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

LENT II

March 1, 2015

God called Abraham to follow him to the land of Canaan where God will make Abraham the father of a great nation. He went.

“God promised him a covenant – a contract – God will, according to the contract, make Abraham, as he will be known, the ancestor of a multitude, not of people, but a multitude of nations. God will make Sarah, as she will be known, the mother of nations.
Abraham was almost a hundred & Sarah almost 90.
Paul writes to the Christians in Rome:

Romans 4:13 [page 118 NRSV] 13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on GRACE

[Grace is the constant availability of abundance with the question always being am I open to it or not. Parker Palmer]

…and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham [not genetics but faith] (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’, according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’

19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced [persuaded] that God was able to do what he had promised. Not wishful thinking – happy place self-created magical wishful thinking but the trustworthiness of the one in whom we have placed our faith 22Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ [Accounted, marked on his account – accounting term]

23Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Mark 8:27

JESUS; “Who, do you say that I am?”
PETER: Messiah – Son of God

Jesus began to say to his disciples what he would undergo in Jerusalem that he would go there and suffer, be rejected, killed and rise. Mark records that,”he said this plainly”. Peter could not bear hearing this so he took Jesus aside and said, “Now don’t you go talking like that. It’s morbid.”

Peter is horrified on at least two levels.

  1. On a thinking level, the idea of a “suffering” messiah was not part of the Jewish vision. Messiah was going to be like David, who would come and sweep the Romans into the sea, reestablishing the Jewish political state. Messiah was to be a King, a man’s man. The possibility of suffering was not at all what Peter had counted on.
  2. On a feeling level the notion that Jesus might suffer and die is emotionally painful. We say, “Don’t say that when someone voices a bad possibility as if by the mere saying it would make it happen.

I perceive that you & I are very much like Peter.

In America & the West we are at the end of an amazing ride, a ride that has gone on for over a century. Never in human history has so much been available to so many, continued and sustained for such a long time. As Immersed as I was in the 20th century, I thought that the word “Modern” simply meant new, improved, progressive, innovative, and inexorable even. Imagine my vertigo when I was introduced to the post-modern era. All that looked shiny and inevitable, you know modern, is now rusty, creaky, longer holding the promise upon which our culture relied. The greatest modern notion, the myth of inevitable progress, has failed us.

As Richard Rohr says, “Our age has come to expect satisfaction. We have grown up in an absolutely unique period when having and possessing and accomplishing have been real options. They have given us an illusion of fulfillment and an even more dangerous illusion that we have a right to expect fulfillment – fulfillment now – as long as we are clever enough, quick enough, and pray or work hard enough for our goals.”

We don’t want to hear that. It can’t be true.
And Jesus tells us like he told Peter, “Get behind me Satan!”
Why, because this is not how one follows Jesus!

Rohr continues, “We believe that we are energized by the bird in the hand; but believe it or not, the word of God and the history of those who have struggled with that word would seem to tell us that we are, in fact, energized much more by the bird in the bush. God’s people are led forward by promises. It is promises, with all their daring and risk, at empower the people of God.”

Beloved satisfaction is no longer immediate.
Beloved we are not entitled to satisfaction.
Beloved we have lived in illusion that we are entitled to immediate satisfaction.
Jesus promised his followers only three things that they would be absurdly happy, entirely free and always in trouble.

Martyrs 21ISIS announced the execution of 21 Copts but only 20 names were confirmed, most of them were from the province of Minya (Upper Egypt). There was an inaccuracy in the number of Egyptian hostages; there were only 20 Egyptians (Copts). Then who was this remaining one non-Coptic victim?

Ahram-Canadian News was able to gather information about this man. He was a Chadian citizen (darker skin shown in picture) [I believe his name is Samuel Alham Wilson] Who accepted Christianity after seeing the immense faith of his fellow Coptic Christians to die for Christ. When the terrorist forced him to reject Jesus Christ as God, looking at his Christian friends he replied,

“Their God is my God”

so the terrorist beheaded him also.

What if Samuel Wilson was imprisoned with 20 of us?
Would he have wanted what we have been given in Christ Jesus?
Do we even know what we have in Christ Jesus?

When Jesus said the way of the cross is the way of life, he wasn’t kidding. He meant it literally.

To him, be glory and may the souls of the martyrs of Libya and of all the faithful, rest in peace.

The Kingdom of God Comes Without Observation

 NOTE:  I found that I had neglected to click the Publish button. So it is late, but it is now here.  JWS

The Eve of the Feast of the Incarnation 

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.

The Anxiety of Saint Joseph - Tissot

The Anxiety of Saint Joseph – Tissot

Joseph, Mary’s fiance, 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.

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.

Seeking Shelter - Tissot

Seeking Shelter – Tissot

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

It was not an auspicious nursery.

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 know 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.

The Angels & the Shepherds – James Tissot

It was not auspicious in any way we would usually recognize! But the truly important things in our own lives have always come without 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 is the only Roman Governor of Syria now remembered and that for an event which he never knew of.
  • 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, 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. 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.

Adoration of the Shepherds - Tissot

Adoration of the Shepherds – Tissot

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.”

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.