GOOD FRIDAY

April 19, 2019

Back in 2015, I discovered Sufjan Stevens’ marvelous music.  “Abraham” moved me deeply. The simple music played on acoustic guitar accompanying spare and fine, almost stark, lyrics is surely mystical.

  • Abraham
  • Was a righteous one
  • Take up on the wood
  • Put it on your son
  • Take a lamb
  • There is none to harm
  • When the angel came
  • You had raised your arm
  • Abraham
  • Put off on your son
  • Take instead the ram
  • Until Jesus comes

The type is Isaac, bound with the killing thrust poised in Abraham’s hand.  The antitype is Jesus, nailed to a cross with the killing nails. Slow, inch by inch, life leaked from Jesus’ hands.  The angel stayed Isaac’s execution.  Not so, Jesus.   What God did not ultimately demand of Abraham, He did demand of Himself.

On that Friday of death, contradiction morphed into paradox:  Good Friday.

In hope, in spite of the facts.  John

MAUNDY THURSDAY

April 18, 2019

JOHN 13 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table,  took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord— and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anothers feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus Washing The Feet Of His Disciples - Albert Edelfelt

When Jesus got to Peter with basin and water Peter balked.  It’s not that his feet were ticklish, it’s not that someone wanted to wash his feet, it’s because it was Jesus, who he loved and revered, came at him as servant.

In our own day it is all about us.  We are self-conscious about our feet.  By a certain age feet are pretty beat up.  It is not, I have observed, washing feet that is so unacceptable even, no, it’s having our feet washed.  That may seem backwards, but the ego inside voice says,   “So, if this is going on at least I will be in control.”  Sitting in chair when someone not of ego’s choice, touching, handling and, at least symbolically, is beyond a self-absorbed ego’s tolerance.

Soul, on the other hand, while perhaps timid the first time, discovers a peculiar intimacy in the process.  Suddenly, one is in a genuine religious experience, and such has an almost irresistible attraction.

Ego, sighs relief, retreating to the pew, having survived an unpleasant experience.  Soul is almost unaware of self upon reentering the pew. They are both moved, but consider the dichotomy. Attendance on Maundy Thursday is lower than other Holy Week services and I suspect the push pull of ego versa soul is the reason.  Pedicures are not required.  So relax, and pardon the expression, but meeting sole to soul is holy.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John

MAUNDY THURSDAY

April 18, 2019

JOHN 13 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,

jesus washing peters feet by ford madox brown

4 got up from the table,  took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

John Jesus lean

 

12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord— and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one her.”

11_Jesus_washes_feet_1024-1014x761

When Jesus got to Peter with basin and water, Peter balked.  It’s not that his feet were ticklish, it’s not that someone wanted to wash his feet, it’s because Jesus, who he loved and revered, came at him as servant.

In our own day, it is all about us.  We are self-conscious about our feet.  And in truth, by a certain age feet are pretty beat up.  It is not, I have observed, washing feet that is so unacceptable even, no, it’s having our feet washed.  That may seem backwards, but the ego “inside voice” says,   “So, if this is going on at least I will be in control.”  Sitting in chair with someone, not of ego’s choice, touching, handling and, at least symbolically washing our feet, is beyond self-absorbed ego’s tolerance.

Soul, on the other hand, while perhaps timid the first time, discovers a peculiar intimacy in the process.  Suddenly, one is in a genuine religious experience, for such has an almost irresistible attraction.

Ego, sighs relief, re-seated in the pew, having survived an unpleasant experience.  Soul is almost unaware of self upon reentering the pew. They are both moved, but consider the dichotomy. Attendance to Maundy Thursday is lower than other Holy Week services and I suspect the push pull of ego versa soul is the reason.  Pedicures are not required.  So relax, and pardon the expression, but meeting sole to soul is holy.

In hope, in spite of the facts.  J

 

HOLY TUESDAY

April 16, 2019

grain-of-wheat-dies-to-bear-much-fruit

JOHN 12:20   Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. Jesus Speaks about His Death 27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. 37 Although he had U

JOHN 12: 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Just about everything you can say about Jesus is contradictory.  Contradictions pulled and tugged toward the middle become paradox, appearing contradictory yet in tension are true.  The dying grain, without observation morphs into a multitude of seeds.  Humans have known that East or West of Eden ever since.  Not all seeds bear multiplicity, but all seeds have it in them.

Our ego is our shell.  It is the husk that holds us together in this life.  It thickens as we age, anticipating pain and suffering.  Somewhat safe, increasingly imprisoned, we long for relief.  Relief has come among us.  Jesus, the son, rather the seed of God, came among us as one of us. He did not consider his ego essential to the seed, fell into the earth and by dying, was loosed a cosmic energy, we call grace.  He knocks on the shell wall, entreating to us come to him.

 A few hear his voice, turn from their ego obsession, fall into the earth dying to ourselves.  Again life comes through death to egoself.  Death of egoself passes for reckless, stupid, self-hate to others caught by ego.  Not so.

Psalm 126: 5 & 6 is the soul anthem of grace.

…PSALMS 126:5-6   (They) who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. 6He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

Egocentricity is isolating.  Egos are easily frightened. Any perceived threat triggers a panicky search for certainty.  We want control.  Naturally we sow in tears.  Yes, we go out weeping, suffering is the promise always keeps.  The and only then are we open to life in Christ, the sudden irresistible movement of grace and we go to the Father with shouts of joy bearing our sheaves.

In hope, in spite of the facts.  John+

HOLY WEDNESDAY

April 17, 2019

JOHN 13: 21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples— the one whom Jesus loved— was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”  So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. The New Commandment 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33

Let us get past the goofy notion that Jesus was never anxious (note verse 21). Notice that Jesus did not succumb to anxiety.  Notice, in addition, that Jesus stated this anxiety with his inner circle.   What he did that Thursday night was put it back into the system as a call to grow up.   Jesus did this when he informed his inner circle that one of their number would betray him.  As it always is on such occasions, the room got very quiet. Everyone looked around and wondered who on earth would do such.  John, reclining near Jesus whispered near his ear, “Lord, who?” “Watch,” and he dipped a choice bit of hummus on fresh pita bread to Judas, who beamed at the mark of favor.

God warned Cain that his rage at his brother (and God) had attracted sin, crouching by the door to grab him.  “You must master this.”  Cain did not and Abel lay dead in the field, the first murder.  On that dark night, Jesus knew that Satan entered Judas when Jesus gave him communion so he said,   “Whatever you are doing, at least get on with it. Whereupon, Judas rose from the table and went out. Then, O blessed understatement: And it was night.

In hope, in spite of the facts.  J

 

 

 

Holy Monday

April 15, 2019

JOHN 12   Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

Wayne Forte

3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” 9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews

The corporate ego of the priesthood was by then murderously enraged.  Nothing will provoke such behavior from the, “so-called,” righteous than someone with an idea that contradicts everything the ruling righteous stood on.  That is why the disorienting contradicting parables got Jesus killed.  I can testify that we “professional Christians” are particularly susceptible to a virulent, fatal strain of the We-Plague.

While all of us have an ego shadow, any group’s collective “we” is as unforgiving of another’s “I” as a flock of ravens pecking to death one of their own, born albino. It didn’t seem to cross the minds of that crowd to stop and reflect on Lazarus’ inching out in his mummy wrapping as a miracle!  Rather, they saw him as an unfortunate symptom of a deadly threat.  Getting Lazarus back in the ground was job one!

Beloved, righteousness fueled by rage is all ways a fatal mutation.  The epidemic is all around us.  For the first time in almost sixty-five years, I actually pray for”…the Republic for which it stands.”  How then, do we live in the face of such fear fueled hatred?

anointingjesuswithnard-arcabas

First we face our own fearful anxiety.  We consciously contract our ego, thus growing ourselves up and calming ourselves down.  Becoming the Gospel, daring to say I in the face of the terrified we is what Jesus would do if he were here.  He did it the first time and he left us (as his body) to do it in ours.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John Sewell

PALM SUNDAY

April 14, 2019

Palm-Sunday-

James Tissot – Jesus Enters Jerusalem

LUKE 12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. 18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”

If Jesus had left his entrance into Jerusalem to the public relations firm Peter preferred, the entrance in the Holy City would have been splashier and turned out differently.  I learned a long time ago that ability to function as I in midst general demand for We is the great challenge of human life in general and leadership in particular.

His disciples loved Jesus, of course, but in an egocentric way that promoted conflict over who “they” would be in the new administration.  “Let Jesus be the head, but we will be right there. I want to be Secretary of State in the coming Kingdom.”

Jesus took control of his destiny, entering his own way, no on a war horse or chariot of Roman triumphs.  Taking his cue from the prophet Zachariah, he mounted the sharp backbone of a donkey’s colt, entering in great humility, not the feigned modesty of the perceptive politician.

Why?  First let’s look at the Epistle for today.

 PHILIPPIANS 2:5-8   Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Note that glory was not something essential Jesus’ identity as God, nor did he consider his divine status necessary, he emptied himself of divine prerogative, but emptied, humbled himself.   Why?  I think Theodoret, a Fifth Century  Father, was clearly on the money when he wrote,

Being God, and God by nature, and having equality with God, he thought this no great thing, as is the way of those who have received some honor beyond their merits, but, hiding his merit, he elected the utmost humility and took the shape of a human being.  Epistle to the Philippians 2.6-7  

 – Theodoret, Bishop of  Cyrrhus 393 – 457 AD

Palm 2

Egyptian Coptic Icon of Palm Entry

Jesus didn’t need to prove anything to anybody, nor claimed more than he merited.  He took a lower place as a servant.  Being God he never felt he had anything to prove to anybody.  That sense of self defeated the evil tempter in the wilderness.  In addition this hymn reveals that servanthood, humility and emptying of self (I would say “contraction” from the theme of our reflection) are legitimate and full expressions of God’s being.

Beloved, my prayer is that I grow such that I am no longer effected by the change of circumstances.  My identity is in God so I need not protect my ego.  I can see there, but I am not yet there.  I long for that place and my longing is a gift from God.  Let us elect the utmost humility, giving up the rule of our ego.  I know it is a better place, but my ego is frightened. That of course doesn’t feel good but it is good.

Ego pain is birth pain.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John

LENT IV

The Prodigal Returns Home – Robert Barnum

The Pharisees believed that keeping the law would earn them God’s presence and love.  Jesus told them that they had it backwards. God is already present and he already loves you.  God’s love makes possible keeping what of the law is worth keeping.  This made the Pharisees very unhappy with Jesus.  The Pharisees, bless their hearts, are the sort of folks that would turn a party into an exercise in etiquette. 

The truth is that you can only get into the kingdom because of grace.  Getting your tickets punched will never get you in. In fact it can keep you out!  To make that very point Jesus told a series of parables ending with today’s Gospel reading, which we call the prodigal son.

LITTLE BROTHER LEAVES HOME.

A man had two sons.  The youngest said give me my inheritance now, a request which in essence says I want you dead.  In fact the father did just what his son asked him, he legally dropped dead on the spot and probated his own will, giving his younger son his inheritance.

  • Little brother liquidated his assets and skipped town with his pockets full of cash.  He settled in another country and set out to make a name for himself.  Just imagine it:
  • He bought a candy apple red Lamborghini racing chariot.
  • He had a penthouse apartment exquisitely decorated with original art in the best zip code in town.
  • He had long three martini lunches and always picked up the tab.
  • He threw lavish parties and had lots of friends.
  • He vacationed at ski resorts on Mt. Hermon.
  • He got interested in the NASCAR-chariot race circuit and even raced himself for a while.

The bank kept calling but he never returned the calls. Then one day a registered letter arrived.  He had been spending the principle for a long time.  The letter informed him that he was flat broke.  His friends wouldn’t return his phone calls and his girl friend took up with a fellow better equipped to keep her in the manner to which he had made her accustomed.

So he had to go to work.  The college education his Daddy had paid for and that he had played for didn’t qualify him for much.  Just then the economy took a nosedive toward depression and the bears ate the market. 

Things were bad.  He finally was so desperate that he took a job slopping hogs. This is the worse thing a yuppie Jewish boy could wind up doing.  It’s the sort of fate that strikes fear into the hearts of Jewish mothers.

Little brother was in the pigpen, reduced to eating pig feed.  But then He came to himself, which in the original language describes something like awakening from a dream.  He said to himself, “Self, what is wrong with this picture?  Back home even the hired hands have more than enough to eat.  I know what I’ll do.  I’ll go to my father and say, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of the hired hands.’”

So rehearsing his speech he went on toward home.  His daddy had been watching for him, as an old black preacher put it, “the old man had been watching for him with his nose pressed to the window pane.” He had compassion on him, his heart went out to him.

Now an aside about compassion: compassion should not be confused with pity.

The question to ask is: “Can you celebrate with the people you are helping?”  If you can’t it’s probably pity and if you can it’s likely compassion.

Pity focuses on the differences between people. Pity is being sorry for one who is weak and inferior. Pity is done from a safe distance, preferably from above the one pitted. Pity separates us from the one pitied.  Pity ends in the “giver” feeling good about themselves across the divide between the pitying and the one pitied.  I not sure that pity has much divine content.

Compassion knows that human beings are more alike than they are different.  Compassion on the other hand, moves us toward the one in trouble and says, “We are in this together.” Compassion is the flow and overflow of the fullest human and divine energies.  As Paul writes the Christians in Corinth, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given the ministry of reconciliation to us.” Compassion is always consummated in celebration!

THE FATHER’S RESPONSE:

Now back to the story at hand. The father felt compassion and that energy overflowed into reconciliation as he ran, embraced and kissed his son.  The son then began to get his ticket punched, begins his well rehearsed speech, “I’ve sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son!”   —- But notice he doesn’t even get the part about going to work as a hired hand at minimum wage out of his mouth, cause his father shushes him and starts giving orders to the servants.  The old man says, “Go and get:

  • A robe – the best one – he is to be dressed as an honored person.
  • A ring – a signet ring with the family crest – his status as a son is restored.
  • Shoes – few people had shoes – bare feet indicated poverty even slavery. Shoes give safety and power. The old spiritual expresses this exactly, “All of God’s chillun got shoes.  When I get to heaven I going to put on my shoes; I’m going to walk all over God’s heaven.” Shoes are for sons!

See the restoration:

  • the robe of honor,
  • the ring of inheritance, and
  • the footwear of prestige!
  • AND if that wasn’t enough –  for sheer delight (which is one of the things God does best of all).
  • kill the fatted calf = eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!  And they began to celebrate.

Remember that compassion overflows and brings us together which leads to celebration.

[Simon Tugwell says that the last temptation of the younger brother was to insist on being a hired hand.  If his father won’t punish him he will do it for him.  Which is what we do when we let someone convince us that we are no good  and not acceptable].  The boy can’t really come home and be a hired hand.  He has to be a son or nothing.  AND THE SAME IS TRUE FOR US:  IT’S SON OR DAUGHTER OR NOTHING.  NO HIRED HANDS HERE THANK YOU VERY MUCH!  

So they had the mother of all parties.  Everybody who was anybody was there and as the society writer for the local paper put it, “a good time was had by all!”  WELL NOT QUITE.

THE ELDER BROTHER’S RESPONSE.

The elder brother was in the field looking at the crop of cabbages. As he came close to the house and heard the strains of the local dance band he thought, “What is this, music and dancing and it’s a week night? What is going on here?  So he spied one of the boys who worked on the place and the boy explained.  “Your brother has come and your father has killed the fatted calf because he has got him back safe and sound!”

The elder brother was in the field looking at the crop of cabbages. As he came close to the house and heard the strains of the local dance band he thought, “What is this, music and dancing and it’s a week night? What is going on here?  So he spied one of the boys who worked on the place and the boy explained.  “Your brother has come and your father has killed the fatted calf because he has got him back safe and sound!”

[Robert Farrar Capon says that if you are looking for the Christ symbol in this story look no further than the barn.  The Christ image here is the fatted calf who is just waiting to drop dead so there can be a party.  Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.]

Even Biblical illiterates remember the Fatted Calf

FATTED CALF!  We can’t really comprehend what a big deal this was.  We think nothing of having steak any time we choose to haul out the grill. In the ancient world eating meat was a rare experience. In the first century people who could afford it kept a calf, and fed it real good so that it got really fat. When they killed it they had a huge party and ate the whole things there being no way to preserve meat for long.  A fatted calf was barbecued only on occasions of surpassing importance.  The old man kills the fatted calf as an act of wanton joy!

Big brother, hereafter to be known as Bubba, was so angry that he stayed outside.  He wouldn’t dignify this nonsense with his presence. His father came outside and pleaded with him.

 [Simon Tugwell describes the elder brother as, “a good man in the very worse sense of the word, the kind of goodness that if you insist on it will cost you your soul.”] 

Bubba begins his tirade, “Listen, all these years, I’ve been working like a slave.  I’ve never disobeyed your command; yet you have never even given me a goat that I might have a goat-roast, and celebrate with my buddies.  But, this trifling no-account son of yours comes slinking home, the very one who has devoured your property with harlots and you have killed the fatted calf!”

PROSTITUTES? Who said anything about prostitutes?  Nowhere does it say that little brother hung out with prostitutes.  Even if he had, Bubba couldn’t have known about it.  But what we can say with certainty is, that we now know what Bubba would have done if he had gone!  You can’t not tell your story.

Bubba was good, earnest so busy getting his ticket punched that it never even occurred to him that his father had already divided the property between the brothers.  Bubba already owned the plantation.  He could have killed the fatted calf himself if he had wanted to, let alone settle for goat burgers.

His father said to him, “Son you are always with me and all I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life, he was lost and has been found.”  Bubba’s response is not recorded.

WHAT IS JESUS TELLING US?

  • The criteria for entering the Kingdom of God is being lost and dead  and  knowing it. By the end of the story almost  everyone is dead:
  • The father is legally dead because he has probated his own will.
  • The younger son is dead to the old of being – he died to it back in the pig-pen.
  • The fatted calf is dead so there can be party.
  • The only one who is alive is Bubba, who is so busy being alive on his terms that he misses the point entirely.

Who’s really alive?  As Jesus says two chapters later in Luke 17, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” [Luke 17:33]

Like the elder brother we can do NOTHING to earn God’s love.

Like the younger brother we can do NOTHING so terrible that we can lose God’s love.
All we to do is reject or accept God’s love.  That is what God has given us in Christ Jesus. As we look toward Holy Week and Easter,

REMEMBER: the gift of eternal life begins now not later. God is throwing a party in our honor. We are the only ones that can keep us out.

Amen.

LENT III

Have you ever wondered who chose the lessons for the lectionary and why do they group the readings as they do? 

The readings in Lent are chosen to prepare the community to prepare the community for the yearly remembrance of the passion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ and the implications for life since then.

  • The Gospel readings are stories in the life of Jesus which point toward the Passion, the Cross and beyond.
  • The Epistles are reflections on the meaning of the Cross, or the believer’s participation in salvation by baptism.
  • The reading from the Old Testament tell of the events from Israel’s salvation that are seen as “types” that “prefigure” the Easter event.

In the reading from Exodus, we one of the great events of salvation history.  It is so powerful that it has entered the popular expression, “having a burning bush experience.” How did Moses, the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter come to be in the Sinai wilderness?  Moses killed an Egyptian who he caught beating a Hebrew slave.  When this became known he had to leave town in a hurry. He left the Nile valley and wandered in the wilderness. There he found a wife, the daughter of Jethro, a name more familiar from the “Beverly Hillbillies” than scripture.  It was there in the wilderness that it happened.

Moses has joined the sheep-herding business of his in-laws and was minding the sheep one day when he came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  The angel of the Lord appeared in a flame in the thorn bush.  Moses saw that the bush was burning but yet it was not consumed, so he burned aside to see this strange thing. 

At this point, Moses displayed the one thing required to serve God: RECPTIVITY.  Instead of saying, “Isn’t that strange,” and going on about his business, he stopped and to investigate.  Then a voice spoke from the bush and Moses did not run away; he simply said, “Here I am.”

Moses has joined the sheep-herding business of his in-laws and was minding the sheep one day when he came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  The angel of the Lord appeared in a flame in the thorn bush.  Moses saw that the bush was burning but yet it was not consumed, so he burned aside to see this strange thing.  At this point, Moses displayed the one thing required to serve God: RECPTIVITY.  Instead of saying, “Isn’t that strange,” and going on about his business, he stopped and to investigate.  Then a voice spoke from the bush and Moses did not run away; he simply said, “Here I am.”

The voice tells Moses that God has a mission for him.  He is to go to Egypt and bring the children of Israel out of slavery to Pharaoh.  Moses was not thrilled with this assignment.  He said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Moses did not have a great self image.  He had no confidence.  He had a speech impediment and was terrified of public speaking, let alone, gently break the “good news” to the God-King of Egypt that Yahweh, God of the Israelites instructs him to free the children of Israel.  “Who, me, I don’t think so,” he said.  Moses wouldn’t be our choice for such a project. 

In the book, “The 776 Stupidest Things Ever Said,” Philip Steifter, superintendent of schools in Barrington, Rhode Island is quoted, “After finding no qualified candidates for the position of principal, the school announces the appointment of George Smith to the post.”  To paraphrase Mr. Steifter, “After finding no qualified candidate for the position freeing the slaves, I announce the appointment of Moses to the post.”  Could God not do better than that?

That, of course, is precisely the point.  God does not have to do better at all because this is not about the chosen, but about the chooser!  Martin Buber in, Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant (p. 47) – “Moses said to YHVH (Yahweh), “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?”  YHVH provides the assurance “Indeed I shall be present with you,” and he promises Moses a “sign” which at first seems strange to us.  The sight is that when the people come out of Egypt they will worship YHVH at the mountain.  In other words, what is now only existent in words will take on real existence.” 

Then God makes the promise that echoes down the millennia since, “I shall be,” I shall be present, assuring Moses that He would remain present amid his chosen, …” God promises to be present with those chosen by Him, to remain present with them, to assist them.  … I am and remain present.  YHVH is not like the Gods of Egypt that must be invoked, begged, and coerced.  It is superfluous to invoke YHWH because He is already there before He is called.

Moses continues, “If I show up in Egypt and say the God of your ancestors sent me, they are going to want to know who/what I am talking about.  Then God said, “tell them that, I AM WHO I AM, sent you.”  What does that mean?  Buber continues, (p. 51) “This is usually understood to mean, “I am that I am” in the sense that YHVH describes Himself as the Being One even the Everlasting One, the one unalterably persisting in His being.  … the very in the Biblical language does not carry this particular shade of meaning of pure existence.  It means, happening, coming into being, being there, being present, being thus and thus; but not being in the abstract sense.”

This is the ground of Exodus the Gospel reading for today grows.  Is God the enemy of those people that bad things happened to?  Those who the tower fell on or the Galileans who Pilate killed in the Temple.  Were they the worst people I town that this happened to them?  Jesus said, “no, they were no worse than anyone else, and besides that is not the point; but if YOU do repent you will perish as they did.

Then he told the parable about the unproductive fig tree.  The owner wants to cut it down but the gardener asks that it been cultivated and fertilized and given one more chance.  If at the end of that year there is still no fruit on it cut it down.

The call is there. The call is always there.  As God said to Moses, I AM He who shows up and keeps on showing up.  The question is not  how reliable is God, but rather how willing are we?

A story is told of Innocent of Alaska, an early Russian Orthodox Bishop in Alaska.  A deacon asked him, “If God is infinitely merciful, how can he deprive anyone of his heavenly Kingdom?  “And why do you keep twisting your head about from side to side?”  Innocent countered, “Why don’t you sit still?”  “Because the sun keeps hitting me right in the eye and just won’t leave me in peace,” the deacon replied.  “There. You’ve answered your own question,” the bishop laughed.   “God doesn’t deprive his heavenly kingdom from sinners who do not repent.  They themselves simply can’t bear its light – any more than you bear the light of the sun.”  St. Innocent of Alaska 1797-1897

The Lord will give a second chance, and third, and a fourth.  In the parable there is a definite limit to what may be done for the fig tree.  If it still fails to produce, even the gardener who cares about it will agree to its removal.  God’s patience is infinite, but we are free to refuse it forever.  The day of grace will someday come to an end.

God has promised to show and to keep on showing up.  However, He will not force us, because He created us genuinely free.  The same steadfast love of God was finally displayed on the cross and manifested by the resurrection of our Lord.  God is everywhere, with us in whatever we are in.

“A pagan once asked Rabbi Joshua ben Qarehah, ‘Why of all things did God choose the humble thorn bush as the place from which to speak with Moses?’  The Rabbi replied, ‘If He had chosen a carob tree or a mulberry tree, you would have asked me the same question.  Yet it is impossible to let you go away empty handed.  That is why I am telling you that God chose the humble thorn bush — to teach you that there is no place on earth bereft of the Divine Presence, not even a thorn bush.’”

The same God who promised Moses that He would show up and keep on showing up is still showing up.  In the first century, He showed up in the person and ministry of his Son, Jesus.  Since the day of Pentecost, He has been showing up in the person of the Holy Spirit.  That same Spirit is here today in you and me and in the sacrament of bread and wine.  The question is, will we show up?  That part is up to us.  The good news is that when we do show up God is already there! 

Amen.