Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Anonymity of Dust and Ashes

In the name of being someone, we lose the grace of anonymity. Ash Wednesday is a day in the rich cycle of the life of the church in which we are reminded of the sweet grace of not having to be anyone special or notable. How does this feel to you? Most of us have a sense of being someone because we feel we have to struggle to create a self that is separate and unique from everyone else. When someone tries to “act like us,” we may feel a conflict between being flattered that someone would want to be “just like me” and threatened that someone wants to replace us.

Most bosses want their subordinates to embody their values and work ethic, but if a subordinate begins to outdo the boss, a different reaction will usually follow. The subordinate is no longer just a good and faithful employee, but a rival to the boss. Such is the glory and struggle of someone who wishes to be envied and emulated.

On Ash Wednesday, we get that smudge of ash on our forehead, drawn in the shape of the cross of Christ to remind us of our mortality. “Dust you are and to dust shall you return.”

The somebody we work so hard to be, will one day be no more. Death creates an anonymity that is humbling. In death, as in baptism, everything we have struggled to do to make something of ourselves, is erased in a moment. What remains in death and baptism is our identity as children of God without distinction, but as ones greatly loved. All that we struggle to be and that puts us in rivalry with others is washed away in death.

The “sweet grace” of anonymity that Ash Wednesday gives to us without struggle, without price, and rivalry, is most assuredly the freedom from struggle, price, and rivalry that forms us in our human culture. Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our mortality and our status as beloved children of God.

Do you have any thoughts or comments on this Blog entry or Ash Wednesday? Any memories of past Ash Wednesdays that touched you deeply and moved you to a deeper relationship with God?

If someone asked you what the smudge on your forehead is, what would you say?

Remember Ash Wednesday is this coming Wednesday with Imposition of Ashes and Holy Eucharist at 10 AM and at 7 PM.

God’s Peace in the Ashes and Dust of Anonymity,
Bob

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Desparate Disciples and The Mountain Top Experience

Desperate Housewives is currently a highly rated television show. It is the story of women who live on the same block and who seem to be in search of love, meaning, and significance in their lives. They are in search of mountain top experiences, but their neighborhood exploits involve deceit, murder, unfaithfulness, guilt, conflict, and continual disappointment. Happiness and peace elude them despite their efforts to climb the mountain of life.

Mountain top experiences are not the daily diet of most people. In fact, most of us find our lives full of rather ordinary and unspectacular experiences packed end-to-end and making up full days, months, and then years that are unremarkable.

Our consumer culture promises us something more. It seeks to provide us with mountain top experiences through commercially available products, such as cars, underwear and other brand name apparel, homes in more exclusive neighborhoods, educational and career achievements, a fit body and the list could certainly grow. Such pre-packaged mountain top experiences usually have a price tag attached and do not require any more from us than the cost of admission.

Over the course of time, we discover that items that are marketed as providing on demand mountain top highs, fail to deliver. We are entertained momentarily, but we are not transformed into better human beings.

As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden:

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."

We seek mountain top experiences until we discover our desperate and hopeless efforts have failed to fill the hole in our souls. This point of desperation can lead to hopelessness or it can be the invitation to turn around and go a different direction. The new direction can take us into the loving presence of God where we find ourselves surrounded by light.

As we come to the end of the season of Epiphany with its mountain top experiences during which God is seen in the light that lights up everything and everyone around him and then vanishes into darkness, we enter the season of Lent. The flashing lightning of Epiphany yields to the quiet darkness of our ordinary times and the extraordinary moments of grace as we follow Jesus off of the mountain.

As we walk with Jesus, we discover a new understanding of faith. It is simply and purely trusting in the loving care and presence of God, even in the darkest times. Such faith is not created by accepting or memorizing a creed or by being frightened by threats of hell or bribed by promises of heaven, but by encountering the true and deep and high love of God in the form of a person.

Children who are lovingly held and touched in their infancy develop a sense of the sort of faith I am trying to describe. Human love is transmitted in the touch that is trustworthy. Human hope is developed out of such trusting encounters.

We sometimes hear people say that they are touched by something they have heard or read or seen. The Gospel stories can touch us deeply with the love of God. The hole in our souls is God-shaped and as we hear these stories of Jesus time and time again, we are touched and moved and formed in ways that are powerful, but often not obvious to us. It is from hearing these stories and praying through them that we are truly changed. The healing touch of Jesus gives us faith and hope that we are being lovingly touched.

The stories that lead up to the mountain top experience described in our Gospel this Sunday touch us because in them we hear that Jesus came healing communities of the evil they were doing against those who were different. He released those who suffered such treatment from the stigma of being unclean. He healed the sick in such a way as to inspire them to serve others. He removed the terrible labels he saw being used to separate God's children into acceptable or unacceptable categories. He gave the gift of movement to a paralytic whose friends loved him enough to bring him to love's door and to cut a hole in love's roof so that their friend could be lowered into love's lap and be healed. This is the love of God that lit up the mountaintop to which Jesus took his friends and disciples in this week's Gospel reading.

This is the mountain top experience that can transform human life and make us "fully alive," as Father Norm, quoting Ireneus; put it so beautifully last Sunday. What the disciples experienced that day was slow to bear fruit in their lives, so be patient with the process. Their previous understandings of God and themselves came under the loving light of God and we experience this same revealing light each and every Sunday we come together in worship.

How long does it take for such a mountain top experience to take hold of us and change us? What other experiences must be added to this mix of light and love in order for us to finally be changed from the inside out? Is there anyway to get it quicker, like instant coffee?

Our collect for this week speaks about the event, which turns the disciples’ mountain top experience into transformed lives.

"O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son..."

The word "passion" comes from Latin meaning to suffer or endure.

What did Jesus suffer and endure?

The very demons that daily attack the fabric of our lives and convince us that some must die or suffer in order for the rest of us to survive is part of the passion of Christ. The great majority of humankind does not necessarily see this as anything, but “the way things are,” but Jesus gives us his imagination to see it differently from the majority.

His passion is not so much the physical pain and suffering inflicted upon him that led to his death. In fact, only modern day films, like The Passion of the Christ, focus on the physical suffering of Jesus. Paul and the Gospel writers actually do not really dwell on Jesus’ physical suffering. The real passion of Christ is our rejection and exclusion of not only him, but of others whom God calls his children. It is his passion to open our eyes to see what we are doing and to create a way for us to change.

We all experience pain and suffering in our lives, but to suffer alone and as an object of scorn and revulsion is the final and mostly anonymous ending of many lives in our world.

The light of Christ allows us to see that when love comes to light our way, it is not to simply blow our minds, but to transform our hearts and our lives and allows us to reach out and touch others in faith, hope, and love.

The cross represents this passion of Christ, his suffering, but more importantly his loving will that all will be within the reach of his saving embrace of love. Jesus tells us and shows us something very new and amazing about God.

Simply put:

Before Jesus was abandoned by all of those who had followed him and called him Rabbi, God had refused to abandon any of his children to the terror of exclusion and blame.

Before Jesus was singled out for trial and crucifixion, God had already made peace with us.

Before Jesus was tried and found guilty and deserving of death, God had already forgiven us.

Before Jesus was beaten, mocked, and scourged, God had already declared his love for us.

Before Jesus was nailed to the cross to die, God had already prepared a place for us and a way for us to get there.

Before Jesus was buried and the rock rolled in front of his grave, he was alive in God.

Mountain top experiences that are commercially marketable and which create a world that is lonely and desperate for meaning will never transform our lives.

The Scripture Passage for 2006 is I Corinthians 13:13. Paul concludes his beautiful ode to love with these words:

"Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

During this Lenten season may you come to trust God as the One who loves you and from this faith, may hope spring up in you, so that your life, signed by the Holy Spirit in your baptism, is not a life of desperation and hopeless resignation, but a life of meaning, purpose, and loving service to God and to others.

If your time on the mountaintop of God's love and mercy touches you and brings you to faith, trust, and hope, then surely, you will discover that the greatest gift God gives to us is the gift of love.

God's Peace on the Mountain Top, Bob+

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Holy Time with Lizz

The last Sunday after the Epiphany
26 February 2006


The last Sunday after the Epiphany26 February 2006This coming Sunday 10am is happening on Saturday at 4pm. The finish of the Amgen bicycle race is expected to draw a large crowd to the beach area. Parking is expected to be difficult. The Sunday 8am service will be in the church on Sunday at 8am. Those of you who generally come at 10, mark your calendar for Saturday, or get up early on Sunday. Hannah says to remind you that there is no Sunday school for the kids on the 26th.And here is a note about the way the church year is organized. Christmas is fixed on the secular calendar as December 25th. Easter slides to and fro with the full moon in relation to the spring equinox. How many weeks are in Epiphany and Pentecost changes accordingly. The Sunday before Ash Wednesday is always a celebration of the Transfiguration. (The feast of the transfiguration is in August but not always a Sunday) The lessons are organized so that just before Lent we are alerted to what is coming next.


Collect
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Kings 2:1-12
Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he said, "Yes, I know; keep silent."

Elijah said to him, "Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he answered, "Yes, I know; be silent."

Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he said, "Yes, I know; keep silent."

Elijah said to him, "Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he answered, "Yes, I know; be silent."

Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.



Elijah was a very important prophet to Israel. It was He who challenged the religion of the Canaanites and called the people back to the worship of the God of the desert experience. He experienced the presence of God in the desert and raised a widow’s son to life. He was too important to just die like everyone else. Today’s lesson tells us what did happen. Elijah is shown to have the same power as Moses when he parts the water of the Jordan. Just as Moses went up the mountain to look over the land of promise and was seen no more; Elijah vanished into the chariot of fire and disappeared in a whirlwind. From this came a tradition still observed at Passover. A place is set for Elijah each year. He is awaited, the one who did not die will return before the end.
We in western society are so used to the rule of primogeniture that Elisha’s request for a double portion goes right by us. An estate was generally divided among all the surviving sons. The first-born, ransomed from YHWH, received double portion. This is what Elisha is asking for. By sticking close to Elijah, watching Eliljah’s actions, learning his ways, and developing a relationship of his own Elisha was granted his own prophetic role.

Psalm 50:1-6
1 The LORD, the God of gods, has spoken; *
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, *
God reveals himself in glory.
3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; *
before him there is a consuming flame,
and round about him a raging storm.
4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above *
to witness the judgment of his people.
5 "Gather before me my loyal followers, *
those who have made a covenant with me
and sealed it with sacrifice."
6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; *
for God himself is judge.

This Psalm employs the theme of fire and light around the presence of God. Fire on Mt. Sinai. Fire in the rising sun. Fire alive and consuming everything before it. Fire raging in our time rushing over land leaving only ash strewn earth and blackened silhouettes. Fire is a primal force. Even tamed within a stove for heat or cooking it can be a source of danger. Fire is useful but not safe. In the Psalm God is not in the fire nor is God the fire itself. Still God is not safe. There is no assurance here that that approaching God will not lead into danger. In fact danger and the rearranging of priorities is almost guaranteed. Fire as an image of God is a reminder that “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31) Terrible and exactly what we long and pray for.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Are you looking for the revealed glory of God? In the Old Testament Moses spoke directly to God and came away glowing. So bright was the glow that he covered his face with a veil. Artists attempting to portray the glow from within painted golden haloes. The ark of the covenant was kept enclosed in a veil so that the community would not be blinded by the presence of God. Into this thought came Paul. His good news is not veiled but open to anyone. The presence of God is not secret but open, accessible. The fire/cloud/glow is present in Jesus, the Christ. Not only that but the same presence is found within the community of faithful. “you are the temple of the Holy Spirit”. We the community will be expanded by two this Saturday when we welcome Ben and Luca into the family. Look around, let yourself be aware of the presence of God.


Mark 9:2-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

The transfiguration narrative of Mark presents a pre-Easter Jesus shinning with a post-Easter light. Peter, James and John knew they were in the presence of God. The light/cloud/fire attested to that. They also seem to have recognized that the ones Jesus was speaking to were Elijah and Moses. The two who by tradition reached heaven without passing thru death spoke to Jesus. Peter tried to capture the moment in words. He failed but he did try. Have you ever had an experience that will not allow itself to be measured out in the mundane of language or even art? That awareness of Jesus as so out of the ordinary that we speak of him as God incarnate was a long time coming into the language of the church. It was not out of experience; just beyond the comprehension of words. Eventually, drawing upon philosophy for expression, the church agreed upon the Nicene Creed. Jesus did not leave the three friends to float in the experience long. On the way down the mountain he began to tell them about what was coming next, there will be a resurrection. But to get to it one has to pass thru death. To get to Easter we must experience Lent.

Eventually this is all going to be on a bolg. In the meantime I am attempting to fiddle with type styles to make the bible reading stand out from my comments. This week is optima and Ariel. So what do you think? How readable is it? Does it need to be bigger print? Darker? Different contrast?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Bob at Mira Costa circa 1964

This is one of many photos my Dad took of me and my brother during our growing up years. By this time I had given up playing quarterback and was very happy to serve as a tackle on both offense and defense. I did enjoy the game despite two knee surgeries and several brain concussions.

Annual Meeting Photo


I wish my arms were longer.

Christ Church Steeple Cross through Palms

As we enter the Lenten season, we know that Jesus will make his final visit to Jerusalem and that he will be greeted by a surging crowd of people looking for a messiah. This photo was taken from the Church School/Office Building landing. I took it because the view reminded me that behind the adulation and enthusiasm of the crowd was the reality of the cross. Can a crowd that joyfully greets Jesus one day, turn into a mob that cries for his death?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Keeping Holy Time with Lizz Beitzel

Epiphany 7
19 February 2006

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Isaiah 43:18-25 Do not remember the former things,or consider the things of old.I am about to do a new thing;now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?I will make a way in the wildernessand rivers in the desert.The wild animals will honor me,the jackals and the ostriches;for I give water in the wilderness,rivers in the desert,to give drink to my chosen people,the people whom I formed for myselfso that they might declare my praise.Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob;but you have been weary of me, O Israel!You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offerings,or honored me with your sacrifices.I have not burdened you with offerings,or wearied you with frankincense.You have not bought me sweet cane with money,or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices.But you have burdened me with your sins;you have wearied me with your iniquities.I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,and I will not remember your sins.

Conquerors have different ways of keeping the conquered subdued. The Babylonians did it by removing the leaders from a community. Those leaders were then taken to the capital and more or less held hostage. The people of Judea found themselves in this position. The bishop, rectors, altar guild and music department were in Babylon. It takes a lot of effort and many people to remove the leaders. It also invites the disaffected to get together and over throw the government.

Cyrus, the Persian, had a different method. He conquered Babylon and then used a two pronged effort get those conquered to comply with his laws. First he issued a decree that allowed all the displaced to return to their homelands. Good the people were grateful to Cyrus. Then he sent a strong governor to rule locally.

This reading is connected to the decree that allowed all the exiled peoples to return to their lands. Isaiah had a lot to say to the people returning to Judea. God promised to give them water and safety for the trip. However the people had not really earned the right to return. Their sacrifices did not go to the LORD.

The people fell short in the caring for those who needed it. But God was allowing the return anyway. While the people expected something like a repeat of the Exodus experience in the wilderness, what they got was Isaiah telling them to forget the past. From now on, remember it is the mercy of God that blots out the sin of the people, not sacrifice in a temple. The new thing begun in 538 BCE was openly revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.

It is God, not anything humans do that will save, recreate, make new. 2000 years beyond that mark we still need reminding to get into caring relationships with other people. We are still too quick to pick up a rock and throw it. We continue to form groups containing anger, unforgiveness, accusation.

As the collect prays “Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love” let this be our new thing.

Psalm 41

1 Happy are they who consider the poor and needy! * the LORD will deliver them in the time of trouble.2 The LORD preserves them and keeps them alive, so that they may be happy in the land; * he does not hand them over to the will of their enemies.3 The LORD sustains them on their sickbed * and ministers to them in their illness.4 I said, "LORD, be merciful to me; * heal me, for I have sinned against you."5 My enemies are saying wicked things about me: * "When will he die, and his name perish?"6 Even if they come to see me, they speak empty words; * their heart collects false rumors; they go outside and spread them.7 All my enemies whisper together about me * and devise evil against me.8 "A deadly thing," they say, "has fastened on him; * he has taken to his bed and will never get up again."9 Even my best friend, whom I trusted, who broke bread with me, * has lifted up his heel and turned against me. 10 But you, O LORD, be merciful to me and raise me up, * and I shall repay them.11 By this I know you are pleased with me, * that my enemy does not triumph over me.12 In my integrity you hold me fast, * and shall set me before your face for ever.13 Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, * from age to age. Amen. Amen.


Verse 6 stands up and grabs me. “Heart collects false rumors” I’ll say it does. My heart sees insult and meanness in each perceived slight. Even, or perhaps especially, the unintended slight. As I was crossing the street with the light an SUV pulled into the crosswalk in front of me and turned right.

My heart wants to smack the driver and shout, “Hey fool, I’m on foot here! Did you even see me?” Chalk up one more reason to hate the large gas guzzling vehicle. I nurse the grudge and apply it to all vehicles, except of course, the one I am driving. It is a false rumor, invented by me. That driver was caught up in their world. It had not intersected mine, until I waved my walking stick. The startled look and hurried turn after that told me so.

I must rid my heart of the false rumor of intentional injury. With what shall I replace it? Well, the most constructive thing I can think of is to pray that the cares and demands on that person be put away for the rest of the drive. LORD reach that driver’s heart and mind, give calm and let them notice the nice morning, the other drivers, the trees, the houses. And by the way, reach my heart and remove the urge for revenge.

2 Corinthians 1:18-22

As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been "Yes and No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not "Yes and No"; but in him it is always "Yes." For in him every one of God's promises is a "Yes." For this reason it is through him that we say the "Amen," to the glory of God. But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.


When new converts wanted to know how to behave Paul responded with "Look at me." He held his own life up as an example. Well, the example came back to him this time. He had promised to come to Corinth, but he didn’t. Events prevented his arrival. Now how could mere events interfere with one who was so close to God and ought to know what was going to happen?

Obviously some people were disappointed and hurt. Paul reminds them that he too is human and not privy to the details of God’s plan. This means that while he wants to return, the needs of other folk have prevented it. The yes/no vacillation of life is present to Paul. Only God is truly unwavering. The "yes" of God is to be with us always, to put the Spirit in our hearts, to reveal himself as the Son, Jesus.

That is a long way from the yes that says I will get to do what I desire. It is also a long way from what I may be asking in prayer. There is the Sunday School response we all learned, sometimes God says "yes," sometimes "no," and sometimes "wait." Well, I have a new option. I ask for something very concrete, say a nice crisp tart apple for lunch. God says, "yes," of course and the next thing I know I am living in a new geographic location pruning an apple tree. It sure looked like "no" the day I asked. I think this must be part of “evidence of things not seen”

Mark 2:1-12When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Stand up and take your mat and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" -- he said to the paralytic-- "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

So here is Jesus, at home and with a crowd on the front lawn and the paparazzi peeping in at the windows. Jesus spoke, but who could hear with all that going on? Apparently five people could. Four friends carried a fifth. Determined to get healing, they found a way to put the paralyzed man before Jesus.

Scholars argue about the removing the roof bit. The roof would have been made of thatch and mud. Jesus’ next action lead to a lot more debate. Only God could forgive sin, and it had to be accomplished in the temple in Jerusalem with appropriate sacrifice. Which is harder, to forgive sin or to heal? Jesus does both (and as an aside, shows himself to be God) What are we, the church, to do? We can start by forgiving. To do so is to remove the unclean spirit we met last time Jesus was in Capernaum. It is to become a forgiven community, cleansed, made whole. Physical healing comes more easily in an atmosphere of wholeness. Lizz

Christ Church in Black and White drawing

Christ Church was built in 1893. It has undergone very few physical changes over the years and still provides a place that is soaked in the prayers of many faithful generations of Episcopalians who were formed within this community of faith. Christ Church was responsible for creating other missions in the area including: St. Cross in Hermosa Beach, Holy Faith in Inglewood, and St. Francis in Palos Verdes. All three of these churches are much larger than Christ Church and have wonderful ministries in their respective communities. Posted by Picasa

More Cooks Do Make a Better Soup!

Gospel Reflection February 19, 2006

Last week after having posted the Gospel Reflection, I received an email from Mark Richard. Mark had read the Gospel Reflection and on the same day found something in Oswald Chambers web column that he thought fit what I had written.

When I received Mark’s email with the quote below, I was delighted. It really did seem to express what I was trying to say and so I used the quote at the beginning of my sermon last Sunday. Here is the quote:

"Imagination is the power God gives a saint to posit himself out of himself into relationships he never was in."

I spoke about the Imagination of Christ that allows us to see God in others. It is one thing to see God in a newly born baby or a young innocent, but to see God in those who are “not our kind” or who are different due to age, disease, economic status, or other human categories requires the eyes, heart, and mind of Jesus. This is the imagination of Christ.

This week I am extending an invitation to each and every person who receives the Christ Church Email Update (you can sign up at www.christchurchrb.org) to reflect on the readings for the Last Sunday of Epiphany. I offer some of my preliminary thoughts and questions to assist you in your own reflections. Perhaps you have a quote that you think speaks to one or all of the readings, or a personal experience that these readings or questions bring to your mind.

I have started a blog this week on which I will be posting the Gospel Reflections each week and other items of interest. The address for the blog is http://christchurchrbgospelreflections.blogspot.com/. The blog also contains photographs I have taken around the church and from my past. For example, in my brief on autobiography on the blog, I describe myself as “an old football player” and you will find there a photo of me circa 1954 in my first ever football uniform. I hope to make the blog, Christ Church Gospel Reflections, a place where people can offer their comments and their own reflections on the readings each week. This is my first venture into the world of blog, so please excuse any lack of sophistication. I am learning as I go.

The blog is intended to be a community effort. While I may provide the weekly Gospel Reflection as a startup, I am hoping that as we proceed together, more and more of you will add your insights and faith to the mix, making it truly the CHRIST CHURCH Gospel Reflections.

And so, for next Sunday, the Sunday on which we will celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord, the following collect and lessons will be our beginning and ending points for reflection:
Collect (prayer) for the Last Sunday of Epiphany
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We all go through passion. I am talking about passion as suffering and endurance, which while today is often connected to romantic love, has the idea of suffering and endurance at its root (see the following web site for the etymology of passion http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=p&p=6). Our collect (prayer) clearly says that we all have a cross to bear. It also says that divine strength to bear our cross comes from “beholding by faith the light of his countenance.” This faith is not a set of beliefs, but the trust that in Jesus we are witnessing God’s passion for us.
1. How have you experienced the cross in your own life or in the lives of others?
2. Jesus often speaks about faith as trusting in the loving concern and care of God for us. How is this related to our formal creeds (Apostles and Nicene)?
3. How does bearing one’s cross with such trust change us into the likeness of Christ?

2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
1. If the Good News is simply put: God loves us unreservedly and completely and has only our best interest at heart, why does Paul say that some people experienced the Gospel as “veiled” or hidden?
2. Paul speaks of “the god of this world.” What is the god of this world and why are the followers of this god “blind?”
3. Does unbelief (lack of trust in the God of love and God’s will to love above all else) represent an act of rebellion (I know God is the God of love, but I will not live my life according to the will of God) or an act of blindness (As I look around the world and see how things are, I really do not see any proof that the god in charge is a god of love)?
4. What does the phrase: “Let light shine out of darkness” mean to you?

Mark 9:2-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
1. The Gospel for the Feast of the Transfiguration begins with these words: “Six days later.” Why is naming the number of the day so important?
2. If you read Mark 8 that leads into our Gospel reading, you will find the following events: Feeding of the 4,000 with leftovers; Religious visitors demand that Jesus show them a sign and he refuses after first asking “why does this generation demand a sign?”; the disciples worry over not having but one loaf of bread with them as they sail away from the shoreline; Jesus heals a blind man, but it takes two acts to give the man clear vision; Jesus asks his disciples who people think he is and Peter responds: “You are the Christ;” Jesus speaks of his death and says to the crowd: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.” What do the events that lead up to our reading have in common with the collect; the reading from Paul’s letter; and the Gospel for the day?
3. Is the healing of the blind man significant in understanding the nature of the Gospel?
4. Have you ever felt blind in any situations in your life? Perhaps the expression: “the light went on,” fits this experience. Are there other expressions we use to describe such epiphanies?
I will look forward to hearing your comments either through emails or on the blog. If you want to share an idea or thought with me, but you wish to do so anonymously, please let me know that too and I will honor your request. I am looking forward to hearing from you.
God’s Peace in the Transfiguring Light of Christ, Bob
I told you I was an old football player. I only played quarterback in my dreams and in this photgraph that my Dad took in 1954. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Paraphrase of I Corinthians 9:16-23

1 Corinthians 9:16-23


If I tell you good news, it is not because I am the source of the good news or that I caused it to happen. No, I am just passing on what I experienced first hand and that has totally changed my life.

I don’t know about you, but speaking for myself, it is just about impossible for me to keep my mouth shut when I have something to share with others that is such mind-blowing and joyful news.

It is like having a job you love so much that you would gladly do it for free. What reward do I get for sharing this spectacularly good news? It is not like I couldn’t expect pay for doing what I do, but I simply bask in the joy of giving without any thought of getting something back. Now that is an experience that is priceless!

It is easy to be a slave to others when you no longer see anyone as your enemy or your rival. It is my freedom to give without pay that makes my day and this allows me to go to those who might not be willing or able to pay me. But really, money cannot buy what I am giving for free. I got the good news experience for free and I now I get to share that good news with others for free.

There is not a condition known to human kind that I can not accept as my own and this makes me a better messenger: When I am with those for whom the law is supreme, I speak the good news in terms of the law.

To those for whom the law contained in the Torah is irrelevant, I speak the good news in the language they will understand and embrace with joy.

I am not above the law, but it is the law of Christ to which I am devoted and that is the law of love.

To those who do not have power, I empty myself of all human power or claim to authority, so that I can speak the good news as a person who is weak so that my message is simply about the immensity of God’s love.

I have become all things to all people so that by every way possible, some will be able to hear the good news and by hearing be saved from believing that God is not a God of love.

Why do I do it? Simply for the sake of the Good News that saved me from my life of self-righteousness, rivalry, anger, and sacred violence. Freedom from the deadly life I had lived and coming into the life of forgiveness I have today is my share in the blessings of the Gospel.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23
If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

January 8, 2006: Epiphanies During Epiphany

Gospel Reflection January 8, 2006

The liturgical season of Epiphany celebrates the joyous, confusing, comforting, and discomforting experiences in life when God shows up in human history. The feast of the Epiphany is January 6 and celebrates the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob being revealed to the Gentiles in the form of the Magi whose visit to the Christ child is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. All of the seasons of the church year invite us to the deeper waters of reality where God and humans meet.

God sightings are sometimes called “epiphanies,” but this same word is used to describe personal insights that suddenly light us up. Light is the symbol for such epiphanies and for the Epiphany of Jesus. According to Genesis, light was God’s first creative action on the first day of creation. In Father Norm’s sermon last Sunday, he reminded us that God came to reveal himself to us, but even more to reveal us to ourselves. This is the light of Christ that has been shining since the beginning. When we have an epiphany about our own reality, it is God’s light that is making it possible for us to see and to respond to what we see.

The baptism of Jesus that St. Paul speaks about is a baptism into light. When we are looking for something that we have lost, we turn on the lights in the room in which we are looking. An epiphany comes from a spontaneous spiritual lighting up of our interior lives. With the benefit of light, we gradually begin to find what is lost in us. The light reveals the deep truths about our selves as individuals and as a human community.

Jesus’ birth was under the bright light of a star and that star led the shepherds and the wise ones to the stable where he was born. They came to worship, but I suspect this story about wise ones and shepherds is really about what they learned about themselves as they followed the light and came to the One who created the light and is the light. The shepherds and the wise ones discovered that they were loved and bathed in the light of that epiphany they were transformed. I often wonder about what happened to these ancient visitors to Bethlehem. How were their lives changed? They simply and humbly leave the infant Jesus and are never heard from again.

The Gospel according to Mark does not have any stories about the birth of Jesus. The Gospel begins with Jesus’ baptism and that is what we will hear read this Sunday.

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the
Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’"

The expression “torn apart” is used again at the time of Jesus’ death when with his last breath he makes a loud and inarticulate cry. Mark records: “And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom.” Mark clearly wants us to connect Jesus’ baptism and his death, but he also wants to make a very clear statement about God. The God whom Jesus revealed at his baptism and at the hour of his death was not there to rescue Jesus from humanity. Jesus’ Abba, or father, was unlike any other god. Jesus’ father claims all of humanity as his children and does not take sides in the human rivalries that are inspired by greed, envy, and covetous desires.

The clearest way God could express his love for all of us was to not side with his own Son over against those who put him on the cross. God’s absence as the rescuer of Jesus was God’s forgiving presence with all of humankind. Within the twisted logic of human rivalry and of sacrifice of a few for the security and peace of the majority, the light shown brightly on the Jesus’ baptism day: “You are my Son, my Beloved with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus’ final words from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” seem to be a terrible indictment of God. If Jesus could not count on the Father who claimed him as the Beloved at his baptism, does that mean that God doesn’t really care about any of his children? Was Jesus’ sense of abandonment by God a sure and certain sign of God’s presence for the rest of humanity as we struggle through the wilderness toward God’s home country? Does our baptism as Christians represent a relationship with God that understands that we will not get special treatment either? Does following Jesus require refusing preferential treatment over others? How much light does it take to move us all closer to the reign of God?

God’s Peace in the Light, Bob

January 29, 2006: Drop the Rock

Drop the Rock: When considering a course of action, we must always remember we have a choice to drop the rock.

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching-- with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

In last week’s sermon, we focused on Psalm 62: 6:
“For God alone my soul in silence waits; * truly, my hope is in him.”

It is in the silence of the soul that all other voices demanding our attention and our worship vanish into nothingness. The only voice capable of reaching into the silent soul is the voice of the God who creates, redeems, and sanctifies us and every person on earth.

Spending time in the silence that waits for God is a vital part of our Christian vocation. The communion between our soul and God is continuous and consistent. This is the only real antidote to what passes as religion in many parts of the world today. God and the human soul are at one, but there is a part of us that is fashioned by those other voices that can not reside in the silence of the soul. This is not a case of mental illness. The voices we hear are real and the pressure and influence they exert on us is real.

Things haven’t really changed since Jesus’ times. There have always been voices that claimed national, racial, gender, ethnic, religious, economic, social superiority over against others. In our day, these voices continue to divide us. Victims in this noise-filled world claim the right to righteous revenge and justify their violence against their oppressors as sacred. Today the noise of sacred violence and self-righteousness continue. I believe Jesus called this noise “the unclean spirit (which I will shorten to UCS).

After viewing the film, Munich, I got a clearer picture of the UCS that seeks to turn one group against another in retaliation for violence and exclusions of the past. The film shows the clandestine and violent response by the Israeli government against those they held responsible for the murderous attack on their athletes participating in the Munich Olympics.

Whether Palestinian or Israeli, those who take up the sword in the name of God or Allah are finally cut off from their own souls. Sacred violence is the sacrament of the religion of the self-righteous victim.

Even the rules that the Israeli avengers originally intend to follow as a sign of civility finally disappear as their violence escalates. The UCS thrives on this basic dynamic of human self-righteousness, rivalry, and sacred violence. In this world of noise, repentance is unthinkable; humility and love are signs of weakness; and peace is only temporary and paid for at the expense of others.

This is the world into which Jesus was born and that we continue to share. This is the world out of which the disciples were called and out of which we are called. The Word of God, Jesus, spoke to their souls and their souls responded. Like an old radio filled with static and crackling sounds, the disciples do not have the full experience of God. It is through the time they spend with Jesus that their souls open up more and more to the Good News that begins and ends in silence, repentance, humility, and love.

The Gospel of Mark quickly moves to the synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus teaches and his newly called disciples and the others in the congregation marvel at what he has to say because he seems to have authority (teaching that flows from the power of God that filled Jesus). Jesus, like the good shepherd, spoke to the soul of all who had “ears to hear.”

As soon as Jesus teaches, “a man with an unclean spirit” appears in the synagogue. This is not a coincidence. Whenever God draws near to a community of faith and begins to teach a message about God’s love and forgiveness, an UCS seems to appear and divisions, resentments, and exclusions begin.

An UCS is most visible when there is a contrasting message being offered, but it is truly always present in our human community, just unidentified. Within a community of faith, the UCS thrives on hurt feelings and feelings of victimization that unleash behavior born out of resentment and unacknowledged rivalry. Repentance, forgiveness, and love are the end of sacred and self-righteous violence because we are called to repent and accept forgiveness for our active and passive participation in such behavior and to live in love with one another.

The first thing the UCS says to Jesus, but not to the crowd, brings clarity to the unfolding drama: "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." Within a community of faith, such as the synagogue or our congregation, the unclean spirit depends upon remaining anonymous and invisible.

The UCS that seeks to control the community through division and exclusion reacts to Jesus’ presence in the synagogue and his message of God’s love that does not require self-righteous violence against others in order to maintain unity and order and peace. The UCS wails as if it were going to be victimized: “Have you come to destroy us?” It is significant to note that the UCS refers to itself as “us.” This spirit is legion and can not exist outside of a human community. Perhaps what the UCS is really saying to Jesus is: “So, have you come to wipe out this whole synagogue because you have found in it the very evil that deserves destruction?” The UCS seeks to entrap Jesus in the same sinful and violent way that has been foundation of human culture since Cain killed Abel.

The UCS further forces the issue by identifying Jesus as “the Holy One of God.” How can a holy God allow such sinful people to exist? Look how they treat each other. Wars, greed, starvation, prejudice, exclusions based upon God created differences, and mean-spirited resentments from the families on up. A truly Holy and Sacred God would certainly destroy such creatures.

Jesus does not respond to the UCS invitation to destroy. Jesus merely turns off the noise and interference created by the UCS. “But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.” Living in a family, a community of faith, a city, nation, and world is difficult. The noisy temptation that urges us to self-righteousness that leads to resentment, bitterness, cutting off of others, and the sacrament of violence is silenced by the presence of God in Christ.

As we answer the call to follow Jesus as individuals and as a community of faith in this new year of grace and ministry, we need to seek the silence of our souls where “faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”

“For God alone my soul in silence waits; * truly, my hope is in him.”

Crown of Thorns

Fishing for Community

Did Jesus Come Out or Was He Outed?

Reflections on the Gospel Readings
February 5, 2006

Did Jesus Come Out or Was he "Outed"?By asking this question, I am inviting each of us to consider the drama of the exchanges between Jesus, the people, and the demons in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel.

Jesus’ life is a series of coming outs. These are epiphany moments when we learn more about who Jesus is. We also learn about how we respond to the presence of God in our midst by observing the reaction of others in the Gospel and by allowing ourselves to become part of the action.

Jesus comes out from heaven as the only begotten Son of God.

Jesus comes out from his mother Mary’s womb as fully, truly, and completely human.

Jesus comes out of his family in Nazareth and out of the traditional faith and culture of Israel to follow where the Holy Spirit, his Mother leads him.

Jesus comes out from the Jordon River after his baptism where he sees the Holy Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him and he hears the soft and loving voice of God saying: “This is my son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus comes out from the wilderness after undergoing the raw temptations of power, envy, and rivalry over against the God whose love and acceptance of Jesus was unqualified.

Jesus comes out from the synagogue at Capernaum after casting out the unclean spirit that had possessed a man and dispossessed him of a place in his own religious community.

Jesus comes out from the house of Simon and Andrew after healing Peter’s mother-in-law and spending the night healing the sick and demon-possessed that surrounded the door of Peter’s house and he goes into the wilderness to pray.

When the crowds and his disciples search for him, he says that he must keep moving because he has “come out” to proclaim the message in other places and to other people. Every time Jesus comes out, his disciples follow him and through Mark’s Gospel, we are able to come out with Jesus too.

We are able to experience epiphany upon epiphany about Jesus and about ourselves as individuals and a community of faith.When Jesus comes out, God comes out and interacts with us. When Jesus comes out, the demons that reside and hold power in our institutions come out and Jesus silences them.

Jesus comes out to proclaim a new message of hope and redemptive love that will never destroy any person in order to save them or the rest of humanity. The demons seek to “out” Jesus as just one more High Priest who will sacrifice others to save himself and the good people of the world.

Religion that claims the right to kill, abuse, or exclude people based upon God’s will miss the point of Jesus’ first encounter with the demon who sought to “out” him in the synagogue at Capernaum. The demon seeks to co-opt Jesus into the world of sacred violence by calling him “God’s Holy One” and asking if Jesus had come to destroy him. This man and many others in our world today are held hostage by the demon that seeks to seduce the rest of us into believing that the final solution to evil is the destruction of the one who is being held hostage.

The old time religion of our world, whether it masquerades as Christian, Jewish, Islam, Buddhist, Hindu or any secular “ism” would destroy the hostage in order to destroy the demon. In Jesus’ heart and soul, such a strategy was the very thing he had “come out” to show as a lie.

He does not take the bait dangled by the demon. Rather than destroying the man, he silences the demon whose only future lies in the destruction of the possessed man. As we go through Mark’s Gospel this year, listen carefully for the ways that Jesus “comes out,” and the ways others try to “out” him.

In our own lives, we need to be alert for ways to come out with Jesus into the freedom of the Gospel. The cross is the final coming out of Jesus and it coincides with his outing by the secular and religious high priests who follow the predictable rubrics of that old time religion of sacred violence: “It is better that this one man die, than the whole nation perish.” Mark 1:29-39

Jesus left the synagogue at Capernaum, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Words from Hymn Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove

Here are the words to the hymn referenced at the end of the previous post. Sorry, just getting into the hang of this blogging thing. RWC+

Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours.
Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Come, shed abroad the Savior’s love
And that shall kindle ours.

Faith Hope and Love

Gospel Reflection February 12, 2006

Imagine living your life when no one, not even your family, would come within 50 paces of you. Imagine not feeling the touch of another human being or having the daily and routine conversations with friends and family. Imagine not being allowed to come to a place of worship because your very presence was believed to infect the whole congregation with an unholy and unclean spirit. Imagine having to wear old and torn clothing and having to cover your face because the very sight of you was believed to be polluting to others. Imagine having to shout a warning to everyone coming your way that announces you as "unclean." Imagine having to live with others just like yourself in camps that stood outside the places where "normal" people lived.

Yes, this was the life to which lepers were condemned in Jesus' day, but if you look at some of the things I have invited you to imagine, you might just find that we often treat other groups of people the same way.

As I waited for Madelyn to complete her second run of chemotherapy on Monday, I noticed an older gentleman coming out of the treatment rooms. He was a bit disheveled and walked with real effort and what seemed to be considerable pain. He wore those shoes with the Velcro tabs instead of shoelaces. He was alone. I said a prayer for him as he passed by me. I imagined him at an earlier time of his life as a tall, young and vigorous man, who no doubt commanded the respect of his peers at home, in his career, and in the community.

Now he was carrying his years and the struggle with some sort of cancer on his back that curved downward as if he were reverencing an invisible power that had carried him through all of his years and was now moving on without him. I wondered if his wife was still living or if she were well. I wondered if his children knew about his pain and the way in which cancer was adding more discomfort and uncertainty to his already difficult life. I wondered if he had friends with whom he could confide, joke, break bread, embrace, and perhaps shed a tear. I wondered if he belonged to a community of faith and if he was still with them on Sundays or Saturdays.

My imaginings about this gentle aging figure brought me to the leper in our Gospel story for this Sunday. In Jesus' day, there were strict rules in place that defined clean and unclean, holy and unholy. These rules were not strictly about health issues, but more about trying to remove people from the general population who were believed to be threats to the communities purity of spirit and holiness.

The leper violates the 50 paces rule that was established for lepers by coming close to Jesus. In fact, he drew near enough to be arms length from Jesus. The leper fell at Jesus' feet and begged him saying: "If you want to, you can make me clean." Jesus would never have met this man in the synagogue or along any city streets. He was not allowed in these places. Out of sight, he was out of mind or concern. But Jesus was on his way to proclaim the Gospel and to cast out demons and was between cities and synagogues. It was in the in between places that people such as the leper could be found.

Saint Mark uses a remarkable word to describe Jesus' reaction to the man's coming close to him, begging and kneeling, and his assertion that Jesus had the power to make clean if he chose to do so. He says that Jesus, "being moved with compassion," stretched out his hand, and touched him, and said to him, "I want to. Be made clean."

"Moved with compassion" has a very interesting history. The Reverend Paul Nuechterlein has done an excellent job of tracing the change in meaning for the Greek words that finally ended up being translated “compassion” today. This history takes us through some very dark and bloody sacrificial usages of these words. Jesus, son of Israel, brings God’s love into this history and changes its meaning.

"The Greek word translated 'compassion' is splagchinizomai. The Noun form splagchna was used in the earliest Greek literature to designate the inner parts of a blood sacrifice. If the heart was cut out during the ritual, for example, it was called a splagchna, not a kardia (as in cardiac/heart). Later, it became a generic term for the inner organs, including the womb. It also was seen as the seat for the impulsive passions, such as anger or anxious desire. It was never used in the pre-Christian Greek world to mean mercy or compassion as it came to mean in the later Jewish-Christian writings. The verb form in the earlier Greek literature is even more gruesome. Splagchneuo meant to eat the inner parts of the sacrificial meal, or to use the entrails in divination."
Offered by the editor of Girardian Reflections, The Rev. Paul John Nuechterlein http://girardianlectionary.net/year_b/epiphany6b.htm

How could we translate “Jesus was moved with compassion?”
Here are a few suggestions.

“Jesus’ heart was torn out…”

“Jesus’ heart was broken when the man pleaded to be made clean, to be made whole, and to finally be included in his community. Rather than condemning the man and telling him to get away, Jesus’ lifts his heart up to God in a prayer that allowed him to take this man’s place as an outsider and allowed the healed leper to return to his community.”

Mark and the other Gospel writers, the so-called apostolic witnesses, subverted the language of sacrifice. What had previously been language that saw the world in terms of bloody sacrifices and the division of the world into clean and unclean, holy and unholy, was being overturned by Jesus and his followers.

No longer would such beliefs or behavior be justified as a way to appease the anxious and angry deities of our own making. In place of such a vocabulary, a new language that speaks of compassion, mercy, and loving kindness was introduced. Now instead of offering the lives of others on the altar of humanly constructed religion, we "lift up our hearts" as an act of worship and as an offering of our souls and bodies to be living and loving sacrifices to God. and gifts to one another.

How does our sacrifice of compassion look in the real world? Jesus declares that the leper is now clean. Jesus reaches out and touches the man. Jesus restores the man to his community. Jesus makes the terms outside and insider obsolete, a part of the world that is passing away. We change slowly, but we do change.

As I watched the man for whom I had just prayed slowly make his way to the elevator, I wished that I had said "hello" or some other greeting to let him know that he was still visible, cared about, part of the circle of life. Sometimes the isolation experienced by the elderly is profound.

The light of Christ dawns on us in such moments, such missed opportunities and bids us to follow the compassion of God whose language of love found flesh and blood in Jesus and now in each one of us.

Our Eucharistic worship includes these words of invitation:
"Lift up your hearts!" Without our response, the Christian faith would not exist. If we did not say: “We lift them to the Lord,” the old time religion of sacrificing others would continue to be the way of the world. With each sacramental exchange of our old ways with God’s new ways, we move closer to the gracious, loving, deathless reign of God.

Each time we worship, each time we lift up our hearts, we allow ourselves to be moved as Jesus was moved to heal, to make clean, and to make the whole creation new. The work of the Holy Spirit is to move us as Jesus is moved. Isaac Watt penned the lyrics to the hymn, Come Holy Spirit Heavenly Dove. His words set to the tune of St. Agnes describe the work of the Holy Spirit in each of us and in the world. If you click on this link it will take you to a site where you can hear the melody and see the rest of the lyrics. Here are two of the verses from the great old hymn.