaped his lungs (Mark 15:25-37), but long ago his fate had been decided.

There was no doubt they could hear the crashing of those rocks hitting his skin as the skin and the bones broke. They could see the blood drain from the open wounds as it poured out unto the ground, staining the dirt and the soil as it flowed like a stream from his bruised and wounded body. In those moments it was perhaps difficult for him not to cry out as the moments seemed to turn to hours and the hours to days as He felt the sting of each stone hitting him, the last never quite numbing the pain as the sensations ran through his body.

It could have been an easier life for him, he might have thought, if he had, at the ascension of Christ, just gone home and perhaps become a carpenter like his father. Maybe he could have taken a wife, had a child or two, and lived out the remainder of his days in the peace and the comfort of a quiet life, until finally, in bed, surrounded by those he loved, he would be called home. Yet here he was, seized amidst the lawlessness that gripped Jerusalem by the Sanhedrin, and charged, sentenced to death before anybody could have done anything for him.

They had given him the chance to renounce, yet, just as he couldn’t have gone back home, he couldn’t find it in him to deny the truth, not even to save his own life. “Christ himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of Heaven,” would be the final words he would speak to that council before his sentence would be proclaimed. But then before he ever was dragged in, before he ever stood before them, before his death was ever announced by that Council, the words escaping his lips, hanging heavily in the air he knew...

“I beseech Thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” would be the last words that would escape James’ lips. A moment later one of the Priests, in hearing the prayer of the Apostle, would cry out, “Cease, what do ye? The just man is praying for us”

An instant after the words of the Priest were even spoken, as if in a flash, there would be the sound of a loud thump as another took his staff and it cracked against the skull of James. His body crumbled, whatever life was left in him drained and, as quickly as he was first thrown to the ground it was all over.

There was no account of James’ funeral, or if any even claimed his body, for all we have been told of his death, for all we really know he was left in that spot where he died, in a pool of his own blood, his body rotting until finally it was taken from the street and given some burial someplace, where nobody knew, where nobody, but God Himself could find him.

But that was the deeper testimony of the faith of James, for though he found himself persecuted and oppressed, though he found the moment of captivity and bondage were upon him in the most significant of ways, he knew that the moments of darkness were fleeting and that soon he would be carried to the glorious light of God’s eternal love. There was nothing in life, there was nothing heaped upon him or taken away from him, that could rob him of that assurance that he found in the deeper promises of God’s peace and love as hope, in even the most trying of circumstances, encompassed his life.

It perhaps would have been the easiest thing in the world for him, when he found himself before the Sanhedrin or as he was cast to the streets, when the first stone hit his body, for him to cry out in the pain and the misery, the despair and the sorrow that now had to so engulfed him. It perhaps would have been the easiest of things in the world for him to scream out at the top of his lungs, “God, why doest thou tempt me with such evil? Why doest thou entice me with such wickedness to renounce thy Holy Name?” Yet, even then, he couldn’t because He knew that such suffering, and such pain did not come from the Lord, only the ultimate freedom that would finally realize a person from all the anguish and the agony that this life could heap upon them.

James is the example for us to live by and to be led by in this world...

There are times in our lives, and in the lives of others, where calamity hits and the challenges that lay ahead seek to rob us of all peace and comfort, all joy and happiness from our lives. They come with bitter captivity and harsh bondage, and ultimately even death, as it seems as if there is no escaping that sense of fate that has been heaped upon us.

We may cry out to God, yearning for something, for anything to engulf our life and to transcend the pain and the sorrow, the suffering and the hurt that we feel in these moments. We may cry out “God, why is it that You let this happen? Why do you let people suffer in such agony? Why?” We may do so as we wonder about that goodness and that mercy that we have been told pours forth from the compassion and the love of our Lord.

Yet none of these trials and temptations, none of this tribulation comes from the hand of God. It is the state of the world that we live in amidst all of its unrighteousness and sin and iniquity. The hope though... the promises and the blessed assurances of something better, of something more... the vow that we shall have the courage and the strength to endure even the greatest of challenges, even the most brutal of struggles that would seek to so devour us... that is of God as He pledges to us the full measure of His devotion, contending forever with the cause of His people in the love that He has for them.

We may wonder, we may find that things just seem like they are too much to bear, as the moments of hurt and sorrow, of anguish and agony come so readily into this world. We may wonder as we feel tired and weak from the afflictions that can so burden us amidst our lives. Yet, even in these times of turmoil and pain, there is a Divine Will that is committed to us by the wondrous, glorious hand of God’s providence, and it shall always preserve us in the compassion and the mercy, the hope and the love, the grace and the faithfulness of our Lord who never fails us or forsakes us, whatever stones this world may hurl upon us to break our bodies and our spirits.

Lord, keep us all in that divine trust in You....

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

First Prayer:

O Lord, look down from Heaven and concern Yourself with the cause of men and the course of human events. Cast Your eyes upon the plights and the struggles of Your children and walk beside them through these days of darkness and chaos that so afflict them.

O Lord hear the cries from Earth and make Yourself know in the cause of men and the course of human events. Bend Your ear to the yearning of the captives and the prisoners, the hostages and the slaves, and show unto them the blessings of Your promises in these days of toil and turmoil that so afflict them.

It was by Your hand that mercy was shown in the lives of the crew of the MV Almezaan as they found that they were spared of the degradation and the brutality of that bitter captivity that so sought to grab a hold of their lives and strangle from them the hope of their existence. Your blessings were given unto them as they were brought from the brink of bondage to continue in the wonders of freedom. To You then do we give all honor and praise.

Yet Lord, we pray for the same blessing to come upon the crew of MV Talca, who were not as fortunate as to escape the hands of unrighteous men. Contend with their cause as we commit them to Your justice and Your mercy. Walk beside them and give them the strength and the courage to endure this ordeal, that they may find the hope to carry on until the day when they have been, by the glory of Your love, once more restored to freedom.

Unto You Lord do we entrust the life of the pirate who died in the course of his unrighteousness, knowing that You are the judge and that only You see what is in the heart and that You shall then look upon his life and determine His fate. Guide our hearts to compassion for him, knowing that though he brought hurt and pain into this world, that his life now claimed may serve as a lesson to others who would follow in his path that they might know the futility of that which their efforts bring amidst the grander scheme of Your divine plan.

Then shall all praise be lifted to You as evil is set to flight and temptation is moved from the hearts of men to do wickedness and Your will shall find strength on earth as it does in Heaven.

In the name of Your Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You in the Kingdom, one God, world without end, Amen.

Second Prayer:

O Lord, make known unto us, Your people, the glory of Your creation, Your sanctuary, lead us to Your Holy Mountain, the rock of our refuge and the ever present shelter from this worlds trials and tribulations. Let us, Your children, walk in the path of Your peace under the wing of Your protection, guided by the righteousness of Your Word, and the faithfulness of Your promises.

Be our firm foundation, be the refuge for the lost, and keep us safe in all that Your people are and all that they face.

Unto You O Lord do we commend the life and the cause of all prisoners and hostages, unto You do we commend all who are held in any sort of bondage and slavery, knowing that it is through You that comes all mercy and compassion.

Show then unto them the full measure of Your devotion as Your faithfulness comes to bear in their lives. Show unto them the full measure of Your promises that Your blessed assurances shall guide them through all the days of their lives. Show unto them the full measure of Your love that grace shall create in them strength and hope in the love that You have for them.

Let not their lives be claimed by despair and degradation but pour forth mercy upon them that life and love, that liberty and freedom shall bring a new hope in their lives as Your light guides them through justice and mercy to the better days that shall encompass their lives. Let then not languish in sorrow and hurt, let them not fade in agony and anguish, but show unto them that whatever the struggle that brings such destitution and despair, there is a God who love them and cares for them and there is no dark or hidden places where they can be held.... there is no dark or hidden places that can be removed from Your sights.

Then shall all come to know the transcending nature of Your divine will and the wonders of Your blessings as peace comes to bear in the lives of Your people and they shall raise their voices in praise to You for the wonders of Your miracles as they encompass the true justice that this world so longs for...

Then shall all come to know the transcending nature of Your Divine will as it will be inescapable in the love that You bring to bear and songs shall be given to praise Your holy name.

In the name of Your Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You in the Kingdom, one God, world without end, Amen.

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