MAUNDY THURSDAY

April 18, 2019

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

jesus washing peters feet by ford madox brown

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

John Jesus lean

 

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

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

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

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

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

In hope, in spite of the facts.  J

 

HOLY WEDNESDAY

April 17, 2019

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

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

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

In hope, in spite of the facts.  J

 

 

 

A Memphis Winter in Philly

Today a government agency pointed to concrete examples of coming climate change. What will be the temperature changes in the next sixty years? One caught my attention. Philadelphia PA will have the same climate patterns by then as Memphis, TN has in 2019. Interesting. What will be the patterns then in Memphis? Perhaps Central America?

Leave Taking 2003 – 2017

EPIPHANY 4, January 28, 2018 – Saint John’s Memphis, Tennessee 20111

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I was warned in advance nobody can really prepare you for the circumstances you face in ministry. If they told you just wouldn’t believe it. In 1981 I left Seabury-Western with every intention of doing the sort of careful, appropriate liturgies Lee Mitchell trained me to do.  I was assigned 2 parishes 30 miles apart. One of them was Fort Payne, the seat of Knox County, Alabama.  There I became the deacon-in-charge of Saint Philips,

Saint Philips Fort Payne housed literally in a former school house, painted bright red, the flowers were red, and the dogwood was red. Even the newly minted deacon’s hair was red in those days, at any rate I set out to inflict on them everything I had ever thought about doing in ministry – all at once.  But then reality reared its head in the vineyard of the Lord. It came about on this wise…

The organist at Saint Philip’s was actually a Presbyterian elder who lived with his Momma and ran title searches for a living.  His name was Erskine Davenport (you can’t make this stuff up!)  Well I laid out the service and got the bulletin ready, we were singing some lovely hymns and it being Rite I, the Willan Mass setting that we all know and love.  We sang the Kyrie and that went pretty well.  Then we got to the Sanctus/Benedictus, I opened my mouth to sing and then I heard the entire congregation recite the Holy, Holy, Holy and I learned a lesson that day that has stood me in good stead all these 36 years.  You can’t sing what the organist can’t play!  [wait]  O and did I mention that Erskine had cerebral palsy?  I didn’t think so.  From that very first Sunday – we arrive at this very last Sunday a day of Farewell. .

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Look at the Gospel reading for today:  MARK 1:21 They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching— with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Note that Jesus taught with authority not like the scribes.  Scribes – scholars who spoke with verbal footnotes, spouting bibliographies as they taught.  Jesus spoke from his core, his experience – his being one with the Father.  All he did in the flesh he accomplished through his obedient humanity.  So we’re not off the hook.  Then he did a little psychic housekeeping for a fellow on the back row.  His reputation got around in a hurry.  This is the Jesus we seek union with.  This is Jesus we must experience directly personally.

I grew up Southern Baptist and they taught me things: Principally Bible content and the inescapable reality that each of us owe God one soul.  However, I had an itch that was never scratched there.

Christ Church Albertville

Christ Church, Albertville AL.

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Chapel of the Cross, Madison, MS

Saint Luke Mountain Brook

Saint Luke’s, Mountain Brook, AL

High altar Saint John's

Saint John’s, Memphis, TN

I wandered the halls of John Wesley who taught me about life in the Spirit and came in due season to The Church of England.  Our practice of pulling the extremes toward the center is not easy, after all the middle of road is a good place to get run over. But at our best it a life-giving posture that most any Christian can practice

I get ahead of myself.   When I was a sophomore at The University of North Alabama, 47 years ago, I joined a Bible Study sponsored by The First Methodist Church of Tuscumbia.  There was a hunger among us, a kindredness, a growing belief and experience that God is real and that God can be experienced, directly.  In those days we thought nothing of praying all night.

One night in the manse of a Cumberland Presbyterian Preacher, the group prayed with me to contract, I’ve learned to call it.  Tzim Tzum, the Jews call it, to make room for the Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity- Karl Rahner called the Spirit: God penetrating history and existence – For God to have a freer hand, more room to operate, that I be more conscious of his call and that he have the option to call on me day or night and that what he had given me needed to be available to the Work of Christ in the World, God had first call on it.

Later that night, I drove home to the farm where four generations of Sewell’s have lived and went to bed.  The next morning when I awakened and was aware of being me in my body:  I found I was praying in the Spirit.  I have never been the same since.

That is not to say that “I and all I know from that day to this, lived happily ever after ever.  Almost 20 years ago I was hospitalized at Menninger Hospital for depression, later diagnosed as (type 2) Bi-Polar disease.

Thank you for taking a risk and hiring a crazy priest 15 years ago.  It has been intimated of late that perhaps “Poor Saint John’s can find a rector who doesn’t talk quite so much about Jesus.”  While intended as derision, I count it a badge of honor.   I’m asked what is the hardest part of this Job/Work?   Wanting so much more you than you have wanted for yourselves.

I knew I was getting old when I learned about 2 years ago that people were collecting, The Sayings and Aphorisms of Father John.  Let me share some of them with you this final time.  If it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing poorly.  We have low standards not no standards. Father Bronson Bryant, mentor and friend of my soul, said to me about 35 years ago, “Oh John, We are always prepared for God to do nothing.”

I’ve pondered what to say today.  Most of it comes from the last five years as the culture changed and the churches continue shrink.

Today, in Church and out of Church, there are thousands of souls who realize in varying degrees of clarity that what they want from religion is not a collection of doctrinal ritual symbols, nor a series of moral precepts. They want God himself, by whatever name he may be called; they want to be filled with his creative life and power; they want some conscious experience of being at one with Reality itself, so that their otherwise meaningless and ephemeral lives may acquire an eternal significance.

For hundreds of years Western man has been convinced that he could ultimately solve every one of his problems by doing something about it. It is a beneficial exercise in humility for him to come up against a problem about which he can actually do nothing. Yet the problem has to be solved. The situation would be maddening and impossible if that were all there is to it. But that is not all, because, as we have seen, mystical knowledge is something given to the soul by God, and there is a sense in which it is already being given to the soul—now and always.

In this same sense, God is the most obvious thing in the world, the most self-evident, and union with God is the primary and most unavoidable reality of our lives. Yet God is so obvious and so unavoidable and so close to us that we are not aware of him. To try to see God is like trying to look at your own eyes, for he is nearer to us than we are to ourselves.  Alan Watts

 “The Word is always being born, but if he is not born in me, of what use is that to me.”  — Meister Eckhart

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Forty-five years ago I dissected a frog. I say that not by way of confession but to examine a paradox.  As is common in secondary science curriculum, during a unit on anatomy one of the exercises involved dissecting something. At Lexington High School in Lexington Alabama, we were not so exalted as to warrant fetal pigs so we tackled the more prosaic amphibian. The lab reeked of thermaldohyde as we took up scalpels and performed exploratory surgery on the supine corpse.  The exercise was informative as to vascular systems and the ordering of bodily functions.  At the end of the smelly process by my station there was a small pile of frog parts.  I had learned a lot but the frog wouldn’t hop.

frog

What do it mean by this?  Experiencing God is the goal.  Learning facts about God, while useful, can never replace union with the Lord Jesus.  This brings me again to the knot I am worrying these days.  What is needed must move us beyond mere “frog data” to “frog hopping.”  How do we hop?  We take up those ancient practices that formed the first Christians in faith that the Holy Spirit that led them into truth will do the same for us.  But then I experienced the really of giving up ego control.

 

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 right foot and leg and already learned that slamming on the brake was a really bad idea. Steering wildly had no good outcome.

car on ice

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.

Let me share with you what I have learned the past 5-years of Renewal  Works –  On the National Episcopal News Feed on Friday, Jay Sidebotham described renewal works and spoke of  Saint John’s as an  example of what can happen when people experience God. .

  1. Saint John’s exists as a place to encounter God. Period. Nothing else. If people cannot find God here. It has no reason for being.  In the coming years more than one Episcopal Church in Memphis will fail.  It might be this one unless people find God consistently at 3245 Central Avenue.
  1. Clergy must re-invent themselves.I am not a professional Christian.  I cannot be Christian in your stead so you need not bother with it.  Only you can be a Christian for you.I am here, Bob is here, Dean is here next Sunday, to practice our own Christianity and Coach you in yours.

We are player-coaches not truant officers.

I have my job and my work.  My Job is to keep this place going, tend the functions, services.  My Work  is the Cure of Souls –

  1. Lay Ministry is the way forward. Lay initiation, lay leadership is the only way forward.  Now that Western Culture is no longer Christian Culture – leadership from above WILL NOT WORk!  Leadership from below will.  That is why we took up Renewalworks and invented SOULWorks these past five years.

Two Octobers ago I was in Washington DC at a memorial conference for Rabbi Edwin Friedman my teacher.   As I sat there and the voice in my head I have known for 47 years said, “John, Today begins the Third Act of your life.” Nothing more. For a year I pondered, finally realizing that my work here was the end of ACT2.  On Wednesday I step down from my job as Rector.  I do not step down from my work:  The Cure of Souls. Stephanie Brown and I with the help of many are founding a new Non-profit, called ACT3, 1049 Cresthaven Road 38119. – Is my new laboratory of faith.  The moving van comes tomorrow.   I love you.  In the name of God …

The Holy Birth Cannot be Induced.

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The divine birth cannot be forced. You can only create the conditions for this birth to take place. How do you know if the new soul is born in you? The famous mystic Meister Eckhart wrote about this: Now you turn your face entirely to this birth. Yes, you will encounter this birth in everything you see and hear, whatever it is. You are like someone who looks for quite a while at the sun, and afterwards sees the image of the sun in whatever he looks at. As long as you do not seek and perceive God in everything, this birth has not yet occurred in you.

 

 

Feed the Hungry, God Directly. or Feed the Hungry God directly?

 

Non-duality Marshall

My life as a Christian pastor has convinced me that most religious people hunger for first-hand experience of the Divine. They are not very interested in religion with its doctrines, rituals, commandments and bureaucracies. They will not settle for church programs, self-help workshops or spiritual novelties. They do not need more spiritual books on their bookshelves or more spiritual insights in their minds. They may put up with organized religion and spiritual teachers, but only if they might lead to a genuine spiritual encounter.

Davis, Marshall. Experiencing God Directly: The Way of Christian Nonduality (Kindle Locations 53-57). Marshall Davis. Kindle Edition.

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

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John the Baptizer – Alivise Vivarinixx

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John the Baptizer was a remarkable man; odd, eccentric,

He spent 30 years preparing for a ministry that lasted nine months.  It took that long to get ready.  A great undertaking takes a long and careful preparation.  Apparently, he had learned to listen in the desert and he knew who he and knowing who he was enabled him to know who he was not.  And all of us who have any maturity at know who difficult it is to know where we end and other people begin.

John came up out of the wilderness preaching repentance of sins and proclaiming the coming of Messiah, “the anointed one”.  As an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual repentance, John baptized people in the Jordan River. The Jordan was a mystical river in Jewish culture and religion.  It was the boundary between wilderness and the land of promise.  It was the boundary between earth and heaven.  It was a boundary between sickness and healing.  Mobs of people flocked to John to be baptized. The movement really took off!

One day Jesus, his cousin, came to him, and was baptized, by him, in the Jordan. Not long afterward, John saw Jesus coming and said, ”Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the World.”  He is the one who is to come.  He said this to some of his disciples.

Some of them, Peter and Andrew, his brother, and Philip went to see Jesus and stayed with him.  Soon, they also began to baptize, and more people went to them than went to John.  Someone said, “You know the one you pointed out the other day.  Well, he is baptizing now and everyone is going to him!!!”  This was the ultimate test.     What is more important?

The kingdom being preached OR John the Baptizer preaching the Kingdom.  Which is more important the message or the messenger?

Someone has said, “If you don’t care who gets the credit, almost anything can be accomplished!”  There are those that being in control is more important than winning. And who among us could blame John.  He preaches and now someone has stolen his message and his method.  But this is not what happened. Albert Schweitzer once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others – it is the only thing.”

Teddy Roosevelt’s eldest son once said of his father, “He loved to be the center of attention.  He wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.”  Wanting to be the center of everything is not limited to the twenty-sixth President of the United States.  Egocentricity is evidence of our alienation from God.  We deeply desire to be in control and to be the focus of attention.  We become anxious, ‘jealous of our rights and privileges, full of ourselves.  We are determined to be perfect and to use whatever substance or strategy needed to avoid the pain of this control disease we call sin.

The Remedy for “being full of ourselves” come in three flavors.

  1. Suffering
  2. Coming to see a power greater than ourselves in the world.
  3. Loving someone other than ourselves.

Out in the desert John the Baptizer very likely encountered all three remedies.  We hear this in his response to those who tell him that someone is trying to take his place.  John said, “No one has anything unless God give it.  You know I said that I am not the Messiah.  I’m the best man at the wedding.  I’m the one who introduced the groom and the bride.  And like a best man who is only there because of the groom.  I rejoice in my friend’s joy.  He must increase while I must decrease!”

John uses the word “Friend” to describe his relationship with Jesus, the Messiah.  What does that mean? Laurence Thomas writes in an essay, “Friendship and other loves”, that there are three features of companion relationships that are present in most relationships

CHOICE: You can’t choose your family or your boss, but you can choose your friends.  Being a friend requires each person to choose to be a friend.

CONTROL: Neither party to the relationship is under the authority of the other. They may not be equal to each other and they have influence on each other but they do not control each other. If they do it is not friendship.

TRUST: There is an enormous bond of mutual trust between such friends. This is a bond cemented by equal self-disclosure and, for that very reason, is a sign of the very special regard that each has for the other.

John uses the word friend.  He goes further and uses the expression:  “Friend of the Bridegroom” or as we would call it, the best man.  The function of the best man at the wedding is to tend to the interests of the groom.  His greatest delight is in the joy of his friend.  He is at the wedding because of he chose to be a friend. He is there as a gift.  The point here of course is that the best man decreases/he doesn’t have to be the center of attention.  This happens as a token of his friendship and love for the groom.

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Sergius Bulakov Grave

Sergius Bulgakov in an essay,   “The Friend of the Bridegroom” writes,  “St John the Baptist was the first human being, after the Fall, who repented of Adam’s sin and was ready for salvation, ripe for the Kingdom of God.  He transferred his centre from himself to God; he alienated himself from his own self and thereby became fit to be the friend of the Bridegroom.  And his soul entered into the joy of this friendship, as testified by the fiery words of the fourth Gospel: ‘The friend of the bridegroom which standeth and heareth him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled’   (John 3.29)”

Advent is the time to wait, to watch, to ponder, to do less, John the Baptizer calls us by example. The way to increase is by decreasing:  less is more.  John the Baptizer calls us to transfer our center from ourselves to God.  There is a radical truth.  If we want to be made whole, we have to be empty first!  That is a message of hope, not a message of work harder, be good, be nice.  The message of hope is:  let go, be empty, do less, be real:  increase by decreasing.  This is a process.  So let us begin again to make a place for the coming Messiah.  As we decrease God promises us that new life will increase. That is good news.  Amen.

Quote

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“I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.”

― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth