Monday, February 16, 2009
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.
Our Gospel reading for this last Sunday in Epiphany describes a final act in a play when the drama of the moment is highlighted by the visual of bright life quickly turned off. The lights of God’s presence are dazzling, as overwhelming as the three heroes of the play glow brightly in the intensity of white light. Suddenly, the lights go out and two of the heroes are gone, simply disappeared from sight, leaving the lone hero standing rather quietly and unspectacularly in the dim light of a 60 watt bulb.
But this is not the end of the play, but perhaps the midpoint. This Sunday is called the Feast of the Transfiguration. During Epiphany we have seen more and more evidence offered in the life of Jesus that he was bringing something new into the world. Indeed, he was the very new thing that was in the world. John’s Gospel calls Jesus “the light of the world.” Mark tells this story of light shining brightly with the same truth in mind.
Now Mark invites us, who have seen this great light in Jesus’ life and heard the witnesses (John, Peter, and James) tell this story of light on the mountain top, to the journey Jesus will make to Jerusalem and to the cross. Jesus tells his disciples not to speak about their experience on the mountain top until after he is raised from the dead and so, we now enter the story of Lent having seen the light, but allowing the dark times ahead to be without the aid of this memory. Perhaps the bad times ahead will cause us to forget about this mountain top experience, doubt it in some way, or explain it away as wishful and hopeful imagining.
We enter the Lenten season with the memory of Jesus’ ministry, his loving touch of the leper,the healing of those who were blind and crippled, the casting out of community demons rather than those individuals to whom these demons were assigned, receding like the sun setting as the darkness of night comes over us. This is a time of testing, not to fool us or to cause us to fail, but to nurture us and to help us see in the darkness.
St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross offer us some valuable insights into darkness. John was a Spanish mystic who did not consider all darkness to be evil. He wrote about “la noche oscura,” the dark night, not as evil, but simply as the difficulty of seeing in the dark. Both Teresa and John use another word to describe what we would call evil. That word is “tinieblas.” In oscuras things are hidden, in tinieblas, one is blind.
Lent is a time to pray in oscuras, in the darkness and to be healed of the blindness of tinieblas. May your Lenten disciplines open your eyes to see through the darkness the one who stood on the mountain top alone as he makes his way into the tinieblas, the blindness of the world. Begin your Lent rightly by coming to Ash Wednesday services next week.
God’s Peace in the Darkness,
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Can you imagine turning down someone with a serious disease if you had the power to heal them? Healing was a gift often given to prophets in Israel. In our reading from Jewish Scriptures today, a powerful Commander of the King of Aram named Naaman is told by one of his newly captured Jewish slaves that he could be healed by going to the “prophet who is in Samaria.” Naaman was himself a slave of the King, but wielded power and authority due to his tremendous war record that he chalked up on behalf of the King. With all of their wealth and power, neither Naaman nor the King of Israel, could heal him of this disfiguring and shame producing disease.
Rather than following the slave girl’s directions, Naaman goes to his King for permission to go seek out healing. The King of Aram assumes that the King of Israel is the one who will heal this mighty commander of war and sends Naaman to the King of Israel. Now the King of Israel reacts with fear and trembling and accusation: “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”
The great prophet of Israel, Elisha, sends word to the King of Israel to let him know that he will heal Naaman so that the word will spread that “there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman heads off with his gold and silver to meet this prophet and receive healing for his offering. Elisha doesn’t even go out to greet Naaman. Instead he sends a messenger with a simple direction for Naaman to follow to receive his healing: “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored and you shall be clean.”
Seems like an easy enough direction to follow in exchange for being healed of a disease that was truly horrible, but Naaman is too proud to follow these directions. He expected Elisha to come out to him and serve him as he served his King and as his slaves served him. He begins to leave saying that the waters in his home are surely better than the waters of this weak and insignificant people called Israel when one of his servants says: “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash and be clean?’”
This bold servant spoke truth respectfully to his master Naaman and Naaman head him. He washed in the Jordan and was healed.
This healing is paired with Jesus healing of a leper who presented Jesus with this challenge: “If you choose, you can make me clean.” The unnamed leper was not a powerful commander or warrior or king. Indeed, he was considered the lowest of the low by those who counted purity of mind, soul, and body to be one and the same thing. The Gospel writer Mark records Jesus’ emotion and response to this man: “Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’” The leper was immediately cured.
The prophet Elisha’s motive for healing Naaman was to show off his office as prophet and his power, but Jesus seems to be moved by a deep visceral feeling of compassion. Both Naaman and the anonymous leper are healed, but for different reasons. Jesus tells the leper to show that he is healed to the priests so that he could be restored to the community and he “sternly” warned the man not to let anyone know how he had been healed. What a contrast between the prophet of Samaria and Jesus of Nazareth.
Sunday we will take a look at why Jesus gave this simple warning to the man and what happened when the man refused to follow the directions he was given. See you on Sunday.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Over the years I have committed to memory numerous prayers and Bible verses. Of course, as a child I soaked them up as I heard them recited in worship week after week. I have always had a special affection for what is called the Collect for Purity.
This prayer has a very long history dating back into the 14th century or earlier. Thomas Cramner included this prayer in the earliest edition of The Book of Common Prayer and many clergy pray this prayer just before they enter the church for worship. I have come to use it each and every time I am faced with a difficult situation. When I am concerned that the spiritual climate of a situation might lead to destructiveness, I pray in with all that is in me.
Since I am part of any such situation, my prayer recognizes that in order for me to perfectly love God and faithfully serve God, I must submit my heart to the humbling experience of cleansing. Why? Because my heart can often be a refuge for any number of fearful creatures: self-pity, fear, a need to justify or condemn myself, dishonesty, impatience, hate, resentments, false pride, jealousy, envy, laziness, insincerity, negativity, and criticalness.
The Holy Spirit brings the presence of Christ into my heart and in his presence, these fearful creatures are silenced and cleaned up. Cleaned up? Yes, what some may label “unclean” spirits do have a flip side.
When they are cleaned up they look like this: self-pity becomes self-forgetfulness, fear turns to courage, a need to justify or condemn myself turns to modesty and self-valuation, dishonesty turns to sincerity and honesty, impatience turns to patience, hate turns to love, resentments turn to forgiveness, false pride turns to simplicity, jealousy turns to trust, envy turns to generosity, laziness turns to activity, insincerity turns to straightforwardness, negativity turns to positive thinking, and criticalness turns to the habit of looking for the good in others and our selves.
Our Gospel reading last Sunday and this Sunday speak of Jesus teaching and exorcising unclean spirits. This week we read that he silenced these spirits so that they could not talk. Imagine if Christ Church were a community in which people were constantly living out the fearful side of the spirits within the community. It does not sound like the Kingdom of Heaven, does it.
When Jesus went into synagogues he silenced these unclean spirits so that the community could live in the peace and unity without the accusing fingers of fear being pointed at this person and then the next. While he was present in these communities, the Kingdom of Heaven was experienced first hand. He proclaimed this kingdom of peace and his presence and power created that kingdom everywhere he went.
He commissioned us to silence the unclean spirits in our communities of faith by “the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,” in order that we might live a life in the Kingdom of Heaven. I invite us all to pray this prayer before our service each week and daily to bring Christ into our hearts where he can live and clean us up in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is the ministry of exorcism.