Welcome to Saint John's

Welcome to Saint John’s Web Site. I could pitch a brochure at you and tell you opportunities and how wonderful the place is (I think so). Rather, let me share with you some of my thinking on following Jesus. It’s pretty long but you can always click away when you choose. Let me begin at the beginning, with a child.

Beginnings are wonderful. We can see the rewards and ignore the challenges. There is an Eden in every beginning.  The birth of a baby is a grand event. A new human wrapped in possibility resides in that crib.  An American myth is that any child can grow up to be President of the United States! The shadow possibility is that the child grows up to be the godfather of organized crime. All parents consider the future with at least some notion of growing old surrounded by generations of loving descendents. 

Eve and Adam were not comforted in their old age by their progeny. The young Adamson boys had great promise. One morning, they brought an offering of their labors to God. In that moment, the boys must have felt an Eden-like possibility. However, for reasons beyond the text, God accepted the blood sacrifice of Abel but not Cain’s vegetable offering. Cain was enraged and ‘his face fell.’ In Genesis 4:7, God tells Cain that evil is crouching at the door to take him, and he must resist it. Of course he does not resist, and he kills his brother.

John Steinbeck takes a close-up of this moment in his novel, East of Eden. Caleb desperately wants his father’s approval and can’t get it, while Aron has his father’s approval almost without trying. Like Cain and Abel, Steinbeck’s Caleb and Aron struggle with the temptation of evil and “free choice.”

Sparknotes.com offers this perspective: 

Although one of the fundamental ideas in East of Eden is that evil is an innate and inescapable human problem, the novel also sets forth hope that each individual has the freedom to overcome evil by his or her own choice. This idea of free choice is encapsulated in the Hebrew word timshel, the meaning of which [the family’s] housekeeper, Lee, has researched. The word, which translates to ‘thou mayest,’ appears in the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible, when God tells Cain that he has the freedom to choose to overcome sin. Lee sees this idea of free will as central to the human condition—in fact, he says that timshel might be the “most important word in the world.”

In Luke 5:12, a leper says to Jesus, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.”  “I do choose,” replied Jesus, touching him and making him whole.  Hans Kung, in his book Christianity, speaks of the basic model of Jesus that echoes timshel:

Jesus Christ represents a basic model of a view of life and a way of life which can be realized in many ways.  He is in person, both positively and negatively, the invitation (You may), the call (You shall) and the challenge (You can) for the individual and society. 

The key New Testament concept of Christian ethics is discipleship. This of course is exactly what many have taken up at Saint John’s with RenewalWorks. Many have heard the invitation—YOU MAY—in Saint John’s Reads. Regular Bible reading moves our soul such that we may then hear the call—YOU SHALL—to follow Jesus more closely and consistently.

Falling and getting up is the uneven rhythm of faith. While putting one foot in front of the other, we hear the promise, YOU CAN! What God desires from us he gives grace for the doing. God is like that.

YOU MAY – YOU SHALL – YOU CAN.

Timshel

The Rev. John W. Sewell

Rector, Saint John's Episcopal Church

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Saint John’s Episcopal Church
3245 Central Avenue | Memphis, Tennessee 38111
Phone (901) 323-8597 | Fax (901) 327-9032