Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Friday, February 22, 2008

Things On My Heart and Mind


CELEBRATING ALEX'S FIRST BIRTHDAY AND BAPTISM

We just returned from a wonderful visit with our Granddaughter, Alex. It was a double celebration: her first birthday and her baptism. She is a real joy to be around. Here is a photo of me and Alex sharing a moment together. She managed to snag my glasses out of my pocket and seemed bemused by my reaction.



I have to confess that being around Alex for just a few days has really made the year for me and being able to baptize her was a blessing beyond words. We were surrounded by her family and friends and the service began with the singing of "Jesus Loves Me" in Korean and English. Alex has several ministers in her family and two of them prayed a special blessing over her in Korean as we finished the service. Another pastor prayed over our food before we enjoyed a fabulous Korean feast.











DOES DEATH MAKE LIFE ABSURD? ASK LAZARUS.



“Death makes life absurd.” Albert Camus, author and existential philosopher, offered this observation on the meaning of life in his fictional and non-fictional writings. He defines the human condition as absurd, as the confrontation between the human desire for significance/meaning/clarity and the silent, cold universe. The word absurd means to be “unheard, ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, incongruous, having no rational or orderly relationship to human life, lacking order or value.”

According to Camus, the only real options in life for the individual are suicide, a leap of faith, or acceptance of the reality of the silent universe that takes no note of who or what we are. Camus rules out the first two options in favor of acceptance. Is life made absurd by our deaths? Is death the nullifier of all that we have worked and struggled to attain in our lives? Are our attempts at making sense and meaning of our daily lives simply an exercise in futility?

Our Gospel for this coming Sunday is about death and resurrection. Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary of Bethany dies of what seems to have been natural causes. His sisters sent a messenger to Jesus urgently begging him to come to save their brother from the death that seemed near. Rather than rushing back to Bethany, Jesus delays his return to his friends home. By the time he arrives, Lazarus is already dead and buried in a stone tomb.

We know very little of Lazarus’ life. What did he do? What was his philosophy of life? Was he a good man who tried to live a life of meaning in relationship to God, the Law, and his neighbors? Was he a rich man or a poor man? Was he kind to his family and friends and even to strangers? We just don’t know such details. We only know that he was a beloved friend of Jesus and the loving brother of his sisters. What would his obituary have read? Lazarus of Bethany. Born, lived, and died. He was loved by his sisters and by his close friend, Jesus.

When Jesus arrives at the outskirts of Bethany, Martha runs out to meet him. I am not sure if she is scolding Jesus’ slow response to their cries for help or affirming her faith that Jesus could have saved Lazarus before he died. Did Jesus’ seemingly late arrival suggest that Camus was right when he claimed that the universe was unconcerned and not hearing human cries for help?

The name Lazarus means “God helps.” Is death the final null and void stamp over our lives or is that simply the way we have come to understand it? In the Gospels and Epistles of the church, death is spoken of as the final enemy of humanity. Death within our human understanding of things has come to define us and make our lives meaningless. In response to this belief, our system of making sense and giving meaning to life, has turned death into a sign of absurdity and used it as a punishment against those who challenge the way we give meaning in the face of death.

Death, meaninglessness is the penalty for those who do not conform to the standards of meaning in our world. Success, good health, financial independence, and acquiring the good things in life have come to give us meaning. It is our way of living in a universe without a God who loves us. Our families and being “good people” are part of that meaning too. Our response to death is to fill and define life with signs that deny our deaths will make us invalid, null and void.

And here is the real absurdity, we seem to be the ones who are not listening to the heart and soul of the universe that Jesus brought to our world. Lazarus’ value was that he was loved by Jesus and by his sisters. But Jesus’ love for him was not like his sisters’ love. For them Lazarus also represented a source of income and sustenance and respectability within their community. His death radically impacted their lives too. In a real way, they died with him.

But Jesus’ love for Lazarus was without conditions or needs. He saw, heard, and loved Lazarus, his brother and God’s child, without any requirements for being worthy or necessary to some meaning within the world’s scheme of things. Lazarus represented all of us, stripped by death of our worldly accomplishments, wealth, fame, and meanings. The ritual mourning of the community was not an act of sorrow for the loss of Lazarus, but an expression of despair over the power of death.

But Jesus loved him as he loves us. Our meaning is that we are loved without conditions or requirements. John reports that Jesus was angry at the ritualization of death that was taking place. Such rituals showed that God's love was not being heard within the human family. Death defined human life rather than God's love.

Jesus goes to the tomb of Lazarus and raises his friend from physical death as a sign, a sacrament of God’s love and our absurd beliefs that meaning and purpose are only found in our accomplishments in life. It is we who have not heard the heart and Spirit of God. It is our not hearing God's call to a life of grace and gift which makes our lives seem absurd.

Jesus stood at the opening of Lazarus’ tomb and shouted, “Lararus, come out!” Did he shout loud enough for us to hear God’s love for us that is the only thing that gives life real meaning? Are we children of God or despairing orphans grasping competitively for meaning in this life? Ask Lazarus.

QUOTES FOR FURTHER REFLECTION

The items below are taken from Sojourner's Magazine.

Power understood as the ability to accomplish desired ends is present in human relationships no matter how particular communities or societies are organized. Nevertheless, Christian communities recognize that the source of power in their life is the love of Christ which inspires and directs them. This is a style of power not of coercion but of empowerment of others.... It also connects to those at the margins of society who search for word of God’s love and justice.

- Letty M. Russell
Church in the Round

... it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

- Ecclesiastes 1:13-14

Thursday, February 21, 2008

PERHAPS BELIEVING IS TRULY SEEING

Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, `We see,' your sin remains."

The word for judgment comes from the same Greek term that translates "crisis" in English. What a difference in meaning we get if we substitute "crisis" for "judgment" in the Gospel for this week.

"I came into this world as a crisis, so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind."

Jesus did create a life changing moment in history that continues to be present in every generation. It is a crisis, a crisis of judgment and for some a crisis of faith.

The crisis comes whenever God enters a community that judges wrongly. It is not the usual sins by which we are all burdened that throw us into this crisis, but the presumption that we are able to judge others without prejudice. For some of us, our judgments have become the very foundation of our faith and so challenges of our judgments rock our faith. Have you ever had such a crisis?



In our country the image of justice being blind is a way of suggesting that justice is rendered without prejudice and that all are equal under the law. This is our American ideal, but not our reality. Perhaps believing that we have arrived at such blind justice is our true blindness. That we are unable to see injustice at home and around the world and the part we play in those injustices is a form of blindness that Jesus came to bring into crisis and to heal.

The slave trade was justified by religion as being acceptable to God and in keeping with his will. The same Christian religion that blindly nodded assent to trading in human flesh and misery was brought under crisis, under judgment by the Christ that religion claimed to love and serve.

Jesus was not just speaking to his generation. John’s Gospel was written over 90 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection and yet he placed this story of the healing of the blind man at the heart of the Gospel. Surely John’s community of faith experienced the same spiritual blindness that Jesus encountered in the Pharisees. And surely, we need to hear this Gospel in our day, in our lives.

Those who claim to see are blind. I believe Jesus has real sympathy for us when we act as if we have absolute certainty about the will of God, especially when our judgments are against other people. If we claim such certainty, we bear the responsibility for our claim to knowing without doubt. What a horrible fate. And yet, on the cross, Jesus speaks these words about those who make such judgments: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Is Jesus suggesting that it is better to act against others ignorantly? Is remaining blind to our blind judgments the best policy? I think not. We continue to judge ourselves and others blindly, but in as much as Jesus is present to us as the one pure example of how wickedly we judge others, we begin to see others and ourselves in a whole new way.

The crucifying judgment of Jesus by those of us who claim to see, but are blind, is our crisis, is the judgment on our judging. But, it is also the liberating grace of God for those who will accept this judgment of their blindness. Such a judgment produces a stunning change in how we view others and ourselves. Once we accept the truth that the process of human judgment is blind, deceitful, and limited, we enter into a humility of spirit that allows us to live as brothers and sisters within the community of God’s love.

The crisis that Jesus brings to the world offers us the hope of new life. The resurrection is the fruit of that hope and the pledge of forgiveness and healing of our past, present, and future blindness.

Perhaps believing is truly seeing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

WE THIRST. AMEN.



When I was in high school I experienced severe thirst during every football practice. In those days, it was considered a sign of personal toughness and strength to go without water and the peer pressure to go without water was absolute. In one game, I lost 10 pounds of fluids and could barely stand up at the end of the game. It really did not improve anyone’s performance, but the hype ruled the day.

In our Gospel and Old Testament readings for Sunday thirsting for water is the theme. The Israelites were led by Moses into the wilderness. They had left Egypt where they did not thirst, but they were slaves. Once free of the power of the Egyptians they grumbled about Moses and God having them camp at a place without water. Things got so bad that they threatened to stone Moses to death.

Jesus and his disciples journeyed to a Samaritan town. Jesus came to a well named after Jacob at noon. No one else was at the well, but a local Samaritan woman. Her presence at the well at noon was noteworthy. The well was a place of meeting, like many of the bars in Hermosa Beach are today. Men and women would come there in the cool of the morning or evening, to gather water and to deepen relationships within the village.

This woman had a bad reputation and so, she came when no one else was at the well. She was there for water to drink, but she thirsted for something much more. She thirsted for the relationships that were shared in the evenings and mornings around the well.

Jesus came to this well in search of water to drink. He asks the woman for a drink of water, but rather than simply giving him the water for which he asked, she asked him why he was asking her, a Samaritan, for anything. Why would enemies ever share even a cup of cool water? I am pretty sure that she also was wondering why Jesus would speak to a woman with her reputation. He obviously did not know who she was.

Jesus responds to her questioning of his judgment with an invitation to drink from a source of water that would truly satisfy her. It was water that would quench her deepest thirst for being loved and the source of that “living water” was God. When the woman enthusiastically asked for water that quenches thirst permanently, she was perhaps hoping that she would be restored to the community and no longer bear the intolerable burden of being an outcast. Maybe she thought that those who had scorned her would now hold her in high regard.

What Jesus offered was not the approval of her community and a reinstatement to respectability. What Jesus offered was that for which we all deeply thirst—the unconditional and complete love of God. When the woman asked for the living water, Jesus begins a process that uncovers all of the shame this woman had suffered over her life time: her 5 husbands who decided not to continue a relationship with her and thereby disgraced her in the eyes of the community and the fact that she was living with a man outside of the marriage.

The woman’s response was to declare Jesus a prophet because he was able to speak about her past in such a way as to illuminate her current hopeless situation. She thirsted for truth about herself to be known and yet for unconditional love as this truth was coming out of the dark places of her soul.

In our culture, our thirst is for something much deeper than the immediate physical need for water. We thirst for God, but we think we can satisfy that thirst with anything but God. We seek the approval of others or having failed to receive that approval try to live without it. We live as if in a wilderness without water. We thirst and our thirst drives us to do things and to be people with holes in our souls. We seek to fill the holes with money, friends, reputation, activities, material possessions, or the many other addictive behaviors that flood our world, but the hole and the thirst remain.


We hold out our cups for water that does not satisfy and turn away from the living water of God’s love that is bubbling below the surface in each of our souls. According to John’s Gospel, when Jesus died on the cross, he cried out on our behalf: “I thirst!” He thirsted the way we thirst—for the love of God in which he had always lived. On the cross, he experienced our thirst for God in the most profound way.

Whenever we read the daily news or hear of some horrific event or scandalous behavior happening in our world, I have a prayer for us to offer on behalf of ourselves and the world.

It is a very simple two word prayer very much like the one Jesus prayed on the cross: We thirst. Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

BORN AGAIN?



Many Christians ask friends and perfect strangers if they are born again as a way of determining if the person is “right with God.” Have you ever been asked if you are “born again?” Perhaps looking at the Gospel reading for this Sunday will help us all get a better sense of what Jesus meant by this expression. I have written a paraphrase of the first part of the Gospel below. Please read it first before going on to the next part of the Gospel Reflection.

There was a very religious and law obeying man named Nicodemos (whose name means conqueror of the people). He was a true religious leader of his day and considered a great teacher. He came to Jesus by night and said to him: "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you no one can see the Kingdom of Heaven as you have seen in me without being born from above.”

Nicodemos said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Is it possible that I have entered into my mother’s womb again and have been born a second time?”

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven that you have seen in me without being born of water and the Spirit. By being baptized in water, you will enter a community of faith that seeks to be formed into the Kingdom of Heaven on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. “

“What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘you must have been born from above.’ The Spirit of God is like the wind. It blows where it chooses, not where human beings predict it will blow or try to make it blow. When it blows you can hear the sound of it, but you can not tell where it is coming from or where it may blow you. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit, as you have been, Nicodemos.

Nicodemos said to him, “How can these things be?”

Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand what is happening to you or the way God works through his Wind-Spirit?”


How do we know if we are born again or born from above? I guess the best way of answering that question is to ask what we see in the world. Do we see signs of God’s ever-giving, ever-loving, ever-forgiving presence in Jesus? Do we see these signs in a community of faith either ongoing or temporarily created?

Following the disaster of 9-11, the world witnessed a vision of the Kingdom of God in the immediate response of compassion and service offered to the victims of that day. There was an outpouring of love, concern, response to the needs of people who before were just strangers who worked in these two tall towers in New York City. Of course, the Holy Spirit was blowing through that place and time in most unexpected ways and carried people into a universe that was built upon the values of the Spirit, rather than the “flesh begetting flesh” vengeance and hate that caused and followed the attack.

John, the author of this Gospel, was writing as a member of a community of faith that, like Nicodemos, had seen the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus and the signs he did in their presence. These signs were creative, healing and transformative acts in the midst of a world dominated by the same old rules of reciprocal violence, shame, envy, and rivalry. Those members of the community to which John belonged had not only seen the Kingdom of God in the person and signs of Jesus, but they entered it, bore witness to it, and joined with the Holy Spirit to become that Kingdom on earth.

If we pick up the rest of our Gospel reading, we can hear the community speak through Jesus.

“Very truly, I tell you, WE SPEAK OF WHAT WE KNOW AND TESTIFY TO WHAT WE HAVE SEEN; YET YOU DO NOT RECEIVE OUR TESTIMONY.”

Notice the switch in pronouns from “I” to “We.” It is John’s community that is experiencing a rejection of their witness to the Kingdom of God.

Why might someone reject their witness? Well, I guess it is a fair question to ask of ourselves. What is it about the Kingdom of God that Jesus was and that the Christ of the Church models as the way, the truth, and the life that poses a problem for us?

If the Kingdom is radically different in a non-violent, non-rivalrous, and just way from the world in which we live today, is that not appealing to the average person? If God is seen as a loving presence and healer rather than an avenging warrior, is that view unacceptable to us? Are we like Nicodemos, able to see the Kingdom of God, yet unwilling to enter it through a community of faith that connects herself to God through Christ?

The final lines of our Gospel for this Sunday are memorable:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

This is the message to Nicodemos and to all who see in Jesus or in the communities that bear witness to him the emerging and present Kingdom of God: God is out to help, redeem, save, and move us into a world that is filled with God’s love and shared by all of God’s children in peace and justice.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

TALKING ABOUT MIRACLES


As Lent begins I would like for us to consider the nature of miracles. Why? Well, the first Gospel we will read on Lent I is about Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. Had Jesus chosen to follow the leading of the Tempter, he would have performed miracles. He could have changed rocks into bread to feed himself and the world. Certainly feeding the masses makes the one who provides the bread with a following dependent upon him or her.

Eliminating hunger in the world is a wonderful goal for the human race, but it is not a miracle. In fact, there is already enough food to feed everyone on the planet. There is no reason for children to die of starvation or malnutrition. Such deaths are not for lack of food, but continue to happen because of sin. The true miracle is a change in the hearts of human beings so that God’s gifts intended for all of his children are finally shared.

Remember the exchange during this first temptation? The Tempter says: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” The Tempter is seeking to define Jesus’ relationship to God and to thereby define the sort of God Jesus represented and incarnated.

Is the problem of world hunger really about a scarcity of food?

Jesus’ response says that scarcity of food is not the problem. He says: “It is written, ‘one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

A miracle took place in this exchange between the Tempter and Jesus. The miracle continues to be that Jesus’ heart, mind, spirit, and strength is totally devoted to the God of abundance whose non-rivalrous generosity is the only model for Jesus. Jesus “does not count equality with God a thing to use to dominate creation, but to give us a new heart and a new path to follow.

Instead of changing stones into bread, the words that come from the mouth of God can change the human heart from stone into flesh and blood. It is when this miracle happens in each of us individually and collectively that those who now starve to death, most of whom are small children, will experience the greater mystery and power of the life changing love of God.

The Millennium Development Goals that the Episcopal Church has adopted as our response to the poverty, suffering, and death we see around us comes as we seek to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. We seek hearts that have the love, mercy, compassion, and justice of Jesus. The true miracle is a heart of flesh and blood that responds to the suffering of others through non-selfish and non-rivalrous giving out of the abundance of God.