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Along the Way
Letter to the Marianas
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I, Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ called to proclaim the Good News to all the world, and all your brothers and sisters in Christ here in Hawaii, send greetings to the saints in the Mariana Islands.

Day and night I thank God for you and for the many ways in which your reputation as good and holy members of the Body of Christ has grown throughout the world. Not a day goes by that I do not hear some good word regarding your faithfulness to God in Christ. The Spirit is in your midst! The wonderful words I hear regarding the People of God in the Mariana Islands makes my heart long to visit with you and be blessed by your fellowship.

Having been called by the Lord to proclaim the Gospel to all people, even to the far distant isles, I continue in my mission among the believers in Hawaii. Though I must remain here a while longer, it is my firm intention to visit for a few months in the Mariana Islands in the near future. I pray that the Lord will bless me in this intention and bring me to you.

We must never forget that we are new men and women, no longer fruitlessly seeking salvation. God acted through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in a decisive and powerful way. The old world died with Christ on the cross. When Jesus rose on the third day, the whole world came into being transformed and made new.

God promised our ancestors and us through them, that there will be a new Earth and a new Heaven, that the lion shall lie with the lamb, that swords will be hammered into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Suffering, war and injustice would cease to grip humanity. In Jesus Christ God has kept his promise. The Kingdom has taken root and this world is transformed before our eyes.

The proof of this is that death has been defeated. Jesus Christ was crucified. A spear was run through his heart. This most innocent of men was killed and buried. Three days later he was alive. He was seen by hundreds of people in the weeks that followed. Eventually, I was among those who saw the risen Lord. I am a witness to you that Jesus Christ was dead but now he is alive! This is the work of God and evidence that his promises are being fulfilled.

Death and futility have been dethroned as the rulers of this world. The Lord has done this. In Christ Jesus evil has been defeated. That Jesus is risen from the dead is proof of this and the guarantee that we who live in Jesus partake in his life and will be raised from the dead as well.

Yet, the newspapers and news channels speak of wars and rumors of wars. People fall prey to terrible illness. Violence is done to the innocent. How can this be if the Kingdom is among us?

We live in the last days, the in-between time. The kingdom is established. God reigns. However, we await the fulfillment of the Reign of God when all his promises will be realized. At that time there will be no evidence of the old heaven and the old earth but only the glory of the new heaven and the new earth, where the Father's will is resplendent in its fulfillment. At this time Christ works to complete the transformation of all of creation, to bring all people into the Kingdom.

Even though the fulfillment of the Kingdom in all its glory may be delayed these two thousand years since the resurrection, we must remember that its coming is the work of the Lord. The Kingdom of God is not the work of men and women. It is not some utopia that is the result of political ideology or economic systems. The Kingdom of God is not a construction project bound by human schedules. It is grace, the freely given gift of God. This gift is not limited to human beings but is a grace that transforms the entire cosmos. We are blessed to participate in the work of building up the Kingdom and bringing this salvific transformation to its fullness through the power of the Spirit and in Jesus Christ.

Through faith in Jesus Christ we enter into his Lordship and become new persons in him, part of his body. As members of the body of Christ, we participate in his work sharing in the transformation of the universe and the flowering of the Kingdom of God. This is the grace of God at work in us. May you never tire of doing God's will. May God's grace always be the foundation of your actions.

God is gracious and gives us life and grace abundantly. We have no need of trying to earn God's love and compassion, for it is freely given to us. If anything is asked of us, it is only to accept that gift of love and relationship which has been made available to us in Jesus Christ.

Everything has a price. Anything can be purchased if we pay enough. It is said that we can purchase God's love through prayers, acts of charity and other works.

We are doomed before we begin, if this is how we approach God. There is nothing that we can do to make God submit to our will, to accept the price that we are willing or capable of paying for God's love.

When we pursue such a course we blind ourselves to the freely given gift of God's love in Jesus Christ. We can neither pay for God's love nor demand it of God. It is a gift and our response is simply to accept that gift.

Those wise in the ways of the world seek to build a community of life, liberty and happiness through a fence built of law. Yet, the law turns against them. Life is ended through war and legalized abortion. Liberty is lost through fear. Happiness is thought to be something that is purchased. Yet no matter how much is spent, the yearning for happiness remains.

Law merely allows people to live together in relative peace. It does not provide life, freedom or happiness. The law will not obtain God's love for us. In Christ you have been made free. This freedom is a sharing in the Lord's own freedom and includes freedom from sin. If you are free of sin, you are free of the law.

Freedom allows us to determine our destiny through the choices we make. If we choose wisely, freedom is the path that we follow to the Kingdom of God and its fulfillment among us. If we choose poorly, we are free to follow the path we set for ourselves and experience its consequences. The responsibility demanded of us by the gift of freedom is frightening for many, who would rather give away their freedom and accept the yoke of the law. The yoke of the law neither bring one to salvation nor does it offer sanctification once one is in Christ. While salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, sanctification comes through participation in the body of Christ. Through faith in Christ Jesus we have freely come to salvation, accepting the benefits and consequences of this gift.

We freely have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and are one with Christ. We are not isolated individuals but are one in Christ. Our unity with Christ is the basis of our participation in the Kingdom of God. Our unity with Christ is a relationship of faith and love. It is this relationship that unites us with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is this relationship that makes us holy. When we act toward one another with love we act in Christ, for in our loving action Christ acts in and through us.

Freedom does not end with becoming one with Christ and accepting his Lordship. We are able to act as we decide always, for the gift of freedom defines our human nature. God desires that we respond in love to the divine gift of himself and love must be freely given. We are free to be part of the Body of Christ, through faith and the realization of that faith in our actions. We are free as well to turn from God in sin.

Sin is not external to us. We are one with our actions. When our actions manifest love and compassionate, we are one with love and compassion. When our actions manifest violence, hate or envy, we are one with violence, hate and envy. We both accept the Lordship of Christ and strive to life united with him or we remain loyal the lordship of the world and become united with it. We must be loyal to one and reject the other. We are free to choose but one choice does not allow the other. We must choose a path and walk upon it. One might say I choose Christ but then walk the path of the world. His actions say that he chose the path of the world and he must live with the consequences of that choice. Our choices are for the path of virtue not because law requires that we walk the path of virtue but because this is that path where our actions are one with Christ.

Beloved saints, remain in the Lord. I call you saints because you are united with Christ and all who are united with Christ are his saints in deed. Not only shall you inherit the Kingdom of God but you are already citizens of the Kingdom. God is working to bring about the fullness of the Kingdom of God through you. All of creation is brought closer to fulfillment when you remain united with Christ through your actions, which serve to build up the Kingdom of God. All of creation shudders and sighs when your actions separate you from Christ and delay the kingdom from being realized in God's glory.

The Mariana Islands seem so small compared to the broad expanse of the oceans and the massive continents. The islands are so distant from the centers of worldly power and influence. It is easy to feel that your actions are of no consequence. Yet, remember that in the broad expanse of the ocean God raised up these islands as a home to you. God preserved you through the most difficult circumstances again and again. Such care manifests God's profound love for you.

Do not forget that Christ came from a small town in a backwater nation of the Roman Empire. Yet, this seemingly insignificant people in an insignificant part of the world produced, through Christ, an impact that utterly changed the world.

No people, no person is insignificant. To each God has given the gift of life. God's gift of himself in love is poured out for each of us, abundantly overflowing. As we give this gift of love to others it takes root in us as well. We become other Christs as we become love, for Christ is love made flesh. As this happens the Kingdom of Heaven becomes more apparent; less is it a matter of hope, than a present reality. God is at work through us continuing the great work that he began in Jesus. Thus, our actions are of immense importance for they serve to build up the Kingdom of Heaven, or to oppose the divine will and keep us slaves to the demands of earthly spirits and powers.

I am weak. How can my actions build up the Kingdom of God?

By themselves, our actions do nothing of importance. Yet, do you not realize that you are God's temple and the Spirit of God lives among you? It is not us who accomplishes any great work but God who accomplishes all. As we turn everything to God in love and cooperate with him, it is God who accomplishes all according to his purpose.

Often I have reminded the saints that the law does not bind them. We are a people of freedom. The only law which holds authority over us is the law of love. It is the law of love that is our highest purpose and which ensures our freedom.

Yet, I say also that those who are unfaithful to their wives, who grow wealthy through injustice, who destroy their minds and families through alcohol and drugs, who tell lies, who lay with one another as spouses but who are not united in the commitment of marriage, and who betray the trust that others have placed in them will not inherit the Kingdom of God!

I do not impose a new law upon you but only remind you that it is in all these things that the law of love finds expression. How can we be a living embodiment of love if we do not remain faithful to the spouse to whom we have committed ourselves in marital love? How can we be a living embodiment of love if we use others for our advantage? Love is the gift of self, not self-seeking or selfishness. How can we be the embodiment of love when we extinguish the light of reason and self-control, causing pain and suffering to those whom love demands that we care for and protect? How can we be a living embodiment of love when we are willing to join our bodies with another but unwilling to join our lives in the enduring commitment of marriage? How can we be a living embodiment of love when we betray the trust of another to seek our own pleasure or advantage?

The law of love places no chains or heavy burdens upon us. It is the essence of freedom. Rather, the law of love unites us with God. It illumines our lives with the sun of truth and makes plain the shadows that must be removed if we are to shine with the glory of God. Sin is the absence of love. It is self-seeking instead of self-giving. God is love. God is self-giving and in we are made in God's image. We are most perfectly and fully who and what we are when we are the embodiment of love. We turn away from sin not because we are brought to trial for violation of a law but because sin makes us what we are not.

Often have I been asked for guidance in discerning important decisions in one's life. Should I marry? Should I move to this city or undertake this vocation? I do not know the details of your life nor can I magically reveal the direction in which God wants you to go.

I only remind you that we are living in the end times. God has begun his great work in Christ and before long that work will reach its fulfillment in the Reign of God on Earth. We have an important part to play in the realization of the heavenly Kingdom. Our priority must be do discern what our role is and to pursue it. All other decisions about marriage, vocation or where one lives will fall into place.

How do I discern God's will?

God's will is not to be found external to us but is the voice of God speaking in our deepest heart. It is the will that underlies and gives direction to our will. It is that which brings us a clear conscience. It is our secret desire and that which brings about our greatest good. God's will can be found in the current of selfless and self-giving love that is the foundation of our life. God's will can be discerned in the talents that we manifest, for we cannot give what we do not have. If God calls us to a particular path, God will supply the talent needed to walk that path.

One path is not better than another. The best path for you is the one to which you are called. Walking that path may not be easy. One's happiness or pleasure in walking the path is not the criteria by which we are to judge, nor is our apparent success in walking the path to be our criterion. Our only criterion for success is the degree to which God's self-giving and transforming love is embodied in us.

Jesus preached the Kingdom of God and his ministry ended in dismal failure. As he hung upon the cross all had abandoned him, save for his mother and one disciple. He was rejected by the people whom he healed, fed and taught. Yet, this way of sorrow and disappointment is the path that he needed to walk. It was necessary that he experience total abandonment and utter emptiness. It was in this total self-giving that the power of love was complete in him and the tragedy of death turned into the unutterable joy of resurrection!

There is much more that I desire to share with you but it must wait until I visit and we can talk at length. However, I want to remind you to care for the needy among you. Set aside what money you do not need and give it to those in need or to some charity that will put the money to good use for those who depend upon your assistance. Look not to what benefit you might gain from such assistance but to the need of your neighbor. Let your generosity be such that strangers will see in your actions God's love of all his people! Look not only to the needs of your families and friends, or even your brothers and sisters in Christ; rather, be sure that the stranger among you is cared for and one who does not know Christ experiences Christ's love through you!

If I am delayed in coming to the Mariana Islands, I will send another to teach and guide you in my absence. Receive the apostle I send to you in all kindness, as you would receive me.

Be awake to all dangers. Stay firm in the faith. Be brave and be strong. Let everything you do be done in love.

All of the churches in the communities I have visited so far send greetings, as do my companions.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love is with you all in Christ Jesus.

Your brother in Christ--Paul.

Commentary

Also read A Course in Christian Spirituality by Deacon Shewman that is available through this link.

(c) 1997-2008. Richard Shewman. All stories, articles, reflections and other written material contained in this website are the creative fruit and property of Richard Shewman. All rights are reserved. The written material contained in this website may not be reproduced or published in any form, except for the individual and personal use of the reader, without the express consent of the author.