I am starting this review by explaining why I did not write a review for the last edition of Horizons, “Security in the Midst of Violence.” My explanation is a part of the review for the newest edition of Horizons “Community and Hospitality.”
“Security in the Midst of Violence,” was a very good edition. I started a review of the articles making a comparison between some of the articles and Fox’s Book of Martyrs. Several of the stories were about Christians under persecution and how they lived through the ordeal. They all caught my attention, including one about a pastor and his family fleeing from Iraq and the violence they experienced because of their Christian faith.
I had about two pages written and then looked at some of the resource material offered. An inset beneath the Iraqi article pointed to www.pcusa.org/worldwide/middleeast and www.pcusa.org/peacemaking. Most of the material I found on those two sites was about dialogue between Muslims and Christians and the problems and issues between the Israelis and Palestinians. And of course on that last item it was all pro-Palestinian. But there was nothing about the persecution of Christians by radical Islam.
Something inside of me stopped. I simply could not go farther despite a reasonably good issue. The contradiction was just too blaring. I thought of recommending such non-Presbyterian organizations as The Voice of the Martyrs  . But my most basic thought was that Presbyterians in the PC(U.S.A.) have nothing to offer those who are facing persecution from radical Islam.
I reached a blocking point that writers sometimes experience for various reasons. I laid my material aside, lost it, and have not thought about it until now as I start writing the review for this newest issue of Horizons, “Community and Hospitality.”
And once again contradiction meets me. This issue also has some very good articles. They are articles aimed at the needs of the poor, the homeless, and those who are dying. They are articles that both women and men in the Church need to read. And yet, staring at me from the cover of this edition, in a South American collective painting, are the faces of several Marxist Revolutionary leaders. Yes, there is a baby Jesus and angels, but there is also Carlos Fonseca  , the founder of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, Che Guevara  , an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, and Augusto Sandino  , an earlier Nicaraguan revolutionary.
True, the mural is part of a community, Batahola Cultural Center, which aids women and children in Nicaragua, and Presbyterians in the United States have helped them with contributions, but this was the introduction to this issue of Horizons, a picture called either the “New Dawn” or the “New Man”. As a friend suggested these are pictures of South American thugs fighting thugs!
The first article is a sermon given at the Presbyterian Women’s Gathering, by Margaret Aymer, Associate Professor of New Testament at Interdenominational Theological Center. The article and sermon is entitled “Meddlin’.” Aymer’s text is Mark 2:1-12, the story of the four men who lowered their friend through the roof into the midst of a crowd so that Jesus would heal him. Aymer’s exegesis of the text is unique, her application unbiblical.
Aymer sees the need in this story as access not healing. She writes, “In our denomination, we too fight about access—about breaking open the ceiling and giving everyone access to their God-given vocations. What would happen if we started knocking in some roofs?” It should be noted that the Presbyteries had just defeated amendment B when Aymer was speaking. It was one more attempt to remove biblical ordination standards in the PC(U.S.A.)
According to Aymer, Jesus forgives the man’s sins by showing him he needs to let his guilt go. Likewise, Aymer ties the man’s problems to the community’s belief that a person is sick because they have sinned. Jesus shocks the people when he forgives sin because they believe only God can forgive sin, and that the temple sacrifices and rituals must be a part of the forgiveness.
Jesus, according to Aymer’s exegesis, is doing two things. He is allowing the sick person to see his lack of guilt and he is showing the community that they do not need to go to a priest to be forgiven. Accordingly there is no need of temple sacrifice or priest, only the community. But Aymer misses the point of the story.
There wasn’t just a theological issue at stake. There was a social and economic issue, an issue of authority, power and control. If preachers could declare forgiveness willy-nilly, without the sacrificial lamb, what would become of the priesthood, the temple, the entire economic structure in Jerusalem?
The application that Aymer gives to those reading and listening is that “Jesus’ authority transcends all rules, all legislation, all church governance, all social taboos, all of our genuinely held beliefs.” She asks if we are ready to accept this and appeals to the sovereignty of the triune God.
But all of the above is mere speculation and a failed exegesis. All are sinners so Jesus was forgiving sins. Yes, the people were surprised because it was God alone who forgave sins and it was he who instituted the many animal sacrifices and rituals for the sins of his people. Hebrews speaks of them as shadows of the Lamb to come. Calvin speaks of the efficacy the Israelites experienced in their rituals and sacrifices because they were full of the promises of Jesus Christ. (Book Four: Chapter XIV, 23 &24.)
And in this text Jesus stands there, in the midst of the people, the great sacrificial lamb, needed by both preachers and laity, and he forgives because he is both human and God. And because Jesus Christ is Lord of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament he gives authority to both. So while his authority may be above humanly contrived social mores, taboos and beliefs it is not above the scripture which is after all his word.
With a proper exegesis God’s provision for his Hebrew people is not stomped on and his ultimate provision for all of his chosen, Jesus Christ the promised Messiah, is clarified and revealed.
All that follows in this edition of Horizons is needful. And the articles are about the kinds of callings, good works and humanitarian concerns that should follow a life that has found redemption in Jesus Christ.
The article, “Hospitality and Belonging: Community Membership and People with Developmental Disabilities,” by Milton Tyree, is not only full of compassion but also includes practical information such as those characteristics that define developmental disability. Tyree also gives ideas about how those with such disabilities can be given a sense of self worth and dignity.
Two very good articles focus on the homeless and dying. “Hospitality for the Homeless,” by Jean Kim, and “Dying at Home,” by William O’Brien, lead the reader not only through the various heartbreaking stories of individual people but also give needed statistics and practical information. An inset following the “homeless” article gives 12 things that people can do to “help fight homelessness.” Also included in the article are biblical reasons why the issue of homelessness must also be a political issue for Christians.
O’Brian, in his article “Dying at Home,” begins with a story of Sarae who had just died. He explains how not only the community who lives in the Fairmont Avenue residence became the home where she was sheltered but also she was an important part of what made the community home. The reader is shown how the ‘least of these’ is the important linchpin in community.
The end of the story is O’Brian’s first experiences with the homeless and how that led to the work of providing “concrete solutions for the homeless.” He nears the end of his article with these compassionate words:
“We gathered as a community to grieve, remember and celebrate a sister. This had been Sarae’s home; these people, her family. Sarae had not died alone and anonymously. Her death was hallowed and enveloped in loving care by a group of people whose lives she had enriched in her quiet way.”
One short article that I found so well written and inspiring was “The Tea Woman of Rupnagar,” by Cynthia Morgan. The story is about a young woman of Bangladesh who supports her family by selling tea from a small shack. Morgan writes of Rajia’s loss of her mother at thirteen, and early arranged marriage which ended because of a betrayal by her husband. She writes of the graciousness and enterprise of Rajia in the midst of her poverty.
The charm of the story is the sharing of grief by the author and Rajia; Morgan lost her son to cancer. They listen to each other. They understand the each other’s pain and care. This is connection and outside of any kind of political ideology. It is a picture of community and a metaphor for what it means to be the body of Christ in the midst of a sometimes unbearable world. They were comforted by the presence of each other.
And so the story comes round to persecuted Christians and their needs, and the comfort we must be to each other. That is beyond the scope of the political. It cannot be a contradiction in the lives of Christians. Telling the story of the persecuted faithful cannot end in articles or links about dialogue but must end somewhere where comfort and presence is offered. So here is a link, once again, The Voice of the Martyrs  .
My last copy of VOM’s magazine pointed to some remarks made by Gracia Burnham in the forward of the book Hearts of Fire, a book about women who have suffered persecution. Burnham is the missionary who, with her husband, was held captive in the Philippines for a year. Her husband was killed but she survived. She writes:
“During the year (May 2001-June 2002) that my husband, Martin, and I spent in captivity with Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the Philippines Jungle, I too felt hopeless, wanting to die. I was homeless and starving … but for me, I knew that as soon as my release came, I would return to my life of relative ease. … So when I’m taking a nice hot bath, I pray. When I’m putting on make-up and fixing my hair to get ready to go speak, I pray. When I am running errands for my kids, I pray. When I pass an encouraging sign outside a church, I pray for those who don’t have the ‘infrastructure’ I have. For those who are suffering because they believe in Jesus. For those who think they are all alone, yet remain true to their faith.
Burnham goes on to state that she prays for the Lord’s presence with those who suffer for the sake of Jesus. That is hospitality and community, the presence of the Lord among those who need homes and care. We are called to bring that presence. That is hospitality and community, the presence of the Lord among those who suffer for their faith. We are called to offer that comfort and help. That is hospitality and community, the presence of the Lord in our own communities of worship. He is the sacrificial Lamb who draws his body together.