|The Gospel According|
To St. Nicholas
* * * * *
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. NICHOLAS
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. NICHOLAS
One Sunday he preached a gospel of freedom. He quoted the Apostle Paul, "'For freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.'* Our Lord came to free us from sin by living a perfect life and by taking the punishment for our sin on the cross so we can have eternal life. He only asks that we receive the gift of life that he offers. Let us not forget the cost he paid to give us freedom and we must use our freedom to live good lives of gratitude and do good works in the name of Jesus."
Later the town leaders and important people stood with Nicholas on the steps of the cathedral and shook his hand praising his words and sermon. A poor farmer in coarse clothing waited at the bottom of the steps. When Bishop Nicholas came near. The farmer removed his tattered hat and with bowed head said, "Sir, I am so glad to hear your gospel today. We should cherish freedom above all else, but slavery has come to my house."
"You must repent of your sins that bring you into slavery," Said Nicholas. "If it is the slavery of drunkenness you must put your wine away. If it is the slavery of gambling you must throw the dice away if it is the slavery of gluttony you must put your rich meat away; and ask God's help to overcome the sins that bring you into slavery."
The man looked up, his eyes were pleading and desperate. "Sir, it is not slavery of soul or of spirit, but it is slavery to the bankers. My crops failed to produce and I had to borrow from the bankers for the seed but the next harvest failed, now the bankers want to sell my three daughters into slavery to pay the debt. I rejoice to hear you speak out against slavery, so I am glad that I can ask you to help pay back the debt to keep my girls from the slavers."
"I see, I will certainly pray for your need. And I will tell the deacons to pray also."
"But Bishop, are you not wealthy? Surely my little debt is small compared to your abundance."
"Friend, you presume upon my generosity and suggest I lack grace. I assure you of my prayers. Good day." Nicholas walked away his fine robes billowing in his haste.
The poor farmer turned as he stumbled back to his farm; his hands worked the brim of his hat as he wiped tears from his eyes.
That night at dinner Nicholas called his steward to read the Word of God to him while he ate. Stephen, his steward, opened the Bible and began to read a passage from The Gospel. "Now behold one came to him and said, Good Teacher what good work shall I do that I may have eternal life?...Jesus said to him if you want to enter life keep the commandments....The young man said to him all these I have kept from my youth what do I still lack...Jesus said to him, 'If you would be perfect go sell all that you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me.' But when the young man heard that saying he went away sorrowful for he had great possessions.*
That night in a dream Nicholas saw the Lord standing at the end of his bed. With him was the rich young ruler asking, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Lord's answered. "Go sell all that you have and come and follow me and you will have treasure in heaven." As the young ruler turned away Nicholas saw the ruler's face was not a young man's face but his own old face. In his dream, The Lord looked at him and said sadly, "Nicholas." Then shook his head slowly and walked away. Nicholas woke sitting in his bed staring at the point where the Lord had stood.
"Lord Jesus," He prayed. "Forgive me, forgive my hard heart and greedy grasp on riches that rust and perish. Forgive me for turning away from your law of love."
He bounded from his bed lit a candle and called for his servants. "Bring the jewels, bring the gold, and fetch the strong box!"
Bundling the treasure of gold and jewels in three bags he went out into the night. "Master," His servant said. "Surely you do not intend to go out into the city streets with treasure at night? Wait for us to fetch a guard."
"The Lord is my refuge and protector. I go with Jesus as my companion." Nicholas said. "And no longer call me your master but your brother. Any who are in my service are no longer slaves but free this night."
Nicholas walked under the stars and each one seemed to speak to him the words of the Lord, "I am the truth the way and the life... The truth will make you free... I have come that they may have life... He sent me to proclaim release to the captives." Then the words of the Apostle came to him- the words he used that very day in a sermon, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."
He prayed as he walked the city streets. "Lord, how shall I do this? Three girls for the slavery auction tomorrow, shall I buy them and set them free? Shall I pay the price to the banker tonight? Shall I see the magistrates and abolish slavery in our city? Tell me Lord."
He seemed to hear the words of the Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, "Let your giving be done in secret, do not even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." At that moment it became clear to him he must give his gifts secretly. He took the road out of town leading to the farms.
In the distance, he saw the farmhouse with a pale light in the window. In the dark, the farm was a sorry sight. Though the walls were mended and the buildings were well maintained, the moonlight showed a stunted crop on one side and a withered orchard on another. He bent over and scooped up some of the dead dry soil in his hand; rubbing it between his fingers he could tell it was poor soil that had little life or vitality left in it.
Silently he crept up to the farmhouse window. The shutters were old and even though closed he could see through the gaps of the planks. Inside the fire was low in the hearth. Garments soaked in the soapy water of a large tin basin, tunics were draped to dry by the hearth's tiny flames. The youngest girl sat on a stool weeping. The other two girls were draping the cleaned leggings and tunics over a line by the hearth to dry.
"Sush, Lydia," said the oldest. "We are hard working and know farming. The slavers will save us for last. The greedy wicked men will have spent their money for the pretty girls. They always go first for the drinking houses but we will go to a farmer or craftsman."
Lydia wept louder. "We will never see papa or each other and we are young and fair and I just know we will be bought by a drinking house where the men are pagan and wicked." She covered her face with her hands and sobbed. It was too much; soon Martha and Phoebe joined her in a tangle of arms as the three girls wept themselves to sleep.
Nicholas' heart broke with each sob. He wiped tears from his own eyes to see clearly through the shutter. Slowly he opened the shutter so as to not awaken the sleeping girls. Reaching into the satchel he lifted one of the heavy bags. The gold and jewels were tight in the wrapping and it fit in the cup of his hand nicely. Leaning slightly through the window under which the three maidens slept he gently tossed the bag into the leggings drying on the line by the fire. It sagged down as the bag sank to the toe. A moment later the second and third were tossed into the leggings.
Nicholas looked down at the sleeping girls and silently closed the shutter.
The walk back through the night was different, he felt as if a burden was lifted. He began to congratulate himself. "That was a good deed, and a task well done. I wish I could see their faces when they dress for the auction and find gold enough to pay their debts."
Lying in bed felt good after the long midnight walk and he quickly fell to sleep.
The dream came back. The Lord stood by the end of his bed and the rich ruler had just asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" The Lord replied as before but with a pause said, "Go sell....all... you have." The Lord turned and the words echoed in Nicholas' ears as he sat up in bed, "Go sell all you have... All you have... All."
Nicholas leaped from his bed. "Brothers! Awake! We have work that needs to be done." The servants came and found Him heaping the remainder of his wealth onto a table. Take these coins and give them to the poor. Take these jewels to the jeweler and sell them then give the money to the poor. Bring the merchants who buy houses. We are selling it all, everything, it must be done by dawn. Go now."
The servants looked without understanding and fearful for their future. Looking into their faces Nicholas knew their fears. Where will they live and what will they eat? If the master has no money what will become of his servants? "I will not abandon you, my Dear Brothers, take from my treasure what you need, but we have much to do together."
"Stephen, I have the most important task for you."
"Brother," Nicholas said with a bellowing laugh, "Tomorrow after we have sold everything I want you to take all the gold to the slave auction. Outbid every bidder and bring each man, woman, and child to me."
"But, Brother, why do you give your servants freedom and then take new ones? We will serve you faithfully as friend and brother."
"Stephen, Jesus said he came to set the prisoners free and we shall follow his mandate. The apostle James said, "Be doers of the God's Word and not hearers only." I have too long been one who spoke the Word in sermon yet did it not. From now on I will speak God's Word in my actions. Bring to me all who are at the slaver's auction so I may set them free in Jesus name."
"Bishop Nicholas I fear they will be worse off without homes or occupation. Will you provide purses full of gold for them? I fear you may soon be homeless yourself."
"I will provide money to any who need. I have in mind a new home, a certain farm with an old orchard which will give ample wood for handcraft to employ any who are willing to work.
So the next day no one went into slavery for Steven used the wealth of Nicholas to rescue all the slaves. Nicholas sacrificed his entire fortune to pay the debt of the farmer, ransom the three girls, to free those to be sold as slaves and give to the poor.
For many years he lived on the farm with the freed slaves. They turned it into a carpenter's workshop because they wanted to follow Jesus who was a carpenter and made many useful things out of wood.
Nicholas became gifted at making the most useful wooden bowls, spoons, and utensils; but as time grew on but his most popular creations were toys. When asked why he made toys he would say, "Because of the fruit of the spirit. When God's spirit comes into our lives His Spirit grows fruit and God's Word says the first fruit is love, but the second is joy. Toys give joy to the children whom Jesus loved. And toys bring joy to those who give them." Then he would go on for an hour talking about God's Holy Spirit and how Jesus said let the little ones come.
If you asked why he gave the toys away freely he would say, "It is because the Father gave away His son for us as the Bible says, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." So by giving the gifts freely he hoped to teach by example that the Gospel is a free gift that we all need to receive.
They said you had to be careful when you asked Nicholas anything since he would answer a question with a sermon because he never stopped being a Christian who loved to tell the story of God's love.
Galatians 5:1, Passage abridged, Matthew 19:16-22. Matthew 6:3-4, Luke 4:18, James 1:22, 33 Galatians 5:22-23,
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