St. Bede’s Sparrow

During the 7th century, King Edwin of Northumbria was trying to decide, after hearing the teaching of the missionary Paulonius, whether to allow Christians to preach in his Kingdom and whether to convert to Christianity himself. He consulted some of his advisers, the final of which gave him this sage advice:

“The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in

comparison with that time which is unknown to us like the

swift flight of a sparrow through mead-hall where you sit

at supper in winter, with your Ealdormen and thanes,

while the fire blazes in the midst and the hall is warmed,

but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad.

The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out

at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry

tempest, but after a short space of fair weather, he im-

mediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter

to winter again. So this life of man appears for a

little while, but of what is to follow or what went before

we know nothing at all. If, therefore, this new doctrine

tells us something more certain, it seems

justly to be followed in our kingdom.”

The above quotation from “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” by the Venerable Bede, is likely more legend than history. But what a powerful image of the fleeting nature of life. King Edwin’s adviser knew that this life is short and that what comes before and after is vast and mysterious. He also knew that some certainty could give life purpose and meaning. Even the Christian mourns the dead and trembles at the thought of losing his grip on life, yet we live lives anchored in hope that what we do here, in the short time we are here, matters. We have some glimpses of eternity from scripture but in the end we don’t know that much more than Edwin’s adviser. We only know in whom we have placed our trust, and that He will be with us in whatever awaits that vast world beyond.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Where is Paradise?

A man is fast asleep when he is gently awoken by the soft heavenly glow of the Angel Gabriel. After he is convinced that he is in fact truly awake and not dreaming, Gabriel speaks to the man: “I have come to you from the Lord of Hosts, what would you ask of Him? Inquire anything and you shall know!” The man gave this a moments though and then said, “All my life I’ve wanted to know the location of Paradise that I may go there someday.” The Angel takes the man by the hand and they fly out the window, zig zagging around stars until finally landing outside in a modest looking garden. “Is this paradise?”, the man asks. Gabriel takes the man by the hand and leads him to a small house and takes him inside. There inside are a few old men drinking coffee and studying the scriptures. “This”, says Gabriel, “is Paradise!” The man looks understandably confused. Gabriel smiles. “I know why you are puzzled… see, you are under the impression the saints are in Paradise while all this time Paradise has been in the Saints.”

This old Jewish legend teaches something very profound. While we do believe in the hope of Resurrection as Christians, we must not lose sight of the fact that eternal life begins in the here and now. Whenever we gather with one another to search scripture and pray, we are creating a little piece of paradise in our hearts where God can begin to dwell. I far better teacher than I once said “wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am with them.” God calls us into loving community where the most ordinary of tasks, through his grace, is transformed into heavenly light.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Karl’s Answer

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth was one of the most highly respected theological writers of his generation and has gone on to be considered the greatest protestant thinker of the 20th century. He wrote volumes upon volumes of important exegesis and biblical commentary and influenced countless schools of thought with his systematic approach to the Bible. Upon his retirement, he was asked by a reporter to tell the most profound and important thing he had learned in all his years of study. His answer was simple: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

Sometimes we Christians can make things really complicated. Doctrine is important. Praxis is important. But neither are the main thing. The love of Jesus and the love of God revealed in Jesus is the main thing. That’s the thing that transforms peoples lives and gives them hope. That’s what the whole Christian enterprize is all about. The rest is just window trimmings. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…