Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Reading: 2 Clement, An Ancient Christian Sermon

During the month of August, I am reading through some of the very early writings of the Christian church. I am focusing on the Pre-Nicene Church Fathers; that is Christian writings before the 300’s AD. Most of these writings can easily be found for free on the internet with a Google search. You can find 2 Clement here. I am using the Logos version of The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, by Michael William Holmes. There is a post on my Facebook page which links here and where we can discuss this post. If you would ever like to suggest a book for Sunday reading commentary on this blog send me a Facebook message or comment here.

Second Clement is not really a letter, but an early Christian sermon. In fact it is the earliest complete Christian sermon that we still have today. It is variously dated from 100-150 AD/CE. It contains the earliest instances of the New Testament being quoted as scripture and references Matthew, Luke, I Corinthians, and Ephesians, as well as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of the Egyptians. The sermon is based on a text from Isaiah 54 and  “presents a call to repentance, purity, and steadfastness in the face of persecution.” (102)

Now when he said, “Rejoice, O barren woman, who bears no children,” he spoke of us, for our church was barren before children were given to it. (2) And when he said, “shout, you who have no labor pains,” he means this: we should offer up our prayers to God sincerely, and not grow weary like women in labor. (3) And he said, “for the deserted woman has more children than she who has a husband,” because our people seemed to be abandoned by God, but now that we have believed, we have become more numerous than those who seemed to have God. 107–109

The sermon emphasizes that Jesus called us as sinners and urges its audience to show their faithful response by their works. There is also a deep acknowledgement of the human continued capacity to sin and need for reliance on the Spirit of God to do right. The need to be ready for the coming judgment is one of the speaker’s main motivations for righteousness although he also often speaks of reward and the present joy that comes from living as God has called us to live.

But how do we acknowledge him? By doing what he says and not disobeying his commandments, and honoring him not only with our lips but “with our whole heart and with our whole mind.”  3.4, 109

This age and the one that is coming are two enemies. This one talks about adultery and corruption and greed and deceit, but that one renounces these things. We cannot, therefore, be friends of both; we must renounce this one in order to experience that one. 6.3-5, 111–113

Charitable giving, therefore, is good, as is repentance from sin. Fasting is better than prayer, while charitable giving is better than both, and “love covers a multitude of sins,” while prayer arising from a good conscience delivers one from death. Blessed is everyone who is found full of these, for charitable giving relieves the burden of sin. 16.4, 123

He concludes the sermon with both positive and negative motivation to serve God in practical, measurable ways…

For I myself am utterly sinful and have not yet escaped from temptation; but even though I am surrounded by the tools of the devil, I make every effort to pursue righteousness, that I may succeed in at least getting close to it, because I fear the coming judgment. 18.2, 125

But do not let it trouble your mind that we see the unrighteous possessing wealth while the servants of God experience hardships. Let us have faith, brothers and sisters! We are competing in the contest of a living God, and are being trained by the present life in order that we may be crowned in the life to come. 20.1-2, 127

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