Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Thursday, November 01, 2012

THE PATH FROM GRIEF THROUGH FEAR, ANGER TO AN EMPTY TOMB

























No sleep so far tonight (Wednesday). I think the prednisone I am taking is winning and I am quite alert.

So, I thought I would share a quote from C.S. Lewis that probably reflected a part of his time of grief over the loss of his wife, Joy.

He wrote a book called "A Grief Observed" in which his understanding of human feelings was challenged by his experience of loss. He even published the book under a different name because it seemed to show a weakness in his Christian vocation.

I have lost those whom I "love, but see no more" and I have been with those in my ministry who have suffered the death of a loved one. And so this quote really hits home with me.

I have known the fear of which Lewis speaks and I have seen it in others. Life and a weekly willingness to gather with others for the sharing of a little piece of bread and a sip of wine have moved me to desire and receive the gift of memory and God's completing love.

At 3:00 am, these are my reflections based upon Lewis' observation and my personal and corporate experiences.

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."
C. S. Lewis

Which is why anger is part of grieving. Fear is the anticipation of loss and is a way to slow the process of experiencing the loss of a loved one. Fear calls upon anger to defend against a loss that has already taken place, but which has not been acknowledged.

It is written that "perfect (complete) love casts out fear." (American King James Version says it this way in I John 4:18:"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.")

There comes a time in grief when this complete love from God may enter the human heart and cast out the fear and anger that does not allow us to love the loved one completely or anyone else.

Fear & anger are like a sort of "forgetting" pill that does not change the reality of our loss, but prevents us from remembering such loss in a way that honors the loved ones or allows for what the church calls the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sin and the resurrection of the dead."

The Greek word for truth means "not forgetting." As Jesus met with his disciples on the night before he died, he took bread, gave thanks, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples with these words: "this is my body which is given for you. Whenever you eat this bread do so to remember me." Remembering can also be translated "make me present to you."

Grief is mind numbing. Fear and anger can keep our love frozen and incomplete. Tears signal loss amidst the tide of fear and anger and invite us to complete love through remembering the person we have loved and lost with thanksgiving and tears which give way to God's joy of having loved and been loved in life.

As the burial office of the church reminds us, "whether we live or whether we die we are The Lord's possession."

Complete love casts out fear when we surrender our belief that loss is more powerful than the love of God. Fear and anger are signposts along the way that leads to an empty tomb out of which streams light and more light.

"Welcome happy morning age to age shall say..."

Lyrics to Welcome Happy Morning

"Welcome, happy morning!" age to age shall say: "Hell today is vanquished, Heav'n is won today!" Lo! the dead is living, God forevermore! Him, their true Creator, all His works adore!
Refrain

"Welcome, happy morning!" Age to age shall say.
Earth her joy confesses, clothing her for spring, All fresh gifts returned with her returning King: Bloom in every meadow, leaves on every bough, Speak His sorrow ended, hail His triumph now.
Refrain

Months in due succession, days of lengthening light, Hours and passing moments praise Thee in their flight. Brightness of the morning, sky and fields and sea, Vanquisher of darkness, bring their praise to Thee.
Refrain

Maker and Redeemer, life and health of all, Thou from heaven beholding human nature's fall, Of the Father's Godhead true and only Son, Mankind to deliver, manhood didst put on.
Refrain

Thou, of life the Author, death didst undergo, Tread the path of darkness, saving strength to show; Come, then True and Faithful, now fulfill Thy Word; 'Tis Thine own third morning; rise, O buried Lord!
Refrain

Loose the souls long prisoned, bound with Satan's chain; All that now is fallen raise to life again; Show Thy face in brightness, bid the nations see; Bring again our daylight: day returns with Thee!
Refrain


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

THE DAILY VOTE FOR GOD'S LIFE OF LOVE


















It seems rather strange that in a land of so many choices to meet our various consumer demands there are really only two choices we have when it comes to a presidential race.

We human beings are rather diverse in our interests and expectations of the sort of world we want to live in and yet our current system of governing ourselves boils us all down into two groups and two candidates.

Of course, there will be those who decide not to decide and refuse to vote for either candidate while others will vote for a Green Party or some other lesser known party to signal their resistance to this every four year ritual.

There will also be those who will vote for one or the other candidate and not feel totally satisfied believing that they have voted for the person to avoid allowing the other candidate to win.

I guess at 2:00 AM in the morning*, in between my prayer times in the evening and in the morning, I have thought about the folks in my own congregation who will be going to vote in this coming election and will be casting their ballots for either Governor Romney or President Obama.

But at the end of this election cycle, we will all return to the very different and often hard to please folks who have managed to agree on either one or the other candidate as a way of moving on and hoping for the best. We will also return to the task of voting each day for God's love to be our way of life or voting to make our differences a stumbling block to loving as God loves us and as Jesus showed us how to love one another.

Last Sunday we prayed the collect that asked God for the gifts of Faith (seeing the world and others through the eyes of Jesus), Hope (living into the vivaciousness of God's patient work in each one of us and in the grand scheme of things that will bring us all to a place of the final gift of Charity, which is the God love life). I simply asked my parish family divided, no doubt, between the two presidential candidates, to vote in the power and desire for these three gifts in their hearts.

My life as a Christian is not to despise or demonize those who see things differently. Anyone can do that including me on my not so good days, but to love my neighbor who votes differently, prays differently, believes differently, looks differently, shops differently and to love that other person in the power of God's Spirit is the way Jesus walked and the way he invites us to walk with him. That is what it means to be a disciple, a learner.

When we have voted and I hope we all get out and vote, let us come back together and do the most important sort of voting we have been gifted to do: vote in our daily lives for God's life of love. This is the daily voting that makes the real difference in our world. Amen.

*NOTE: It looks like I may not be getting to sleep at all tonight owing to a dose of Prednisone for asthma, but this time late in the night and early into the morning for sorting things out.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Holy Offerings Rich and Rare: Giving Practices at Christ Church

PART I

As new members join Christ Church I think it is important to offer some experiences I have had here over my eleven years as Rector about the way people support the work of the parish, diocese, and national church. I will begin with my own experience.

I am not always very good at bringing my envelope to church each week. In fact, if someone were paying attention, they would notice that I sometimes forget to bring it for a month or more. Now this practice is not for lack of wanting to be faithful each week, but just because I get revved up for the service and setting up on Sunday mornings and I just plain forget.

Thankfully, no one in the church has ever questioned my forgetful ways, but that is because this community of faith does not really focus on who is giving, when they are giving or how much they are giving. Our focus as a community is on worship, hospitality, community, and learning to love one another in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In addition to my forgetful ways, there are other people whose pledges are done through automatic deposit; others write a check once a month, or follow some other schedule that works for them. As I said, I have a forgetful way with my giving, but my wife, Madelyn, who handles our money in the family, does not. So, now she has taken over the responsibility for writing the check and she makes sure my green envelop is on my side of the dresser one Sunday a month for me to bring to church.

So, I have now shared my experience with this part of the giving practices at Christ Church. As your priest, I am ever grateful for what everyone gives, but it is not my focus when I am with you. My focus is on working with you all in creating a place of welcome, worship, and learning that will help us all move more and more into the likeness and image of Christ. In a word, to help us grow in love and peace into the very ones God created us to be.

Our first and most important way of giving is to participate in our common life together in such a way as to reveal within the community and outside the community the love and presence of God.

Just coming to church to be part of worship is a gift! As we become more comfortable within the community, we offer service as a reader, chalice bearer, usher, acolyte, or choir member. We also find ourselves learning to sing the hymns, participate in the service, or offer to help someone else who is new. We greet one another and new people as if we were meeting Jesus.

So ends the first part of this mini-series on the practice of giving at Christ Church. Stay tuned for additional observations on what I have experienced here at Christ Church when it comes to presenting our "holy offerings rich and rare" to support the life of this community.

Bob+


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Sunday Preparation: Hear, Read, Mark, Learn, and Inwardly Digest

I have often been asked for a helpful way of preparing for Sunday worship. I have found that the best preparation is to

follow the pattern set forth in the collect which was composed for the second Sunday in Advent in the first English Prayer Book of 1549:

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience, and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. (Spelling and punctuation from the English Book of Common Prayer.)


Hearing means reading the text out loud; read means to read it silently and and slowly several times; mark means that you are free to underline, draw cartoons, or do whatever the text inspires you to do using a pen or pencil; learn means to allow some part of the text to stick with you for whatever reason and in such a way that you will remember it; and inwardly digest means that the text becomes a source of nurture for your soul.

I hope this process will assist you in some small way in preparing for Sunday's worship. I have included some things to consider as you make your way through the collect and readings.

God's Peace Today,
Bob+

THE COLLECT AND READINGS FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST (June 10, 2012)


O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today, consider what it means to believe that all good comes from God.


Today, consider what it means to be inspired to think those things that are right?

Today, consider what “merciful guiding” is.


FIRST READING 1 Samuel 8:4-20 & 11:14-15


All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.”

Today, consider what motivated the elders of Israel to ask for a King?


Samuel prayed to the LORD, and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only-- you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

Today, consider that when Samuel prayed to God about the request for a king, God said that their request was not a rejection of Samuel, but of God.



So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

Today, consider what Samuel reported from the Lord to the people of Israel concerning what it means to have a king and the many consequences of living as the Gentiles did.


But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

Today, consider why such negatives did not change the minds of the elders of Israel who apparently had power to make such a request.


Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the LORD, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.

Today, consider how this ending of the reading seems contrary to how opposed Samuel and God were to the institution of a king in Israel.



Psalm 130

Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD; LORD, hear my voice; * let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

Today, consider the meaning of the words: “out of the depths.”


If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss, * O Lord, who could stand?

Today, consider what the psalmist is saying about all human beings.


For there is forgiveness with you; * therefore you shall be feared.

Today, consider why forgiveness from God might create fear in those who are forgiven.


I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him; * in his word is my hope.

Today, consider for whom you are waiting and what the source of your hope is.


My soul waits for the LORD, more than watchmen for the morning, * more than watchmen for the morning.

Today, consider what sort of watchfulness the soul practices and why the morning is the time when such watchfulness seems to happen.


O Israel, wait for the LORD, * for with the LORD there is mercy;

Today, consider what the source of mercy is in your life and why one must wait for the one who is responsible for that mercy.


With him there is plenteous redemption, * and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

Today, consider why redemption is considered plenteous by the psalmist. Also consider why such redemption is even needed.


All loving, forgiving, and faithful God, thank you for the mercies of life and the freedom that your love and mercy offer to us. May we also have such an awareness of your love that we may call out to you from the depths of life and death knowing that you are with us and for us. Amen.

Today, consider this final prayer we will offer at the end of Psalm 130 on Sunday and why it is worded as it is.


The Gospel Mark 3:20-35


The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat.

Today, consider why crowds come together around celebrities in such a way as to make it hard for them to even eat. Was Jesus a celebrity? Why?


When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”

Today, consider how Jesus’ family was impacted by the opinion of others that Jesus was crazy.


And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”

Today, consider the evidence the scribes might have used to conclude that Jesus was working for the “ruler of the demons” that he was casting out of people.



And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?

Today, consider why what Jesus said to the scribes was a parable.
Today, consider what the meaning of the word Satan might be today.


If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.

Today, consider the possibility that some kingdoms and houses depend upon division to keep them going.

But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

Today, consider who the strong man might be and who it is that is capable of tying up the strong man. Also, consider what is used to tie up the strong man.


“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter;

Today, consider how wide spread this forgiveness spoken of by Jesus might be.


but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” -- for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Today, consider what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.


Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Today, consider what Jesus might mean by defining his family as only those who do the will of God.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

God Is Love! Pass It On.


Over the course of my life, I have come to know Jesus and God through the witness of other people who preceded, overlapped, and then who died. And those other people came to know Jesus and God through the witness of other people who also preceded, overlapped, and then who died. This process goes all the way back to those early disciples who stood around Jesus as he prayed for them to his Father just before he was arrested and taken to the cross.


Jesus was faithful to God. He had first-hand knowledge of God and he shared this first-hand knowledge with his disciples. What Jesus shared was the knowledge of God’s existence, but more, he shared with his friends that God was a personal God who loves in ways and measures that human beings simply cannot fathom.


Jesus knows God as love and shared this heart knowledge with his friends. He described this sharing in personal terms in this prayer to his Father: “I have made your name know to those whom you gave me from the world.” Knowing someone’s name is knowing who that person is. Jesus taught the disciples that his Father was love and that he was sent to them out of this love and that his life was the message that God loved them.


The disciples were taken out of the world (life organized without knowledge of God as the loving creator who is personal and purposeful and married to his creation for the good) by God the Father and given to Jesus so that they could come to know God and to organize their lives around this normally impossible to fathom God). Love is action and in Jesus, the disciples saw God’s love in action. Jesus taught them the name of God and they came to believe that God had sent him to them for that very purpose.


Jesus, preparing for his death, says good-bye to his disciples and prays to God the Father for them. The disciples are no longer of the world, but they are to be returned to the world to live out the knowledge of the loving God whom they had met in Jesus.


It is those early disciples whose lives touched other lives in such powerful ways that a chain reaction of love was started that caught up those whom they encountered and which has continued to this day and will continue until the world has no one left who does not know the name of the one who loves us.


Jesus prays that those first disciples be protected by the Father in such a way that they might be one, even as the Father and Jesus are one. Many see this quote as a call of some sort of institutional unity, but I would suggest that the knowledge of God as our loving creator who is ever-present to those of us who have come to believe and know God by his name. 


I give thanks for those who have been one in passing along this truth to those who passed it on to those who passed it on and who finally came passed it on to me.


But there is more to this story. Stay tuned. The Holy Spirit is coming.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I am not sure when God decided to create us. I wonder if, within the Trinity of persons Christians call God, love, which always seeks the beloved, made the decision to make room for humanity. God had already fallen in love with matter and the many and wide variety of ways matter could take shape and even take on the animating spirit of God in all manner of animals, fish, insects and birds. The work of God in creating was love because it made space and matter take on the shape of grace---the gratuitous gift of being and purpose.

What was missing for God were creatures who could imitate God, not by instinct or coercion, but by choice and even more, out of love. And so, on the last day of creation before God rested, God formed humanity out of the dust, out of the same stuff of which all other living things had been created. Into this person of dust, God breathed God's own breath into this new creature's nostrils and a human being was born.

I remember when, in the first days of marriage, we created a home and filled it with all manner of things: A new couch, a TV, a bed, a small dining table, a coffee table, pots and pans, and other creature comforts. It was great to be out on our own in our first habitation, but soon we felt it was time for us to make room for new life in our family. Children would be a wonderfully welcome addition to our life---and they were and still are.

We humans show love just as God shows love by making space for the beloved in space that had previously been only filled with a person or a couple. Jesus calls this sort of making space and place and grace, "laying down one's life for a friend." As we give thanks tomorrow for our birth mothers, let us also give thanks to God for loving us into life and making space and place and grace to abide in him. May we have the love of God that gives him space and place and grace for him to abide in us.

Making Space, Place, and Grace in God & in the Creation

May 13, 2012: Sixth Sunday of Easter

God’s love is shown in how God makes room for our full humanity within God’s self and then breathes out this full humanity into flesh and blood creatures, into us.

Our Love for God is our response to being loved by God and by making room for the full divinity of God within our humanity and in creation.

Faith is the action of accepting our full humanity within God’s self and accepting that full humanity within our individual person and within all people.


O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Our Collect for the day suggests that loving God is what completes the circuit of love that begins with God and ends with God. God’s love is not a feeling such as we might suppose, but a will and a delight in making room for something other than himself, but which shares in a smaller proportion the very nature of God.

God has already prepared a place for those whom he loves and those whom he loves are those whom God creates.

God has prepared good things for those whom he has created and our prayer asks that God pour that love which created space for us within God and within this created universe into our hearts towards God. How might this look? If God loves by making space within himself for us and allowing us to abide within God, our loving God is shown by making space within ourselves for God and that means making space for all of those who abide in God. This is what is meant by loving God (creating space and grace) within the created order for what God has made space and grace for within God’s self.

This is why God is like our Mother, bearing us within herself and finally birthing us into creation. God’s love is shown in how God makes room for our full humanity within God’s self and then breathes out this full humanity into flesh and blood creatures, into us.

Our Love for God is our response to being loved by God and by making room for the full divinity of God within our humanity and in creation.

Faith is the action of accepting our full humanity within God’s self and accepting that full humanity within our individual person and within all people. Peter sees God loving the Gentiles in the same way God had loved the people of the Covenant and quickly responds with a human action (baptism) to include these Gentiles, to make room for these Gentiles within the full humanity of God.

Acts 10:44-48

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

The Gentiles seemed to be overwhelmed by the words that Peter spoke. Peter’s words were culturally and time limited, but the Holy Spirit took those words to deliver a message that transcended the cultural and historical limitations of the moment.

The message was pure love which means that God has made room for these people even though they were not part of the covenantal people of Israel. It is not that they were previously not included in the full humanity that God breathed into creation, but that this message delivered by Peter, but translated by the Holy Spirit, meant that God had always made room for them from the beginning.

God, like a mother, bore within herself the fullness of humanity with no exclusions. This was the message that sent these Gentiles into wild and wonder-filled joy.

God’s love is shown in how God makes room for our full humanity within God’s self and then breathes out this full humanity into flesh and blood creatures, into us.

Our Love for God is our response to being loved by God and by making room for the full divinity of God within our humanity and in creation.

Faith is the action of accepting our full humanity within God’s self and accepting that full humanity within our individual person and within all people. The Psalm speaks of a divine victory that is new and breaks out in a song to celebrate that victory. The victory comes not as a military blow against enemies of God, but as a demonstration that God is the God of all creation. The language of scripture calls this “God’s righteousness.”

The victory comes as God becomes more and more clearly on the side of the whole human family whom God bears and births into creation. God loves creation and sustains it for all of humanity. When all of humanity, without exception, experience themselves as beloved of God and abiding in God from the beginning, the new song that was sung by a few will be sung by the whole of humanity.

Psalm 98 Page 727 BCP Cantate Domino

1 Sing to the LORD a new song, * for he has done marvelous things.

2 With his right hand and his holy arm * has he won for himself the victory.

3 The LORD has made known his victory; * his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, * and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

5 Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands; * lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

6 Sing to the LORD with the harp, *with the harp and the voice of song.

7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn * shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, * the lands and those who dwell therein.

9 Let the rivers clap their hands, * and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD, when he comes to judge the earth.

10 In righteousness shall he judge the world * and the peoples with equity.

God’s love is shown in how God makes room for our full humanity within God’s self and then breathes out this full humanity into flesh and blood creatures, into us.

Our Love for God is our response to being loved by God and by making room for the full divinity of God within our humanity and in creation.

Faith is the action of accepting our full humanity within God’s self and accepting that full humanity within our individual person and within all people.

This first letter of John builds upon the idea of our relationship to God as a parent. Specifically, the icon of Mother seems to fit this idea best.

Loving God is accepting our full humanity as having come from God. For John, Jesus is the clearest and only example that he can point to that demonstrates the full humanity of God in flesh and blood.

To believe that Jesus is the Son of God is to open ourselves up to the reality that God loves creation and did not create it as a sort less than perfect state of existence. God loves the material world.

Matter matters to God.

Matter is where God’s love takes what is within God’s self and makes it visible and concrete. Creation is the natural consequence of God’s decision to love and to love within that something called creation is to love our full humanity.

It is little wonder that Jesus constantly told stories about how no one is left out of the love of God. The Good Shepherd, the woman who lost one coin out of 10, the merchant in search of a pearl of exceeding beauty and value, all tell us that God is about the fullness of humanity and each and every created person who has abided in God and in creation.

To believe that God is seeking us out is to believe in the victory of God and to believe in the victory of God is to believe in the One within whom the fullness of God and humanity abides.

1 John 5:1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.

And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

God’s love is shown in how God makes room for our full humanity within God’s self and then breathes out this full humanity into flesh and blood creatures, into us.

Our Love for God is our response to being loved by God and by making room for the full divinity of God within our humanity and in creation.

Faith is the action of accepting our full humanity within God’s self and accepting that full humanity within our individual person and within all people.

It is fitting that Mother’s day and this passage from John’s Gospel happen to come together as they do today because there is a real image of God’s full humanity that comes into the world each and every time a woman decides to bear a child.

The child comes from God and has abided in God and for a short 9 months abides in the heart of creation as she has abided in God from the beginning.

Birth is the moment when the eternal nurture and abiding within the womb of God and the temporary abiding and nurture within the Mother send the child into the wider spaces and places of creation where the child will learn to live by the customs and rules of the family, culture, and time of her days.

Both God as Mother and mothers know what it means to make space, place, and grace for life. This making space, place, and grace is what God calls love. Jesus says to his disciples, “abide in my love.” The way to abide is to keep Jesus’ commandments. And Jesus’ commandments are summed up in these words: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

How did Jesus love his disciples? He made room for them in his human life. He made them intimate friends by sharing with them the ways of God’s love. A slave is told what to do and does not require a reason for doing it.

A friend knows another friend well enough to know what that friend needs and offers it to his friends. The commandment of love within friendship is about laying down one’s life for the other person.

Parents know the meaning of such love and friendship. In pregnancy, the mother allows space, place, and grace to the embryo. Parents create space, place, and grace within their lives for the infant, toddler, child, adolescent, and young adults and when the time comes for their children to “leave home” the parents, like God, continue to have a place, space, and grace in their hearts for their children. But the children also have created a place, space, and grace in their hearts for their parents.

As the collect says, “pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire…”

On this Mother’s Day, we give thanks for our birth mothers who gave us place, space, and grace within their bodies and lives and taught us how to abide within God and to allow others to abide in us.

May we always find ourselves within that abiding place of God and creation and may we love God in others and above others to the glory and victory of God. John 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples, "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another."

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Is Resentment a Theme in Your Life?



Can you tell your story from beginning to the present time without a plot that includes resentments that continue to be a focus and predictor of what is ahead?

I think we all have our times of getting angry about someone hurting us physically or emotionally. Anger is a strong and protective emotion that is our human response to being attacked. Anger is the energy that sends us running away from our attacker or towards them to do battle. It is the energy of anger that accomplishes both tasks of self-defense.

Resentment is the re-living of the event over and over again until it becomes so much a part of our story and identity that we have trouble living life beyond the shadow of such resentments. In fact, we begin to see future events defined in terms of our resentments in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

For some of us, we can scarcely talk about the events of a single day without reporting how this person or that one infringed on our personal space and thereby injured us. Life without past resentments and current reincarnations of those resentments seems nearly unthinkable.

To live this way is like having a disease that does not cause physical symptoms, but slowly eats away at the very core of our lives. St. Paul once wrote, "who will rescue me from this body of death?" Cain lived out his resentment towards his brother, Abel and towards God and his entire life was lived according to the code of proactive protective revenge.

The real story of redeeming love is how each of us has been rescued from a life of resentments that define and destroy us. Perhaps you have a story of how God's redeeming love rescued you. What symptoms tipped you off that something was radically wrong? Who helped you see your life differently? What events shattered your identity of resentment?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Great Power of the Resurrection


If the disciples and followers were acting in the "great power of the resurrection" how is such power different from the power we human beings act in? It appears that economic insecurity drives and motivates us. It appears that one sign of the great power of the resurrection is shown in the way these early followers lived out of "one heart and soul." which is, I believe, the Holy Spirit filled to overflowing in a human community. The outward sign of the resurrection was the way they viewed ownership. Private ownership of things was absent from their understanding of life.

Acts 4:32-35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.



Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. The photo was taken just before we started our Good Friday liturgy. Etched in the window is an icon of Jesus standing between two children who are offering him flowers, but the brightness of the rising sun this morning flooded that image and only light beams of bluish light burst out from this opening to the world.

The cross seems rather small amidst all of the white wall and wood Table and that bright light flooding into the church. Good Friday can often seem dark and rather hopeless. But the work of the cross is not an end, but a beginning or the mid-point in God’s work of creation. Human freedom is a gift from God. Human freedom is also the source of much pain and suffering. The cross demonstrates both the gift and the pain of suffering of creation as it breaks into a world whose freedom is used to rid itself of God in favor of our own desires and devices. The cross is dwarfed by the outpouring love and life of God that the cross sets loose on the world.

Human freedom has been preserved by the God who conferred it. Human suffering which has come from the way we have chosen to use our freedom has been revealed as a choice and not the way things have to be. God has entered into our freedom with his freedom and offered us love, mercy, justice, and redemption for the larger and grander work of creation as it continues towards the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world that is coming even now.

It is God’s work, this new creation. God’s work is not to save us from his good creation by whisking us away. God’s work is to give us time to practice the art of living freely in a world in which God is finally welcomed. As the great Easter hymn says: “All that now is fallen raise to life again.” (see all of the lyrics to this great Easter hymn below)

Easter is more than just the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth. The sun bursts in through the open window above the cross and we welcome this coming Happy Morning now and until the day when all creation welcomes the presence of God as liberator, redeemer, and friend.

"Welcome, Happy Morning!"
by Venantius Fortunatus, c. 530-609
Translated by John Ellerton, 1826-1893

1. "Welcome, happy morning!" Age to age shall say;
Hell today is vanquished, heaven is won today!"
Lo, the Dead is living, God forevermore!
Him, their true Creator, all His works adore.
"Welcome, happy morning!" age to age shall say;
Hell today is vanquished, heaven is won today!"

2. Maker and Redeemer, Life and Health of all,
Thou from heaven beholding human nature's fall,
Of the Father's Godhead, true and only Son.
Manhood to deliver manhood didst put on.
"Welcome, happy morning!" age to age shall say;
Hell today is vanquished, heaven is won today!"

3. Thou, of life the Author, death didst undergo,
Tread the path of darkness, saving strength to show.
Come, then, True and Faithful, now fulfil Thy word;
'Tis Thine own third morning--rise, 0 buried Lord!
"Welcome, happy morning!" age to age shall say;
Hell today is vanquished, heaven is won today!"

4. Loose the souls long prisoned, bound with Satan's chain;
All that now is fallen raise to life again.
Show Thy face in brightness, bid the nations see;
Bring again our daylight; day returns with Thee.
"Welcome, happy morning!" age to age shall say;
Hell today is vanquished, heaven is won today!"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Bishop, the Serpent, and the Cross


THE QUESTION
What is the relationship between the bronze serpent that Moses raised up in the wilderness and Jesus being raised up on a cross just outside the walls of Jerusalem? The story from the book of Numbers says that God sent serpents into the campsite of Israel to punish them for their grumbling against Moses and against God (See the passages for this coming Sunday below).

MY REFLECTION ON THE QUESTION

When I was very young, perhaps in my early 20s, I had my first appointment with the Bishop of Los Angeles, The Right Reverend Francis Eric Bloy, to see if he would accept me as a postulant for Holy Orders. I remember waiting nervously in the small waiting area of the Diocesan offices. There were many important looking men coming and going from the Bishop’s office upstairs.

Here I sat with an overly short haircut that went very wrong the night before this interview was to take place. The barber had misunderstood what I asked for and so he cut swaths of hair off in a rather irregular pattern. My wife “fixed” the irregularities by cutting my hair ever so much shorter. There I sat in coat and tie with a bad haircut. I could feel the cold sweat on my hands and feet, a sure sign that I was not at all at ease.

Finally, the receptionist called my name, “Robert, the Bishop will see you now.”


I followed her to the elevator and she escorted me up the one floor ascent and brought me into the outer office where I met his very kindly secretary. Again, I stood in front of her nervously waiting for her to escort me the few additional feet into the presence of Bishop Bloy.

The Bishop’s office was dark with a desk lamp focused downward being the only light in the room. The Bishop seemed pre-occupied. When I approached his large desk, he rose and extended his hand to me to shake. I wondered if my cold and moist handshake would tip him off that I was feeling more than a bit anxious in his presence.
He motioned me to sit down across the desk from him and then he cut straight to the bottom line.

“Tell me, young man, why do you want to become a parish priest?”

I began to quickly compose myself and took a deep breath, but before I could open my mouth, I heard the Bishop say: “And don’t give me that love crap.” He went on to characterize the life of a parish priest in less than inviting ways. He called church parishes “dens of vipers” and I could see that he was very concerned that I might not be up to the task of dealing with the snakes that I would encounter as a priest.

The church was a den of vipers?

I had never had such an experience of the church growing up at St. Cross so the Bishop’s warning words sort of rolled off of me or flew above my na├»ve head and I began to see that his description was his own painful and deadly experience over his long ministry. I began to feel sorry for him and to lose my sense that my time with him was about me and my qualifications. For some reason, he decided to share his own snake-bit life as a priest, but probably more as a bishop.

At the end of our time together, the Bishop stood up, shook my hand and told me that I was a fine young man and that my next stop was the Standing Committee whose approval I would need to go forward as a postulant. I left the office a little confused as to what had taken place. I had barely said a full sentence during the entire time I was with him and yet he smiled at me and sent me onto the next step with his blessing.

Den of vipers? The church? Really?

Over the course of my life since that late afternoon meeting with Bishop Bloy, I have not forgotten what he said to me. He was older and wiser than me and had experienced rejection by Episcopalians who left the church over his stand favoring civil rights. He had been vilified, spoken about with venom and biting remarks, and attacked with false accusations and innuendo. The afternoon I saw him, he must have been feeling the toxic poison of having been bitten by the very people he was called to love and serve and lead.

Our text from Numbers makes sense to me. Moses was called to love and serve and lead the children of Israel. Things were not going well. The water was scarce and bitter. The food was boring. Never mind that in each case of complaining Moses interceded on their behalf to God and God responded with more water and a greater variety of food.
Despite their responsiveness, the leadership of both God and Moses was less than stellar in the opinion of the people.

But I would suggest that the attacks on Moses and God were not the first signs of conflict and accusation. Just as Bishop Bloy called the church a den of vipers, perhaps the only serpents let loose in the camp of Israel were the ones that were released as accusation, quarreling and bickering by the very people whose community suffered under such behavior.

Sin when it is full grown becomes the very wrathful and deadly consequence of sin.

The vipers that attacked the people of Israel or any community are the vipers of mistrust and accusation that lead to a deadly environment that lacks faithfulness, compassion, empathy for others, and a sense of community in the midst of adversity that pulls together.

The sin of the community kills the community. Moses pleaded with God to rescue the people from their own behavior and God told Moses to fashion a bronze serpent, an icon of what was killing them, and hold it up for all to see. Those who chose to look upon the icon survived the deadly attacks of vipers in the community and those who did not look upon the bronze serpent did not.

Is this a bit of magic? No, I would suggest that it is much more than magic. The bronze serpent appealed to the idol worshipping community of Israel who still doubted and mistrusted the God who had delivered them from Egyptian slavery and the less than impressive Moses who represented that God, but it was also a way of bringing the people to a full awareness of their part in the sin that had turned the community upside down.

As the AA slogan goes: "Denial is not just a river in Egypt," but a way of avoiding responsibility for one's actions and changing based upon the revelation that the snakes that were killing them were not from God, but were let loose within the community, by the community.

Jesus says: "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." Jesus' death on the cross holds up to us the very sin that only God’s love and life-giving offering of life can remedy. Salvation begins with a moment of clarity that breaks through our personal and corporate denial of our part in creating a viper’s den.


What put Jesus on the cross? A world that often resembles a den of vipers is a world filled with fear and accusations; a world that does not trust God or any other human being; a world whose toxic ways are denied by most and grieved and suffered by the whole creation.

To believe in God's love and care and vision for the world as a place of abundance and justice and compassion comes when we come out of the denial about our mistrust of God’s goodness that leads to grumbling, accusation, fear and violence. To receive this grace of God we must first own our part in the toxic environment in which we live.

Lent is a time in the wilderness for us.

Bishop Bloy has long since died, but the impact of his words shared with me have stayed with me and have come to make sense to me in a way that Bishop Bloy might not have experienced in his ministry. He seemed to me to have suffered greatly.
Moses died in the wilderness and never saw the Promise Land. He seemed to me to have suffered greatly.

Jesus died upon a Roman cross, not in the wilderness, but outside the gates of Jerusalem where everyone could see his dying; where everyone can see the consequence of our sin of envy, mistrust, lying, dishonesty, and violence. The cross of Christ is the beginning of human salvation because like the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses, we finally come face to face with the enormous wrath that we have let loose on ourselves through our mistrust of God's love, caring, leading, and giving of himself.

Have I ever set a viper loose in the world? Have I accused others falsely? Have I believed false accusations about others as if they were true and passed them on to others? Have I acted as if God's love and generosity were limited and therefore scarce? Have my thoughts, words, and deeds made the world a more loving and compassionate place in which to live?

The confession we use during Lent is rich and full. It is written in full view of the cross of Christ and offers us the promise and gift of starting over again and again. May God give us all the grace to turn towards the cross and find the compassion and love of God being offered to us all.

The Litany of Penitence

Most holy and merciful Father: we confess to you and to one another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

Absolution

Almighty God have mercy on you, + forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.


Numbers 21:4-9

From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food." Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live." So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Ephesians 2:1-10

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-- by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

John 3:14-21

Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ACCUSED?




















“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”


These words were written over the men’s lockers at Mira Costa High School when I was a student there.


There was another one that read:

“Winners never quit and quitters never win.”

As I walked into that locker room my freshman year, I embraced these two slogans and sought to never be accused of acting contrary to those high standards of toughness and persistence in the face of adversity.

Winning mattered!

Surrender or giving up was not an option.

Mental and physical toughness are important to me. To be accused of not being tough enough, of not being persistent against all odds was for me, the ultimate insult and temptation to show my accusers just how tough and persistent I could be. I wanted to be the very definition and incarnation of these values.

These were not the only values that are important to me. Honesty, caring for and being of service to others, loving God and my neighbors, being faithful to my God, family, and nation are also important to me.

Perhaps you have experienced someone accusing you of acting in a way that contradicts your values and your personal sense of identity. How did you respond when others pointed fingers at you? Did you get angry? Did you get sad? Did you beat yourself up for not living up to your ideal? Or, did you beat up on your accuser or look for similar flaws in their character and behavior?

This Sunday we will hear a reading from the Gospel of Mark that describes very briefly Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan, his being driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted, and his return to civilization to begin his mission after the arrest of John.

Mark does not tell us any of the details of Jesus’ time of temptation by Satan, but I think there is enough information to get an idea of what it might have been. We hear that Jesus was tempted as we are, but he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). We often think that temptation is about being enticed to do something wrong like stealing, but I would like to suggest that since the nature of temptation is contained in very name of the one doing the tempting, we might want to look at the tempter’s name for a clue.

Mark says that Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Satan means Accuser. So, tempting is about accusing Jesus of something or other. At Jesus’ baptism, we read that “ a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’"

To be declared God’s Son and beloved and pleasing to God certainly creates a pretty large target for someone seeking to prove you are not God’s Son, not beloved, and not well pleasing. Jesus’ identity and relationship with God is the target for temptation. If you read the fuller accounts of the temptations of Christ in the other Gospels, you will see how the tempter took aim and fired at Jesus.

So, back to my original question about how you and I react when we are accused of violating our values and our identities? Why do we feel we need to defend ourselves when such accusations come our way? Do we, perhaps, respond negatively because we believe what our accusers say about us? The values I embrace and the identity I claim as my own are easy targets for those who wish to attack me. They are easy because they are not truly my values nor do they define my identity.

If I respond with hostility or self-doubt when I am accused of not living up to who I see myself to be, it is time to allow God to rescue me from my need to defend that which is not defensible. Our true identity is that we are a fallible, imperfect, limited creation of God. Our relationship with God is that we are loved by God. Notice that who we are is not dependent upon anything we have done or failed to do, but simply by virtue of our creation by God.

Our limited and fallible human nature and the ways we behave to avoid blame and crippling shame combine in temptation to lead us into behavior which is called sin. Sin is about breaking relationship with God, with others, and within ourselves to avoid being accused. Sometimes we will accuse others to avoid the finger of accusation being pointed at us and such blaming always seems to lead to a very bad outcome for those we accuse and for us.

During the season of Lent we are invited to repent. To turn around and embrace our true identity as children of God who are not perfect, but limited in time and space and knowledge. We can affirm our identities as children of God through confessing that we are children of God who are capable of making mistakes and accepting responsibility for what we do. This is the power of forgiveness and reconciliation in the face of accusation, the great temptation to sin.

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

THE COLLECT FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Triple Alleluia in the Light & Darkness


This Sunday we will dedicate and bless the Alleluia Corner in loving memory of John Simpson who led the 10 AM service in a joyful, "Alleluia , Alleluia, Alleluia!!!" week after week with only a respectful pause during Advent and Lent.

John was a man with many questions about life and about death; about grace and judgment; about right and wrong; about forgiveness and unforgiveness. Despite his many questions, he showed up week after week and offered his powerful voice to praise God in what we have come to call the "Triple Alleluias."

As you read the assigned text for this last Sunday of Epiphany, the verse that follows this text is one that should be read, pondered, and reflected upon: "10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean."

John did alot of "questioning what this rising fromt he dead" meant and he would come to me with his questions and we would spend meals together wrestling with his questions together. I am not sure I ever really answered John's questions, but I think John was okay with that and his joyful outbursts on Sunday were a constant source of humor, but also called us all to the deep and faithful (good Marine that he was, Semper Fi) intention he brought with him to worship this God of light and darkness who troubled him.

I offer this reflection in thanksgiving for the life of my dear questioning friend, John Simpson.

Mark 9:2-9


Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.


Our Gospel reading for this last Sunday in Epiphany describes a final act in a play when the drama of the moment is highlighted by the visual of bright light quickly turned off. The lights of God’s presence are dazzling as the three heroes of the play glow brightly in the intensity of white light. Suddenly, the lights go out and two of the heroes are gone, they simply disappear from sight, leaving the lone hero standing rather quietly and unspectacularly in the dim light of a 60 watt bulb.

But this is not the end of the play, but perhaps the midpoint. This Sunday is called the Feast of the Transfiguration. During Epiphany we have seen more and more evidence offered in the life of Jesus that he was bringing something new into the world. Indeed, he was the very new thing that was in the world. John’s Gospel calls Jesus “the light of the world.” Mark tells this story of light shining brightly with the same truth in mind.

Now Mark invites us, who have seen this great light in Jesus’ life and heard the witnesses (John, Peter, and James) tell this story of light on the mountain top, to the journey Jesus will make to Jerusalem and to the cross. Jesus tells his disciples not to speak about their experience on the mountain top until after he is raised from the dead and so, we now enter the story of Lent having seen the light, but allowing the dark times ahead to be without the aid of this memory. Perhaps the bad times ahead will cause us to forget about this mountain top experience, doubt it in some way, or explain it away as wishful and hopeful imagining.

We enter the Lenten season with the memory of Jesus’ ministry, his loving touch of the leper,the healing of those who were blind and crippled, the casting out of community demons rather than those individuals to whom these demons were assigned, receding like the sun setting as the darkness of night comes over us. This is a time of testing, not to fool us or to cause us to fail, but to nurture us and to help us see in the darkness.

St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross offer us some valuable insights into darkness. John was a Spanish mystic who did not consider all darkness to be evil. He wrote about “la noche oscura,” the dark night, not as evil, but simply as the difficulty of seeing in the dark. Both Teresa and John use another word to describe what we would call evil. That word is “tinieblas.” In oscuras things are hidden, in tinieblas, one is blind.

Lent is a time to pray in oscuras, in the darkness and to be healed of the blindness of tinieblas. May your Lenten disciplines open your eyes to see through the darkness the one who stood on the mountain top alone as he makes his way into the tinieblas, the blindness of the world. Begin your Lent rightly by coming to Ash Wednesday services next week.

God’s Peace in the Darkness,
Bob

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Following Directions



Mark 1:40-45

A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Imagination is a powerful spiritual palette that allows us to see deeper into the ways God works in our world and in our lives. This Sunday we will hear a story about a leper who is also a beggar. His disease was considered contagious, not only physically, but spiritually as well and could result in being ostracized from the community. The meeting between Jesus and this unnamed leper is dramatic. The leper begs Jesus for mercy and says "If you choose, you can make me clean."

Before we see how Jesus responds to this leper’s request, let’s give this leper a past using one of the characters from the First Testament. There was a man named Job who was righteous in every way. In other words, he did what was considered right in the eyes of God and his community. He was admired, looked up to, and perhaps even envied by many of the people in his community. People came to Job when they were going through tough times and Job counseled them, perhaps telling them how they had come to suffer this or that disaster, illness, or personal loss of relationships.

While Job comes out of a different time and place, let’s let him be the leper who comes to Jesus begging for purification. Imagine the happy ending that the original story offered about Job was just a cover up, a Hollywood ending to make everyone feel like God takes care of his own even though he allows his own to be set up for attack and testing by God’s accuser, named Satan.

Job’s final affliction after the death of his children, the loss of his property, respect in the community and even the love and fidelity of his wife (she tells him to just go ahead and die), Job is afflicted with a skin disorder that is unsightly and festering. He is a man lost, abandoned, cast adrift in the world. When he challenges God to a one on one conversation, he is overwhelmed by the power and majesty of God and shouted into silence by the questioning of God.

So, let’s let Job be this leper that comes to Jesus. After all that has happened to him, he still is relationship with God. He believes that if God wants to heal him God will. Ages upon ages have rolled by and Job has borne the marks of his leprosy and lived on the outside of the community as a beggar. Those who knew him when he was considered a righteous man have all long since died and Job is simply that guy no one wants to be who lives on the outskirts of town.

He comes to Jesus on bended knees and asks for the healing of his leprosy. Jesus seems to be filled with emotion and the words used to describe his feeling could be either pity, or compassion or anger. It is a deep, guttural, aching, anguished shout, "I do choose. Be made clean!"

After years of abject suffering and rejection, Job is given a hearing and his prayer is answered. Talk about the patience of Job! Of course, this is my imaginary choice to make the leper of our story the character Job from the First Testament, but I think Job without a happy ending and searching for redemption works and gives the story more color and meaning.

Who was this leper whose faith left his healing up to the will of God and believed that Jesus somehow had the authority to say yes to him on God’s behalf? I don’t know, but I do know that this leper failed to follow the strict and plain command that Jesus gave him about going to the priests and not telling anyone about what Jesus had done for him.

Perhaps we have all been healed by God in many, many ways and yet have not been as enthusiastic in spreading the word as this leper. I wonder if Job would have followed Jesus’ instructions. I wonder how anyone who has been living on the margins of community would make their way back into the very communities from which they had been excluded.

The leper who disobeyed Jesus spread the word about Jesus healing him rather than going to the authorities to be officially welcomed back into the community as Jesus had directed him to do. The result of the leper’s decision to spread the word about Jesus was that Jesus could not go to the very cities and villages to which he had hoped to go.

His ministry was conducted in the outskirts of cities, in the wilderness, in the margins. Perhaps the same thing has happened in our world today. Perhaps Jesus is still operating in the outskirts of culture and even religion. Those who tout Jesus in a triumphant way may make Jesus less and less available and accessible to the people who need God’s flesh and blood presence and love.

Job, what do you think?

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Welcoming Starts with Healing


Mark 1:29-39

Jesus left the synagogue at Capernaum, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

Jesus found a home with Simon and Andrew in Capernaum. The home was open and welcoming, not just to Jesus, but to James and John the other fishermen, now called to be disciples. This sort of hospitality was not a new thing in Judaism. Such hospitality stretches back to Abraham who welcomed strangers into his tent with food and honor.

So Simon and Andrew were simply following what every faithful Jew would do in a similar circumstance. Abraham had welcomed strangers who turned out to be angels of Yahweh. Simon and Andrew welcomed Jesus who turned out to be the presence of Yahweh in human flesh and blood.

Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.

Simon’s mother-in-law was part of his household. She must have been the mother superior of the home. It was this unnamed woman who, like the Holy Spirit, opened her home to strangers and friends alike. She had a fever which meant that she was not able to provide the leadership of welcoming for which she was, no doubt, know. Every home and community of faith needs a head welcoming person who organizes the family and community into action that results in the home expanding to include all who come through the door.

Simon’s mother-in-law was such a person. Is it any wonder that the disciples came to Jesus “at once” hoping that he would restore this very important person to health and service?

He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

Healing does not come to everyone of us who is ill. Sometimes we are sick unto death. What is happening in this Gospel reading is about restoring to health the welcoming one to not only this family, but to the whole people of the world. Simon’s mother-in-law becomes the sign of the Holy Spirit as the welcoming and healing presence of God being restored to health and vigor and service within the community. Watch what happens once she is healed.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.

The home of Simon and Andrew is thereby opened to the entire city. It becomes the place where hospitality and healing meet those in need. As we begin another year together at Christ Church, consider this miracle—the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law.

What healing has gone on at Christ Church that has set free the Holy Spirit to make our community of faith a place of welcome and healing?

What have you observed of this healing and how have you noticed that word is spreading of this being a place and community of welcome and healing?

What part have you played in this healing?

Have we invited Jesus to come and stay with us?


And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

This final passage is focused on Jesus ministry of exorcism—the casting out of demons. This talk of demons sound archaic in our day and age, but I would like to offer a different way of looking at it. Those in Jesus’ day and in our day know what a community torn apart by strife, division, anger, and violence look like.

What is the spirit of such a community that encourages such deadly consequences?

Jesus came and cast out this spirit of death and exclusion and disease of heart and soul. What was true then is true today.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

I would suggest that Jesus is a good model for praying. More importantly his prayer life, his daily communion with God that brought together heaven and earth is the very way God creates communities of welcome and healing. May we pray for the healing of the spirit of welcome and healing to continue to call us together and bring us through the door that leads to the presence of God.