Gospel as Comedy not Tragedy

Parker4

In his book, Telling the Truth, the Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy and Fairy Tale, Frederick Beuchner says that if you can’t take a joke you’ll never understand the Gospel. There is a profound difference between tragedy and comedy. In a tragedy the hero pits himself against the gods and is destroyed by the process. Tragedy is concerned with struggles of power. Comedy, on the other hand, is about ambiguity, and the transformation of roles. We think it is one way and it turns out another. Tragedy invariably ends in death; comedy ends in marriage – a criss-crossing of boundaries and limits. One is serious and the other is playful.

The Gospel lesson today is a tragic-comedy. The setting of the readings for today is feasting and partying. Here in the first act, if you will, of today’s production. The prophet Isaiah marches out mid-stage and issues the invitation of God to a party. The aristocratic prophet from Jerusalem in his best prophetic voice proclaims, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

This is a to be a lavish party with the best vintage wine and rich food full of fat. This is long before most of the human population had to worry about fat in their diet. This is a time when fat was good news not bad news. Not only will the eats be great, but as a further act of excess God will shallow up death forever. He will wipe away the tears from ALL faces. Not only will the feast be of the finest food full of fat and taste but the shroud of death will be removed. It will write paid to the old saying of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die. Wrong, eat, drink and be merry for death is swallowed up and tears are wiped from every face. Death is no more. Furthermore, the disgrace of the people will be removed. God’s salvation — restoration and healing will be unveiled to all the guests — to all people: what an extraordinary vision. We can eat anything that appeals to us without remorse for the things that trouble our consciences and with the sure and certain knowledge that death is no more. Not a bad first act.

Now on to the Main act: Jesus picks up the setting of a party in the Gospel reading today. “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared,” says Jesus, “to a King who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” In the ancient world one received an invitation to a feast by messenger. Then messengers then delivered a second message that the feast will soon begin. The King sent servants with the message; “The ox has become barbecue. The fatted calf is now filet minion. Countless cases of Dom Perignon are chilled. The tables are groaning with everything from Buluga caviar and Italian truffles all the way to MOON PIES and R.O.C. cola. There is some of whatever you want to warp your beak around. (It’s enough to drive the editors of Gourmet Magazine wild.) Come to the Wedding banquet,” they said. BUT — the guests made light of it . . .One went to his farm — One went to his business, while the rest seized the servants, mistreated some and killed others.

The King’s reaction is like a scene out of Rambo or The Terminator: Houses exploding in flame. These are the beautiful people from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” They are the very folk we admire. They are beautiful people who have everything but the one essential thing, namely, trust — the only, from God’s point of view, that matters. They have everything but lack the one thing essential, namely, trust — faith, the only from God’s point of view required. That is the tragedy. They have trusted themselves when that is the only thing that will not work. They are like the long list of winners who lose: the Pharisees, the Priests, the rich young ruler, they are you and me, they are all of us . . . who live the twin mistaken notions: Our good works will get us into the marriage feast. And that God’s nature will absolve us from having to sit through it if we happen to have other plans. Both are tragic mistakes. As the guests learn they are dead wrong. Salvation is not by works and the heavenly banquet is not optional. We are saved only by accepting a party already in progress and God has paid the price with his own death. He counts only two things grace and faith. Nothing else matters!

The scene changes – Act II, Scene 2, The King says to his faithful butler, “the wedding is ready, but those invited are not worthy (by their unfaith.) Go into the streets and invite those you find to the wedding feast. Out all the uniformed flunkies went. They went out and gathered all they found: good and bad. (Note he does not invite the good and snub the bad, he invited ALL, while we were yet sinners. He simply invites us to trust his invitation. So the poor, the prostitutes, bag ladies, men with missing front teeth and the smell of Thunderbird on their breath, all the ner-do-wells completely overlooked by the beautiful and important are all home free. See the comedy breaking out? So the hall is filled with guests.

Act II, Scene 3: Now, let me admit that what I am about to say is conjecture. Just go with me, here, … you can’t hold it against someone if they are shanghaied to a party and you don’t like what they wearing. So I think . . . the “sudden guests” are provided wedding clothes, suitable clothes — Bill Blass – Valentino — all sorts of designer rags in exchange for their filthy ones. As the King comes by to mingle with the guests he spies a man without a wedding suit. He apparently came in since he was forced but he will not put on his suit. The King said to the man without a wedding suit. Friend (or as Ann Landers used to say, Buster) How did you get in here without a wedding garment?! The man was speechless! And then they threw him out. Even in a comedy some will always insist on tragedy. You might make some people show up, but you really can’t make them like it, after all, can you?

What is this tragic-comedy telling us? Invitation is the principle judgment in this parable. Notice that “Nobody is kicked out who wasn’t already in. Hell may be an option; but if it is, it is only one that we insist on after we had already been invited to the heavenly dance. The first Guests are worthy. They just wouldn’t come. Their unacceptance was the issue. The Replacement guests become guests by accepting the invitation. The man without a garment wouldn’t accept or even speak and out he goes. The King insists on dragging everybody and their brothers to the party. Everyone is a member of the wedding party and is only shown the door AFTER they were invited in.

GRACE is the only basis of entrance into the Kingdom . . .Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus EXCEPT our unwillingness to accept his INVITATION. The difference between the blessed and the cursed in one thing and one thing only: the blessed accept their acceptance and the cursed reject it; but the acceptance is a done deal for both groups before either does anything about it.

Here in the epilogue, [following my device to the end] in the reading from Philippians, Paul writes from the perspective of one who has said yes to the heavenly banquet. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. … I have learned to be content with whatever I have. [That sounds un-American] I know what it is to have little and I know what it is to have plenty. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

If God accepts us then we no longer take our identity from our circumstances. We begin to relax in the comic “joke” that what we have always been told about who is in and who is out just isn’t so. Let’s relax, this show isn’t a tragedy after all. Yes, Jesus does die, really dead, on the cross. It’s not stage make-up and fake blood. He’s dead, really dead. That would be a tragedy, if that were the end of the production. But it isn’t. God raised Jesus from the dead. That same resurrection is ours, if we’ll just take it. Therefore things for us are not necessarily how they appear. Let us not be defined by circumstances. God is giving a party and all that is required is that we accept the invitation and show up. There is no end to the party he has prepared for those who love him!

Amen

The Sunday After All Saints Day

All Saints – All Souls & The Communion of the Saints
November 6, 2016

All Saints on November 1 is the day of remembrance of all the saints, those whose lives display pronounced activity of the Holy Spirit, but who did not have a particular day set aside for them, there being only so many days after all. The next day is All Souls Day. What is the difference? On All Souls, we honor all the faithful dead of the Christian faith.

all-souls-day

On Wednesday, November 2, 2016, at ten minutes after noon a congregation gathered at the Saint John’s Cemetery to celebrate Eucharist. As traffic raced by on Central Avenue and planes roared overhead in the clear fall air folk joined saying their prayers and remembering the faithful departed.

The ancient Romans buried their dead outside their cities in necropolis (Greek) for cities of the dead. It was in such a place that Saint Peter was buried by the side of the road across the street from the Circus of Nero. This site lies beneath the Basilica of Saint Peter in Vatican City. We do not call our place of the dead a necropolis rather we use the word cemetery a word also coming from the Greek that means a place of sleep. The early Christians were making a theological distinction between those believed to be dead as a “doornail” and those who fell asleep in Christ in the hope of the resurrection and those who have no such belief.

Also, the Romans had a custom called a refrigerium, a memorial meal eaten at the graveside of the person that was replaced by the Eucharist over time in Christian practice. We gathered at Saint John’s Cemetery as heirs of hundreds of generations of Christians who had gone before us, who in their generation prayed for the dead who die in the Lord and who have in their time joined those who sleep awaiting the Lord’s return.

john-polkinghorne

I return again and gain to the eloquent words of John Polkinghorne in his book, Faith of a Physicist, “The resurrection of Jesus is the vindication of the hopes of humanity. We shall all die with our lives to a greater or lesser extent incomplete, unfulfilled, unhealed. Yet there is a profound and widespread human intuition that in the end, all will be will. … The resurrection of Jesus is the sign that such human hope is not delusory. …This is so because it is part of Christian understanding that what happened to Jesus within history is a foretaste and guarantee of what will await all of us beyond history, ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be make alive,’ (I Cor. 15.22).

The proper preface for the dead at the Eucharist sums up the hope of all who believe, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord; who rose victorious from the dead and comforts us with the blessed hope of everlasting life. For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.”

Peace,
John W. Sewell+

Memra (The Word)

via Memra (The Word) – THE BIBLE CHURCH ONLINE

Any Christian who wants to understand the Scripture will want to know this.  Good work Brother Mark Oaks.

 

WordTree_Godis-620x465

God is Wordtree (Logos Wordtree)

 

Save

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.

centurion

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.

RH-JesusAndCenturian

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?

  Bronson Bryant, JOHN, WE ARE ALWAYS PREPARED FOR GOD TO DO NOTHING.  

   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.

JWS

 

EASTER V

JOHN 12:30 – 13:31 …so, after receiving the piece of bread, he (Judas) immediately went out. And it was night. 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.

tissot-judas-leaves

I begin with the last verse of Chapter 12…so, after receiving the piece of bread,   Judas immediately went out. And it was night.  Yes, night had fallen as the sun disappeared in the West. But… when they saw the back of Judas retreating down the stair, almost as if a switch was thrown, the mood quivered and flattened into silence. The company of disciples, mood dimming listened with the ears of their souls. And it was night.  It was night.

It was night, when Jesus squared his shoulders, cocking his head slightly to the right, appearing to hear.  This they knew.  He did it often, especially when one of them hunting him in the dim light of dawn, came upon him praying with a faraway stare, head turned listening.

Rising, he turned and as if returning from a distance and said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” They had followed him too far to mistake his words. “Glory,” was not the lockstep of Legions, Triumph in a chariot, the conquered trialing dejectedly along in the dust.   That was the Messiah of most Jews understanding. “David, now that was a King, I tell you. He would have driven the Romans straight through Caesarea into the sea.”

Are we different, beloved?  We have less excuse this side of the resurrection. We no less than they, want the God of our understanding or rather our ego’s understanding.   The gospel of prosperity, manifest destiny or Christendom, all fall short of the Glory of God revealed on that hill on that Friday.  Now, that was God-shaped glory.  We, who believe, are better for it.  God’s glory always first suffers first, them and only then resurrection.  Egos always hope for easier. Egos look for gain.  What egos never understand is that death always precedes resurrection.

I believe that Jesus was deeply moved by his love for these men. The expression, “Little children” is found nowhere else in the New Testament. I see it as a term of endearment, used privately.  “Boys”, he said, “this is the end of the road for our happy band.  Where I am going you cannot come.”  They were used to Jesus’ odd remarks, but this sounded terminal.”

I give you a new mandate (origin of Maundy) tonight.  “You know how much I love each of you.”  He paused, gathered himself and continued, “I need you to love each just the same. Through all our adventures, people have marveled at our relationships.  That is how they will know you are my disciples, when you love each other with a graceful, even reckless disregard for self for the sake of others.”

All too often, the line, “Behold those Christians, how they love one another,” is quoted ironically, given our propensity for emotional violence over any number of vain contentions.

That being said, turn to the Acts reading for today.  How does the Love mandate look in practice? This story is told three times in Acts.  Clearly it is an important story.

 Peter is wandering around and things began to happen.  Raised Dorcas from death to life. Last week’s lesson ends with Peter settling down for a long visit with a man who was known as Simon, the Tanner.  Leather works smell nasty.  I suppose the sea would be a good place to live given breezes.

The first crisis of those who followed the Way was the “kosher” wars.  How dare you go to dinner at a Gentile house?  You might as well as gone to The Rendezvous for pork ribs! What do you mean the Gentiles have accepted the Word! You can’t be serious!

For example, let us suppose that sentient humanoid folk show up on Earth.  H.G. Wells notwithstanding, we found them friendly, less warlike than we.  This would throw all sorts of wrenches into the cogs of creeds and screeds.  For the sake of conversation, let us call them, “the others.” 

The central issue for us is this, Did Jesus die for the sins of others, or just for us?  Actually the first question is, “Do others need salvation or not?”  Do they sin?  Was the Incarnation, passion and resurrection of Jesus felicitous for earth or for all planets?  

This is the very crisis that the Jews found on their doorstep.   It never occurred to them that Gentiles would be interested, let alone accept the word.  They didn’t want Gentiles meddling with a salvific system of the Jews, by the Jews and for the Jews.  Not only did they think Gentiles would hit hell wide open, they were glad and eager to buy tickets for the occasion. It would be nice if they were at least remorseful about it, but that’s a sin for another day.We do know that people are hungry to experience God directly, personally and in a way that reorders our very lives, beginning with the deepest longings of our hearts.

Peter's Vision - oil on panel - 8' X 12' - 2000 - $60,000

Peter’s Vision – Edward Knippers

Peter had a vision (dream while awake).

  • Sheet (filled with unclean animals. In many cases we would agree with Peter. But also in the sheet was Memphis’ all-time favorite PORK, lobster, clams, crabs, catfish, shrimp,)  The unclean animals are favorites of mine, like porkers, shrimp & Lobster, so much is good stuff; at least in my clan.
  • However, Peter did not see this as good news. I’ve never eaten any unclean thing in my life. Followed by a Righteous shiver and a mortally offended yuck.
  • To which God replied, “Nothing I have made is a yuck!”

This Happens a second and a third time.

CORNELIUS

About that time, God said to Peter, BYW, there are some Gentiles about to ring the bell downstairs.  I know it’s not kosher but you go with them. You hear? And Peter did just that.

He and the messengers went to Cornelius the Centurion.

What   do we   learn   from   Peter?

  • Pay attention to what is going on around.
  • Pay attention to what is going on in us.
  • Often the two spheres over-lap in interesting, even compelling ways.

Carl Jung called this overlap, Synchronicity:  Inner and outward life impact the other in a meaningful but acausal way.”

  • Often contradicts what we thought.
  • Broadens our horizons.
  • Calls us to transcend our limited perspectives.
  • Does an end run on our deeply held biases.

What would have happened if Peter refused to pay attention to the trance? He could have blamed it on being hungry at lunch time.

The Good News of God in Christ must be for any and all or it is not Good News for any.  Entrance into that company is a matter of grace.  They’ll let anyone in.  I don’t know about you but I’m real glad that is the case, given my background. At Saint John’s we have low standards, not no standards!

to the tomb

The Disciples Peter and John on their way to the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection – Eugene Burnand  1850 – 1921

Be a Peter or a John; Hasten to the sepulcher, Running together, Running against one another, Vying the noble race. And even when you are beaten in speed, Win the victory of showing who wants it More— Not just looking into the tomb, but going in.

-Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (4th cent.)

Maundy Thursday

 

footwashing

Maundy Thursday – James Tissot

It is interesting that the Church followed the story line of Matthew, Mark & Luke + Paul in the reading from his first letter to the Corinthian Christians when they established the core act of worship for the Church.  So ever since the Church has gathered to break the bread and drink the wine as the principal metaphor of Christ’s continuing presence in the world. 

  Have you ever thought how things would have been different if instead the Church had cued on the Gospel reading from John? What if foot-washing had become our central Sacrament rather than communion.  Think of all the glaring questions we could be debating:

  1. How to wash feet?
  2. Should they be immersed?
  3. Should they be sprinkled?
  4. Should the right or left foot come first?
  5. Who is authorized to wash feet?
  6. Can women’s feet be washed?
  7. Perhaps most importantly could women wash feet?

 We laugh but are not similar arguments about Eucharist and Baptism in the same category? What is going on here?  What is Jesus telling us?

 During Supper, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe and tied a towel around him. The word, “took off” or literally laid down is the same word the Jesus used when he spoke of laying down his life.  When he took up his clothing again it is the same word as taking up his life again. There seems to be a connection between the foot washing and the death/resurrection of the Lord.

mary-magdalene

Womn Washing Jesus’ Feet

  This is what Paul was speaking to in the Epistle to the Philippians last Sunday when he remarked that equality with God was not something that Jesus exploited but humbled himself taking the form of a servant.  I will not go into all the discussion of Greek thought which that represents but let me say that Paul is saying that servant-hood and glory are each genuine expressions of who God IS!  Taking the towel is taking the role of servant. 

People walked everywhere and so feet got dusty when you arrived at your destination. Each house had a pitcher of water and basin + towels provided for people to wash their own feet.  Mosaic Law provided that Jewish servants did not have to perform such menial tasks. Jesus makes the point that for God nothing is menial. The very core of our understanding our understanding of God is that He is self-giving.

 So Jesus did for his disciples what they were not willing to do for each other and to those beyond the group.  Not much has changed has it?  Jesus is still more willing to reach out to us than we are to reach out to him and each other.

004-jesus-washes-feet

 There is also an ancient tradition that the spirit enters and leaves us not through the head but through the “soles” (souls) of the feet.  The pattern of whorls is the path of the wind of life as it entered and left the body.  So there is a spiritual idea about feet — that we to which we pay little attention to may be of profound importance.

So tonight we hear the call of God.  By our baptism we are to be servants to all that we encounter in the world.  Servanthood begins in baptism and is acted out in worship tonight so that we may serve in the marketplace. There is really a profound connection between getting to know each other “hand to foot” that is terribly important.

 To put aside our embarrassment at WASHING feet and having OUR feet washed by someone else.  Being embarrassed is not fatal.  A South American priest has said, “Embarrassment is as close to suffering as most of us have ever been.

 Tonight we remember just how much we really need each other.  I am never more aware of that truth than when we bury our children. We need each other to be real.  We are not perfect.  We are not always wise. We are lonely – we are afraid – we long for people who will forgive us and love in spite of what we sometimes are and sometimes are not.

jesus washing peters feet by ford madox brown

Jesus washes the feet of Peter – Ford Peter Maddox

 

 There is something about the washing of feet that breaks through all of our cosmetic differences and barriers. No one must do this, but I encourage you to stretch a little.

 We are a blessed people.  Remember that one is not blessed at the expense of others but for the sake of others.  We bring food tonight for the hungry as Christians have been doing for hundreds of years.  We are called to remember that human beings are more alike than they are different.

 Parker Palmer defines grace as, “the constant availability of abundance with the question always being am I open to it or not?”

Tonight like our Lord, we also are called to lay aside our pride and our dignity, as he laid aside his life as a sign of our life in him.  He came among humanity as a servant.  Let us claim his name now act like him.  There is something about getting to know people hand to foot that is transforming and liberating. Let us do for each other what he did for those with him that night.                                                                                                

 In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

10 predictions about the future Church and shifting attendance patterns – ChristianWeek

Every generation experiences change. But sometimes you sense you’re in the midst of truly radical change, the kind that happens only every few centuries. Increasingly, I think we’re in such a moment now. Those of us in in Western culture…Read More→

Source: 10 predictions about the future Church and shifting attendance patterns – ChristianWeek

Christmass Eve 2015

Black hole warping space-time, computer artwork.

Black hole warping space-time, computer artwork.

We live inside a box formed by time & space. Standing at the edge of that reality, peering beyond, we see, as the Apostle wrote, through a glass darkly and our mind fills with haze and vapor. We just can’t go there as nothing inside compares with the outside (so far as we know). Carl Jung posits the need for a point of reference outside the conditions of present reality.

Carl Jung, “It is possible to have an attitude to the external conditions of life when there is a point of reference outside them.”

Andreas Wagner, “All we know and experience is mediated through matter. If we step on a sharp object, the material known to us as a foot, begins to phone home: pain, pain, puncture, puncture, what is it? Pull it out right now. The change in message from my foot requires a change in the matter of my foot. Wagner concludes by saying, “Matter impacts meaning.”

Andreas Wagner, “we overlook that there is no conversation without matter, and similarly, that any change in the meaning of a signal requires a change in matter. Matter impacts meaning.”

We need two things to make sense of anything and everything.

1. What we must have then, is a point of reference beyond the time & space container in which we live.
2. And that reference point will be experienced through matter which is the only way we know how to know anything.

Before the foundation of the world, The Holy Trinity promulgated the incarnation.  The Second Person of the Trinity, coming from eternity into time and space fully material to promulgate salvation.  Matter impacts meaning and Divine matter imparts ultimate meaning.

 

theory_large

Christ in the flesh is the reference point beyond time and space. image by Spalinka

Nativity story begins with an enrollment. The early enrollment that precedes the birth of Christ alludes to the “enrollment in heaven” that is his birth’s consequence. As he said to his disciples, “Rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you but rather rejoice, because you names are written in heaven.”

The Christ-child is born and laid in a manager because there was no room for them in the inn. Like the birth of this child the origin of this son of God is outside the inn of the world and laid in a MANGER.

Interesting word, MANGER The Greek Old Testament uses the same word Kibotos (kib-o-tos)

arkconstruct1

Noah’s Ark floated in the waters of the deep carrying the pioneers of the restored the world. Noah believed God, built the ark, filled it with beasts, went aboard and God, it says, Closed the day.

Princess plucks Moses from Nile

Moses, in his ark, floated out of the bulrushes into the life of Pharaoh’s daughter.

The Ark in the Jordon

The Ark of the Covenant – The box containing the Law – through the desert toward the promised land.

 The manger in the Bethlehem stable.

manger

The Ark/Manger: This Kigotos is a sign of Christ coming as servant as well as a king.

The manger signifies emptiness that is to be filled. The container available and waiting to be filled with the precious gift of God, the gift of the Son.

In this box, we live in time and space. To this ark, this Manger of time and space, is born a material reference point: Jesus the Christ.

Now, let me string together reflections by the Church Father on this great night.

In this manger Mary puts Jesus wrapped in swaddling bands (KJV). As Gregory of Nazianzus puts it, He was wrapped in swaddling bands, but at the resurrection he released the swaddling bands of grace. He was laid in a manger but was praised by angels, disclosed by a star and adored by magi.”

manger animals
Inmost crèches and art of the nativity you find animals around the manger, always an ox and always an ass, why because of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib.”

 

manger-animals-christmas-coloring-pages-02

NO PIG!!!

On a humorous aside.  Last night (Christmas Eve) at the family service performed the traditional Christmas Pageant. Children were dressed as all the usual suspects. I  did have to intervene when one little girl announced she wanted to be a pig at the manager scene.  “No pigs,” I pronounced!  Even though Memphians revere all things porcine, especially in its myriad of eatable forms,  there was still no pig at the manager.

After the Church Fathers, the Venerable Bede, whose tomb lies at one end of Durham Cathedral, wrote in the 7th century,   “He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter from the inn, that he may for us prepare many mansions in the house of his heavenly Father. Hence we have ‘because there was no room for him in the inn.’ He was born not in the house of his parents but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the incarnation be is become the Way by which he guides us to our home, where we shall also enjoy the Truth and the Life.”

The Angels and the Shepherds

James J.J. Tissot

Luke ends the nativity gospel in fields near Bethlehem where the angel of the Lord proclaims, this day is born to you a savior who is Christ, The Lord, Savior = God’s activity come to earth, Christ/Messiah/the anointed one, the Lord, the prince of peace.

So there you have it. The story that begins this night with this Mass in the mid-night, ends on Easter Eve after the fall of darkness, but in that darkness has come a great light.

manger & cross

A latter day Church Father, C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “What a terrible place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.” Unfortunately there is not much winter (70 degrees but thank God for 30 ton air-conditioners) but it is Christmass!

We are not alone, the Christ Child, the only Son of God, has come to be born in us. To Him be honor and glory now and forever. Amen.

©John W. Sewell
The Feast of the Incarnation
December 25, 2015

Easter Day 2015

Paschal (Easter) Candle - Chapel of the Cross, Madison, Mississippi

Paschal (Easter) Candle – Chapel of the Cross, Madison, Mississippi

On Thursdays since last Labor Day, my SOULWorks Group has volunteered at Manna House, a place of radical hospitality at Cleveland and Jefferson. There street folk can shower, get clean clothes and several cups of the strongest coffee in Memphis, Tennessee. I have many new friends there. I have yet to hear anyone complain about their lot. Actually, “I woke up this morning and I’m glad to be moving, today,” is the most common remark. I now know both coming and going a profound truth. Namely, having little doesn’t necessarily produce bitterness any more than having everything necessarily produces gratitude.

A young man there is tormented by voices in his head. That’s an irony as his name is Emmanuel, “God with us.” Every time I meet him, it is for the first time. He looks carefully, quizzically at my face and I introduce myself (again). Recently, I learned that his mother comes there most every day. She stands and looks at him, he looks back, but he never knows her. Yet she comes. That’s what mothers do. What she feels, she has never said.

Presentation in Temple

Presentation in Temple

Certainly Jesus knew his mother that Friday morning, as they began to crucify him. Perhaps, amnesia would have been a kindness. She stood looking up, he looking down and their eyes met. I’ve often wondered if Simeon’s words echoed in Mary’s memory that Friday noon. He had snatched Jesus from her arms over thirty years earlier, announcing to anyone who would stop and listen that this one was Messiah! His parting line, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed,” gained strangling clarity as she stood in the mid-day sun.

That strangling clarity is exactly what we avoid knowing and especially feeling. No avoidance can protect us. It is futile. It is futile because in the deepest place in our souls, we know: Suffering is the promise life always keeps. Suffering is the promise life always keeps. Never achieving your dream Suffering is the promise life always keeps Achieving your dream, only to discover it was unworthy Suffering is the promise life always keeps Marrying and family Suffering is the promise life always keeps Unwed and solitary Suffering is the promise life always keeps In spite of our ego’s best laid plans, promoting our terminal uniqueness. Regardless our wealth, family, ethnicity, race, nationality, or zip code It is a true saying and worthy of all to be received, that all humans are more alike than we are different! Therefore, beloved… Suffering is the promise life always keeps

1 AVOIDANCE OF PAIN – PURSUIT OF POWER

The unfortunate incident in the Garden of Eden never tells how evil began. The fall of Eve &  Adam explains how humanity go entangled with evil and sin. Sin and its consequences, suffering and death is lot of all humanity just as sure as sparks fly upward. We cannot not assume that all people that have ever lived on this green Earth felt joy. We can assume that every person who has ever taken breath on this green Earth has experienced pain. The strategy for avoiding pain and sorrow, loss and suffering has always been power. We have pursued power, to protect ourselves from pain. The exercise of force, can in fact, keep many species of wolves away from our proverbial doors. ‘

But then, because power is addictive in itself, we pursue it for its own sake. Naturally, as with any competition, where everybody is driving and finally diving for the prize, there must a winner and lots of losers.

How many remember who won the final-four last year? How many remember the third runner up? How many remember last year’s runner up.

Winners are empowered and losers are not. But even the winners are empowered for a short time before it all begins again. On and on it goes. As it has ever since Cain lost God’s regard that time and enraged at his loss of power, murdered his brother Abel.

Regardless then we lose or win, we have the same fear: having enough, or not being enough or, finally not being at all, that twists us into perverse caricatures of what a human should be. There we will always trust our own ego above all others and distrust anyone else.

Power has been our strategy, Control is our universal policy. We have consoled ourselves with the idea that if we worked hard enough, learned enough built technology powerful we could in our way finally achieve what our distant ancestors could not achieve that time with the tower.

Truly it is true that never in the history of our race have so many had so much for such a long time. We split the atom looking for power, last century and we found it. The irony is that while splitting the atom produced power beyond imagination, the bitter irony is that nuclear energy is lethal. Our will to power is lethal such that it will cost us our souls. The Gospel revealed by God in Christ is that something is terribly wrong in the human heart – and before the foundation of the world, God set out to do something about it.

2 THE BIZARRE OPTION

Of course no one got what God was about. That has been clear since, the Evil One gave Jesus advice on how to get the Kingdom underway that time in the Wilderness. The disciples didn’t get it either, nor his family or the priests, scribes, Romans of every station and power. And frankly, few have ever “gotten it”! Why was that? God’s plan was so outrageous, so clever that we marvel today at the elegant equation of grave. God’s secret weapon was humility.

I believe that I speak for all of us when I state that this is, in point of fact, exactly what we are not looking for!

As Woody Allen once said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.”

3 KILLING DEATH BY DEATH

John Behr, the Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Seminary, succinctly states Jesus’ counter-intuitive strategy of “surrendering to win,” in his recent book, Becoming Human, (I’m borrowing several passages)

  • “Christ does not show himself to be God by being “almighty,” as we tend to think of this. As moving mountains, throwing lightning bolts and so on – It is rather by the all-too-human act of dying, in the particular manner that he dies.“ BH [21]
  •  Death is, in point of fact, the only thing that men and women have in common from the beginning of the world onwards, throughout all regions and cultures of the world.
  • And thus Christ reveals what it is to be God through the only thing that we have in common. He does this not simply by dying –, he does it by the way that he has died.
  • Had Christ revealed what it is to be God in any other way – for example:
    •  by being rich and powerful (reflecting our own desires),
    •  by being poor and outcast (as we might conclude by the special place the poor have in the heart of God.)
  • Any such option will have excluded some people: for those who do not fit any such group would have had no part in him.
  • Alternatively, if it were simply because he was human, like us, that he died, but because he is also God he is able to get himself of the grave that would have been great for him, but would not really have helped others.  It is rather because he conquers death by his death that he enables all men and women also to use their own mortality to come to life in him. BH [23]
Victor Safonkin

Victor Safonkin

      Ironically, it is precisely where the world detects the most obvious example of weakness— the cross— that God triumphs over sin and death at the peak of their most deadly power. Here’s the irony: Just where the highest and holiest victim of truly undeserved suffering cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” victory over sin and death is taking place. This the foolishness and weakness that trump the wisdom and power of the ages! Horton, Michael S. – A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering (p. 28y).

4 ALL WE NEED DO IS BE DEAD.

You do know we are all going to die? Is this not incredible? The only thing we have to do is be dead! We begin to die by repenting.

I have told this story before in this. What I lose in novelty, let me take up by way of testimony. I want to tell you of the day that the truth the way down is the way up became more than theology, more than abstraction, a nice idea but unrealistic. It happened on this wise… In the winter of 1978, I was driving on the Bluegrass Parkway in the central Kentucky. 1978 was a brutal winter over all this country. Snow was deep and the road icy and dangerous. I say that because I was literally had seen no other car for miles and hours. Well, I was doing pretty well, having experience in icy weather. That was when it happened. Suddenly, without warning the car began to spin 360° – as the landscape began to spin, time slowed & I thought, I hadn’t planned on this what and I going to do after the car turns upside down? My foot and leg and already learned that slamming on the brake was a really bad idea. Steering wildly had no good outcome.

Then I had that moment of clarity. A thought came to me, one so outrageous and counter-intuitive I would never have entertained had I any other option. But, I was flat out of options. There was simply nothing I could do to fix my problem. I could makes things worse but not better. I took my hands off the steering wheel, held them in mid-air. No longer in charge, having given up any power I had remaining was just along for the ride. The car righted itself. Now, I was headed in the wrong direction and grateful. What I learned that day in the frozen hills of Kentucky has served me well all these years and decades in two different centuries. Dealing with matters of power and faith is like driving a car on ice. Doing what comes naturally, is almost always not the thing to do.

The death of Jesus shows us what an authentic human being looks like AND the death of Jesus releases grace, the energy, to get over ourselves and our ego. I see this power at work in lives of people every day.

Every day, Alcoholics Anonymous teaches me that what can never be done with white-knuckled will power, happens whenever any of us finally take our hands off the steering wheel, raise them in the air and surrender to the power of Christ’s death.

  • In that moment we die in the death of Christ.
  • In that moment we also rise with Christ in his resurrection.

What one repents of is sin, but sin is understood as ‘a matter of trying to block the activity of God, which entrails some curtailing of human freedom. [106] The Necessary Unity of Opposites: The Thinking of Northrop Frye – Brian Russell Graham

We first give up blocking God • We limit our ego • We take up freedom

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “here is the true Christian definition of freedom. Freedom is self-limitation: self-limitation for the sake of others.”

From Under the Rubble; Repentance and self-limitation in the lives of nations.

We are free, beloved, we are free to limit ourselves for the sake of others. Brothers and Sisters of the household of faith, I say to you this Easter day, self-limitation is true freedom.

  • The ‘particular manner’ in which Jesus died was exactly self-limitation for the sake of others.
  • And by exercising this true freedom, by pursuing humility instead of power, his suffering was transformed into salvation.
  • And now we, on this Easter Day, praise him in celebration of the downward trail he blazed.
  • We follow the way Jesus, the Christ leads by limiting ourselves, for the sake of others,
  • We do this in faith that in humility, our suffering, too, is transformed into salvation.

TO HIM, BE GLORY NOW AND FOREVER.

Alleluia, Alleluia – Christ is Risen – The Lord is risen indeed Alleluia, Alleluia