MAUNDY THURSDAY

April 18, 2019

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

Jesus Washing The Feet Of His Disciples - Albert Edelfelt

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

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

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

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

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John

HOLY TUESDAY

April 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In hope, in spite of the facts.  John+

Holy Monday

April 15, 2019

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

Wayne Forte

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

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

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

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

anointingjesuswithnard-arcabas

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

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John Sewell

PALM SUNDAY

April 14, 2019

Palm-Sunday-

James Tissot – Jesus Enters Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 – Theodoret, Bishop of  Cyrrhus 393 – 457 AD

Palm 2

Egyptian Coptic Icon of Palm Entry

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

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

Ego pain is birth pain.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John

LENT II

Today’s Gospel is about judgment.  People have a hard time dealing with judgment, at least people have a hard time being on the “judged” end of judgment.

Paul Ricoeur in his book, The Symbolism of Evil, explores the cluster of experiences that make up the experience of sin and judgment.  They are: DEFILEMENT, ANXIETY, SHAME AND GUILT.

  1. DEFILEMENT:

Something happens and we feel violated, dirty, angry AND we have done nothing wrong.  It is the feeling when you realize that your house has been burgled.  You enter the house and what had been home is suddenly alien and you feel like you need to take a shower.

In the Peanuts comic strip, Snoopy, the beagle, used to kiss Lucy on the mouth, just so he could see her spit and yell about “dog germs.” I had a similar experience with my sister when she was little. One day the family dog kissed her on the mouth. She got hysterical over the “dog germs” and  could not be pacified until I gave her a slug of Listerine which tasted so bad that she just knew that the germs were dead.  In reality a dog’s mouth has less germs than a human one, but she “felt” defiled.

  1. ANXIETY – EXISTENTIAL:

One day when I was a young child, mother was going to the barn to milk the cows.  The milk bucket was face down on the well curb where it had been left to drain.  When she picked the bucket up a copper-head snake was coiled under it.  To this day I remember instant anxiety that produced.  It is no accident that the symbol of evil is not an elephant.

Existential anxiety is the realization that, “We won’t always be here!”  The day finally comes when the truth occurs to us that not only do other people die, but so will we.  Much of this anxiety is unconscious and becomes  “bound.”  Or in other words the society is deeply anxious and looking for a quick fix that usually promotes anxiety rather than cures it.

  1. SHAME:

Feeling of being “bad” – painful feelings of having lost the respect or regard of another person.  This may or may not be the result of behavior.  It is inner directed.  It feels like a stain on ones sense of self. Often shame is given as much as it is earned. 

  1. GUILT:

These are the rules.  If you keep the rules you are ok, if you break the rules then you are a bad person and must be punished. We often resist that being true so that we do not have to feel the pain.  But all of us have done things years ago that trouble us even today. 

  • Defilement – Anxiety – Shame – Guilt ­= sin, alienation from God, ourselves

and each other.  Nothing WE can do will fix what is wrong. — All of which leads to JUDGMENT. 

It is very hard for people to hear the bad news of judgment, even if it is true.  It is human nature to believe the worst about others and to deny our own  brokeness and sin.  One of the consequences of sin is that rather than being in God’s image, many of us have made God in OUR own image.

Our image of God is as if he was an old man at the top of a very long ladder waiting for us to get near the top, make a mistake/sin/break the rules so that he can hit our fingers with a hammer so that we lose our grip on the rung and drop like a rock into hell.

When I was in my early years of college there was a Dean at my university that would go over the senior’s records with an eye for graduation requirements that had been left undone.  He never let on about the deficit until they were standing in the graduation line, in cap and gown.  Then he came along, pulling people from the line, telling them that they would not graduate that day.  He enjoyed it.  

We can only hear judgment from someone who loves us!  Only then can it become insight. Because of the love, our defensiveness is overcome, and we hear the truth.  When we are loved we have the courage to peep through our fingers and admit, “Yes that is true.” 

This is “being brought up short”– the moment when we have the insight that things are not as they should be or could be.  Then we are left with a choice, what are we going to do?  Which leads us to the good news of judgment, namely, grace and forgiveness!

  • JUDGMENT, GRACE AND FORGIVENESS:

The good news is that there is grace available to us for new life.  We do not have that new life because we do not ask for it. The question then is, “do we trust Jesus or not?”  In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus grieves over Jerusalem, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gather her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Robert Farrar Capon says this about judgment.

“If he (Jesus) has already done it all for me already, why shouldn’t I live as if I trusted him?”  If he has already reconciled both my wayward self and my equally difficult brother in law, or children or wife/husband – why shouldn’t I at least try to act as if  I trust him to have done just that and to let his reconciliation govern my actions in those relationships.”

            When we die we lose whatever grip we had on our unreconciled versions of our lives – And when we rise on the last day, the only grip in which our lives will be held will be the reconciling grip of Jesus’ resurrection – He will hold our lives mended, cleaned and pressed in his hand, and he will show home to his Father.  Sin is not something the human race has any choice about.  None of us will  ever avoid that trust in ourselves and that distrust of anyone else that lies at the root of the world’s problems.”

“It’s about progress rather than perfection.”

Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

Lent is about judgment/insight/being open to grace.  The new life begins and continues – begins and continues over and over.

Frederick Buechner says this about judgment.  “We are all of us judged every day.  We are judged by the face that looks back at us the bathroom mirror.  We are judged by the faces of the people we love and by the faces and lives of our children and by our dreams. Each day finds us at the junction of many roads, and we are judged as much by the roads we have not taken as by the roads we have. The New Testament proclaims that at some unforeseeable time in the future God will ring down the final curtain on history, and there will come a Day on which all our days and all the judgments upon each other  will themselves be judged. The judge will be Christ.  In other words, the one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully.

God is not our enemy!  He is trustworthy and merciful. As the reading from Exodus? for today says, “Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  He wants more for us than we can ever want for ourselves.  “The one who will judges us finally will be the one who loves us most fully.”  That is good news indeed.

Amen.

Tuesday – February 21, 2018

Cotton-Patch-Gospel

Mark does not tell us what happened to Jesus in the wilderness, only that the angels waited on him. In the Cotton Patch Gospels, (the Gospels recast in Georgia in the 1950’s), an angel arrived bearing a chili cheese dog for Jesus.

Each of us is driven into our wilderness, there we are tempted & there we are waited on by angels. We will face adversity, find subtle temptations and run into angels along our way. What angel (messenger) will bring us consolation today?  Wait, watch & enjoy! Thanks be to God.

Meditation – Monday in Lent I

1200px-Temptations_of_Christ_(San_Marco)

Temptations in San Marco, Venice

February 19, 2018

Mark does not tell us what happened to Jesus in the wilderness, only that he was tempted by Satan, not how the evil one did it. Temptations are tailor made for us. Perhaps an inventory of temptation and weak points is order. What are they (there is always more than one)? Foretold is forearmed.