Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Power of Open Hearts, Known Desires, and Revealed Secrets

Posted by Robert Cornner on Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 7:38am

Almighty Internet, to you all hearts are opened, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid; purge, cleanse, and delete the thoughts of our hearts that we might avoid all embarrassment, shame, or any other disadvantage that might result from over exposure...

This is a parody of one of my favorite prayers located in The Book of Common Prayer's service of Holy Eucharist. I recently heard a person say that privacy, as we knew it before the Internet, no longer exists. Human technology has now made it possible for more and more of the things we wished not to have made public being made public. Wikileaks is one such example of such revelations.

What is the difference between God's deep knowledge of our hearts, desires, and secrets and the sorts of information about us personally and collectively which is part of the growing body of knowledge that travels on the Internet?

I am not anti-technology. I truly am enjoying the changes that allow communication between people on such social networks as Facebook. I am guessing that if you are reading this piece, you are somewhat of a technophile too.

There is a curious verse that this whole question of a lack of privacy brought to mind for me from Luke’s Gospel:

Luke 12:1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be[a] on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

This scene from Luke 12 speaks of a huge crowd piling in on top of one another. It must have been a very challenging audience for Jesus to address, but his first words are to his closest friends and followers, the disciples. In the midst of the chaos of a crowd that was trampling on one another, Jesus tells his disciples to be on their guard for the “yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

What is the connection between this anxious and chaotic mob surrounding them and Jesus’ words of warning? I would like to suggest that the sort of hypocrisy Jesus was describing was a way of harnessing the anger, anxiety, and potentially deadly power of the mob by uniting them in opposition to an identified “enemy.” Jesus calls it yeast because it gets inside of a mob and turns it and the participating members into a movement that sanctions holy or sacred violence against a given enemy.

Jesus is telling his disciples to beware of doing this sort of thing, using the mob to create a violent movement against their enemies and he is also warning them to be on guard because they may very soon become the enemy that is identified by the secular or religious leadership of their day.

Jesus tells his disciples that all of the spoken expressions of our hearts, our desires, and secrets that are spoken in quiet, less public ways will be shouted from the rooftops. If these thoughts of our hearts, desires, and secrets were made public, how would we respond?

Jesus seems to be saying that if his disciples of any generation resort to the yeast of the Pharisees to manage the political situations of their day, these will be exposed. The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring our hidden thoughts, desires, and secrets to the surface and to make them clear to us so that we can seek forgiveness when these fearful, angry, and manipulative have resulted in violence or violation of others.

Certainly the yeast of the Pharisees is what allowed the mob to be turned against Jesus and against his disciples and it is this same yeast of hypocrisy that most all religious and secular powers continue to pour into the mix of human events to control and direct our wrath and fear.

Jesus continued his teaching amidst the mob trampling scene:

12: 4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Jesus tells his disciples that death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person, but rather the one who has the authority to throw someone into hell. We watched a movie called The Road the other night. The two main characters are a young son and his father who are living in a post-apocalyptic world. In the midst of the destruction of all source of authority and control, the surviving humans make decisions about how they will live and die.

The father sees the world and those who are in it as enemies and tries to teach his son to see the world that way too, but the son finally rejects his father’s teaching when he see his father mistreat an old man who had stolen from them out of the need for shoes, food, and clothing.

The father uses his gun with one bullet left in the chamber to force this old man to strip down to nothing and then leaves him to die of starvation or exposure. The son cries and pleads with his father to return and save this old man. When they return to where the old man had been left, he is no longer there. The boy leaves a pile of the old man’s shoes, clothes and a can of food for him.

The father was not dead, but had already thrown himself into hell. The son who was still living had avoided hell. Hell is not something that happens after you die physically, it is the condition of your soul while you are in the process of dying. Do you have the authority to live otherwise? Jesus says you do. The young son in the movie exercised that authority. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to us. The worst thing that can happen to us is what we do out of the fear of death.

The Internet contains the many thoughts of our hearts, our desires, and our secrets and these things do reveal something about the state of our corporate world. In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is often said that “you are only as sick as your secrets.” The collect from The Book Of Common Prayer goes like this:

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.

The Internet is not capable of truly changing or cleansing our thoughts. It is merely a repository, a collector of our thoughts. It has no power to help us move from fear driven wrath to love embracing life. It is the God of grace that leavens us to living out of love and not fear; that moves us from the hell to heaven while we share this island home called earth.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ryder, What's in the Box?

Wisdom comes to us as a gift. There are certainly many very wise men and women, but the wisdom that comes from God and not from experiences or study is a different sort altogether. Last Sunday, one of our youngest members of the congregation named Ryder was the recipient of such wisdom and he offered it to me. He came rushing into the parish house before the Advent IV service at 10 AM started. He showed me a box he had decorated and painted and then he quickly revealed what he had placed inside of the box.

I was surprised to see what was hidden within that beautifully decorated and painted box. This young lad had been given a bit of the wisdom of God. In his sense of joy at having created this work of art he seemed not to realize what a powerful icon of faith he had made. That is how the wisdom of God flows through creation and through us. Ryder did not strive for such wisdom he simply was open to it as children can be open to love, caring, and family.

One might suspect that a young man would have a wide assortment of things he could place in such a nifty box. On the outside, Ryder had placed some gold coins and painted with earth tones and blues all over the box. There were some sparkles on there too. The box was large enough to place one’s favorite small match box cars or any number of things that delight, but such things were not in Ryder’s box.

Christmas is about God’s wisdom becoming flesh, bone, and blood and dwelling among us in such a compelling way that human wisdom, experience, and intellectual activity is set aside in favor of the astounding beauty of a vulnerable, dependent, and powerless infant who carries the wisdom and power of God into the world.

Ryder received this wisdom and passed it on without a second thought. Inside of the box he placed a colorfully painted cross with sparkles bouncing light in every direction. The box painted in blue and earth tones suggests the meeting of heaven and earth. At the St. Nicholas Feast, Ryder was given a gold dollar coin with all of the other kids in attendance. The coin was given to each child so they could give it to someone in need. Money is how we take our daily labor and turn it into a way of providing for the things we need. God’s wisdom places these coins on the outside of the box, not on the inside.

Ryder placed a cross in the box, nothing else.

God places himself in our world in such a way as to change, transform, redeem, ransom, forgive, love, and to be present to us. At the heart of creation, God is present as an infant child of Mary and Joseph and on the cross. St. Paul calls this presence of God, God’s power and God’s wisdom. Such wisdom and power slip right past most of us, but God’s wisdom found expression in the exuberant, joyful, and obedient lives of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, the archangels and all of the company of heaven and of course, in Ryder’s work of art.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bidden or Unbidden, God is Present

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as heartbeat, as breath, as sunrise and sunset, as sustaining and suffering love, as dear friend rejected or embraced, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as a people created from the dust who wrestle with reality and tell stories of their struggles. God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as slaves thrown out of Egypt and nearly drowned in the Sea called Red, as wanderers in the wilderness for forty years in search of the promise land, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as prophet, lawgiver, and guide, as smoke and fire, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as a new born baby in a distant land, as the one around whom angels and peasant shepherds and the beasts of the stable flock and hover in adoration, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as a child growing up surrounded by the beauties of nature and the cruelties of empire, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present as a young rabbi washed by the waters of the Jordan and blessed by a voice in the wilderness, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present in eyes that are blind or can see, in ears that can hear and do not hear, in hearts opened by love or closed by fear and wrath, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present in accusing mob and fearful friends, in hardened and broken hearts, in disgraceful abandonment, death and darkness, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end, at our birth, in our daily lives, in tragedy and celebrations, and at our death, God is present.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present.

Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 09, 2010


What’s in a name?

There are a lot of people named “Bob” in this parish.

So, when you say “Bob” to whom are you referring?

In the generation into which Jesus was born there were many other children who bore that name as there continues to be among certain devout Christians around the world.

The script in this reflection offers Jesus’ name in Hebrew. Just as I can be called Bob, Robert, Rob, and other variations, so Jesus’ name had variations. Yeshua or Jeshua or Joshua are also connected to the name, Jesus which means “he will save.”

One of my favorite cartoon characters was Popeye the Sailor Man. He sang a song about who he was. Here is one of the verses from that song:

“I am what I am and that's all that I am
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man
I'm strong to the finish 'cause I eats me spinach
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man”

What does Popeye have to do with God, Jesus or John the Baptist in Sunday’s Gospel?

All four have an understanding of who they are and reveal their identities through song, actions, and verse.

Popeye sings his description of himself as someone who

“ain't aware of too many things
I knows what I knows if ya know what I mean,”
but what he does know is that he is “the sailor man” and he knows what keeps him strong.

When Moses asked for the name of the voice in the wilderness which seemed to come out of burning bush he was told:

"I am what I will be. I am the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

When John is asked if he is the messiah, he simply says that he is
“the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

When John is in prison and sends messengers to Jesus to ask if he is the one to come, Jesus says:
"Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

If God is the One who is “I AM WHO I AM,” Jesus is offering us the face and heart of God. The Gospel responds to the questions of God’s identity, Jesus’ identity, and our identity as individuals and as a human race.

Jesus’ response to John contains the identity of God in whose image we were created and his mission is to reveal the heart and mind of God to us. Jesus comes to give us eyes to see God’s love, compassion, forgiveness, and life opening up for us as free gift.

Jesus comes to remove all impediments to our receiving this gift of God whether physical, spiritual, or culturally created. In short, Jesus comes to save us from what stops us from knowing God and ourselves and to give us what we need to live out our true identity.

Popeye is strong to the finish. Is Jesus proving to be strong in bringing good news to the poor today? Popeye eats the miracle-working spinach to make him strong in the face of opposition.

What miracle-working food kept Jesus strong in his time with us on earth in the face of rejection and a world that took offense at him? Popeye ate spinach, Jesus prayed and his bread was the doing of the will of his Father.

In Jesus, the identity of God is revealed. The great “I AM WHO I AM” becomes a vulnerable, non-violent, loving, forgiving, good news-to- the-poor-bringing, sight-and-hearing restoring, raising-from-the dead person in history whose life continues to be our miracle-working food in difficult times.

Is this Jesus someone who offends us?

Shall we ask with John,“Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?”

Is Jesus,“God will save?”

Is this one named Jesus, the true historical incarnation of the God who said to Moses:“I AM WHO I AM?”

Or shall we wait for another?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wednesday, December 01, 2010