God Bless Them Everyone

 

Presiding Bishop Currey -Convention Preacher (WTn) 2005

The Right Reverend Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina holding forth in the pulpit at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN. at convention 2006.  He was good then.

As The Most Reverend, Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, he was above splendid today at Saint George’s, Windsor UK preaching at the Celebration of the Marriage of TRH The Duke & Duchess of Sussex.  The Gospel was preached.

I was really proud of being an Anglican today.  I was proud of being a priest of a church led by Michael Curry. God bless you sir. God bless the marriage of  Prince Harry and his Duchess.

JWS+

Christmas Eve

 

the-annunciation-by-henry-ossawa-tanner-philadelphia-1898

The Annunciation – Henry Ossawa Turner

The Kingdom of God comes, as our Lord put it, “without observation.” 

Even so it was a particularly inauspicious beginning.  Gabriel had come to a young woman in Nazareth named Mary.  He told her that God had chosen her to be the mother of God’s only son and that the Holy Spirit would accomplish it.  She agreed, and it was so.

Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, at first thought to divorce Mary quietly.  But then Gabriel let him in on the plan and so he took Mary for his wife.  I’m sure there was unpleasant gossip about the pregnant bride and her husband who some in town thought a fool for marrying her at all.

It was not an auspicious beginning.

Adoration_of_the_Shepherds tissot

In response to the census decreed by the Emperor Augustus, Joseph traveled to the hometown of his ancestor David.  Apparently Joseph didn’t want to leave Mary alone so late in her pregnancy she rode a donkey 75+ miles to Bethlehem.  There was no room in the inn so they wound up in a stable. Tradition says it was a cave.

It was not an auspicious place for a birth.

And there her first born son was born – laid in a manger – with the animals all around.

It was not an auspicious nursery.

The_Angel_and_the_Shepherds

James Tissot – Angels Appear to Shepherds

An Angel appeared to shepherds who had the night shift watching the sheep.  The angel said, “To you this day in the city of David is born one Christ the Lord.”  Then suddenly more angels appeared.  Was it 2, 20 or 200 angels?  It’s hard to discern the aggregate when you have so little practice seeing angels.  “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.” 

It was not an auspicious audience.

The shepherds went into Bethlehem and indeed it was so: Emmanuel – God with us.

It was not auspicious in any way we would usually recognize!  But the truly important things in our own lives have always come with out auspicious beginnings. We never saw their importance at the time. It is only in getting still and looking at our life that we see the outline of meaning.  Oh, we say, that’s what that meant. 

How amazed would Augustus be to know that more people know him from the opening line of the Christmas Gospel than from any inscription on a building in the forum in Rome?

Quirinus, Roman Gov of Syria

Quirinus

Quirinus is the only Roman Governor of Syria now remembered and that for an event which he never knew came to pass.

Those taking the census, those who could afford rooms in the inn that night never knew that an event born out poverty would be the very event by which we divide history before and after.

 

“Here in time we have a holiday because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature.  St Augustine says the birth is always happening.  But if it happen not in me what does it profit me?  What matters is that it (the birth) shall happen in me.”  Meister Eckhart

The inauspicious surroundings of our lives are the very occasion new birth in us!

It is the dark recesses of the stables of our souls that new birth begins.

It comes quietly hardly noticed by the turning of new leaves and amid the litter of good intentions.

It is when we are powerless and come to know it that the birth pain begins.

When we give up and know that we cannot make it on our own – there is a sudden irresistible movement of grace and there it is – new life – laid in the manager in amongst the ruin of our well laid plans.

This is not what we expect.  This is not what we desire.  We want drama. We want the earth to tilt further on its axis in order that we will know that we are alive and that all is well. But that is not how it happens. Meister Eckhart: “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.”

the-age-of-augustus-the-birth-of-christ

The Age of Augustus – Jean-Leon Gerome

Tonight heaven and earth meet in that inauspicious event born of poverty. Earth is drawn up into heaven.  In the great silence — without observation – He is come!

CS Lewis once said, “What a sorry place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.” 

Well, it is finally winter even in Tennessee.  And it is Christmas — let us be still and silent before him that he may be reborn in us.

Laws of Geometric Emotional Process

Definition – An emotional triangle is any three persons
or two persons and a part of a system with a ‘problem’

Emotional Triangle

Emotional Triangle

FIRST LAW OF TRIANGLES: YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE

It is not possible from the position of A to change the relationship of B and C.

SECOND LAW OF TRIANGLES: PROTOPLASM IS PERVERSE

Continued efforts to change the relationship of B and C from the position of A will be converted by homeostatic forces to their opposite intent (pushing them apart will make them ‘fall in love’, and trying to push them together will create polarized opposition).

twoperson_ruleTHIRD LAW OF TRIANGLES: YOU HAVE TO START FROM HERE 

Start From Here Change in B and C can only come from changing one’s own relationship with either or both, individually.

hqdefaultFOURTH LAW OF TRIANGLES: OVER FUNCTIONING = STRESS

If from the position of A you become responsible for the relationship of B and C, then you will wind up with the stress for their relationship, if not for the whole system. By “helping” (a synanom for controlling) B and C will not feel it.  It may be that they need to feel the anxiety to get unstuck.  

Bowen Theory – Notes from lecture by Rabbi Edwin Friedman

Easter III

Abraham's Oak - Henry Ossawa Turner

Abraham’s Oak – Henry Ossawa Turner

Pausing, looking back toward where the story began there is symmetry, a type–antitype. The place God began his self-revelation was at Mamre, which wasn’t much even then except for one world-class oak, In fact the place was known as the Oak of Mamre as the tree gave it about its only reason for being.

God and two archangels some say or perhaps God, the Trinity, dropped by for lunch with Abraham and his wife Sarah. Since most have not seen an archangel and no one at all has seen the Trinity, it’s a little hard to know where one left off and the other began. It is safe to say that neither wife nor husband recognized their guests until all was revealed over lunch.

Abraham & the Three Angels - James Tissot

Abraham & the Three Angels – James Tissot

Abraham bent over backwards showing hospitality that day and Sarah would have baked a cake if they had given her warning. The holy ones gravely accepted Abraham’s spread under the spreading branches and then got on to the business at hand. You know how it turned out of course. The childless couple had a boy come new-year and Sodom and environs became the Dead Sea by year end.

Turning toward home, see the script? Cleopas and his companion are running away from home and bump into Jesus and then it all becomes clearer over supper. Both stories come to the moment of insight because of hospitality. Extending ourselves in service of the comfort and welcome of the stranger will often lead to gifts unforeseen. Do not neglect hospitality for some have entertained angels unawares. So you never know who might put their wingtips under your table, either expensive shoes or feathers. Prepare to hear the good news.

Jesus came near Cleopas and his un-named companion on the road from Jerusalem and Emmaus. Let’s get the actors straight on our program before we get confused. Hegsippus (early historian) records that Cleopas was the brother of Joseph the husband of Mary and step-father of Jesus our Lords. His companion may have been his son, Simeon. who became bishop after James, Jesus’ brother, was martyred?

road-to-emmaus1

Cleopas and company are running away from the scene of the crime. Their deepest hopes have become their deepest wounds. There is no one more cynical than a deeply wounded idealist. Their eyes were “held” so they did not recognize him. When they explain their distress, Jesus showed them, beginning with Moses and so showed them that another way to read and understand the Scriptures was exactly what happened to Jesus. Thus he reframed their history and made bad news into good news.

Anyone who has lived for very long has come to know that sometimes the only thing worse than the disappointment of not getting what we want is the remorse of getting exactly the thing longed for only to learn how bad it was for us and our souls. Of course, hopefully we learn from the consequences of getting what we want. It may well be that our “wanter” is broken. Actually it has been since Adam at the apple. It may be that God knows better what we need and want than we do.

Emmaus - James Tissot

Emmaus – James Tissot

They come to Emmaus, perhaps to the family home, where Cleopas and his older brother Joseph were brought up. It was there it happened. They were sitting at the old family table, the very one that for all their lives on Friday they had the prayers and only the day after the Passover Supper where again they had eaten and told the story of rescue, how God brought them out of Egypt into the promised land and where they hoped for Messiah, the anointed one of God.

Here Jesus did what is always done at this table, all Christian tables, at this service of Holy Thanksgiving.

Supper at Emmaus - Abraham Bloemaert

Supper at Emmaus – Abraham Bloemaert

The four movements of the Eucharist, He took, he blessed, broke and gave.

He Took

In reply to Satan who suggested he turn loaf-shaped stones into bread Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone.” Of course he doesn’t live without it either. In the only story told by all four Gospels (other than the passion) Jesus took a lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish and fed 5000 people. If Jesus is God, then he was on the ground floor when the Universe began and if you can make matter from scratch then he can stretch molecules of bread in hand.

Supper at Emmaus  - Diego Velazquez

Supper at Emmaus
– Diego Velazquez

What folk should have learned that day was (and is), whatever we make truly available to Jesus can (and will) be used. In addition, we should have learned by now that when Jesus takes something (any old thing) it is transformed and it becomes enough..
Now, think of all the “castoffs” of our lives. . It is a hoot seeing what Jesus does when he up-cycles what we distain into something needful. Today, look around, take inventory and then offer what we find to Jesus. He can do more with less than anyone I have ever I have ever known.

HE BLESSED

A couple makes promises and then is married but when they are blessed their relationship is filled with divine content. Having taken the bread, ordinary stuff to sustain life in the body, Jesus now makes the bread “different/holy” and it is no longer just bread, but, like Manna in the wilderness, it is the bread of Heaven.

Blessing changes things. It changes relationships. It changes effect. It changes value. To be blessed by God gives dignity and worth. If we are worthless by all human standards not so with God, divine love and blessing creates value where none existed before.

What we will give up, Jesus will take up. What Jesus takes up, he blesses as he did that day when the children came running to him. And what he blesses has merit and dignity if for no other reason, because he blessed them. If God can do that with ground wheat seed mixed with water and baked, what can God to our lives?

HE BROKE

The most solemn moment in any Eucharist is the “fraction” – the actual breaking of the bread. On a day with low humidity there is a discernible “cracking” sound heard through the room. In that moment we are confronted symbolically with the suffering of Christ.
The rubric (stage direction) in the Prayer Book is, “The celebrant breaks the consecrated Bread. A period of silence is kept.” What can we do in face of his sacrifice other than be silent? I believe that the breaking of the bread is all the broken things in our lives, our souls and bodies, those things done, those things left undone, are all (everyone) broken there as well. It is a good breaking, like re-breaking a leg that was inadequately set, in service of fullness of life.

HE GAVE

What Jesus’ taking, blessing and breaking make, he gives. It is food. It is life. It is healing. It is celebration and it is joy. Above all it is Viaticum, literally “food for the journey.” That which God requires of us, God in grace provides us. We need not grow hungry, forced to eat fast-food along the shoulder of the road. Lest we succumb to the junk-food at the Jiffy Mart, Jesus provides us nourishment such that we will arrive prepared to do what needs doing.

When we come for “solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal;” (BCP. Page 372) then we miss the best part. And what is the best part, you ask?
Why, the best part is going out and doing what Jesus said for us to do and seeing that indeed it is happening. What’s not to like? Join a ministry team and find out. These are the four movements of the Eucharist.

THEY WENT

In truth there is a fifth movement: they went. Having the last say, the Deacon exhorts, “Go and do what needs to doing. If you have been fed – be bread.” (My language)

emmausJesus gave them the bread, they eyes were no longer “held” and they recognized him. Then he vanished. Then, no longer tired; (interesting how that happens) Cleopas and company marched immediately from Emmaus back to Jerusalem with the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Upon arriving they discover that the risen Christ has been busy and there afore them.

Our hearts burned as he reframed the scriptures to include Messiah’s “failure” death upon a tree, they marveled. It’s really a simple matter, you see. Their unconscious got it even if their eyes were “held” and the same, beloved, is true in our own day.

Ever since Emmaus, Christians know that Jesus shows up when the bread is broken. We don’t have to see him with our physical eyes. Our hearts will tell us even when our eyes fail us. Pay attention to the awaking fascinations of your soul. The soul turns unconsciously to God, as sunflowers follow the sun. .

JWS

Timshel Take Up Thy Cross…

1st Edition Cover

1st Edition Cover

The birth of a baby is a grand event. All that possibility without any of the cost resides in that crib.  An American myth is that any child can grow up to be President of the United States! The shadow of that is that someone grows up to be the godfather of organized crime. All parents must consider the future with at least notions of growing old surrounded by generations of loving descendents.

Eve and Adam were not comforted in their old age by their progeny. We don’t know where they moved after Eden but eating the fruit of opposites had opened their eyes. What they saw was hardly worth it as things went from bad to worse. The terrible consequences of taking on more freight than humans were constructed to bear devolved into tragedy.

The young Adamson boys had great promise.  For reasons not obvious to the reader God accepted the blood sacrifice of Abel but not the vegetable offering of Cain.  Cain’s face “fell” the text tells us. In Genesis 4:6 God tells Cain that evil is crouching at the door to take him and he must resist it. Of course he does not resist it. He kills his brother.

 Go find a copy of the 1955 film of the Steinbeck Movie East of Eden. The author and filmmaker masterfully display the tension between the brothers and their gifts and their needs for approval. But the death of the younger brother is not the end of the story. Look up the scene in the Garden where the brothers vie for the attentions of a young woman.  It is brilliant film making. But then the novel is celebrated as perhaps the “great American novel.”  Get a copy.  Good reading.

James Dean

James Dean

“Although one of the fundamental ideas in East of Eden is that evil is an innate and inescapable human problem, the novel also sets forth hope that each individual has the freedom to overcome evil by his or her own choice. This idea of free choice is encapsulated in the Hebrew word timshel, the meaning of which Adam’s housekeeper, Lee, has researched. The word, which translates to “thou mayest,” appears in the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible, when God tells Cain that he has the freedom to choose to overcome sin. Lee sees this idea of free will as central to the human condition—in fact, he says that timshel might be the “most important word in the world.” [Sparknotes.com]

Christ_Healing_the_Leper

Christ Healing the Leper – Icon

In Luke 5:12 a leper said to Jesus that he could heal him if he wanted to.  “I want to,” replied Jesus touching him and making him whole.  Hans Kung in his book Christianity speaks of the basic model of Jesus that echoes timshel”Jesus Christ represents a basic model of a view of life and a way of life which can be realized in many ways.  He is in person, both positively and negatively, the invitation (You may), the call (You shall) and the challenge (You can) for the individual and society. Specifically, he makes possible:

  • A new basic orientation and basic attitude,
  • New motivations, dispositions and actions,
  • A new horizon of meaning and the identification of a new goal.

The key New Testament concept of Christian ethics is discipleship of Christ. This of course is exactly what many have taken up at Saint John’s with Renewal Work. Many have heard the invitation, YOU MAY, in Saint John’s Reads. Regular Bible reading moves our soul such that we then may well hear the call; YOU SHALL, to come and follow Jesus more closely and consistently.  Like morning after night we  hear the challenge, YOU CAN! For what God desires from us he gives us grace for the doing.

 YOU MAY – YOU SHALL – YOU CAN.

Timshel

John W. Sewell

What did we learn at Thanksgiving that will get us Through Christmas?

holydays

The Holy Days are coming, those occasions that by the rhythm of once a year but all our lives mark the seasons of living.  We live in a country that has the double whammy of Thanksgiving followed a month later by Christmas. We have double helpings of feasting and double visits from family. One raises our cholesterol and the other our anxiety. 

gI_SFPBookCover3Da.jpg I have learned that while the Holy Days are Holy they are not always happy.  In fact I am convinced, particularly this time of year,  that only orphans think that having a family would solve all their problems, the rest of us know better.  How to survive the Holy Days?  I suggest that you might want to read (or go back and read) Screamfree Parenting. “Ah,” you say, “It’s not my children that are the problem.”  To which I say, “Take out the word parent and put in living.”

Screamfree is a way of thinking that focuses on our own functioning rather than the functioning of others.  To prepare for the Holy Days, we might ask ourselves some of the following questions. On Thanksgiving and Christmas when families gather:

 Who will experience the most anxiety and who the least?

  • What amount of “space” is between me and the family? Am I stuck or cut-off?
  • How much energy is spent on the  “issues” of being together?
  • How do you stay “loose” in the family so that you can risk being an adult?
  • How can I plan ahead so that I know what I will do/be when the family member begins doing what he/she “always does.”
  • How can I define myself, sometimes by keeping my mouth shut?
  • How can I focus on the reasons that I love my family even while being with them?
  • Can I go into “research mode” and seek to learn from my family, resisting the temptation to give advice and fix them?

The country is anxious, states, cities, neighborhoods are anxious. How to do non-anxious-presencedeal with this anxiety during the most anxious time of the year?  As my teacher, Ed Friedman, used to say that, “consistency is only possible when we Focus on our own functioning.  Breathing in and breathing out is a good focus when anxiety rises. Getting more oxygen aids thinking and breathing may be the only thing that we can control. Stick to the facts not what we think they meant by the words they spoke. If things get more than we can take find an excuse to take a walk or visit a sick friend and then come back later. If you are out of town, hotel rooms are neutral.

Now I will see if I can take my own advice.  In addition to the national and religious holy days we also have the annual parish meeting on this coming Sunday, December 8th.  Please come and join us as we take council in this annual gathering of the parish. 

Let’s focus on the things that matter so that we are not distracted and miss them.

Peace, John+

Pray to Jesus and Play the Lotto

Video

This is my favorite song from a new favorite artist: Brandy Clark. I love songs that tell stories. I love songs that tell stories with a simple, yet clever, use of words. Ms. Clark reminds me of Kate Campbell who is an inspired song writer.

Brandy also clearly knows some folks with substance abuse problems. Her read is right on and right painful. She holds up a mirror to our eyes and though it may be cracked  it is also a real reflection.

Cana Was the First Sign

ImageAddressing the expectant servants, he said, “Fill the jars with water.” The servants promptly obeyed, and suddenly in a marvelous way the water began to acquire potency, take on color, emit fragrance and gain flavor – all at once it changed its nature completely! Now this transformation of the water from its own substance into another testified to the powerful presence of the Creator. Only he who had made it out of nothing could change water into something whose use was quite different. Dearly beloved, have no doubt that he who changed water into wine is the same as he was from the beginning has thickened it into snow and hardened it into ice. It is he who changed it into blood for the Egyptians and bade it flow from the dry rock for the thirsty Hebrews – the rock that, newly transformed into a spring was like a mother’s breast refreshing with its gentle flow a countless multitude of people.
Sermon 23 Maximus of Turin

For Matt and Brittany Legg on Their Wedding Day

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

We are gathered here in the presence of God and of this company of the friends of your souls.  We come to do a couple of things before nightfall.

We come to Celebrate and Bless

I.  We Come to Celebrate!

To Interpret, to make sense of … So we come to figure out,  make sense of what the two of you have gotten yourselves into…Now as Christians we interpret with Christ in mind.  So we make sense of your relationship, the promises you are about to make, because of the paradoxical mystery of Jesus the Christ, what he has done and what that means continually and forever. We come here to witness your vows because Jesus is present among us as he said, if 2  or 3 are gathered in his name – he will be revealed, discovered in their midst. Saint Thomas Aquinas once said that Jesus is principally experienced by a heightened awareness of mutual love and concern.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German pastor, patriot and martyr to the Nazi terror, wrote a letter to his twin-sister on the day of her wedding. In it he said, “The love between her and husband was theirs and theirs alone, but their marriage belonged to the whole church, to the whole community.  How you live into the vows you make this day affects us all for better, for worse…  Also Bonhoeffer said in his letter, “That the love between her and her husband is does not keep their marriage going. No, the marriage is to keep their love going.”

With that in mind, today we come to make a container for your love.  The reading from The Song of Solomon proclaims a peculiar and mysterious truth, “that love is a strong as death.”  That of course is true – our love has a singular and spare beauty – but like a glass that when dropped often bounces – but if that same glass lands just so it shatters, and in that moment  death is stronger than love. So we come to make a container for your love so that regardless of circumstance it will continue of service to your love.  What are these circumstances that your love faces?

In the vows is embedded an ancient notion called the Wheel of Fortune. The notion being that life is lived on a wheel that moves up and down and around as life moves inexorably into the future.  For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health: what?  To love and cherish until you are parted by death!  Now your marriage is to be lived not on the outside of the wheel to be crushed by the wheel as it moves inexorably into the future and beyond; no live your marriage at hub of the wheel so it turns in your center, the holy place where Jesus is discovered:  for he is the lynch-pin in the hub.

Now here we are all dressed up in our finest clothes and also our impeccable denial, and we will key on the words better, richer and health – and ignore all those other words. But anyone who is married more than 15 minutes knows that plenty of all it will come upon you. We come to celebrate.

II. We also come to bless you.

Sacrament: outward sign of inner and spiritual grace; Water/Baptism; Bread and Wine/Communion and for marriage holding hands (right hands in this case). These very material and human scaled things are filled with divine content – bread/wine – bread of heaven – cup of salvation = filled with divine content. Holding hands and giving receiving of rings – filled with holy energy to get out bed day after day to be married.

ImageAnd we come to make our prayer that for better, for worse…in this world to be adorned with all Spiritual Grace and in the world to come, life and that life Everlasting.

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