Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

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."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


GR Lent III March 27, 2011

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

According to our collect (prayer) for this Sunday, God knows something about us that we may not know about ourselves or even be willing to admit. Most of us don't like the notion that we are powerless to help ourselves. The ad that targets my generation and those just ahead of me with the image of a senior citizen on the ground who cries out, "I’ve fallen down and can't get up," offers the promise of always having help when we find ourselves in a helpless situation.

We have great fear in the face of powerlessness. Sometimes rather than admit that the circumstances of our personal or corporate lives are out of our power to control what may be disastrous outcomes, we seek other ways of behaving or thinking that divert and distract us from what threatens us. Such "defense mechanisms" can be healthy and result in very good changes. Of course, there also other human responses that can be maladaptive and can produce great personal and global suffering and death.

Our collect asks for God's help in the face of the powerlessness we face when earthquakes and tsunamis strike or when such forces of nature place us in jeopardy due to our previous choices to harness nuclear energy in facilties such as those found in Japan and around the world. The collect asks for the kind of divine presence and support that can help us deal with whatever helpless and powerless times we experience.

Consider how many things you may be feeling powerless over right now. Make a list by simply filling in the blank:

Today I feel powerless over ________________.

Once you have put a few items on this list, write down the specifics that make you feel powerless and then write down what you might do to deal with the situation. There will be times when there may not be anything you can do to change the circumstances of your life. In just such times, our collect asks God to keep us.

What does it mean to ask God to keep us? If you keep something or someone in your life you are in relationship with the thing or the person. To be kept in someone’s heart is a powerful experience and necessary for our physical and spiritual survival. To not have someone who loves us and keeps us in this way is to experience a sort of hopelessness that can destroy not only our physical being, but our spiritual wholeness.

Just so, our collect is asking God to maintain a relationship with us as individuals and as a community. Of course, to pray for God to keep us also means that we are open and willing to keep God in our lives. Without God is our lives and in the life of our families and communities and the world, we find that we will resort to those ancient human systems that result in the loss of soul.

Being a child is a time of real powerlessness. Here is an interesting quote that addresses what happens when a child is deprived of love in their powerlessness:

“To be loved is every human's greatest need. How do we know? Because in the 19th century and through about 1920, nearly 100% of babies abandoned to institutions died, not from lack of food or sanitation, but from lack of love.James L. Halliday, a psychiatrist who studied psychosocial issues in medicine, concluded that ‘infants deprived of their accustomed maternal body contact may develop a profound depression with lack of appetite, wasting, and even marasmus [wasting away] leading to death’ Doctors realized that babies need to be loved, that is held, cuddled, caressed, and carried. When institutional procedures began to include loving and cuddling, as well as bathing, feeding, and changing, the abandoned infants began to thrive. A malnourished baby who is loved will fight harder to live than a well-fed but neglected infant. Older people also fight harder to live if they know they are loved. A gentle touch is vital to a dying person because it conveys love. Love is the food of our souls. Humanly speaking, we need love to thrive.”

Madeline Pecora Nugent and Julian Stead, OSB

To be loved by God is to be kept and to be strengthened for whatever life brings our way. It is not just infants who die from lack of human and divine nurturing. And so, when we come together to worship each week we come into the presence of God whose ways of nurturing us and defending us from our powerlessness over the situations of our lives comes in the form of a community that is continually being formed to be loved and to share that love with others.

The best defense for our bodies and our souls when we face adversities is found in God’s nurturing love that draws us to worship and to love and serve one another. Love strengthens us and gives us hope in the face of difficult and sometimes impossible situations.

The damage to the human soul when we are faced with our own powerlessness is not inflicted by the out of control circumstances that we either foster or that come our way, but from how we deal with those circumstances.

The collect speaks about evil thoughts that assault and harm the soul in the midst of our powerlessness. Over and over again throughout human history we have seen human beings act out those evil thoughts. What assaults and harms the soul are those thoughts which suggest to us that our powerlessness or our physical problems are caused by this person or group of persons. Once such thoughts take hold in a person or a community all manner of evil can be carried out and justified.

Certainly there are times when another person’s actions can negatively impact us. Even those times when we are clearly hurt by someone else can poison us with thoughts of revenge born out of a long simmering resentment. Resentments and desire for revenge will not change what has already happen to us, but these double demons can lead to a toxic way of being that damages us from the inside out.

This reflection comes to an end here with an invitation to those who read it to look at the times you have experienced in your life that this prayer addresses. Wrestle with what the prayer says and with what I have written as they may bring up feelings, thoughts, and stories from you.

Prayers invite us to enter into the conversation with God. What I have written comes from my own personal experiences. What might you have to say to God or to yourself about your own powerlessness and your need for help when you are helpless?

To further your prayerful consideration consider this story from Exodus which explores the helplessness and powerlessness of Israel in the wilderness.

Exodus 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?" But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" So Moses cried out to the Lord, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." The Lord said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?”

A sure sign that we do not believe that God is with us is how we treat one another when facing difficult circumstances such as the people of Israel faced in the wilderness. The Exodus story might lead us to believe that the people only had a quarrel with Moses, their leader, but I would like to suggest that before they turned on Moses, they had already turned on one another and were attacking each other over the quickly diminishing water supplies.

From the chaos of everyone fighting against everyone else, a violent and pernicious movement to regain peace and unity emerged. The violent individuals became a mob looking for someone to blame in the midst of their powerlessness. This is where we pick up the story in Exodus with Moses being the one the mob goes after. Moses asks two very revealing and challenging questions to the mob in response to their demand for water:

“Why do you quarrel with me?” and “Why do you test the Lord?”

Moses’ first question challenges the very process of the mob seeking to regain peace and unity by blaming someone. Moses is clearly in the same boat as they are as far as not having water. I would imagine that if he had water to give the mob, he would have gladly given it to them to spare himself the grief. Quarreling would not make things any better as far as the water shortage was concerned, but it would be a way of avoiding the greater violence that had been going on as the water supplies went to zero and the people went after one another.

The authors of Exodus show the human system of dealing with violence and disunity in this brief story and they do it brilliantly. Moses’ first question challenges our human system of regaining peace and unity by blaming and focusing our wrath on one individual or a group of individuals. Most of the stories of antiquity do not give potential victims of this mob in search or unity and peace a voice, but Exodus does.

Moses’ first question is about how our human systems train us to behave (anthropology), but his second question points to the larger theological issue of whether Israel believed in the God they had credited with delivering them from slavery. Jesus goes out into the wilderness to be tested, just as Israel was led into the wilderness by Moses. Jesus was asked to reject God (If you are the Son of God questions) and to deny God’s presence. If we fall into that trap, we will soon find ourselves with only one recourse in the midst of powerlessness that leads to individual violence and the mob violence that promises to restore the peace and unify us.

So, Moses' theological question is related to this first anthropological question because without a sense of God being present among us, we are left to follow those very human ways of dealing with human wrath. The question of whether God is present or not suggests that God’s way of dealing with human powerlessness, fear, and chaos is very different from what we do if we do not believe God is present. If God abides with us, is present in us and among us, we know intuitively and can see how utterly different our ways are from God’s ways.

I invite you to read the rest of the assigned lessons for this Sunday and see if Moses’ questions appear in different forms in the psalm, the Epistle, and the Gospel.

Psalm 95 Page 724, 725, BCP
Venite, exultemus

1 Come, let us sing to the LORD; * let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.

2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving * and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.

3 For the LORD is a great God, * and a great King above all gods.

4 In his hand are the caverns of the earth, * and the heights of the hills are his also.

5 The sea is his, for he made it, * and his hands have molded the dry land.

6 Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, * and kneel before the LORD our Maker.

7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. * Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!

8 Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness, * at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me.

9 They put me to the test, * though they had seen my works.

10 Forty years long I detested that generation and said, * "This people are wayward in their hearts; they do not know my ways."

11 So I swore in my wrath, * "They shall not enter into my rest."

Romans 5:1-11

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-- though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

John 4:5-42

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, `Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?" Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."

Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, `I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!" The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?" Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, `Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, `One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done." So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Good or Doing Good in Service for Others?

What is the difference between being good and doing good? If I need to believe that I am good then everything I do must somehow be judged to be good by me and those around me. If I simply do good things then does it really matter how others may define me or even how I define myself?

Whether I am perceived as good or evil by me or others is ultimately unimportant. I say this because good and evil are really about what other people need to believe about us or what we need to believe about ourselves. How many of us really want to be perceived as evil? Are we able to bear the perception of such a label? How horrible it would feel if every time we came to school or work or home we were seen by others as a threat, a malevolent presence the sight of which caused others to turn against us and plot our destruction through violence by the group or through elimination by some other means?

Is it possible that the need to be seen as good results in the powerful need to judge others less generously? Jesus was once approached by a young man who was interested in following him. The young man approached Jesus with this greeting: "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus immediately corrects the young man's perception of him: "No one is good, but God alone." Why did Jesus act so strongly to this rather complementary greeting?

I think that Jesus responded this way because he understood that the power to declare him good was also the power that would soon be exercised to perceive him as evil and worthy of death. Ultimately Jesus was condemned to death, not for what he did or did not do, but for how he was perceived. It was this same "garden variety" power that we see disclosed in Genesis where the need to be seen as good resulted in blame and shame and condemnation.

During Lent we can ask God to reveal to us how much our personal and corporate sense of goodness is based upon others being identified as "not us." We can say with Jesus that only God is truly good out of whom all that is good flows. We can ask God to free us from having to see the flaws of others to avoid seeing our own flaws.

So, the young man's initial judgment was based upon Jesus' current popularity that would soon vanish once he entered Jerusalem and challenged the whole sacrificial system which was built upon our human addiction to being seen as good at the expense of others. Jesus challenged the young man to do good for others rather than being viewed as good by others. For the young man, being wealthy was one of the signs that made him think that he was good. Jesus challenges the young man's sense of goodness by offering him a chance to do good by giving away his source of being good, his wealth.

Jesus then invited the young man to follow him. What a "catch 22" for the young man. Jesus called him to give up the one thing that kept him from being cursed by poverty and made invisible, dispensable, and voiceless by others. Who would listen to him or respect him if he were one of the poor? He would be one of "not us" with no one to hear his cries for help.
Alas, the rich young man went away in sadness, not anger, at having been put on the spot by Jesus' impossible request.

During Lent we are asked to make a decision like the rich young man: will we walk away angry or in sorrow when we hear Jesus’ call to follow him? Along this path we will discover our own limitations and our own unwillingness to leave behind our belief that we are good compared to others. During Lent we are asked to love those who are "not us" and to know their suffering by seeing and hearing them. We might begin by seeing and hearing the people who decided that it is better that one person should die than that the whole nation should perish. Do we believe in this same logic?

In the Nicene and Apostles' creeds, Pontius Pilate is the man under whom Jesus "suffered, died, and was buried." Do we understand how his decision to crucify Jesus is in some ways like our willingness to let others die so that we can be happy by having all that we desire?

We live in the same mythological world as those who abandoned, betrayed, denied, and engineered the death of this Jesus of Nazareth so long as we insist that Jesus was good and that the people who killed him are "not us" and therefore, evil and that all who don't share our beliefs or who threaten us in any way are deserving of the label, evil. As Christians we are committed to doing good in service to others and standing with those who are perceived as evil even when to do so puts us at risk of being labeled a threat and evil too.

The Lenten journey of following Jesus will bring us to the heart and mind of God that Jesus lived out in his life. This is a journey of seeing, hearing, praying, and reflecting on the times in which we live and then taking action to be of service to those who are “not us.”

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Marked by Ashes
Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.

This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933)

Friday, March 04, 2011

Welcome to the Gospel Zone

A deep and resonant voice is heard and visual and auditory cues come toward you and here are the words that were spoken over these sights and sounds:

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.” Opening of Twilight Zone T.V. series (season I)

When the Twilight Zone logo broke apart a scene would emerge featuring someone who was headed to the Twilight Zone followed by Rod Serling, with gray smoke curling up from the cigarette in his hand, introducing the story that was about to unfold in the Twilight Zone.

As we enter the last week of the season of Epiphany we will hear a somewhat strange story read as our Gospel. Of course, those who have been raised up in the church may not think of it as strange, but Jesus taking a few of his disciples up on a mountain top where a bright light and dark cloud envelopes them and the ancient law giver and prophet Moses and Elijah appear next to him really is something out of the ordinary to say the least.

What can we make of this story? Are we supposed to challenge the facts of the story or is there something grander in store for those who are willing to truly listen to what the story is saying? The Gospel, like the Twilight Zone, invites us into a different dimension where our senses are engaged, but where the landscape and other details of the story do not make sense to our usual way of seeing and hearing things.

We are taken to this Gospel Zone to allow our senses to participate in a transformative experience in a place called the Kingdom of Heaven where the usual rules no longer apply and where the way of being human is found to be very different from what we might have expected.

The transfiguration is just such a story. It is not a story to prove to Jesus that he is the beloved Son of God, but rather is intended for us to experience a particular sort of light and sound as a community that will guide us through the darkness we find on our earthly pilgrimage.

This story comes each year on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of Lent. Lent is a time when the Christian community and the individual members of the community focus on the things in our life as a church and in our individual lives that block our vision of the Kingdom of Heaven.

It is a time of disciplined paying attention to the suffering and needs around us and the part we can play in responding to those needs in prayer and in taking action to relieve that suffering. But it is also a time when we look at our sins and sometimes painfully admit them to ourselves in our General Confession and in our personal prayers and examination of our individual lives.

Jesus takes us to the mountain top and for a brief moment we meet Elijah and Moses. These two men represent how it is possible to live in a relationship with God that is noteworthy as much for what they got right as for what they got terribly wrong.
Moses and Elijah, in zealousness both killed people they saw as abusing slaves and sacrificing children to satisfy the god of sacrificial culture. They were both murderers for what they thought was God’s cause.

So, why would two murderers be chosen to meet on the mountain top with the non-violent Jesus of Nazareth? In the Gospel Zone where the Kingdom of Heaven comes into focus for a moment, we may be tempted to focus on the spectacular show of light and dark clouds, but there is something going on in this time away from our usual view of things that is being communicated.

During Lent and during our life as a Christian community and our lives as members of the community that forms around Jesus, we are being called to see and hear beyond what might startle or distract us. We are called to enter into the conversation with God that we see on the mountain top.

We, like Peter, may misspeak. We may misunderstand the sights and sounds that flood us in the Gospel Zone and we may end up chasing after the sights and sounds of the stories we read in the Gospel, but it is certain that we will be changed by our visit to that holy place and moved closer to God.

The only way to avoid this transformation of body, mind, and spirit is to not journey up the mountain. Once we have visited the Gospel Zone, we will be changed in ways we cannot now imagine.

Welcome to the Gospel Zone.

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."