Jacob Bohme 1575 – 1624


Not wisdom, but the Spirit of God, is the center, or the discloser. As the soul is manifesting itself in the body by means of the flesh, and as the latter would have no power if it were not inhabited by a living spirit, so the wisdom of God is the corporeity of the Holy Spirit, by means of which He assumes substantiality, so as to manifest Himself to Himself. Wisdom gives birth, but she would not do so if the Spirit were not acting within her. She brings forth without the power of the fire-life; she has no ardent desire, but her joy finds its perfection in the manifestation of the Godhead, and therefore she is called a virgin in chastity and purity before God.” (Tilk., ii. 64.)

Bohme, Jakob, 1575-1624;

Hartmann, Franz, d. 1912. Personal Christianity, a science : the doctrines of Jakob Boehme, the God-taught philosopher (Kindle Locations 1693-1698). New York : Macoy.

My Emancipation From American Christianity | john pavlovitz

NOTE:  American Christianity is “different” from Classic Christianity.  There is a gnostic tendency in the American expression of faith in Jesus the Christ.  It took me a long time to express what I sensed.  Going forward I will share some my “waking up to Jesus.” JWS

I used to think that it was just me, that it was my problem, my deficiency, my moral defect. It had to be. All those times when I felt like an outsider in this American Jesus thing; the ever-more f…

Source: My Emancipation From American Christianity | john pavlovitz


PROPER 8C – Saint John’s, Memphis, Tennessee – June 26, 2016

Who Can Pass Jesus’ Test?

He set his face like flint

“He set his face like flint!”  Tissot

Jesus is about to be “taken up” or crucified.  So he “set his face” or literally, “He set his face like flint” to go to Jerusalem.  This is a Semitic expression, which means opposition or contention.  What is about to happen is difficult and requires courage and will.  This is in sharp contrast to what has been going on in Galilee.  Jesus had been going from town to town, village to village, teaching, healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of God. He was very successful: there were great crowds following him, around hanging on every word that he said.  People were beginning to nominate him “Messiah” (the anointed one of God).

The Kingdom of God is what scholars call a “tensive symbol” which evokes not one meaning but a whole range of meaning.  There are certain symbols that always have a one-to-one relationship to the things they represent such as the mathematical symbol pi or a red signal light at an intersection.  These are steno-symbols; they are useful precisely because they have single, clearly defined, and clearly understood meanings.

Kingdom of God

“He set his face like flint!”  Tissot

Norman Perrin writes, “Since the kingdom of God is such a tensive symbol it is a mistake to try to reduce it to any one idea or conception.”  That is why we are always frustrated when we attempt to “define’ the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God does not have a definition: it tells a story.”

People were fascinated and excited about the stories of the Kingdom: the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, the Kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field.  The Kingdom is like a party.  These images and metaphors suggest and evoke what cannot be properly put into words: the fullness of salvation wrought by God beyond this present world…


Some of the people who heard Jesus were overcome with the excitement of it all.  It is these people that we encounter in today’s Gospel lesson.  They illustrate what might be called the three tests of what it means to be a disciple:

The sentimentality test,   the tribal test,  and the conditional test.



Foxes have dens, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.                                                                                                             – Sir. Stanley Spencer 1891

 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  This person has decided to follow without counting the cost.  Excited by the Jesus movement he does not realize that Jerusalem lies at the end of the journey and that the cross is the point to which Jesus is traveling.  Jesus said to him, “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  Marshall, p. 410 …Jesus bids the man count the cost.  The Son of man experiences rejection and homelessness, and his followers must be prepared to do the same.  As one writer  [Synthesis] says, “Jesus reminds this disciple, whose boldness suggests that following Jesus is a never ending

Marshall, p. 410 …Jesus bids the man count the cost.  The Son of man experiences rejection and homelessness, and his followers must be prepared to do the same.  As one writer  [Synthesis] says, “Jesus reminds this disciple, whose boldness suggests that following Jesus is a never ending succession of kumbayas, that, if he is to follow, all financial standing and social security have to be reattached – from the world to the Kingdom of God.  For Jesus’ closest disciples, there will be no worldly security whatsoever.  Faith is not an electric blanket.  Even foxes and birds have less vagrancy than the Son of Man.

To follow Jesus requires an enlightened recklessness.

 To follow Jesus means that one gives up the traditional securities and opens oneself to rejection and homelessness that has just occurred in the village of Samaria.



Group Burial – Walking Dead

 To another, he said, “Follow me.”  But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Marshall, p. 411, Burial of the dead was a religious duty that took precedence over all others, even including study of the Law.  To assist in burying a person who had no claims on one as a relative was a work of love that carried great reward from God both in this life and in the next world.  It follows that the burial of a father was a religious duty of the utmost importance.  To leave it undone was something scandalous to a Jew.  This does not mean that the person’s father was lying in state at the local funeral home.  He wants to wait until his father is dead so that he will not be troubled by the decision of his child to follow Jesus.  But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury the dead; but as for your, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  To follow Jesus, to be part of the Kingdom of God, takes precedence over all commitments, even burying the dead.

I knew an old couple in Lauderdale county Alabama who waited to get married until their parents were dead.  They dated for over forty years.  Then when both parents were dead they married.  Only a few years passed before the husband died.  We can’t put off following.


don't look back

James Tissot

 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.  This is the yes, but of discipleship.  It is the Yes I will give sacrificially, Lord, only when I get a raise.  Yes, I will commit to being at worship on Sunday when I get caught up on my sleep. I will … But …Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”  I grew up in the country.  The family had five farms that joined.  Dad borrowed a mule from Great Granddad’s place to plow the garden as it began to mature because the mule didn’t damage the crops like a tractor.  Plowing with a mule is interesting.  Plowing a straight furrow requires looking at the end of the row in front of you and moving toward it.  If you keep looking back to where you came from or at your watch to see when quitting time is the row is crooked.  That’s what Jesus is talking about.


call of Elisha

The call of Jesus is unconditional.  The OT story of Elijah and Elisha illustrate the unconditional call clearly. Elijah came by and threw his cloak over Elisha, which meant that Elisha was chosen to succeed Elijah as the prophet of the Lord.  Elisha was out plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. This was a big farming enterprise.  Elisha slaughtered the yoke of oxen, broke up the yokes and plows for fuel, fired up the grill and threw a farewell barbecue.



Reluctance to seek God…


Meister Eckhart asked why people are so reluctant to seek God in earnest. Then he made this comment: When one is looking for something and sees no sign that it is where he is searching, he will keep on looking there only with painful reluctance. If, however, he begins to find traces of it, then he will hunt gladly, gaily, and in earnest. The man who wants fire is cheered by feeling warmth and then joyously looks for the blaze. It is like that with people who ought to be seeking God: if they get no taste of the divine sweetness, they drag; but if a man lies in wait until he does catch the taste of the divine, ever afterward he is a glad seeker of God.

Eckhart, Meister; O’Neal, David. Meister Eckhart, from Whom God Hid Nothing: Sermons, Writings, & Sayings (p. 4). Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.

The Third Sunday After Pentecost

 Saint John’s Episcopal Church,  Memphis, Tennessee,     June 8, 2016


In the Old Testament reading today,  David slipped on the banana peel of entitled rationalization, committed adultery with the wife of Uriah, a loyal officer of  the King’s Own Thirty. David compounded his sin of betrayal with murder.

Sin is a translation into English of several words in the original language.  The most common one is “missing the mark” a term from archery.

John Sanford writes, “If an archer hits the bulls-eye it implies consciousness, good aim, and steadfastness of character, for if the arrow does not find the mark it is the fault of the archer, not of the arrow.  It has to do with failing to act from one’s center, thus sinning against oneself. Wrong actions and attitudes spring from a wrong inner condition that causes us to ‘miss the mark’ in life.”

  • God created humans radically free; God respected himself and his creation and freedom is the result.
  • On the last day of creation, God pronounced that what was made was good, very, very good.
  • We are free to choose to be in relation with God or to reject that relationship.
  • Freedom brings complexity.
  • Thus, we have nearly an endless capacity to believe what we want to believe about almost anything.
  • Psychology calls that rationalization.

How do we know and when do we know it?

In 1955 Joseph Luff and Harry Ingham invented a model of human knowing that bears the merging of their first names and is know as the Johari Window.

Johari Window (002)

We have the part that is known to us AND to other people: general information that is common knowledge.

  1. We have that part to which we are blind: information others know that we do not know. We can be remarkably blind to our foibles. Dreams can sometimes give us clues into this blind part.
  2. We have that part which we keep hidden: information that we know but for various reasons keep from others. There is a lot of fear and shame in this area.
  3. There is that part that is unknown: information nobody has. This part is mysterious. We will never know everything is this part but some of it can be learned if we have the courage to do the work.

From this model, we realize that we are consciously working with about a quarter to a half of the information in our lives at any one time.  We get into conflict from time to time when people’s blind areas collide and neither person knows what is going on.

We also can “reason” ourselves almost anywhere

Subject:  Financial Advice in These Troubled Times

This is very important financial advice:  If you bought $1000 worth of Nortel stock one year ago (2008), it would now be worth $49.  If you bought $1000 worth of Budweiser (the beer, not the stock) one year ago, drank all the beer, and traded in the cans for the nickel/aluminum deposit, you would have $79.  It is therefore financially prudent in these troubled times to drink heavily and recycle.

This is the reasoning of someone who needs Alcoholics Anonymous

The antidote to self-rationalization is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works in the windowpanes of the Johari Window.

The Very Reverend Alan Jones, Sometime Dean of Grace Cathedral has said,   “The Spirit works in the three open places of our lives: the risky, the unpredictable, and the areas over which we have no control.”

Keeping that in mind … consider the process of rationalization and sin in today’s scriptures.

Abel Pann Paintings

Abel Pann – The Young David

David, no longer young, mature face hinting of excess, stared out into the gathering dusk. Standing on the penthouse terrace of the palace royal, the evening breeze played with the famous royal curls, unthinned through faded more auburn than the glorious red of his youth.

The future was as bright as his hair the day the Prophet Samuel came to the House of Bread.  The strapping sons of Jesse, an impressive tribe, each bigger than the previous were presented to the Holy Man. He was impressed enough, who wouldn’t be, but he wasn’t seeing what he looked for…  Are these all your sons?  “Oh, well no, the youngest is minding my ewes, but he’s little.”   What God was looking for that day was obvious to the Holy One and his assigned “chooser” but no one else. David’s amazing and thoroughly romantic rise to the top began the moment the Prophet Sam’s holy anointing oil dripped off his curls.


David put his single malt on the balustrade, leaned across the railing, peering through the fading light, there she was,  a beautiful woman bathing on a nearby roof.  The King’s valet confirmed that the beauty was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. Of Hittite origin, Uriah was an officer in David’s army and at present was with his unit  and away at the front in the most recent dust-up with the Ammonites.  His own regiment, The King’s Great Men,  were in the van of the siege of Rabban.

David summoned Bathsheba for a nightcap and they got acquainted such that she conceived a son by the King. Learning of the complication from Mrs. Uriah,  David sent for Uriah to report of the siege.  He came.  Uriah was one fine man.  Honest, honorable, loyal and faithful.  David planned for Uriah to come home, sleep with his wife and she would, in due season, bear him a child.

Men of David

Uriah refused to enjoy anything that his comrades back in the camp could not enjoy, so he stayed in the regimental barracks and did not go home. The next night David got him drunk, no luck.  The king instructed Joab, his commander at the front to order the charge and then fall back leaving the honest Hittite exposed to the accurate Ammonite bowman. The fallen hero was buried with full military pomp and circumstance.

Bathsheba mourns Uriah

The King married the grieving widow who bore a son to her rescuer.  There was a little wink, wink, nod, nod (there always is) but most just went on their business.  Uriah was in the top tier of  “good-guys” in Bible. David, whose  character is iffy, buried and married his indiscretions, put the whole sorted mess aside and moved on.

God, on the other hand,  was not amused! He sent Nathan the prophet with a story for David. A royal court was executive and judicial.  The King, sitting on his throne, listened to any and all who presented their petitions and cases. The arrival of the Prophet Nathan appeared, as he routinely must have done,  standing in the back  of the throne room.

Nathan Wm Hole


 The King was a good mood that day.  Word was the siege at Rabbah was entering the end stage and he might well be King of Rabbah any day now, so all was well with the world. Nathan came forward and asked for the King’s indulgence, but he had a story he thought the King needed to hear.  “Say on,” said David.  “Well,  it’s like this.  Sire,  if you will,  look with me through the window of imagination and hear the tale of a good man, poor but righteous.  There are few joys in the lives of the poor.  Even so,  this good man had bought a little ewe lamb.  She was the joy of his life, more daughter than anything else.  He doted on her and she sat at table when he ate and retired to his bed at the sleeping hour.

Nearly across the road there was a man,  rich with flocks and herds.  He lived lavishly, every meal was Thanksgiving Day and he never wore anything but the ultrafine Egyptian linen.  He paid little attention to anything other than the interests of his own ego, but he did notice his neighbor’s doting on his pet sheep.  It was a little excessive.  He offered to buy the animal,  offered a lot of money.  He didn’t want the lamb,  he just enjoyed fooling with the poor man.  His neighbor, though in need, never considered his extravagant offers as he loved the lamb more than life.

However, one day the rich man’s college room-mate came through town and stayed the night.  Deep in their cups,  the rich man told his buddy the story of the ridiculously poor man who wouldn’t part with his pet for any amount of money. The guest wanted to see this beauty and off they went.   No one really remembered what happened but before the whole sick episode was over,  the poor man’s lamb was dead and the buddies shared the lamb with mint sauce for dinner that evening.

Sorrow of david William Hole

David was livid!  At heart a good man,  he couldn’t bear to think of that man’s pet being snatched when the host had hundreds of his own.  “That Jerk deserves to die for that little stunt!  He should pay back at least by a factor of four,”  he shouted!  Nathan stalked up the first two steps toward the throne,  looking David straight in the eye, “the jerk is you, Majesty!” Suddenly,  the window of Nathan’s story became a mirror and David saw his reflection. It was ugly.

 If we are going to become whole as people and our church is going to be a healing community, then we must operate more and more in the open spaces. We are called to wholeness – to health. We must embrace the working of the Spirit in the unpredictable, risky and uncontrollable parts of our lives.

  • Insight and repentance are the best antidotes to the sin of self-deception.
  • We will be as open and honest with ourselves as we are able.
  • We will find someone who can trust to confide our hiddenness. That why the confessional is inviolate.
  • When we find this trustworthy person we allow them to share our blind side with us (in love). We can only this from someone who loves us.
  • We get in touch with our unconscious, by working with our dreams and by paying attention to the contents of the blind side.

The Church is to be a healing community. We are being healed and as we are healed the community is strengthened for its work. Let us pray that our blindness will decrease and our openness to God and each other will increase.  This is the resurrection working in us springing up to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.


The Second Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 4c –  Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee – John W. Sewell

Almost every time Jesus appears in the Gospels he is healing or has healed or is on his way to heal.  In Luke 7:1-11 a foreigner, a gentile, sends Jewish elders to Jesus asking for help for a sick slave. The man was a Centurion.  A bit of explanation is in order: Roman Military structure: what we call an army they called a Legion

The Eagle

Tatum Channing – The Eagle

Basic unit – Century made up of 80 men commanded by a Centurion

6 Centuries = Cohort

10 Cohorts = 1 Legion – The first Cohort had double Centuries of 160 and thus was an elite unit –

The Centurion over this Cohort was the Primus Pilus (first javelin)   highest ranking Centurion – Aside: Some believe that Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judea, who condemned Jesus, had been Primus Pilus thus the nickname Pilus or Pilate. 

Centurion 5

Vegetius, a historian from the 5th century, the period of the late Western half of the Roman Empire,  wrote a book called The Epitome of Military Science. In it, he described the qualities of a centurion in rather glowing terms. Centurions should be

  • literate,
  • ideally at least 30 years old,
  • With some years of military service behind them.

A centurion is chosen for great strength and tall stature, as a man who hurls spears and javelins skillfully and strongly, has expert knowledge how to fight with the sword and rotate the shield, and has learned the whole art of armature. He is alert, sober, and agile, and more ready to do the things ordered of him than speak, keeps his soldiers in training, makes them practice their arms, and sees that they are well clothed and shod, and that the arms are burnished and bright. (Vegetius, Epitome of Military Science, quoted on Cotter, p. 114)

This Centurion was an impressive man.  He likely worked his way up through the ranks, he may well have been the Primus Pilis as he has control of consideration money. After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.

Excursus: First-century Roman baths excavated on this site point to Roman presence in the 1st Century.  Legions were often stationed in a place for a long time, even centuries. 

2 A Centurion there had a slave whom he valued – this choice of words is utilitarian, sort of like saying, “he had this machine he valued for what it could do for him” a better translation would be a slave whom he highly honored, slavery is always bad, and people shouldn’t be “owned.” Unlike US history Roman slavery was not racial but economic.  It was assumed that at some point the slave will be freed and likely go into business sponsored by his former master.  We do not know any more of the relationship than the fact that this Centurion thought highly of this slave who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”

Thoughtful Romans rather liked a lot about Judaism and particularly appreciated its high morals and ethics. What they did not find attractive at all was the rite of circumcision and the dietary kosher laws.  The most common meat in Rome was pork and Roman folk, as do we, like a big pork chop from time to time and as you know Pork was high on the list of kosher no no’s.


We encounter these Gentiles in the Gospels, The Acts and in Paul’s letters.  Since Paul’s understanding of the Gospel was that the resurrection spelled an end to all the very rules that turned off the Gentiles attracted to the high ethical standards and practice of the Jews so they could become Christian rather easily and they did just that.  This very man may well be a brother of ours in heaven.

This military man asked the Elders of the Synagogue he attended to approach Jesus. The Elders were glad to do it because apparently he was a really good guy, and he had paid for the Synagogue building.   They came to Jesus with the request and Jesus agreed and went with them to the Centurion’s house.


6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7  therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, Go, and he goes, and to another, Come, and he comes, and to my slave, Do this, and the slave does it.

 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed [amazed: Astonished, his jaw dropped, the language is beyond surprised it is intensified to “he just stood there dumbfounded.]  at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.

 Now, just go with me for a minute.   If we are mentally lazy,  the fully human & fully God nature of the Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity quickly goes out of balance and becomes a bizarre melange.  I was reared with a heresy, common in American Christianity, that unwittingly elevated Jesus’ divinity at the expense of his full humanity.  This is my thought. 

Could it be that this was the first time Jesus realized that he could heal at a distance with a word? How cool is that?  Jesus is brought up short not by his fellows but by a Gentile of all things, who would have thought it?   Maybe that’s why he turned those with him and said, “Well, don’t that beat all, a Gentile has just taught the Son of God something about faith!”

10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health [in Greek the word means robust, like nothing had ever happened].

  • If you notice, the Centurion never met Jesus in person.
  • He knew that Jews didn’t enter the houses of Gentiles.
  • He in an elegantly graceful move kept Jesus from controversy while at the same time believed that Jesus could/would heal his friend.
  • He was powerless to help this man who he held in high regard
  • He was not without power.
  • He used his power: net-worked
  • He was humble – put aside his station and power – and asked for help.

That was them then and there.  What about us here and now?


   peter rhodaACTS 12:13 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. 13 When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14 On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” 16

Peter Rhoda 2

Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. 17 He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, “Tell this to James and to the believers.” Then he left and went to another place.

  • Where is the need in your life?
  • Where are you powerless?
  • How are you using the power you do have?
  • When was the last time you really asked God for help?
  • And expected something to happen?

Faith is found in the strangest places.  Unfortunately, Church is often not one of them. I pray that Saint John’s will be a place where people meet the Living God with visible consequences.    Amen.



Positional Power

Below is a reflection from earlier in the year.  For those not familiar with  “Episcopalese,” A Rector is the senior priest who bears the legal responsibility for leadership of a parish church.  There is a kind of positional power,  subtle but real.

February 7, 2016

There is something about being Rector that is unique.  It is not so much that a “buck” stops here (though it does).  There is a kind of mystique (even now, in this egalitarian age) clinging to the office.

All clergy, formed by the wisdom of the past eight hundred years, unconsciously understand themselves to be “professional Christians.”  This is largely, so the laity need not be bothered with the need practice ministry.  That is over now, but I get ahead of myself.

Jesus Enthroned in Judgment – John DeRosen on tower wall of Saint John’s Memphis, Tennessee

In 2006, there were mighty few young adults at Saint John’s.   When the few we had came back from college, I was determined not to lose them.  What to do?  Realizing those in the last decade of adolescent (ends at 30), are underserved, I decided to lead a Bible Study on Tuesday nights designed for them.   That the rector would do this was fascinating to them.  The wife of one of ours, from a larger church than Saint John’s, were getting acquainted and I remarked that we had fewer resources than the church where she was reared. “Yes, she said, “but, the senior minister is not in my living room tonight, either.”

Recently, the youth director resigned.  Our youth work is in disarray.  As an aside, I find qualified youth directors the most difficult staff position to fill.   Wanting clarity on their needs, I appointed myself “interim,” teach Youth Sunday School and meeting with them on Wednesday nights for conversation.

508 the gospel (2)

Crucifer and torches escort the deacon, carrying the Book of Gospels, from proclaiming the Gospel.


A couple of weeks after I began, a senior vested as crucifier*, asked, “You are teaching high school Sunday school?”  “Yes,” to his immediate response, “I’m coming!”  He hasn’t been to Sunday school in years.  In addition, he and others began to gather up others as I asked the seniors to help get the youth ox out of the ditch before departing to college in August.   I won’t say that he wouldn’t have attended had one of my clergy colleagues taught, but it wouldn’t be quite the same either.  Once these same seniors are in school,   I plan on visiting them in their new world and take them to dinner.  That tends to bear fruit as well.

Never underestimate the power of doing the unexpected.  Rectors have quite a lot “symbolic” power.  Use it sparingly, but use it.


*One that carries the cross at the head of a procession into/out of the church.