Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nightmare Judgment: Jesus, Twain, and Dickens


Have you ever had a nightmare? You know the kind of dream that leaves your heart pounding, your mind confused and fearful, and your body sweating when you wake up? If you have you have had such an experience you may be in a better position to understand our Gospel for this Sunday.

The ancients and modern day depth psychologists such as Carl Jung believe that dreams whether pleasant, benign, or fearful and seemingly malevolent offer a window into the human soul. The stories we tell and the way we live our lives also offer us a viewing the human soul, individually and corporately.

Mark Twain wrote a novel called The Prince and Pauper. Here is the plot summary of this tale of royalty trading places with an impoverished kid named Tom.

The novel begins with Tom Canty, an impoverished boy living with his abusive family in London. One day, Tom Canty and Prince Edward, the son of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, meet and as a jest, switch clothes. While dressed in the pauper's rags, the Prince leaves the palace to punish the guard who knocked Tom down. However, the boys look remarkably alike and because they switch clothes, the palace guards throw the prince out into the street. The Prince fares poorly in London because he insists on proclaiming his identity as the true Prince of Wales. Meanwhile despite Tom's repeated denial of his birthright, the court and the King insist that he is the true prince gone mad. Edward eventually runs into Tom's family and a gang of thieves and Twain illustrates England's unfair and barbaric justice system. After the death of Henry VIII, Edward interrupts Tom's coronation and the boys explain, switch places, and Edward is crowned King of England. (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Prince_and_the_Pauper)

While based upon historical figures King Henry VIII, Jane Seymore, and Edward VI, Twain’s story is fictional, but offers a view of the human soul. The young prince who sneaks out of the royal palace and trades places with the young and fictional character, Tom Canty, finds himself living in poverty and temporarily unable to reclaim his royal place.

How would such an experience change the perspective of the future king of England? Would his experiences change his view towards the poor of the land? Would his eyes be opened to the plight of the poor or would he go back to his palace and forget everything he had seen and experienced?

This novel surely mirrors the life of Jesus as the prince, the son of the King of the universe, who becomes the least among us and dies on a Roman cross without ever ascending to any earthly throne. What did Jesus, the prince, take back to his father, the King? How will his experience change the world?

Our Gospel reading is called the Judgment of the Nations, but it is also like a very bad dream for those who are unable to see the needs of others who are hungry, thirsty, the strangers in our land, the naked, the sick and those who are in prison. The goats discover that all of those in need were, in fact, the Son of God, Jesus. It is important to note that those who are called the sheep also don’t recognize Jesus, but they do see people in need and respond to those needs.

This story, like Twain’s novel and our worst nightmares and stories, invites us to see the state of the human heart and soul. Are we able to see those in need? Are we able to respond to those in need? What are the consequences of being blind to the needs of others? Should it matter that God has chosen to be found in our neediness, not just the poor and needy of the world, but in each and every person? Is this nightmare of judgment and crisis a wake-up call to help move us to open our hearts to our own neediness and to the needy of the world? Can we look at the suffering and needy of the world and get a view of the state of our soul?

Does Jesus, like Charles Dickens in his novel , *A Christmas Carol, tell this story to allow us an opportunity to change and come alive and reconciled?

Is he giving us time to rediscover the tenderness and mercy that can open our eyes and bring us the joy of meeting the needs of others and awaken us to the human future if such changes do not happen?

Is this story meant to threaten us or to simply open our eyes to human need?



*”Dickens divides the book into five chapters, which he labels "staves", that is, "(song) stanzas" in keeping with the title of the book (he uses a similar device in his next two Christmas books, titling the four divisions of The Chimes, "quarters", after the quarter-hour tolling of clock chimes, and naming the parts of The Cricket on the Hearth "chirps").
The tale begins on Christmas Eve in the 1840's, exactly seven years after the death of Ebenezer Scrooge's business partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge is established within the first stave as a greedy and stingy businessman, who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity or benevolence. After being warned by Marley's ghost to change his ways (so that he may avoid a miserable afterlife like him), Scrooge is visited by three additional ghosts; each in its turn, and each visit detailed in a separate stave, who accompany him to various scenes with the hope of achieving his transformation.
The first of the spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, takes Scrooge to the scenes of his boyhood and youth, which stir the old miser's gentle and tender side by reminding him of a time when he was more innocent. The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, takes Scrooge to several radically differing scenes (a joy-filled market of people buying the makings of Christmas dinner, the family feast of Scrooge's near-impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit, a miner's cottage, and a lighthouse, among other sites) in order to evince from the miser a sense of responsibility for his fellow man. The third spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, harrows Scrooge with dire visions of the future if he does not learn and act upon what he has witnessed. Scrooge's own neglected and untended grave is revealed, prompting the miser to aver that he will change his ways in hopes of changing these "shadows of what may be".
In the fifth and final stave, Scrooge awakens Christmas morning with joy and love in his heart, then spends the day with his nephew's family after anonymously sending a prize turkey to the Cratchit home for Christmas dinner. Scrooge has become a different man overnight, and now treats his fellow men with kindness, generosity and compassion, gaining a reputation as a man who embodies the spirit of Christmas. The story closes with the narrator confirming the validity, completeness and permanence of Scrooge's transformation.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Carol#Plot)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A PRIMER ON PRAYER


Praying

Before we begin here are some questions to see what you may already know about prayer (True or False):
1. In the Episcopal Church most of our praying is done corporately (together on Sunday mornings).

2. Episcopalians are discouraged from praying as individuals.

3. Millions of people, both young and old, pray everyday.

4. You need to memorize prayers in order to pray properly.

5. Praying is talking to Jesus about what matters to you.

6. If your prayer is not answered the way you think it should be answered it means that God didn’t hear your prayer.

7. Prayer helps us make sense of the world in which we live while we draw close to God.

ANSWERS:1.T, 2.F, 3.T, 4.F, 5.T, 6.F, 7.T

PRAYING MADE SIMPLE (but not easy)

Much of the prayer of the Episcopal Church is corporate, that is to say we do it together and this is reflected in much of what you will say when you recite Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer. Yet there is another side to our prayer life, our own individual prayers, as we try to share in Christ's prayer to his Father, that his will be done, his kingdom come.

The advice we provide here was originally written for a children's book. However, whether you are a child, young person or an adult, prayer is easier than you might imagine! Millions of people of every age pray every day.

You don't have to know any prayers if you want to pray - in fact, words can often get in the way. Picture Jesus, and then say what is in your heart, what you feel.
REMEMBER!

God hears every prayer - but not all prayers are answered in the way we might expect or desire: we don't always pray for his will to be done!
ARROW PRAYERS can be offered to God anywhere, at any time.
But thankfully we don't live all our lives in moments of extreme crisis. What about day-to-day praying? We need to come closer to God, to experience His love for us and to try to make sense of where we are in the world. Prayer is the way we do this.

HOW TO START

USE YOUR HAND
Your fingers can be used to bring to mind different things to pray for.

THUMB

This is the strongest digit on your hand. Give thanks for all the strong things in your life, like home and family, relationships that support and sustain you.

INDEX FINGER

This is the pointing finger. Pray for all those people and things in your life who guide and help you. Friends, teachers, doctors, nurses, emergency services and so on.

MIDDLE FINGER

This is the tallest finger. Pray for all the important people who have power in the world, like world leaders and their governments, members of Congress and local city council members, our President and Vice President, the governor of California other world leaders and their governments.

RING FINGER

This is the weakest finger on your hand. It cannot do much by itself. Remember the poor, the weak, the helpless, the hungry, the sick, the ill and the bereaved.

LITTLE FINGER

This is the smallest and the last finger on your hand. Pray for yourself.

WHEN SHOULD I PRAY?

Traditionally, prayer times have been morning and evening, but you can choose a time which is best for you. It helps to be somewhere quiet, where you can have some time for yourself.

DO I HAVE TO KNEEL?

Kneeling is the traditional posture for penitence and standing for praise, but you can pray anywhere - walking, standing, sitting, whatever feels comfortable.

WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO KNOW?

Be creative - use music, a stone, a feather, a flower, or a candle to help you focus - if you are very young, or elderly, be careful with candles!
Prayer activity is a discipline - it can be difficult at times, just like keeping fit, being on a diet, or keeping weeds down in the garden! Little and often is best, but don't give up! No prayer, however inadequate you may feel it to be, is ever wasted or of no value.


WHAT’S NEXT?

Build up a collection of favorite prayers and sayings -anything that speaks to you. You can find them in The Book of Common Prayer, Online at different sites, greeting cards, cuttings in the press or bookmarks and prayer cards. You could make a scrapbook for them.

WHAT PRAYERS DO YOU ALREADY KNOW BY HEART?

Make a list of these prayers. Even if you don’t know them perfectly, write each prayer out and put it in your scrapbook. You may want to put photographs or draw a picture that reminds you of what the prayer means to you.

WRITE YOUR OWN PRAYERS

See if you can write your own prayer.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

A SNAPSHOT OF OUR SOUL



I am going to write about our Gospel for this week by sharing another story that took place at the wedding of Nathan and Ariana Blumenfeld-James that involved their Moms, three candles, and a lighter that would not work.

In this week's Gospel, Jesus tells another parable about the Kingdom of Heaven. The story is about a bridegroom who goes off to negotiate the dowry with his bride's father and is delayed in returning to his home where members of his family have been given the responsibility to light the way for he and his bride when they come to the wedding feast.

Jesus' story is really a snapshot of our corporate soul as we make our way through history. The human soul is often referred to in the feminine, whether a person is a male or a female. So Jesus’ story of two sorts of young women might just be a tale of the human soul divided and seeking to be united. In the land of souls and dreams such images of division are common.

In this story, the division is between the wise and the unwise. The wise young women are the members of the bridegroom’s family who anticipate that his return with his bride may be delayed and so they prepare for the long wait by bringing along supplies of oil so that when the bride and groom do return, they will be able to fulfill their responsibility of lighting their way to the wedding feast.

The unwise young women, on the other hand, fail to plan for a long delay and do not bring extra oil with them. So, when the bridegroom finally appears, these two groups fly into action. The wise young women begin to trim their wicks and fill their lamps so that they can quickly go out and meet their family member and his new bride while the unwise young women have to go in search of oil at midnight and do not make it back to fulfill their duties.

My sympathies are with the unwise young women who did not plan. On October 15, 2011, our daughter got married and part of the ceremony included a ceremonial lighting of three candles by the mothers of the bride and groom. Since it was an outdoor wedding and we were concerned that there might be a breeze that would make it hard for most tapers to be used for the purpose of lighting the candles, I bought two butane lighters shaped and colored like large matches (really large). On the day of the wedding, my wife called me to tell me that one of these lighters was not working and probably needed to be filled with butane.

My mind flashed back to the day I bought these two lighters. One of them seemed to have difficulties lighting and so the clerk filled it up with butane and it finally did light. I left the store with one of those feelings in the pit of my stomach that said, “Go back and exchange that lighter for one that works better,” but I, like the unwise five young women, shook off this feeling with the thought that it would work out just fine.

So, the call from Madelyn sent a message of distress through me. I had not acted with wisdom and my gut feeling and instincts and now the consequences were playing out. Like one of those unwise maidens, I set out to find a can of butane to fill that one troublesome lighter. I went to several places, but finally found a can of butane and gladly bought it and headed to the wedding sight well before the wedding was to start. I filled both of the lighters, but that pesky one was still not lighting very well.

Madelyn, my wife, and Katherine, the groom’s mother, according to my understanding of the ceremony, needed separate lighters so that both could separately light a candle representing each of the bride and groom’s families and then the mothers were going to raise both lighters from their separate flames and light the center candle representing the new family that the bride and groom were starting.

Katherine came up to me as I was fussing with the dysfunctional lighter and I told her that we were having technical difficulties with one of the lighters. She did not hesitate, but quickly offered a solution to the problem. They would use the one good lighter. Madelyn would light the candle representing her family and then Katherine would light the candle representing her family and then they would both hold the lighter to light the third candle together.

When Madelyn arrived on the scene, we explained to her the problem and the offered solution. She loved and joyfully embraced the solution and the ceremony went off without a hitch. In a very small, but profound way, this little story that came from Nathan and Ariana’s wedding day was a snapshot of the human soul that invites the Kingdom of Heaven and lights its way into human experience.

Consider how this story might have had a different ending.

1. Katherine could have said, “Well, I was here first, so let Madelyn figure out what she is going to do about her defective lighter.

2. I could have blamed the clerk for selling me this defective lighter and in self-protecting –righteousness spent the time before the wedding trying to call the hardware store to give them a piece of my mind. I could have also blamed Madelyn for causing the lighter to dysfunction and thrown a real fit right then and there on the stage. Since I was the “unwise” servant in this episode, I could have done all manner of things to cover my failure to properly prepare for this most important ceremony.

3. Madelyn could have said, “It’s not my fault the lighter is not working, lets flip a coin to see who gets to have the one good lighter and the loser will have to just deal with the consequences.”

Notice that these three choices could have jeopardized not only the whole ceremony, but the ongoing relationships between the two families. But it would most certainly further divided our souls and the soul of the world. What I experienced in this brief little episode that preceded the wedding was grace and the outbreak of the Kingdom of Heaven and a sign that within the souls of Katherine and Madelyn, the Spirit of God was present and at work in a most powerful way. It was Katherine’s gracious solution that may have just turned me away from some of the other ways I might have gone. Such grace eliminates the anxiety of trying to defend yourself.

I watched as the lighter passed from Madelyn to Katherine and then both of their hands wrapped around the lighter and both of their hands guided that light to the center candle where they lit that larger candle. This was soul work. This was the stuff of which the Kingdom of Heaven is made. This was a wisdom that transcended the selfish, egocentric needs of individuals and resulted in the glorious “We” that is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Some may say that this was really not that big a deal for these two moms to do what they did together, but I would suggest that it is just such small and powerful choices that can make the difference between a world of love and grace and one of selfishness and self-centeredness.

So, what are we to make of Jesus’ story? What if the “Wise Five” had shown the same sort of compassion and concern for the “Less-Wise Five” and shared their oil with them?” What if the bridegroom had welcomed his less prepared family members into the party? Is the Kingdom Heaven about fulfilling roles or about finding compassion in the midst of the disappointments and failures of life?

Jesus’ story is a snapshot of the human soul he found on earth during his lifetime and even today. It is a snapshot of how people view God—if you don’t do what you are supposed to do, God will not invite you into the party. It is a snapshot of a world soul struggling to discern what God would have us do to be acceptable to him or her and trying to separate the human family into those who follow the rules and duties expected of them and those who need more than just a clearly defined list of rules and duties.

Both the “wise” and the “unwise” need one another to discover the Kingdom of Heaven and the love and grace for which both groups hunger and thirst.

Perhaps you have a story or two like the one I shared about our recent wedding that lights up that moment called the Kingdom of Heaven when grace and love overcame our human need to be right, in charge, or important. The Kingdom of Heaven is ushered in by the light of love and grace in small, but powerful ways.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

SHOW UP AT THIS WEDDING OR SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES


As many of you know, October 15, 2011, is a big day in the life of my family. Our daughter, Ariana will be married on that day to Nathan Blumenfeld-James at the Will Geer Theater. It will be a festive and lovely day. The bride will be beautiful and the groom will be glowing and filled with strong emotions as he sees her coming towards him in procession.

This wedding will be like no other wedding that has ever been or that will ever be again. The joining together of Ariana and Nathan will bring together two families that stretch back in time to ancestors from all over the earth and Ariana and Nathan will join in that history on their wedding day.

Of course, I am excited, delighted, and overjoyed to be joining them as witness and presider of the vows they take that day. Please keep the whole of the wedding party in your prayers as they make their ways to Los Angeles for this wonderful day and celebration.

So, by now it should be obvious, I hope, that the title for my Gospel Reflection this week does not apply to Ariana and Nathan's wedding, but is about a rather strange tale that Jesus tells concerning a royal wedding. What makes this story most difficult is that Jesus introduces the story with the words: “Let’s talk about the Kingdom of Heaven.” As the story unfolds, I hope you begin to feel a sinking sensation inside of your stomach because this story is not the worst nightmare wedding story you have ever heard.

It starts off with a sense of normalcy. A certain man who is a king wishes to have a wedding banquet for his son. Apparently the king had already sent out invitations to those who supposed to attend this gala affair, but he had not heard back from any of them. So, he sends his slaves to them with this message: “Tell those who have been invited: ‘Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’”

The response from these invited guests is categorically negative. Most of the invited claimed they had other business to which they had to attend. But there were others which Jesus calls “the rest” who did more than simply disregard the invitation. They seized the king’s slaves, “mistreated them, and killed them.”

So, this is the point in the story where things get very weird and out of control. What is up with the invited guests? Is that any way to show respect or to treat a king’s slaves?

The rejection of the invitation by some, no doubt encouraged the rest of the invitees to react in violence towards the king’s slaves. So far the party is not looking like it is going to happen. The king’s response is one of rage and you might think a bit over the top considering that only a few of those invited had mistreated or killed his slaves. The king sends his troops to hunt down the murderers, but he also orders that the whole city be burned down as well.

As the city smolders and burns, the king says to his slaves: “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Imagine throwing your son a banquet to celebrate his wedding and then populating the party with people who were simply there to fill the seats. If central casting had been around, the king might have simply put in a call for a certain number of people for the party and then even provided these “guests” with the proper dress for the occasion.

Those who show up for the wedding are described as “both good and bad.” But the objective of the king is fulfilled. The hall is full of guests.

But the story does not end here with this faux party for a royal son. The king discovers someone in the party who has not put on the wedding clothes he had provided the other guests. The king asks the inappropriately glad stranger: “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” Perhaps the man had not been given the wedding robe by the king’s slaves, but the man is described as “speechless” before the king. Having burned down the city of those who rejected his invitation and killed those who murdered his slaves, the king rage surfaces again and is directed at this poor, speechless wretch.

The king orders his slaves: “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Jesus ends this story with this strange and oft repeated phrase: “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

So what are we to make of this story that Jesus tells? Some traditional commentaries treat this as an allegory in which the king is God; the invited guests who reject his offer are the religious leaders of Jerusalem; the slaves who are sent by the king are the prophets; those who murder the prophets on behalf of those who reject God’s invitation are also part of the Jerusalem population (perhaps the zealots); the “guests” invited to the banquet from the main highways are the Gentiles who become the church; and the lone ill-glad guest is simply one more non-responsive person.

But I would suggest that such an allegorical interpretation contradicts the one picture of God in Christ that is the last picture the human race sees of the historical Jesus. Jesus dies outside the city of Jerusalem. When he is brought before those who question him and who are intent on killing him in order to keep the peace, he remains speechless, silent.

Jesus understood his life and his authority came from a very different place than the power that the king and those who murdered the king’s slaves exercised. in his story exercised. God’s power given to Jesus was the power of love, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy and Jesus seemed to find in Isaiah’s suffering servant what this God’s power and wisdom looked like when the power and wisdom that was based upon threats and the use of violence intersected. Here is a quote from Isaiah that the early church used to express their understanding of God as God became known in Jesus.

Isaiah 53:7-11

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
9 They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb* with the rich,*
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

So perhaps as we hear this story of the wedding from hell on Sunday, we will do well to see in the last character introduced, the man without the wedding robe, what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like in a world that seems to only find authority in the use of threats and violence.

We can always chose to believe that God is the king in this tale of violence and suffering, but then what shall we do with Jesus and the cross? And what sort of a party will the Kingdom of Heaven be if we are there under the threat of divine judgment and punishment?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Only Jesus Was Left in the Temple


Only Jesus was left in the Temple. The sheep,and the birds were set free to escape their fate as sacrifices for the sins of others. The coins needed for exchange to buy sacrificial animals were all on the ground. Only Jesus was left in the Temple.

Our Gospel reading for this Sunday begins with a question posed by the religious leadership of the Temple: "By what authority do you do the things that you are doing?"

What was Jesus doing that so upset those who were responsible for maintaining the lawful and ordered processes of religion?

His actions are called the cleansing of the Temple. By disrupting a religious activity that had a long and respected history, Jesus was offering the world of religion and politics an alternative way for creating peace and unity in the world.

Jesus was the only sacrifice left in the Temple and his giving of himself to us and for us created a space called the Kingdom of Heaven in the place of shame, death, sin, and sacrificial violence.

When you hear claims that Jesus is the Only Son of God or the Lord of Heaven and Earth, consider that this title is only available for the One whom St. Paul spoke of in our reading for this Sunday:

Philippians 2:1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like a Weed?




This week's Gospel Reflection is offered to the Glory of God in thanksgiving for the life and ministry of John Simpson. John was not a perfect human being, but he was a man who continually wrestled with God and with our human condition in hopes of one day being part of God's dream for us all.

In a recent interview of John, he made this statement: “I’m a member of the church. One of the things they teach us in church is our job is to be helpful, is to be of service. You don’t have time to think about your own problems when you’re busy trying to help other people live better.”

John was one of those wonderful birds who found a home in the mustard tree of God's kingdom on earth and who welcomed others to join him in the loving arms of that tree. May God bless John as he goes from strength to strength and from glory to glory in continued service to God and others.


Matthew 13:31-33

Jesus put before the crowds another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."

Who would anyone ever compare the Kingdom of Heaven to a weed? Jesus did. I love parables because they confront my usual way of thinking about life. You see the mustard bush is a weed. Why would I want a weed in my life? Why would Jesus or anyone else think that comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a weed was a good way of promoting or even talking about the Kingdom of Heaven to those of us who like our world to be as free of pesky weeds as possible?

We are about to enter a deeper place of our souls if we pursue this parable and that place is accessed by the questions that will surely arise if we challenge Jesus’ use of a mustard seed that grows into a huge weed as a proper way of understanding what God is doing in our world. I ask who is the “someone” who would intentionally do such a thing to his own field?

Mustard seeds are very tiny. Perhaps these seeds got accidentally mixed in with the seeds “someone” was planting in his field. The parable does not seem to give us that idea. In fact, it seems that the owner of the field did not plant anything but a single mustard seed in the whole of his field.

Now that is peculiar and if you recall that Jesus just told us another parable about wheat and weeds growing up together and that the weeds would be allowed to grow up with the wheat until they were separated out and burned at the great harvest, the idea of suggesting that this “someone” was God is even harder to understand.

So, let’s just accept the possibility that God is the “someone” who intentionally plants this one tiny little mustard seed in the field that is God’s field and that this tiny seed grows into a humungous weed that is so big that it is like a tree that every sort of bird can call home. What are we to make of the parable now?

I would like to offer a quote from an early Church theologian named Tertullian. He said: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Martyrs are people who die seeking to live according to God’s dream of justice, mercy, forgiveness, and resurrection.

The tiniest seed of blood that fell to the ground beneath the cross is the seed of the church. This tiny seed of Christ’s blood carries the DNA of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and is growing into a large and sometimes unwanted presence in a world that has chosen to live without God from the beginning.

Jesus’ parable makes more sense when we read it from the perspective of God giving his life and very being in that one seed of Jesus planted on the hill outside of Jerusalem, the city of peace where there is no peace. We have chosen ways of living and dealing with our problems without God and that way of dealing was exposed most clearly, definitively, and finally on the cross of Jesus.

Jesus who represented the love and mercy of God was rejected like some unwanted and pernicious weed messing up our human garden and our sense of things and yet, that one life, that one tiny human seed of God is growing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

His dying at our hands released the very seed of his life that is transforming our world and giving all of us a place here on earth to call home. The Kingdom of Heaven is open and welcoming to all of us. No one is excluded. No one is left behind.

It is this message of grace that our world seeks to ignore, cast out, and silence. It is the Good News of the weed of God’s Kingdom on earth that we proclaim.

Alleluia! Alleluia!! Alleluia!!!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Weeding Out the Weeds?


Have you ever been too quick to judge someone?

Have you ever been judged too quickly by yourself or by others?

If you have experienced these situations, you might find Jesus’ parable about the landowner who sowed good seeds in his field interesting. The landowner plants good seeds to grow wheat, but his slaves come back to him and ask him why he has also planted weeds.

This parable is simple, but difficult for us to hear. We certainly look at the horrible injustices that are happening around the world today and perhaps wonder why God is allowing such things to take place. We may think or say that if God were a loving God, he would stop such evil by tearing those responsible for it from creation.

Since the beginning of human community we have found ourselves judging ourselves and others quickly and almost out of habit. Most people think they are pretty good at judging others, but the parable suggests that we really are not that good at it. The story of Adam and Eve is a parable of what happens when human beings think that they can tell the weeds from the wheat.

So, when the landowner’s slaves ask him what they should do about the weeds growing up in the field of wheat, the landowner tells them not to wade through the wheat to tear out the weeds because all that tramping about might destroy the wheat. More importantly wheat and this sort of weed called darnel look very much alike making it really hard to know one from the other and risking the loss of additional valuable wheat through mistaken identity.

Jesus lived and died this parable. In order to understand it we need to look at how this parable played out in his life. Was he the landowner, the son of man, one of the slaves, the good seed growing up into wheat to nourish, or one of the weeds that the enemy had planted at night? Go through each of these roles and see how the cross fits into the parable or how the parable is more easily understood from the perspective of the cross.

Parables have the power to take us deeper into truth and meaning. The story takes us on a tour of the Kingdom of Heaven as it is unfolding in the world. Consider what might have happened if the slaves had decided to disregard the master’s instructions.

Consider how patient or impatient you become when you see a perfectly good thing or person being threatened by someone or something.

Consider those times that you have decided to take things into your own hands and disregard the commandment to love as we are loved.

Consider how the Kingdom of Heaven is growing up around us despite the weeds.

Consider how easily we confuse wheat and weeds?

Consider how much damage we do when we try to weed out others who we see as “weeds” in our otherwise perfect world.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

REVENGE



An icy, hard-packed snow ball was painful when it hit you in the face. It left a big red mark on impact and usually sent me running into the house for comfort and first aid. To get hit that way was a game-ender for me. There were times when being the youngest of my playmates and the smallest was a distinct disadvantage. The older kids could scoop up snow quickly pack it hard and then chase me down while I was still recovering from a previous attack and then unload on me again. I was everyone’s target until I went inside. Then a new target was identified and the game went on without me.

Bill Cosby tells a story about his attempt at getting revenge on one person (Junior Barnes) who hit him square in the face with a slushball. Of course, Bill had already hit another kid in the face, but not with a slushball. Slushballs were supposedly outlawed by their code of conduct. When the code was broken by Junior Barnes, the only response Bill could come up with was revenge.

He made a slushball to end all slushballs and he stored it in his Mom’s freezer. He waited until July. July 12th to be exact. He invited Junior over to his home to sit out on the porch with him and Bill pretended to be Junior’s friend. Finally he goes to the kitchen and tries to retrieve the frozen slushball only to discover that his Mom had thrown it away. Since he did not have the intended instrument of wrath (Wrath Rock of vengeance), he spit on Junior Barnes.

Cosby’s story, while humorous, reveals a side of human life that is dark and when spread large results in a world of pain, suffering, unforgiveness, and vengeance. Children play games in preparation and training for the world in which they are growing up and will inherit. On Sunday, I will bring the box that you see above. Imagine that each of us has within us a space for the rocks of wrath and vengeance that are hurled at us during our lifetimes.



What do we do with these RoWaVs stored in our ME boxes? We saw what Cosby did when he was hit with the slushball. The pain, embarrassment, and fear of being hit sat inside of him and daily gnawed on him and moved him to resentment and vengeance. He did not have a way to forgive because to forgive was seen as weakness and an invitation to the Junior Barnes of the world to further abuse him.

It is interesting that Cosby himself had already hit another boy with a soft snowball and the code or law of snowball fights left that boy without a legal complaint. Cosby had acted within the law, but the offense against his friend was still hurtful. Will this friend plot against Cosby? We don’t know.

Jesus calls those who have are tired of carrying resentments and plans of vengeance against others to come to him. He calls us people who are burdened and he offers us rest. But, this is not an invitation to opt out of a world that still operates on the rules of wrath and violence, but to pick up Jesus’ yoke of forgiveness , mercy, and grace. While this may seem like a foolish thing to do to some, it is when communities of people begin to take up this yoke of Christ that the world and the world’s rules can be changed.

Jesus’ invitation to come to him follows a very long section of Matthew’s Gospel that talks about discipleship. What is it to be a disciple and an apostle of Jesus? Perhaps you can think of times in your life like the one that Bill Cosby humorously relates when you were totally obsessed with getting even with someone who had broken the rules and hurt you.

Remember that in Bill’s story he had already thrown a snowball at someone else.

How did he respond to the person he had hit?

How did he feel when Junior Barnes hit him?

What community of influence led to these hurtful experiences?

What community of influence dictated your response to being hurt whether it was through resentment and revenge or forgiveness and reconciliation?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Welcoming Jesus and the One Who Sent Him



The portrait of Jesus standing at a door in the night with a golden light shining out from the center of his chest hung in my Grandmother’s home. I used to look at that picture as a child and wonder if the person on whose door Jesus had just knocked would open the door and welcome him inside.

I also wondered why there was no door knob on the outside of the door. Didn’t the person who lived inside ever go outside and need a way to open the door from the outside? The door looked solid as the light of Jesus’ lantern illuminated it. I wondered if the little peep hole in the door allowed the light of Jesus’ lantern to shine through to the person on the inside.

As a child I could not understand why anyone who not open their door wide and welcome the Jesus I had been taught was God’s unique and only Son. The painting certainly helped accentuate my understanding and wonder. He looks kindly, benevolent, clean, well groomed, and well, Godly. Of course, my eyes had already been taught to see Jesus with love and acceptance which made the painting even more compelling.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew talks about how welcoming Jesus is the same as welcoming the God who sent him. Look at the picture again. Why is there no door knob on the outside of the door? Perhaps it was the artist’s way of saying that we have a choice about welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him into our lives, into our hearts, into the core, into the way we see, hear, perceive, intuit, and then act on and in our lives in our relationships with others and creation.

The door allows us to see through the peep hole and to take our cues about what is real and true and what we should desire by what we see and hear others valuing and pursuing which means our internal operating system is completely based upon what is outside of ourselves. The door protects us from outside influences taking hold of us completely. Perhaps the door is a gift from God to protect us from being taken over by others.

If this is a gift from God, then the painter of the picture of Jesus at the door captured a scene in the life of every soul—the moment when the door can prevent Jesus and God from coming into our hearts and help us live lives from the inside out rather than from the outside in.

As Jesus says to his disciples, inviting and welcoming him is inviting and welcoming the one who sent him. In short, to welcome Jesus into our lives, not as threat, but as welcomed guest is the same as inviting the community of love and peace we call the Trinity into our lives. It is to experience the Kingdom of Heaven on the inside in such a way as to begin to act in ways that create the Kingdom of Heaven in our world.

What is the reward for welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him into our lives? As Father Norm said it so beautifully last week, friendship with God and the ability to see God in other people and to live from the inside out in God’s love and peace. The door to our souls has a door knob on the inside only, but the light of Christ is shining just outside and there is a knock on our door. How will we know that Jesus is knocking and in need of being welcomed?

Friday, June 10, 2011

GOT LIVING WATER (AKA FORGIVENESS)?


Before I offer a reflection on the Gospel text for this Sunday, I would like to invite you to read two passages. The first passage comes at the end of Jesus’ life and the second, our Gospel for this Pentecost Sunday, comes from the beginning of Jesus’ journey to the cross.

John19:28

“Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’"

John 7:37-39

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, `Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

In our Gospel reading for this week Jesus invites all of those who are thirsty to come to him and receive the gift of living water that once received will bubble up inside of all of those who trust God to satisfy their thirst for being forgiven and living in a forgiving world. This living water is one of the ways that Jesus describes how vital God’s message is to bringing about a world in which forgiveness is the way of being human. It is this way that brings eternal (forgiving) living.

On the cross, Jesus’ solidarity with us is offered in the next to the last thing he says, “I am thirsty.” Thirst is not a desire that maye either be fulfilled or frustrated rather it is a necessity of human life. As Jesus was dying on the cross alone and without human forgiveness, he poured himself into that world of darkness and cruelty where the prophets and countless others had died without a trace of human compassion being offered.

He became one (at-one-ment) with us all, with those who die in anonymity, disgrace, disfavor, curse and unforgiveness, but he also died in solidarity with those who fight to stay out of that category of the blamed and unforgiven by following the rules of what some have called “enlightened selfishness,” which extols unbridled selfishness and condemns altruism as a misguided instinct. I believe that we all have a deep and abiding hope that God forgives and that the very human system that denies God’s forgiveness as weak and counter-productive does not quench our thirst for what we know to be true.

If you have known the sense of having gone beyond the limit of forgiveness, you are a thirsty person. If you have ever held that others who have hurt you were be beyond your ability to be forgiven by you and maybe by God, you are a thirsty person. Forgiveness is not just an act of pardoning someone who has hurt us—it is a way of life.

On the cross, in his last moment of life, Jesus died the death of being without human forgiveness and only having his relationship with God as the source of knowing he was innocent. This was not a substitute death on the behalf of sinners, but God seeking to be one with us in such a way as to know the pain of not being forgiven and to know the heavy burden of a world that is unforgiving.

Jesus described this pain in terms of thirst. He spoke of those who hunger and thirst for right relationships as thirst for forgiveness. The world offers a drink that does not offer God’s life affirming and life giving spirit. Here is how John described this reality:

John 19:29

“A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Jesus drank the bitter wine served up by a world without pity, mercy, love, or forgiveness. And once he had received that bitter offering, he said, “It is finished.” What was finished was the work he came to do.

He brought life-giving waters of forgiveness into the world and once his disciples and others tasted this water, it became in them a mighty river flowing out into the world that has changed and will continue to transform our world.

The Holy Spirit was breathed out of Jesus and into the hearts of those who are coming to believe in a world where love and forgiveness become the new creation. May we know the thirst of Jesus for God’s forgiving love. Happy Pentecost!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Confirmation, Discernment, & Questions of Concern and Hope



“All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified (made larger) in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."

Making Jesus Larger in Us and in the World

We will be celebrating the confirmation and reception of 7 people this coming Sunday. They are being confirmed because they are sufficiently convinced that God loves them and that they love God as God was shown to the world in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. My goals for this class were two-fold:

1. I hoped to offer a view of Jesus that showed them the heart and purpose of God in the world. In short, I hoped that they would fall in love with the God of love who became large in our world through Jesus.

2. I hoped that they would begin to ask questions that represented their concerns and hopes and by doing so discover that they were making a space for God in their hearts that would grow and grow.

The process of discernment engages our minds and hearts in seeing how we belong to God and how God becomes larger through the lives of those who love God and give themselves to a life-time commitment to God in love and service. It is an intimate relationship of trust that allows for questions for which we may not find answers, but which in the asking, allows a place within each soul for God to grow larger in the world through a deeper and deeper intimacy with God.

Asking questions is our human way of revealing our deepest concerns and hopes. During the discernment time of confirmation class we followed these questions of concern and hope back to the source of all concern and hope. Questions about God and about ourselves in relationship to God and other people; about the Bible and what it reveals about being human and seeking to know and love and serve God; about the uniqueness of Jesus as the bringer of God into human flesh and blood; about the church and the work of the Holy Spirit in history; and about Christ Church as our spiritual home became our path to connecting to one another and to the God who created us all and brought us together for this time of discernment.

Discernment is a lifelong vocation for Christians. It is part of our life of prayer that keeps us following Jesus as we love God in Jesus and in others and wrestle with things which seem to separate us from God and one another. This is the work of God for each Christian person and for the church and we are given the Holy Spirit to lead us along this path. We must allow our questions to express our heart-felt concern and hope as we deepen our relationship with one another, with those we are called to love and serve, and with God.

Those who will be confirmed this Sunday by Bishop Glasspool will join the ranks of Christian men and women beginning with the earliest disciples and stretching back even further to the earliest humans who formed the first questions about the meaning and purpose of life and of their place in the creation. These are the questions that lead us into a deeper and deeper intimate relationship with God and the people in our lives.

Our questions do not stop when we are baptized, confirmed, or ordained but continue to be the internal and external way of discovery, joy, and love of God in us and in our brothers and sisters in God. IF we ask our questions and allow God to respond to these questions through by being attentive during our times of quiet and prayer, we will discover that God's responses may be a gentle question back to us or a deep calm or a troubled spirit or maybe a person or happening in our lives that gives us a clear message in response to our questions. IF we ask, we will discover God is with us and in us as friend and companion.

May God’s life and love continue to grow larger and larger (glorify) in the lives of Evan, Barbara, Shari, Laura, Brianna, Haley, and Mitchell and in all of us who join with them in renewing our Baptismal vows this Sunday.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

THE CAPACITY TO FORGIVE & LOVE



Do I love Jesus?

This question is one that every Christian has answered in one way or another and perhaps time after time. The question is not usually asked as simply as I have stated it here. No, the question of loving God and Jesus is posed in the particular way we live our lives; in the relationships we have with others; in our willingness or unwillingness to forgive those around us; in the way we find to incarnate love as Jesus incarnated God’s love or to cast such love out as unworkable and impractical.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached a powerful sermon on loving our enemies in 1957 from the pulpit of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was Christmas and the Montgomery bus boycott was underway. Dr. King had been put in jail for civil disobedience and it was from that jail cell that he wrote this sermon.

In the midst of the struggle for civil rights when stones were thrown at him; police dogs set on him and those who followed him; fire hoses used to knock him to the ground and punish those who would follow him, and the FBI was investigating him for his activities, Dr. King spoke of loving Jesus by loving what he called one’s neighbor-enemies.

He said: “First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”

Dr. King understood that to love Jesus was to love his neighbor-enemy. He talked about the capacity to forgive and to love. Capacity is created by having first experienced God’s forgiveness and love towards us. Jesus spent three years with his disciples and their capacity to forgive and love was enlarged by being with Jesus and witnessing Jesus’ loving-kindness and forgiveness that he showed for those whom the disciples might never have forgiven or loved.

But their real capacity for forgiving and loving was deepened when they abandoned, denied, and betrayed Jesus and then experienced the forgiveness and love which Jesus offered them in resurrection. It seems that experiencing our own darkness and our own need to be forgiven and loved is how our capacity for forgiving our neighbor-enemies and loving them is increased in us. It would also appear that the way we maintain this capacity is by continuing to remember the amazing grace of God in our lives and seeing God’s work of forgiveness and love as our work.

Jesus said to his disciples as he was saying good-bye to them the night of his arrest: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” What did Jesus command?

Jesus was not referring to the totality of laws and commandments contained in the Jewish scriptures. Jesus summarized the multitude of these laws and commandments with a rubric that put how we relate to God and to one another in very clear terms:

36 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 37 He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22: 36-40)

He also offered a new commandment at that last meal with his disciples. He said:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Years later, the apostle John did a recap on His new commandment in his first epistle to the church:

“This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” (1 John 3:23)

Do God’s work in the world of forgiving and loving our neighbor-enemy that is what John’s Gospel calls believing that Jesus is God’s true child and image. It is affirming that developing and maintaining the capacity to forgive and love as God forgives and loves us is the core of faith and belief. John’s Gospel says:

“For God loved the world in just this way that he gave his one and only Son to the end that all who believe (do the work of forgiving and loving as God forgives and loves) in him (as the full expression of who God is and who were created to be) shall not perish (live and die in a world that does not accept God’s forgiveness and love, but rather clings to belief that sin can only be punished and not forgiven and that love must be earned), but have eternal life (living the life of God in the world so that others will discover the power and life of God’s forgiveness and love)"

On June 5th, we will be given the opportunity to reaffirm our faith as we welcome Bishop Mary Glasspool and support those who will be confirmed and received into the Episcopal Church. We will renew our the promises and vows we made when we were baptized or when we were confirmed. Those who will be confirmed have been prepared the best way I know how to prepare someone to be a Christian. I have invited them to fall in love with God; to allow God a place within them and for them to find that they are already abiding in God’s Trinity of love.

I invite those who read this reflection to consider what it means to believe in God and in Jesus Christ and with joy to embrace the capacity to forgive, to love, and to give God a place in the world where you live.

Every Sunday , every day, every moment is a good time to fall in love with God, but on June 5th we have a very special time to make that love public. To witness to the forgiveness and love in our lives and may God the Father and the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit increase in us the capacity for forgiveness and love of our neighbor-enemies.

I love and believe in Jesus. Amen .

Thursday, May 19, 2011

ARE YOU RUNNING WITH ME JESUS?


In 1965, I was graduated from Mira Costa High School and headed off to California State College at Long Beach where I would join over 19,000 other college students from all over the planet in pursuit of higher education. I had been raised in the Episcopal Church and loved my community of faith, but the times were turbulent with war, civil rights marches and protests against the Viet Nam War were daily news items as were the growing number of kids whose lives were ended by war.

I struggled to make sense of all that was going on around me. There were so many competing voices inside of my head and heart that sought to form me based upon the desires these voices spoke into me. As an emerging adult whose ego or whatever you call that part of us that thinks it can control and regulate the desires of others that almost seem pre-loaded in us, struggled with all of the conflicts which constantly fired up inside of my head and heart.

You could say that I felt tossed and turned as if in a boat on a stormy sea without a rudder, a map, a navigator, a purpose, a source of power, or an identity. Being raised in the United States of America we learn that we are to think independently of the crowd and that all of the desires and ways of others are somehow outside of us and can only come into us with our permission. We clearly believe in personal autonomy, but I was discovering that such autonomy and control of outside forces of conformity or non-conformity was not true.

For better or worse, the very self I believed to be autonomous was a composite of all of the other thoughts and desires of those who preceded me in the world and for whom my survival depended. These thoughts and desires also established a sort of Internal Operating System that put everything in some sort of order so that I could function on a daily basis. I came to believe or understand that this configuration of thoughts and desires did not always result in behavior towards others that demonstrated love, care, or even consideration.

Faced with the existential realities of life in 1965, I happened upon a little book written by an Episcopal priest named Malcolm Boyd. I had never heard of him, but was shocked to discover that he was called the "espresso priest" because he was reading poetry or prayers or something in a night club called the Hungry I in San Francisco. I was amazed that what had been church had somehow found its way into a night club and that people were flocking to hear what Malcom was offering.

Malcolm captured my sense of being lost in one particular poem called “Are You Running with Me Jesus?” I was clear that my Internal Operating System was fickle, unstable, and breaking down. While giving the impression that I was in charge, my IOS was falling apart and unable to make sense out of the world as it was coming towards me.

Malcolm helped me turn towards God in a real and life changing way. Here is what Malcom wrote that found its way into my life:

It's morning, Jesus.
It's morning,
and here's that light and sound
all over again.

I've got to move fast ...
get into the bathroom, wash up,
grab a bite to eat,
and run some more.

I just don't feel like it, Lord.
What I really want to do
is to get back into bed,
pull up the blankets, and sleep.

All I seem to want today
is the big sleep,
and here I've got to run all over again.

Where am I running?
You know these things
I can't understand.

It's not that I need to have you tell me.
What counts most is just that somebody knows,
and it's you.
That helps a lot.

So, I'll follow along, okay?
But lead, Lord.
Now I've got to run.
Are you running with me, Jesus?

Malcom Boyd (1965)

Malcolm found a way of expressing our human need for bringing order out of our “unruly wills and affections” that resonated with me. There is a passage from 1 John 4:4 that reads: “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” The God who can live within us and become our strength, purpose, power, guide, and identity that seems to elude our own IOS is greater, larger, more comprehensive, expansive, creative, loving, inclusive, and most importantly, transcendent than the all of the desires and thoughts of this world that would deprive us of the truth that is in us.

To follow Jesus, to know that God in Christ cares for us in the most personal and intimate way and to be known to God in this way is to replace certainty with faith and death with life. Jesus is a life donor. He gives of God what only God can give to us and we are bid to share this great gift with others. Forty-six years ago Malcolm Boyd re-introduced me to the God whom I had loved in Church. He showed me that this same God in whom I had found love, grace, purpose, and identity was not just in the church, but was running wild in the world and could become the center of my life both inside and outside of the church.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Give your hearts to God. Give your hearts also to me. In my Father’s house there are many places for you to live and thrive. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go there to prepare a place for you? And if I go there, I will return, so that where I am you may be also.”

Are you running with me Jesus? Thank you.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

A GAME ENDING AND LIFE GIVING BREAD


We live in confusing times and so when there seems to be a moment where we can claim certainty of any kind, we jump on it like thirsty people in a desert. This past week we have discovered how very thirsty we are for moral clarity and how such clarity brings a sense of celebration. The death of a man who admittedly orchestrated the deaths of many people of all different faiths and of no particular faith at all on 9-11-2001 was just such a moment of clarity for many Americans and for some others around the globe.

But moral clarity in our world of sin, human wrath, and death never really quenches our thirst for righteousness or for unity or peace. No, that righteousness, unity, and peace can come from God alone. True justice does not come from simply killing the bad guys while remaining blissfully unaware of the part we have played in the evil in the world. Jesus understood the rules that create such blindness that poses as moral clarity and his death on the cross was the light shining in our great darkness of certitude. To end this game of human wrath, God entered into it and revealed himself in life giving bread.

The disciples who were headed back for Emmaus after Jesus’ death had accepted the moral certitude of those who had arrested, tried, and executed him. The moral clarity of the mob and the leaders seemed to trump all of their experience of being with Jesus. Imagine having spent three years with Jesus as he taught, healed, fed thousands of people, absorbed the threats and accusations of a growing number of people, forgave sins, and raised the dead and then have your whole opinion of him demolished in a day.

Yet that is what happened and their conversation reveals their great disappointment that Jesus was not the one for whom they had been hoping.

They too sought moral clarity, but even more, they sought moral certainty. Moral certainty is intoxicating and can result in the very sorts of zealous and self-righteous acts of violence we see as monstrous in our world today. Moral certainty seems to blind us to the humanity of others. The deaths of others become simply collateral damage or necessary deaths in fulfillment of our sense of making the world into our image.

But what God offered the world is a Savior and a Lord who did not promise moral certitude in judging others, but forgiveness and love instead. We have been given the law to help guide us in our actions towards each other. We have had the law summarized for us by Jesus and others: Love God and love your neighbor. Yet even the law whose purpose it is to help us live graciously with each other has been turned into a tool of moral certitude or as St. Paul called it, sin.

But it is God’s grace, forgiveness, and love for us all that allows us to truly see one another as God sees us. To fully live in God’s grace, forgiveness, and love disarms us and puts us in a position of increased vulnerability. We may have a sense of what is right and wrong that governs and directs our own behavior, but in whatever we do or say, we are aware that God is calling us not to judge others as worthy of death, but to love them into life. As Jesus told the disciples such love often results in suffering.

It is our relationship with God and through God to one another that denies us the moral certainty that put Jesus on the cross. It is God’s love into which we were all baptized that is the death of moral certainty, but the beginning of a new life of loving and serving Christ in others. We are called (vocation) to even or more especially love those others whose moral certainty has convinced them that we deserve to die.

There are times when stopping someone from killing others is the most loving thing that can be done, but hate generated from moral certainty cannot be killed by a bullet, bomb, or knife. It can only be healed by loving acts directed towards those who are out to get us. We must take the initiative rather than waiting for others to do so.

The disciples on the road to their home in Emmaus had accepted the judgment of the world that Jesus deserved to die. They had lost a friend, but must have felt very disillusioned by his inability to be what they had hoped he would be. When a stranger joined them on the road home and asked them about their conversation, they began to pour out the story of their failed moral certitude.

The stranger upbraided them for being dull of mind and hard of heart and began to unpack the scriptures from beginning to end that would allow them to see and understand that their need for moral certitude was a symptom of the very soul-killing disease called sin that separated them from the life-giving love and presence of God.

It would be nice if these two disciples had simply and completely understood what the stranger was saying to them, but they did not. As they approached their home in Emmaus and saw that the stranger was intent on continuing his journey into the dark night, they wholeheartedly invited him to spend the night with them and to dine with them.

As they sat at the table with the stranger, the stranger took the bread on the table and did what the host would normally do: he took it, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his hosts and it was at that very moment that these two disciples recognized that the stranger was Jesus. They had been in the presence of the one they thought was dead physically, spiritually and morally. Once the crucified and risen Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave the bread, he disappeared from their sight.

The message of scripture that Jesus had led them to understand was that the messiah must suffer before entering into his glory. If God was to speak to us clearly, God had to suffer by our hands and in the place that we all occupy, the place of being accused, judged, and sentenced for being guilty of being human. This is the place of deadly shame that is the work of the accuser, often called Satan.

The moral certitude and its judgments against those who offend is cruel and final and we all seek to avoid being judged in this way by pointing our fingers at others. The messiah stands in front of all of our fearful, wrathful, and violent fingers and bears that certitude and judgment on the cross for us all to see. The messiah takes our human wrath that is directed towards us all and redirects it towards God in him.

Like the disciples, we are on a journey home. We have had many moments of moral clarity and certitude that in the end may have proved to be dead-ends. For some of us these dead-ends are seen as temporary setbacks, sort of like our home town team losing the championship. Because we may have won more championships or games than we have lost, we continue to believe that the game and the rules of the game are good. It is an awful like Las Vegas gambling that gives us a sense that we can win all if we just keep gambling.

We, like the disciples, are confused by the complex and challenging issues facing us. We want a quick fix to protect us from those who judge us as we have judged others. We are foolish and our hearts are slow to believe that there is any way of being human outside this closed system of human wrath and judgment. It is in the midst of this state of disillusionment that Jesus seems to appear to us and offers us an understanding that the rules of the game are not God’s rules and not God’s game, but our own.

The messiah is not just someone sent from God to win our game by playing by our rules of wrath, judgment, sin, and death and using his great power to put down with moral certainty all of the evil ones in the world. Jesus says, “the messiah must suffer…” It is in the breaking of the bread which is his body that the rules of our human game are shown to us as broken and the cause of all human pain and suffering. That is the moment when the disciples finally recognized Jesus. He was no longer a stranger with whom they chose to share their home and their meal, he was God among us as Savior and Lord.

We gather each week and sometimes more often to hear scripture read and unpacked by the preacher and then we gather around the Table at Christ Church to break bread together. In an instant we may see in that broken bread, not a stranger, but Jesus. We may rejoice that having heard the Word, we now make that Word a part of who we are in ways that are not always dramatic or earth shaking, but true.

Now you might just ask where Jesus went once he had offered his disciples the taken, blessed, broken, and given bread. I would suggest that he was deeply within the hearts and souls of these two followers and that they carried him with them back to Jerusalem and throughout their lives as the one who had liberated them from the death of a game where there really are no winners, only losers and delivered them into the heart, mind, and hands of a loving, ever-living, always forgiving, pain bearing God.

As we prepare for this Easter season celebration of the resurrection of Christ, let us pray:

“O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

Collect for Easter III

THE READINGS ASSIGNED FOR THE DAY

Acts 2:14a,36-41

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the multitude, "Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified."

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.


Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17 Page 759, BCP
Dilexi, quoniam

1
I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, *
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.

2
The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
I came to grief and sorrow.

3
Then I called upon the Name of the LORD: *
"O LORD, I pray you, save my life."

10
How shall I repay the LORD *
for all the good things he has done for me?

11
I will lift up the cup of salvation *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12
I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people.

13
Precious in the sight of the LORD *
is the death of his servants.

14
O LORD, I am your servant; *
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.

15
I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16
I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people,

17
In the courts of the LORD'S house, *
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
Hallelujah!

1 Peter 1:17-23

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Luke 24:13-35

That very day, the first day of the week, two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?"

They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

+ Marks the Spot


Growing up in Kansas I saw my share of rainbows that arched across the sky in colors that were vivid at one moment and fading away at the next. Young children are often told stories about rainbows that stay with them even into adolescence, like the one about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Have you ever tried to find the end of a rainbow? Have you ever wanted to make such a journey just to see if it were true or not?

There is something about a search for things of value that seems to capture the human imagination whether it is a pot of gold or the fountain of youth or prince or princess with whom to fall in love, we seem always to be hoping for something of value to enhance our lives or provide us with health, wealth, status, love, or control over our destiny.

We may not be following rainbows for pots of gold that will make us secure and able to have whatever we want or looking for a fountain whose water will give us youth, or looking for a prince amongst the frogs or a princess waiting for a kiss to bring her back to life, but we do search for such things in most of the choices we make during our lives.

Here is something to consider as we prepare for this Sunday that celebrates Jesus’ joyful entry into Jerusalem followed by his betrayal, arrest, trial, suffering, and death of the cross. Perhaps these acts of worship on Palm/Passion Sunday represent an alternative story to the tales we tell of rainbows with pots of gold, fountains of youth, princes and princesses, and other myths that propel us through our daily lives towards what we have come to call life.

The end of Lent is near. We are coming to that thin place in time and space called Jerusalem when and where the infinite God will be found on a cross and where, as in the creation, he will exhale the gift of life.

On the cross, we will discover that the God of our creation, preservation, and redemption has been pouring out God life on us every single moment and moment between moments of our lives. The cross is not the only act that redeems us and it is not the final act of redemption. It is rather the moment of clarity for us about who God is.

Is God faking his presence on the cross? Is he acting powerless and self-giving or is God genuinely and authentically the one who does not count equality with the human notion of God, pots of gold at the end of rainbows, fountains of youth, princes or princesses, or unlimited power and control a thing to be grasped?

What is revealed on the cross in Jesus’ death is God doing what God always does: giving of life and love to create all that is seen and unseen by exhaling the breath of life with no expectation of return. Jesus is God incarnate and at the beginning of his death he did what God continues to do, he breathed his last and said: “Father into your hands I surrender my spirit.”

The cross marks the spot where we can see who God is and what God does so that we can begin to see God at work in the whole creation. God is not out to overpower us or bribe us or threaten us. God is doing what God always does: He is exhaling the breath of life and love into creation as if it were the last breath.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Did Lazarus Have Anything to Say?


You know that if there had been a National Inquirer back then the reporter would have asked Lazarus what it was like to be dead; how he felt about being dead; did he have any bad feelings towards Jesus for not getting to him before he died; what happened when he was coming back from the dead; and what did he have to say now that he was alive again. After all, inquiring people want to know such things.


But is that really what the story of the raising of Lazarus is all about? If we extend our reading beyond this story just a bit, we discover that a certain religious leader spoke the operative words of our world cult as he upbraided his colleagues for their ignorance of the way things really work in the world. Caiphas said: ‎

"Don't you know anything? Can't you see that it's to our advantage that one man dies for the people rather than the whole nation be destroyed?" (John 11:49-52)

How many dead are there who have been thrown on the sacrificial crosses of our cult to give us just a little more time, a little less than real peace, a little less life than we had before? What might they have to say to us? Do we want to hear what they have to say? It is not hard to understand why horror movies feature zombies, the living dead, and why film always suggests that we see them as the dead we do not wish to ever see or hear from again.

So, what happens when our world cult of sacrifice throws the creator of all that is seen and unseen on that cross? What does the dead, but risen Jesus say when he is raised from the dead? Can we bear to hear what he has to say? Is he like Jason, the never-to-die zombie, that goes around killing others or does he say something to us from the cross that is repeated after he returns from death?
Lazarus remains silent to us. We do not have a National Inquirers’ interview with him or any written record of what this once dead man had to say about his experience. Unlike, Jesus, Lazarus comes out of the grave still wrapped in the garment of death, the burial wrap.

Four days in the grave made the mere touching of Lazarus a terrifying experience that would render them unclean, yet Jesus commands those who were present to unbind him and let him loose. To unbind and to loose is the power to forgive which is the power to live in God’s creation as flawed, imperfect human beings with other flawed and imperfect human beings.

Why didn’t Jesus simply unbind and let loose Lazarus himself. Why not finish the job. This last part of raising Lazarus from the dead is the responsibility of the community. Just as Jesus later comes to his disciples and empowers them to bind and loose the sins of others, so now, he asks the community that has witnessed the bringing back to life of Lazarus to unbind and set him loose.

Why must the community do this? When death comes to a member of the community whether by illness or human violence the fear of death preaches a powerful sermon that we all hear. We have been trained to see and hear that death is the punishment for sin or whatever you want to call it. We have been baptized into the cult of sacrifice. We have a deep and abiding common desire to not hear what the dead have to say to us. Death is the final frontier, a place that is hopeless and without the possibility of redemption.

It is to confront those fears that Jesus would have us unbind and set loose and this act of unbinding and loosing is really not to benefit Lazarus as it is to set us free from the fears that keep us fearful and in the valley of the shadow of death. We are the ones who need the power of forgiveness to live outside the cult of sacrifice that is the foundation of all human culture.

What does Jesus say from the cross that we need to hear. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” When Jesus declares his work on the cross completed (it is finished) he breathes out a final time, releasing the power of creation to complete the work in us that he completed on the cross.

When Jesus meets his disciples in the upper room where they are still locked in fear of death, he breathes on them and says to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He gives them the power to unbind, to set loose. He also allows that they have the power to bind too. The power to forgive is the power to bring life where there has been death and the fear of death.

If we do not forgive, we continue to be bound to this fear of death that may have left Lazarus standing in the midst of people who would not unbind him or set him free. This seventh of the signs of John’s Gospel brings us to the cross and invites us to make a decision to bind or unbind ourselves, forgive or remain unforgiven in response to the crucified and yet alive Jesus.

His word to us before and after the cross calls us to a life without fear of death and the dead. Will be remain locked into the fear that makes Caiphas’ rule, the only way we can survive or will we seek God’s deeper path to true peace and fullness of life. Lazarus will not say a word to us, but his presence among us demands a response to either forgive and be forgiven or to remain bound to fear and unforgiveness for ourselves and others.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Story of the Man Formerly Known as Blind


There have been times in my life when people I have known have changed physically in rather dramatic ways. One such transformation was a young girl whose eyesight from her earliest years almost made her legally blind. She wore thick glasses in order to be able to see well enough to function in the sighted world.

I came to recognize her by her thick glasses. That was the most obvious thing about her features that I focused on. Five years past and this young girl turned into a young woman and science created contact lenses that made her old glasses no long necessary. The first time I saw her after those years had past, I did not recognize her. I had only known her by her glasses. It took me a while to see her differently.

Just so, there is an argument that breaks out over whether or not the man born blind in our Gospel reading for Sunday is the man who can now see. The man formerly known as blind becomes the subject of an argument among his neighbors who have known him a very long time. Is he the same guy they have perhaps helped get water from the well, or guided into the synagogue, or assisted him as he walked outside of the village?

This is the first of several conflicts that arise due to Jesus' healing of this man. What started the movement that led to his healing? A simple question by Jesus' disciples: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Did you ever wonder why we seem to want to provide an easy answer for difficult and complex questions or that once we have settled on an easy answer we seem to lack the capacity to see things any differently? I had a hard time recognizing the young girl with the coke bottle glasses once she was no longer wearing them. For me, her identity was defined by her glasses. I never asked her, but I often wonder if it took her a while to really see herself differently when she looked into a mirror.

I really don't need to ask her this question. I can ask myself. When I look in a mirror or in the eyes of others who mirror back to me who they see, do I notice any changes? Do I have the capacity to see changes in me that I may or may not particularly like? Is that the blindness that Jesus speaks about in this lengthy drama about healing?

Please read the whole story below. I have set it up as a bit of a play with actors playing the various roles. See if you can understand the concerns that each of the characters express.

For example, Jesus heals on the Sabbath and those who are trying to maintain the identity of what it means to be Jewish see his action as undermining the Sabbath law that demands that we rest on that day because God rested on that day.

In our country there used to be secular laws that enforced no work on Sundays so that people would be “forced” to rest. For most people who claimed to be Christians, going to church was what you did on the Sabbath and since the Christians were the majority in most communities, they passed laws making all citizens rest on that day.

In addition, it was considered good for the country that we all rested and went to church on Sunday. It improved our moral and civic life. It brought families together in prayer and worship. It allowed those who had worked and hard days to have a time of rest.

Consider the state of the Sabbath today. Do we want to have places to go and do we want people working on this day? Do we want to be able to play soccer or baseball or go to the beach rather than being forced to go to church? Do we want the right to determine what rest means to us?

Do you begin to understand how important Sabbath was to those who charged Jesus with violating the Sabbath when he healed the man born blind? What gave him the right to do such a thing? Remember, he was not seen as God or God’s son or any sort of an accepted establishment teacher.

As you read this drama, watch how the man formerly known as blind comes to see himself differently. See how he responds to those who challenge him. See how finds Jesus and how their conversation allows him to see himself and Jesus very differently. See the consequences for his changing identity and understanding. Can you identify with him or with any of the other characters in this story?

John 9:1-41

Narrator: As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him,

Disciples: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Narrator: Jesus answered,

Jesus: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

Narrator: When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, saying to him,

Jesus: "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam"

Narrator: (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask,

The Neighbors: "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?"

Narrator: Some were saying,

Some Said: "It is he."

Narrator: Others were saying,

Others Who Were Saying: "No, but it is someone like him."

Narrator: He kept saying,

Man Formerly Known as Blind: "I am the man."

Narrator: But they kept asking him,

Others Who Were Saying: "Then how were your eyes opened?"

Narrator: He answered,

Man Formerly Known as Blind: "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, `Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight."

Narrator: They said to him,

Others Who Were Saying: "Where is he?"

Narrator: He said,

Man Formerly Known as Blind: "I do not know."

Narrator: They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them,

Man Formerly Known as Blind: "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see."

Narrator: Some of the Pharisees said,

Some of the Pharisees: "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath."

Narrator: But others said,

Others: "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?"

Narrator: And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man,

Pharisees: "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened."

Narrator: He said,

Man Formerly Known as Blind: "He is a prophet."

Narrator: Most of the religious leadership did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them,

Religious Leaders: "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?"

Narrator: His parents answered,

Parents: "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself."

Narrator: His parents said this because they were afraid of the religious leaders; for these leaders had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said,

Parents: "He is of age; ask him."

Narrator: So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him,

Pharisees: "Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner."

Narrator: He answered,

Man Formerly Known as Blind: "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."

Narrator: They said to him,

Pharisees: "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"

Narrator: He answered them,

Man Formerly Known as Blind: "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?"

Narrator: Then they reviled him, saying,

Pharissees: "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from."

Narrator: The man answered,

Man Formerly Known as Blind: "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."

Narrator: They answered him,

Pharisees: "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?"

Narrator: And they drove him out. Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said,

Jesus: "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"

Narrator: He answered,

Man Formerly Known as Blind: "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him."

Narrator: Jesus said to him,

Jesus: "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he."

Narrator: He said,

Man Formerly Known as Blind: "Lord, I believe."

Narrator: And he worshiped him. Jesus said,

Jesus: "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind."

Narrator: Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him,

Some of the Pharisees: "Surely we are not blind, are we?"

Narrator: Jesus said to them,

Jesus: "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, `We see,' your sin remains."