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

Constance & Her Companions: Martyrs of Memphis

Van Gough

Van Gogh – Crows and Field

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone. John 12:24 KJV

THE PART OF US THAT CALLS US – “I” VALUES SAFETY ABOVE ALL THINGS.

As a child it is a shock to learn that things end. For example a pet dies and we learn a couple of things:
• One is that parents are not as omnipotent as we had thought they were AND
• Some things can’t be fixed!

No amount of yelling, weeping, begging, threatening, hoping or screaming at the heavens with our fist shaking with rage phases the smooth impenetrable walk of reality.

Having bounced off that wall, we propose not to let that happen again. You want to know from whence control- freaks come? Right then, right there, reality shall not come nigh me again, thank you very much.

Through careful planning and enough money; you do realize that is really why money is so important. Money will keep many wolves away from the door and keep them at bay for a long long time. But the longer we live and the safer we become — shielded by the investment of the CORPUS (interesting expression that) of our assets we find ourselves strangely alone.How we get out of this solitary confinement of ego safety?

David Richio says that there are five universal truths we must KNOW AND EMBRACE in order to live healthy and productive lives.
1. THINGS CHANGE AND END.
This is not fun. My hair is a victim of change and ending. You may not know it but today is international RedHead Day. My hair was copper red as a child. Do you think anyone will wish me a happy Redhead Day? No, my hair faded and then let go.

You our ego we can retreat into the past, the good ole days of our memory. Of course these days never existed except in our selective memory. Sam Keen calls selective memory, nostalgia. Nostalgia, he calls, “diseased memory.” Our beloved South has been trapped in that flytrap for pushing two centuries and you see what that has gotten us. As native Memphian, Alan Lichtman puts it, “IF YOU GET STUCK IN THE PAST YOU ARE STUCK ALONE.”

2. LIFE IS NOT FAIR
The most unfair that American parents teach their children is that Life IS far! You sign up for soccer and at the registration there is a fee for a trophy! What? You know that children aren’t stupid. When everybody gets a trophy it doesn’t mean anything! Life is not fair.
The Rain falls on the just and the unjust.

3. THINGS DO NOT GO ACCORDING TO PLAN.
If you want to make God laugh just tell him your plans. Expectations – it has to be just this way.
• Psychosis – 2 +2 = 6
• Neurosis is 2 + 2 = 4 But I won’t have it!
Psychosis will get you medicated
For Neurosis there is no cure.

4. PEOPLE WILL LOVE YOU BUT ALSO LET YOU DOWN.
People don’t have to want to let us down – it’s just inevitable – The Church is a laboratory of relationships. Here we learn the discipline of forgiving each other and ourselves. It’s messy but like democracy better than any alternative. This is why people get married, you know. Not, because you won’t get let down, cause you will. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” Marriage is a container for love.

5. GROWTH COMES THROUGH SUFFERING.
Suffering is the promise life always keeps. If you don’t know that yet you will. No one gets out of this life alive!

Today we celebrate the feast day of Constance and her companions the martyrs of Memphis. During the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, Constance, the other Episcopal sisters and priests remained in the stricken Tennessee city nursing the sick and burying the dead until one by one they too sickened and died. Charles Carroll Parsons is a good example of what I’m getting at.

  • Things Change and End
    He was in the West Point Class of 1861 – Those cadets studied together in the Fall Semester and tried to kill each other in the Spring.
  • Life is not Fair: He watched friends, comrades die – He almost died himself. Battle of Perryville
  • Things do not go according to plan
    He left the army and became a priest,  He embraced the vocation of peace only to become with the violence of plague.
  • People will love you but will also let you down
    His wife died.
  • Growth comes through Suffering
    Yellow Fever in 1878

The Reverend Charles Carroll Parsons He got sick. All the priests were sick – knowing that he was dying (he had seen that enough times) he prayed the prayers for the dying for himself

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Charles. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringth forth much fruit. John 12:24

We do not die just once, you know, death comes to us many many times before the hour of our personal demise. Every time we bump up against things changing and ending. Whenever we realize yet again that life is not fair; When our plans go awry, when people let us down and when we suffer – When by grace we know and embrace these truths, the words of Jesus describes us “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” We get lots of practice laying down our lives IF we will embrace the truth of our Lord’s words.

That sounds like bad news doesn’t it. The good news is that if we embrace our many little deaths a different, new kind of life, sprouts in us. It is a kind of life based not on our merit or achievement. It’s a kind of life that is free of the competition that so rules our ordinary existence. It is a life of grace — where the energy for our being begins at the end of our striving. Our Lord promised us that if we believe in him he will not let us go.

Frederick Buechner said it best, I think, when he wrote, “The worst thing that ever happens to us will not be the last thing that happens to us.”

RELIGION IS HARD-WIRED IN HUMANITY

Gertrud Mueller Nelson

Gertrud Mueller Nelson

There are practices that appear to cross all religious systems and are near universal means for spiritual formation. Prayer is a human enterprise limited to no one religious tradition. Prayer is universal and even how one prays is widely similar. Now in these days a curious phenomenon has appeared. the secular rationalist and dismissive secular American. has begun to unconsciously fashion faux ancient practices. I got my first cue from Gertrude Muller Nelson in her book, TO DANCE WITH GOD..

SHE WROTE “WHEN THE CHURCH GAVE UP FASTING THE CULTURE TOOK UP DIETING.”

1. What is a diet, but a soulless fast? Now, consider the ancient practices with a corresponding secular invention.

2. What is a vacation but a soulless pilgrimage without purpose or focus. It is small wonder that people return home more exhausted than before. A pilgrimage is a journey to the holy, while a vacation is avoidance of the self.

To Dance with God - Gertrud Muller Nelson3. What the Liturgical Year is the practice of faith, Civil Religion is to the culture. In the eyes of the ignorant they are the same, sharing Christian holy days. Think of it this way. Music in the West uses the same notes for all compositions. The notes sound the same even though as they are played in different keys. The culture rather likes the Baby Jesus (so long as he never grows up enough to meddle) and Easter is there but the focus is on bunnies and Spring rites. July 4th and President’s Day pass for saint’s days, and the flag, that civil totem is equated, even in the minds of some Christians, with the Cross. I love my country and I keep the flag as far from the altar as possible.

4. While constant prayer is a posture of faith, the call to continual communion with the Holy, the culture constructed a continual litter of stimulus important to nobody but forwarded by somebody to everybody with red-flagged emails, all caps, demanding instant access.

5. Tithing, the re-gifting of some of the abundance we have received from God is an act of faithful gratitude. April 15th and taxes are the shadow of the economy of heaven. If tithing were not tax-deductible would it long endure?

6. The Sacred Meal of the Eucharist has as its counterpoint Thanksgiving, that yearly Festival of Civil Religion. It is wonderful in its way, has vague Christian trappings but is firmly civil Religion.

7. Sabbath is a time but more an attitude of getting quiet before God has as its opposite: the weekend. I don’t think I need say more. One is holy and the other runs us ragged.

Only when the church discovers it own ancient practices will we have anything to offer the culture.  Until then the culture will go on making up unreasonable facsimiles of soulful practice. JWS

NOTE:  This is an entry from my journal  of he Winter of 2001.  A couple of days later I flew to Kansas to enter the hospital.  It was a difficult time for me and my wife.  I sit now in a different office, in a different city, with a different community.  I am grateful!
0567_Turkey_Vulture_10-30-2011_1

Black Turkey Buzzard

The last Sunday I preached at the Chapel of the Cross before I was hospitalized for depression, I had a fascinating experience. I was very very depressed and it was not an easy day. After the 7:30 service I was in my office and heard a commotion in the hall down by the coke machine. Going to investigate I found just as big as you please an enormous black turkey buzzard perched on the wall of the garden. I had never seen one around before. He hung around all morning. Its presence was a moment of synchronicity for me. Synchronicity is what Carl Jung called a “meaningful coincidence”, *when your inner world and the outer world intersect in a meaningful way. That morning I felt like parts of me were dying and what shows up but a bird that only eats dead things. It really was funny. It also became a metaphor for me of my journey through depression and beyond.

How The Resurrection Makes Sense

JOHN POLKINGHORNE

How to understand the Christian hope of the resurrection of the body against the background of modern science? A physicist and Fellow of the Royal Society, who is an Anglican priest, explains how he brings his scientific researches to bear on his Easter faith. John Polkinghorne was formerly president of Queens’ College Cambridge.

John PolkinghorneWHAT is a human person? A smart tap on the head with a hammer will show that we depend in an essential way on our bodies. So are we simply bodies, merely material beings? What about the soul?  In the history of much Christian thinking, and in much popular piety, people have thought of themselves as if they were apprentice angels. In that case, the “real me” would be a spiritual component, trapped in a body but awaiting release at death. Today, that is an increasingly difficult belief to hold. Studies of brain damage and the effects of drugs show how dependent our personalities are on the state of our bodies. Charles Darwin has taught us that our ancestry is the same as that of the other animals. Earth was once lifeless and life seems to have emerged from complex chemical interactions. Many scientists think that we are nothing but collections of molecules and they write popular books to assert this belief.

Yet that also is a pretty odd thing to believe. Could just a bunch of chemicals write Shakespeare or compose Handel’s Messiah, or discover the laws of chemistry, for that matter? There is something more to us than the merely material. Yet, whatever that extra something is, it is surely intimately connected with our bodies. We are a kind of package deal, mind and body closely related and not wholly detachable from each other. It is a puzzle.

Strangely enough, a clue about how to wrestle with the problem may be offered to us by modern science itself. For a new kind of scientific paradigm is in the making. It is called “complexity theory”; so far it has only reached the natural history stage of studying particular examples.

The Blue Apocalypse - Aaron Arkkelin

The Blue Apocalypse – Aaron Arkkelin

Physicists naturally started by considering the simplest systems available. After all, they will be the easiest to understand. Recently, the use of high-speed computers has extended our scientific range. As complex systems began to be explored, an unexpected realization dawned. Very often these turn out to have a quite simple overall behaviour, ordered in some striking pattern.

Heating water in a saucepan can provide an example. If the heat is applied gently, the water circulates from the bottom in a remarkable way. Instead of just flowing about any old how, it forms a pattern of six-sided cells, rather like a honeycomb. This is an astonishing phenomenon. Trillions of molecules have to collaborate and move together in order to generate the pattern. The effect is a simple example of a new aspect of nature that scientists are just beginning to learn about.

Traditionally, physicists thought in terms of the bits and pieces that make up a complex system. The exchanges of energy between these bits and pieces look extremely complicated. It turns out, however, that if you think about the system as a whole, there can be these remarkably orderly patterns of overall behaviour.

In other words, there are two levels of description. One involves energy and bits and pieces. The other involves the whole system and its pattern. At this second level, using computer-speak, we could say that what we need to think about is the information that specifies the pattern.

 Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saint Thomas Aquinas

We have become used to the concept of cyberspace – the realm of information accessible through our computers. That world is one of human contrivance, a world of virtual reality. We are less used to the idea, in fact because it is so unconsciously familiar, that we live in a world of intrinsic information-generating capacity, the world of actual reality and so the world of God’s creation.

We human beings are immersed in this realm of being in which energy and informational pattern complement each other. It is a world altogether richer than its pale shadow in cyberspace, for people are much more than computers made of meat. Our powers of thinking, including our access to meaning and to mathematical truths that cannot be established within the confines of the purely logical formulation we may be considering, show that we transcend the limitations of the merely computational.

One might ask what all this has to do with the human soul and coherent hope. What-ever the soul may be, it is surely the “real person”, linking what we are today with what we were in the past. That real me is certainly not the matter of my body, for that is changing all the time, through eating and drinking, wear and tear. We have very few atoms in our bodies that were there five years ago. What provides the continuity is surely the almost infinitely complex pattern in which that matter is organised. That pattern is the real person, and when we talk about the soul, that is what we are referring to. The infant science of complexity theory encourages us to take this kind of thought very seriously.

SUCH a manner of thinking need hardly come as a surprise to Christians. After all, the ancient Hebrews certainly did not think of human beings as apprentice angels. They took the package deal view that we are bodies full of life. St Thomas Aquinas thought the same. He helped the Church to free itself from the straitjacket of Platonic thinking imposed upon it through the great influence of St Augustine, with its reliance on a dualistic picture of soul and body as distinct entities. Instead, Aquinas made use of the then newly recovered insights of Aristotle. In Aristotelian thinking, the soul is the “form” (that is, the pattern) of the body.

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Saint Augustine of Hippo

In these terms, we can understand in a coherent way the great Christian hope of a destiny beyond death. That hope is to be expressed in the classic terms of death and resurrection, and not in spiritualist terms of “survival”. Death is real and a real ending, but it is not the ultimate end, for only God is ultimate. The last word on human destiny does not lie with the fact of death but with the greater fact of a faithful Creator and a merciful Redeemer.

Of course, as far as embodiment in the matter of this world is concerned, the individual pattern that is the human soul will be dissolved at death. It makes sense, however, to believe that God will hold that pattern in the divine memory and then reimbody it in the environment of the new creation at the resurrection of the dead.

Our real hope that death is not the end has to depend on our belief in the trustworthiness of God. Appeal to that belief was exactly the way in which Jesus countered the disbelief of the Sadducees (Mk 12: 18-27). He reminded them that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The patriarchs mattered to God once and so they must matter to God for ever. Israel’s God is “God, not of the dead but of the living”. If we matter to God now, as we certainly do, then we shall matter to God for ever. At death, we shall not be cast aside like broken pots on some cosmic rubbish heap. Human beings are not naturally immortal, but the faithful God will give us a destiny beyond our deaths.

Jesus teaching at the Temple - James Tissot

Jesus teaching at the Temple – James Tissot

We can take with all due seriousness all that science can tell us about ourselves and this world and still believe that God will remember the patterns that we are and will recreate them when we are resurrected into the life of the world to come. As Christians we know that this is not a mere theoretical possibility, for we have the resurrection of Our Lord as the foretaste and guarantee, enacted within history, of the destiny that awaits us all beyond history.

Trudging Through the Middle

Pie in the Sky - Mark Bryan

Pie in the Sky – Mark Bryan

The journey is easier at the beginning and the end than the middle when we are far from home and home. As I approach old age I find it hard to remember a time when ministry did not inhabit a large space in my inner life. I was baptized at eight scared into the Kingdom at a Baptist revival. But that was only the outer thing, the thing that hooked my fear and plunged me into the fishpond at the White place over fifty years ago. It was at the same farm that as a three year old I sat in great-aunt Myrtie’s lap on the bank of Anderson creek as my parents were baptized down in the pool formed by a gravel bank.

Thought some might doubt it, I remember it clearly. Like a scene from a movie people were standing and sitting by the water. The grass was green in the way it is in the South Titus-Baptized-021before being scorched by the August Sun. Folk went down into the water lost and came up found. I’ve learned since then that found takes a long time. The pilgrimage to God is rarely dramatic it is mostly as an old timer in AA spoke to the wisdom he had gained as he learned “the inevitability of gradualness.”

This was before the Baptist got “baptisteries” those walk-in bathtub artificial kind of “improvements” that keep us from nature and perhaps [they are un-natural which mates poorly with the] super-natural as well. However well intended these innovations, what is gained in convenience is lost in affect. There is something about inconvenience that is comforting in its discomfort. Coming to God is not convenient.

I read once in Anglicans on line that a group of clergy, God help us, were bringing a resolution before the Synod of the Church of England that Easter be fixed on the same Sunday every year. This is about as foolish a proposition as I’ve heard. We will convenience ourselves into nothing at all. C. S. Lewis once said that “the Gospel can be of no concern. The Gospel can be of ultimate concern. The Gospel can never be of moderate concern.” The convenience of moderation has the affect of warm water it is wet but not refreshing.

water We are at the midpoint of Lent.  It is time to prepare for the Paschal Feast as the Book of Common Prayer states in the second proper preface for Lent. Gradualness will give way to the acute phase we call Holy Week followed by the consequences of resurrection.  It happens every year and still I am ill prepared.  But then the middle is the most difficult part of the journey,  is it not, beloved.  JWS

Epiphany VII

 “The mind thinks, the body does and the soul Imagines.”                          — Thomas Moore (Care of the Soul, 1992)

[Hang on to that! I’ll be back to it in a bit.]

Let’s hold hands and jump right into the briar patch!   Just what is it that Jesus is trying to do to us this time?  Let’s do inventory of our common life: Where are the Ancient Practices?

  • Many among us are engaging scripture like never before.
  • Many are meeting in Bible Studies in offices, shops and homes.
  • Many are moving outside the safety of the familiar and meeting, working with and loving children who live within a mile of here.
  • Many are praying, praying expecting something to happen! Some of you attended the public service of healing here last Wednesday night for Debbie Philips as many did a year ago for Patrick Crump.
  • People are aligning their checkbook with the goal of their soul moving toward a tithe as the standard of giving.
  • Soon we will take up the Lenten fast. 

Have you ever considered why we would take up these ancient practices? Or why did ancient people take up these practices?  Let me let you in on one of the obvious secrets – what I am about to tell you is the very seed-bed of the Good News in Christ.

Christian-Principles-Sermon-on-the-Mt

MATTHEW 5:38   You have head it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth but I say to you…

How many of you have heard of the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s?  We actually have a descendent of the McCoys of Kentucky in this parish.  Fortunately, we have no Hatfields from West Virginia on the roll so all is well (for now).

Please understand that an eye for an eye was a huge improvement over the practice of killing everybody in the family and having a “blood feud” that kills everyone in the neighborhood. Our justice system is a eye/eye –let the punishment fit the crime. Now Jesus begins where we are and says, You have heard it said… But I say to you!

Turn the Other Cheek - Linda S. Fitz Gibbon

Turn the Other Cheek – Linda S. Fitz Gibbon

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;

Why the right cheek?  You can only strike someone’s right cheek with the back of your hand, which to my way of thinking is more demeaning; as in “I will show you the back of my hand.

If anyone wants to sue and take your coat, give your cloak as well.

Here’s what we need to know about this.  Turn in the Bible to Deuteronomy 24:10-13  [page 148 in the pew Bible]

 When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. 11 You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. 12 If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. 13 You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the LORD your God.

 A cloak could not be taken from a poor man. It was like a kilt – long piece of tartan cloth – pleat it on the floor over your belt, lie down on it, belt it around you for the day – it was all they had.  It was called a PLAID = plaid. What Jesus is telling us, “So they take your suit and underwear, but rather than taking comfort that they at least can’t take your cloak — give it also!

the_second_mile_2pe

  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

If you had the bad luck to be on the road when the Roman Legion was on the march the soldiers were allowed (who was stopping them) to enlist you to carry their pack one mile.  You choose to go on the second mile.

 Give to everyone who begs from you and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 

You don’t even run a credit check? You know the commercial that says, “We don’t care about your credit, we care about you!”  Who are they kidding?  This is foolish. This is good business.  As you know when someone says to you, “It’s not about the money…”  It’s always about the money.

Do an experiment.  In front a 18 month old or a 2 year child set a $20.00 bill on fire.  It’s just a piece of paper.  Set the same bill on fire in front of a four year old; there is a look of horror and a scream goes up, “He’s burning money!”

 These four situations are very different; what do they have in common?  What they have in common is that what Jesus tells us to do is UN-NATURAL.  It is not our first unthinking reaction!  Remember what Thomas Moore wrote?

“The mind thinks, the body does and the soul Imagines.”

  •  Our mind thinks – be afraid; protect yourself; get yours before someone else does.  It’s only natural
  • Our body prepares – kick, shove, back-hand right cheeks and even kill… It’s only natural
  • It is only imagination that can see a different way.

“You cannot trust your eyes if your imagination is out of focus.”  – Mark Twain

Our imaginations must be converted!  That is why we are taking up the ancient practices!!!!  Because we must learn to do what does not come naturally and only the Triune God can do that! Love your enemies – Why, because praying for those who harm us – is the only way we have to convince people that the Holy Trinity is at work in the world.

Hernando deSoto Bridge - Memphis, Tennessee

Hernando DeSoto  Bridge – Memphis, Tennessee

That is, therefore, why we are not in the judgment business!  Robert Farrar Capon was right on target when he said that people don’t need to be told how awful it will be when they go to hell.   They know that already; they are already in hell.If a man is standing on the Hernando DeSoto bridge over the Mississippi about to jump, telling him that he will reach the water at 125 miles per hour and the impact is the same as falling on concrete and he will die!  That man already knows that.

What that man needs to know is why he shouldn’t jump!

If we do not have a standard of caring greater than the jerk down the street and our ner-do-well brother-in-law; if our salt is not salty how beloved will anybody know Jesus loves them.  If the Church is persecuted in the United States it will not because we are Christians, NO. it will because we are not Christian ENOUGH!  We have to live our lives in such a way that the only way our community makes sense, is because God is real and transforming the souls  of human beings.

Now for just last bit of business and I’m done.  Verse 48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  That translation has been source of a lot of mischief; people in despair because they know they can’t ever be perfect and the others who, God help us, have convinced themselves that they are perfect.

Give it up.  The better translation is, “Be whole, therefore, as your heavenly Father is whole.” Not, no mistakes or errors but wholeness, compassion, affection, kindness,  generosity, joy, turning the other cheek,  being naked for God’s sake, carrying the burdens of others, willingly, thus fulfilling the law of Christ, generous to those in need; investing in the Kingdom of God, where the economy is based, not on scarcity, but on superabundance.

I’m done.  Amen.

JWS

 

 

 

Elk Child Plays in Puddle

Video

A mammal splashing in a pool just because it’s there is universal among those creatures who play.  A little boy or a little elk share something that goes to the very core of life.  It is more than humanity can claim as uniquely ours.  No,  this rises from the heart of the Creator and the mystery of glorious excess.  There is beauty in useless things, unnecessary gestures and splashing in pools of water just because they are there and we are alive today.  It goes beyond language finding it fullest expression in silence and a damp eye. JWS

“Creation conti…

Quote

“Creation continues incessantly through the medium of man. Man emulates and assimilates nature producing poetry of word and form”

Anton Smit Sculptor

On Loving God – Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

‘He spake the word, and they were made’ (Ps. 148.5). But to redeem that creation which sprang into being at His word, how much He spake, what wonders He wrought, what hardships He endured, what shames He suffered! Therefore what reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits which He hath done unto me? In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost. Created first and then restored, I owe Him myself twice over in return for myself. But what have I to offer Him for the gift of Himself? Could I multiply myself a thousand-fold and then give Him all, what would that be in comparison with God?

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (2009-06-11). On Loving God – Enhanced Version (Kindle Locations 287-292). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition.

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