ON LOVING GOD

I wrote this first back in 2013

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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?

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

I walk early in the day mostly between 4 and 5.  I am usually left to my own devices so I pray and while I pray I walk and while I pray and walk I listen to some book.  To pray while listening to a book may seem contradictory but would you believe the text of the book often becomes the word of the Lord to my soul.  It was so this past Tuesday;  I walked a bit after five am and  listened to On Loving God by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Abbot Bernard wrote this little book at the request of a Cardinal Deacon of the Roman Church who sought his counsel as to living the Christian life. As is often the case, I gain insight from the teaching of a Christian from another time. Such instruction is often synchronistic for as I begin to explore, pertinent material seems to come to me as much as I seek it out.  Such is the case with this work.

When the earliest Christians read their scriptures they were looking for Jesus and found him on every page.  Of particular interest was typology where a type, a person or an event in the Old Testament is in some sense repeated in the New Testament (the antitype) only with greater clarity and completeness.   For almost a year I have wandered in the sacred texts finding types & antitypes.  In some cases the connection seems tenuous but even then provocative.

In the text above Bernard points out a fairly obvious example of type and antitype.  Creation is the type. In Creation God gives us ourselves. This is a gift that we find onerous at times. Someone has said that humanity demands freedom only to promptly give it away almost as soon as they grasp it.  The events of Genesis 3 displays how reckless our grandparents, Eve and Adam threw away the gift by turning it from gift to possession.

They stumbled and fell. (Joseph Campbell says, “Where you fall is where your treasure is buried.”  I want to consider that more at a later time.)  The “fall” some say was up which is a contradiction but as the truth lives in the country of paradox, the contradictions strain toward the way of grace.  When we humans, all of us, lost the gift of ourselves God acted.  And the type of Creation moves toward its consummation in its antitype of redemption.

Saint John elegantly lays it out for us in the prologue to his Gospel.  Now, that we have blown it, walked in and dwelt in deep darkness so that up is down and down is up and just when we are totally disoriented suddenly a light shines.  The eternal word became flesh.  In creation God gave us ourselves now in the incarnation God gives us himself.  Jesus came to tell us who God is.  The important to know is that God is like Jesus.  Jesus is the example of authentic humanity and he is the means by which we are redeemed and restored to full humanity.  Type and Anitype produce joy!

 

PENTECOST XIX

proper c21  —  Saint John’s Episcopal Church  — Memphis, Tennessee
September 25, 2016 – 5:30 PM

dives

The rich man is usually called Dives (Latin for wealthy). He was so rich that he wore purple, which was so expensive that only the Emperor had an entire garment dyed purple. The wealthy had a stripe or two on their clothing. He also wore linen from Egypt which was so fine that it was worn by those who did nothing much all day.

Out by the gate, which was an elaborate ornamental affair that had as much to do with status as with security, was a man named Lazarus. Lazarus, which means, “he who the Lord helps” was poor and covered with running sores. Lazarus in his condition longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.*

*[It was the custom at lavish parties to use bread as napkins. The edible napkins were then thrown to the dogs as an act of extravagance. They did it because they could.]

Lazarus longed to eat those mangled pieces of bread but he didn’t get them. The dogs, however, took pity on him and licked his sores. There is no evidence that the rich man was mean to Lazarus. Apparently he didn’t think about him one way or another.

Both men died and were buried. The rich man went to Hades [the place of the dead], while Lazarus went to Paradise. Apparently these “places” are in sight of each other. In Paradise Abraham presides at a feast where Lazarus is the guest of honor. The rich man saw the festivities from his place of torment in Hades.

He speaks to Abraham, “Father Abraham send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue for I am in anguish.”

Notice that even in Hades the rich man is still trying to order people around.

rich_man_and_lazarus

Father Abraham tells him that there is a great gulf fixed between Paradise and Hades and no one can cross. “Wait,” said the rich man, “Send Lazarus to warn my five brothers.”
Abraham: “They have Moses and the Prophets.”Rich man: “No, if someone comes to them from the dead they will listen.” Abraham: “If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets they will not be convinced if one comes to them from the dead.

What does this mean? Are rich people going to hit hell wide open just because they are rich? Are the poor going to the best table at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb just because they are poor? I don’t think so, although I must admit that in the great big scheme of things we fall in the rich category. So I don’t want to think that…

WHAT DID THE RICH MAN LACK?

1. CONSCIOUSNESS: It is the nature of sin that We are stuck on ourselves and unaware of what goes on around us. We look fine to us, when we are really asleep/unconscious. The truth is that all people are more alike than they are different, but we spend a lot of time, energy, and advertising money convincing ourselves otherwise.

When we are conscious we read the situation not just for facts but also with wisdom like the village idiot who was stopped every day by the townspeople and asked to pick between a nickel and a dime. The idiot always chose the nickel and the residents went away saying, “There, you see what an idiot he is.” Except that the idiot in later life explained: “After all, if I kept picking the dime, they would have stopped offering it to me. This way I kept getting nickels every day.” Wake up and read the signs.

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2. IMAGINATION: A man is in the waiting room while his wife is in labor. This
is back in the bad or good ole days depending on your perspective before husbands are in the room armed with digital cameras recording this birth as if it is the only birth to ever occur on this planet.

He is sweating and pacing the floor. Finally a nurse comes out and says, “You have a beautiful baby girl.” He said, “I’m really glad that it is a girl so that she’ll never have to go through what I’ve just gone through.”
We lack imagination. We find it difficult to put ourselves in the place of others. But as

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

So we cannot trust our eyes blinded like Dives to the poor at our own gates while our dogs know and minister to the very ones we look through as we drive to and fro. Indeed we cannot trust our eyes for the lens of our imagination is badly out of focus and there is a certain fuzziness to reality.

3. GRATITUDE: Lewis Hyde in his book, Gift, writes, “People live differently who treat a portion of their wealth as a gift.” If what we have is a gift when we recognize that it is not ours solely. Hyde goes on to say that, “Gift establishes relationships while property establishes boundaries.”

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Owen Cooper

• If I Had My Life To Live Over— Owen Cooper (the one-time Chair of Mississippi Chemical Corporation)
• “If I had my life to live over, I would love more. I would especially love others more.
• I would let this love express itself in a concern for my neighbors, my friends, and all with whom I come in contact.
• I would try to let love permeate me, overcome me, overwhelm me and direct me.
• I would love the unlovely, the unwanted, the unknown, and the unloved.
• I would give more. I would learn early in life the joy of giving, the pleasure of sharing and the happiness of helping.
• I would give more than money; I would give some of life’s treasured possessions, such as time, thoughts and kind words.
• If I had my life to live over, I would be much more unconventional, because where society overlooks people, I would socialize with them.
• Where custom acknowledges peers as best, with whom to have fellowship, I would want some non-peer friends.
• Where tradition stratifies people because of economics, education, race, or religion, I would want fellowship with friends in all strata.
• And I would choose to go where the crowd doesn’t go, where the road is not paved, where the weather is bitter, where friends are few, where the need is great … and where God is most likely to be found.

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4.  SENSE OF SPIRITUAL REALITY: The world tends to believe that the rich are rich because God likes them better than others. However the Gospel tells us that earthly success does not equal salvation. The life and teaching of Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God is not about success as the world calculates such things.

Robert Farrar Capon, “The Parables of Grace” …if the world could have been saved by successful living, it would have been tidied up long ago. Certainly, the successful livers of this world have always been ready enough to stuff life’s losers into the garbage can of history. Their program for turning earth back into Eden has consistently been to shun the sick, to lock the poor in ghettos, to disenfranchise those whose skin was the wrong color, and to exterminate those whose religion was inconvenient. … But for all of that Eden has never returned. The world’s woes are beyond repair by the world’s successes: there are just too many failures, and they come to thick and fast for any program, however energetic or well-funded. Dives, for all his purple, fine linen and faring sumptuously, dies not one whit less dead than Lazarus. And before he dies, his wealth no more guarantees him health or happiness than it does exemption from death. Therefore when the Gospel is proclaimed, it stays light-years away from reliance on success or on any other exercise of right-handed power. Instead, it relies resolutely on left-handed power – on the power that, in mystery, works through failure, loss, and death.

And so while our history is indeed saved, its salvation is not made manifest in our history in any obvious, right-handed way. In God’s time – in that Kairos, that due season, that high time in which the Incarnate Word brings in the kingdom in a mystery – all our times are indeed reconciled and restored now.”

rich-dives-lazarusThis is hard for us to hear. We are weaned on the notion that WE are in charge of our destiny. Jesus has come to break the good news to us that this is not so. He requires not our success but our trust.

Capon continues, “Jesus did not come to reward the rewardable, improve the improvable, or correct the correctable; he came simply to be the resurrection and the life of those who will take their stand on a death he can use instead of on a life he cannot.”

Dives thought that if one came from the dead that people would believe. The Gospel tells us that one did come from the dead: Jesus the Christ. Abraham was right. Belief in the resurrection is not a matter of being convinced, but rather a matter of trust. The question today is, will we continue to rely on our success or will we trust in the words of Jesus, who said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

Amen.

The Shrewd Manager or Getting Unstuck

PROPER 20C – SEPTEMBER 18, 2016 – SAINT JOHN’S EPISCOPAL – MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

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The manager was never sure who turned him in. But somehow the master got wind of his little “on the side” business deals and called him on the carpet. The boss said that an outside accountant was auditing the books and just as soon as the report came and he knew the bottom line of the manager ‘s malfeasance: he was out on his ear. Back in his office, the manager thought to himself, “Self, what will I do, I’m too puny to dig and too proud to beg.” Then it hit him. He would fix things so he would have a few friends when he needed references.

Now, let me pause in our story for an infomercial on stuckness. We have all experienced being stuck – when the way we have always done something no longer works. Paralysis strikes individuals, institutions and nations. What happens when things get stuck?

PEOPLE KEEP TRYING HARDER BUT WITH NO NEW RESULTS.

There is a treadmill effect of trying harder. No one changes perspective or direction; they just keep trying harder. A bird will see its reflection in the window and spend hours bouncing off the window in the vain attempt to get at the other bird. Trying harder will not get you unstuck.

PEOPLE KEEP TRYING TO FIND NEW ANSWERS TO OLD QUESTIONS INSTEAD OF CHANGING THE QUESTION. Questions are perceptions. How you phrase a question determines the range of possible solutions. For example, you put a person on the witness stand and say, “now answer yes or no, do you still beat your spouse.” If indeed you do not and have never beaten your wife or husband, the question won’t let you get at the truth.

WHAT ARE NEEDED NEW QUESTIONS.   Perhaps that is why the Gospels rarely show Jesus answering people’s questions.  He usually asked another question.

PEOPLE GET POLARIZED.  They only see utter black and pure white. Things are really great or just shy of a disaster. Not only are there extremes but also there are many options in between. Polarization keeps people from coming up with new possibilities.

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Stuck systems get un-stuck via adventure!

In 1492 Columbus sailed west, in order to arrive in the east. On his way to China, he bumped into the Americas. The moral of that story being, “What you find may be more valuable than what you were looking for.”

NOW BACK TO OUR STORY. THE MACHIAVELLIAN MANAGER GETS UNSTUCK.
1. He doesn’t keep doing the same thing, only harder. He does a new thing.
2. He does not look for new answers to old questions; he asks a new question.
3. He’s too puny dig and too proud to bet, but between those extremes are lots of options.

Since on one knows he is about to be fired he calls in the accounts receivable and says to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” The answer, “a hundred jugs of olive oil.” The manager said, “Take your bill, sit down quickly and make it fifty.” He has another account mark his hundred containers of wheat down to eighty. What is he doing?

shrewd-manager

In that culture, a manager did not earn a salary for running the estate, and so, when he agreed to lend on his master’s goods, he had been paid in kind, correspondingly increasing the amount of the bill. Fearing for his future the manager cuts his markup and reduces the receipts to their amount. While he had previously inflated the bills to enrich himself, now, he sacrifices his markups. By giving up what was ill-gotten, he made an investment in good will in the community without costing the master anything. At any rate, when he heard what the manager had done, the master commended him for his shrewdness or prudence. His adventure got him unstuck!

This parable is disturbing which is what a parable is supposed to do. A parable is designed to create distance and provokes thought. Parables challenge one’s sense of the proper hierarchy of things.

The manager is not praised in general but only for his “prudent actions.” The manager recognized the critical danger of the situation. He did not let things simply take their course, but boldly, resolutely and prudently moved to make a new life for himself. Jesus tells his listeners and us that we need to wake up and discern the real situation. Discern what is going on and take action.

In the past 15 years, stuckness has become a way of life. Since September 11, 2001, as a nation we feel stuck in a conflict that is disturbing, even terrifying. How do we function in a world of terror? People are stuck in their lives, marriages, careers, and families. Fear and paralysis are common. The challenge of this time demands wisdom and shrewdness.

There are two kinds of situations in life that I might call level I and level II.

1. A level I situation is one in which nothing we do will make a difference. The collapse of the Twin Towers of the Trade Center was a level I. If you were on the top floor of one of those buildings your personal maturity and wisdom made no difference to gravity.

2. A level II situation is one in which our response makes a crucial difference.

I trust you remember the old TV show MacGyver. Given the anxiety in the society, I’m not surprised a remake is about to launch on TV. In every episode, the hero, MacGyver, originally played by Richard Dean Anderson, now by Lucas Till, found himself in some scrape that appeared to be a level I situation. He would take a hairpin, the contents of his fountain pen and some aluminum foil and escape. The show was built on his response making all the difference. Most situations we encounter in life are level II. But all too often we go around mistaking level II for level I circumstances. Our response is crucial.

We must dig deep into our faith and find the resources to conquer fear. As our Lord once said, “Perfect (mature) love casts our fear.” As Christians, we believe that the worst things that happen to us are never the last things. For Jesus has overcome the world.

If we are shrewd, we recognize that our wealth cannot get us out of the last crisis. No, says Jesus, “read the signs and be shrewd. Don’t depend on money that is passing away. Rather rely on those things that do not pass away – love: God’s love for us and our love for each other. The resurrection of Jesus opens vast possibilities for because he overcame the ultimate level I situation: death.

Remember the way to get unstuck is an adventure. I believe that Jesus is saying something to us like, “Trust me. Come and follow me on the adventure of eternity. You may be scared, but you will not be bored. For I will never leave you or forsake you.” Our response here is crucial – will we accept the call of Jesus or not? It is up to us.

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

Lewis Madison Jones, Jr.

August 8, 2016 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee – John Sewell

We come to do what Christians do each time they gather.
We come to tell the story.
We come to calm the fear within us.
We come to speak of the hope that is within us.
We come to Celebrate: Interpret, to make sense of. We do that in the context of the Good News of Jesus the Christ. We come to celebrate the life and home going of LEWIS MADISON (BIG DADDY) JONES, JR.

I am rarely presumptuous enough to hazard a guess at what God is thinking. I work for him but I am rarely taken into his confidence. But today, I know Phyllis that you and Lewis kept your vows to each other, as the Book of Common Prayer has it, “Until you were parted by death.” I know that pleased God. Well done.

THE READINGS FOR TODAY SPEAK TO THE STORY WE SHARE,
THE FEAR IN OUR HEARTS AND THE HOPE THAT IS WITHIN US.

On this mountain

We hear first from the words of the Prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make feast FOR ALL PEOPLES, a feast of rich food, well-aged wines, full of fat [that was back when fat was still good news], well-aged wines strained clear.

If you recall Jesus produced excellent vintage himself at that wedding in Cana). The marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation is the consummation of Isaiah, the party planner prophet.

God is throwing a party, a gathering intended for all peoples. God gives us bread to nourish our bodies and wine to make our hearts glad. It is God who throws the party. There and then, God will shallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces. This is the salvation he promises to all peoples. Salvation is a party with God as the host.

The Eucharist carried to the dying has a special name – Viaticum, which literally means “food for the journey” a little something to “tide you over” until you arrive at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. A few days ago, I went out to Collierville, taking Viaticum. Around Lewis’ bed we made Communion together. It was a moment of deep and precious intimacy for Lewis, his family, his dog…

It is altogether appropriate we gather this afternoon to say our prayers for Lewis and that we do so as we celebrate this Eucharist together.

Hear again the words of Paul to the Christians in Rome, “For I am persuaded (not wishful thinking but the thought of one who has lived into the comfort of God’s love) that neither death, nor life, nor angels, not principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other else in all creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Be not afraid, for Jesus has overcome death, hell and the grave. Which brings us to hope that in within us.

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As Our Lord said to his disciples on Easter afternoon:
“Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so I would have told you. I go and prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and take you to myself that where I am there you may be also…”

We have come as far as we can go with Lewis Madison Jones, Jr. His soul has gone to God and his body today goes to the University making a final contribution to cancer research.

Fritz Kunkel wrote once, “Losing one we love to death always means the possibility of a new contact with the beyond, and of a new turning away from the past toward the future.” This statement while true, is in danger of amounting to nothing more than fluffy nothingness straight from a writer’s desk at Hallmark cards. What turns this existential cotton candy into nourishment is suffering.

Spiritual growth comes through suffering. This is not something we have a choice about. Suffering is the promise that life always keeps. Lewis had more than a passing acquaintance with suffering, especially in the last year.

Wendell Berry, writes of the essential “aloneness” of the human experience embedded in entering the big woods:

Always in big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feeling of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown,

You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of our essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground of our feet, and learn to be at home.

If we live long enough our world will be reduced to the dimensions of a bed. It was there, in a hospital bed that Lewis began his greatest adventure, and his final pilgrimage was not of miles to Jerusalem but inches into eternity.

Jesus didn’t say you can’t serve God and the evil one. No, he said, you can’t serve God and money. Lewis worked for mammon, but he didn’t sell out to it. With the unique candor of the dying, he said he never sold his soul for a markup of bonds. He arrived at the end, with his soul in hand. He was glad he could say his soul was his own and now it is God’s. Each of us owe God ONE soul

Big Daddy & Patrick

Lewis Jones & Patrick Moore

 

Big Daddy Jones was a tough man. He was a high school hall of fame football player, played for The University of Memphis. He learned out to take a hit. He told me the story of teaching Patrick to take a hit. I won’t go into details, but it involved the back yard, a mattress, a football and Lewis. Patrick learned to take a hit, and I daresay, he learned to love a hit. It is safe to say that no football came near Patrick that he didn’t try to catch. Also, he learned to never give up, not ever. Even with numerous opponents hanging on for dear life, Patrick was headed downfield always toward the goal line with Lewis cheering on the sidelines. That’s not a bad way to remember him.

Lewis has joined that great company that cannot be numbered who believed in the Word Made Flesh. He has entered into the great story of Scripture. Near the end of the last chapter of the last book of the whole sweep of salvation history, we see the end and we like it. What do we see? The New Jerusalem has come down out of heaven. When we are able to take a peek at the wonders of it all, we see our old friend, The Tree of Life, standing by the water that springs up into everlasting salvation. There are also other old friends, twelve trees each bear its fruit for one of the months and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. We are home and never even knew it. The place of leaving as well as the place of returning is one.

No longer, will we be bound by time/space and we shall see the Lamb that was slain. Having had all tears wiped away, we will get on with the business of worshiping the Holy One and that I’m reassured will never get old at all.

Angels, Evangelists/Creatures and Elders, myriads and myriads and myriads to the seventh power of tenors, basses, baritones, mezzo-sopranos, counter-tenors, altos of every timbre, coloratura sopranos joined by boys with their particularly other-worldly tone, joined by those who are tone-deaf with tin ears, and too scared to try: all of them every last one: all singing just as loud as they can and perhaps on that day any who want to can sing all parts of the chord at the same time and praise God, no one sings flat. Everything from Organs and Calliopes to brasses of every possible metal and size, joined by woodwinds both great and small, accompanied by drums of all nations and persuasions, lift their voices and sing as one, on that day, that great day.

And how could they not? For death, that dominates everything from actuarial tables to crop rotation; that with its bosom buddies, plague, famine, joined in our time by true believers, whose creed is death and worship murder. Death & company have stalked our ancestors and will our descendants on this planet from beginning to end, is defeated, and swallowed up by victory.

That has been true since that day, in one particular place in a small province of an ancient empire, the rumor of which has passed generation by generation to this day and beyond till Jesus comes. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!

We shall take our seat with the great crowd of witnesses, Big Daddy Lewis among them. Let us comfort ourselves with the hope of the resurrection. To him be glory, now and forever. Amen

Save

May Choirs of Angels Sing you to your Rest!

Fr Hamel

P. Jacques Hamel (1930-2016).
Requiescat in pace.

I suppose we all wonder from time to time as the cause and time of our own death.  When Fr. Jacques awakened this morning he rose to celebrate the Holy Eucharist for his people at Saint Etienne.   After 58 years of presiding at the table of the Lord in the midst of the Holy Mysteries, there was little that would have surprised him. However, this morning at this mass  he was attacked at the altar by evil men who mixed his blood with the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. Today, the faithful 84-year-old servant of Christ laid down his life for his faith.  He is the most recent martyr for the sake of Christ.  God grant us grace to follow his example.

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

JWS+

 

PENTECOST TEN

July 24, 2016

Lately, I have been listening to an audible book by Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy 

Ryan became breathtakingly successful in 2006, when at the age of 19, he became the youngest executive among Hollywood Talent Agents.  By 25 he wrote a bestselling book, and a TV show was optioned, based on his story.  He began to believe his own script, believing that he had produced all this in the power of his ego carefully editing out his own failures and mistakes. Then in 2014 his 3 mentors who meant everything to him each crashed and burned.

Ryan Holiday

These were the people I had shaped my life around. The people I looked up to and trained under. Their stability— financially, emotionally, psychologically— was not just something I took for granted, it was central to my existence and self-worth. And yet, there they were, imploding right in front of me, one after another. The wheels were coming off, or so it felt. To go from wanting to be like someone your whole life to realizing you never want to be like him is a kind of whiplash that you can’t prepare for.

How did this come to pass?  Ryan continues.

The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition. That’s the definition this book will use. It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility— that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent. It’s when the notion of ourselves and the world grows so inflated that it begins to distort the reality that surrounds us. When, as the football coach Bill Walsh explained, “self-confidence becomes arrogance, assertiveness becomes obstinacy, and self-assurance becomes reckless abandon.”

In this way, ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Most of us aren’t “egomaniacs,” but ego is there at the root of almost every conceivable problem and obstacle, from why we can’t win to why we need to win all the time and at the expense of others. From why we don’t have what we want to why having what we want doesn’t seem to make us feel any better.

We think something else is to blame for our problems (most often, other people). Especially for successful people who can’t see what ego prevents them from doing because all they can see is what they’ve already done. With every ambition and goal we have— big or small— ego is there undermining us on the very journey we’ve put everything into pursuing.

Hang on to your egos, I’ll circle back in a few minutes.

Following Jesus must have been a heady experience.  Most of the disciples were working class folk with a couple of exceptions, but even then there were no blue-bloods.  Imagine how it was the first time Jesus sent them and others out in pairs and told him to get busy doing what they had seen him do all over Galilee.  They proclaimed the Kingdom of God, they taught, they healed and they cast out evil spirits.  Everybody thought they were pretty important (and so did they).

The wanted to be like Jesus for all the wrong reasons.

So his disciples watching this asked him to teach them to pray and. he taught them what is called the Lord’s Prayer.

 

I.    THE LORD TEACHES HOW TO PRAY — OUR FATHER …

 Robert Farrar Capon, “Parables of Grace” – “It begins, simply, “Father” a term of relationship which is natural rather than earned.  Then Jesus tells the disciples and us to pray for the food they need for each day.  Notice that nothing in the way of human achievement is requested. The heart of the prayer is, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone indebted to us.”  We receive forgiveness because Jesus died for our sins.

And lead us not into trial (insert your most recent one here). Life is a web of trails and temptations, but only one of them can ever be fatal, and that is the temptation to think that by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life.  But that will never work.  If the world could have lived its way to salvation, it would have, long ago. The fact is that it can only die its way there, lose its way there.  The precise temptation, therefore, into which we pray we will not be led, is the temptation to reject our saving death and try to proceed on our own living.  Like the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that is the one thing that cannot be forgiven, precisely because it is the refusal of the only box which forgiveness is ever delivered.”

 II.    THE SHAMELESS NEIGHBOR

friend at midnight

 To make his point about praying clearer, Jesus then tells a story: ”It’s like,” he said, “you are sound asleep in bed when the doorbell rings. You look at the clock and see that it is nearly 2:30 AM.  Peeping through the curtain you see your college buddy, whom you have not seen in years standing at the door.  He needs to spend the night and has not had a thing to eat all day.  You’re glad to see him, but you have not gone to the grocer all week and all that is in the fridge is a head of dead lettuce and a bottle of good champagne.

What to do?  “Well,” you think, “I could go next door to the neighbor.”  So in your robe and bare feet you paddle over next-door and ring the bell. Your neighbor first doesn’t answer the door, no doubt hoping that you will go away.

So you lean into the doorbell and your neighbor’s sleepy and irritated voice comes on the intercom by the door.  “What on earth do you want at this hour?”  You explain your unexpected company.  He says that this is not his problem, and furthermore his baby with the colic has just gone off to sleep in his bed and he doesn’t want to get up and wake the kid.  Off goes the intercom.  You STAND on the doorbell!  If your neighbor will not get up because you and he are golfing buddies, he will get up and get you what you need because of, as the scripture puts it, your PERSISTENCE.

 III.   SHAMELESSNESS AS A VIRTUE.

The word persistence is not really the best translation.  The better translation would be shamelessness or lack of shame.

Capon says, “What is this shamelessness but death to self?  People who lead reasonable, respectable lives, who are preoccupied first and foremost with the endless struggle to think well of themselves – do not intrude upon their friend’s privacy at midnight.  And why don’t they, because that would make them look bad.  But if someone were dead to all that – if he could come to his friend’s house with nothing more than the confession that he was a total loss as a host (or anything else) – then precisely because of his shamelessness, his total lack of a self-regarding life, he would be raised out of that death by his rising friend.”

 IV.  ABRAHAM: A MODEL OF SHAMELESSNESS

 In the reading from Genesis for today God tells Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness.  This is a problem for Abraham because his nephew, Lot, lived there.  “I’m going to nuke’em,” says God.  Abraham said, “Suppose there were 50 righteous men in the twin cities? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be it from you!  Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” [Jews talk to God with an intimacy that few Christians ever muster].  God said, “If I find at Sodom 50 righteous, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”

3 angels of God

Abraham knew the twin cities so he thought to himself, “I’m not sure there are 50 righteous men in the city limits.”  So he begins a shameless negotiation: “What if there are only 45 righteous?”  God agrees; 40 – God agrees; 30 – God agrees; 20 – God agrees.  “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more,” said Abraham peeping through his fingers, “If there are only 10 righteous men, will you not destroy it?”  God agreed and went his way.  (I wonder if God got out there before he gave away the farm.)

Just like the man caught at midnight without a thing to serve his buddy, Abraham is shameless.  Why did Abraham risk such shameless behavior?  Because he knew his God.  As the Prayer Book puts it in the Rite One Eucharistic prayer, “You whose property is always to have mercy.”  This merciful God is our Abba/Father.

V.   GOD’S CALL TO SHAMELESSNESS?

 We can define prayer as an endeavor to behold what is real.

That brothers and sisters is the only antidote to the Ego-centeredness we call sin.

What is real then to those who accept the good news of God in Christ? What is real is that Abraham and the man with the empty larder and, yes, we also are invited into a shameless and bold relationship with the Holy One of Israel.

Paul, writing the Christians at Colossae, spells out the invitation, “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him though faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.  And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”

 We cannot make it on our own; therefore we are invited into a life of shameless reliance on God.  God desires that we pray not to pester him into doing what he would not do unless we whine long enough. Our shameless – boldness rises from our being dead in ourselves and alive in the power of Jesus and his resurrection.  It is a case of, as the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous puts it, surrendering to win.  It is a matter of life and death that we learn that God really loves us.  He promised that He would never abandon us or leave us.

Let’s live like it, maybe?

To him be glory, now and forever. Amen

 

What I hope Christians learn while following Jesus?

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For five years,  we at Saint John’s have lived in the rhythm and measurement of RenewalWorks.  (www.renewalworks.org )  The means, practices and resources we have created we file under the rubric: SOULWorks.  What now?  Last month,  I was pondering that question and began to list some skills, practices and states of being that grow from and promote a life of faith.

These are the consequences of forsaking egocontrol, taking up our cross and setting off behind Jesus.  By now he is a good ways down the road, and I doubt I will ever overtake him at the rate I slip and slide.  However, I’m convinced that I’m on the right way, narrow though it is,  as I meet people who carry crosses similar, though not identical to mine.

As a pilgrim what do I need to know, take with me and seek as I go along the way he leads me.  Below I list some suggests.

  • The supernatural is real
  • Nondual thinking
  • Thinking Systemically (Bowen Theory)
  • To follow Jesus is to serve
  • Difference between job and work
Headline

Chartres France

  • Regardless of the event, first ask, “How is my functioning contributing to this situation?”
  • Suffering is the promise life always keeps
  • God knows the outcome. God does not choose the outcome.  That’s your job.
  • Judge not! I mean literally, suggest Judge not at all.

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  • Biblically literate
  • Journaling is essential if you seek to grow in soul.
  • More Orthopraxy not more Orthodoxy
  • Constant Prayer (literally)
  • Honesty is more important than religious talk
  • Tithing as a way of life.
  • Faith not certainty

In the days ahead,   I will reflect on these practices and resources for the journey.  Doubtless, there will others as get on down the road.

JWS

Memra (The Word)

via Memra (The Word) – THE BIBLE CHURCH ONLINE

Any Christian who wants to understand the Scripture will want to know this.  Good work Brother Mark Oaks.

 

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God is Wordtree (Logos Wordtree)

 

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Prayer & Fasting: the Least & Most We Can Do!

fasting

Note:  This is the text of a letter read at services today.  This same letter went out to parish via email went this afternoon.  Join us, please.  John+

 

July 10, 2016

 

Beloved in Christ Jesus,

These past two weeks have displayed the depth of anxiety in the very ground of our nation. Chronic anxiety promotes polarity, such as seldom seen in the history of this republic. We are tempted to the sin of despair. The shootings and deaths in recent days reveal the terrible wound in the body politic.  The body of Christ has a vocation to pray, fast and proclaim healing for racism, tribalism, and all “isms” that would prey on souls in our nation.

As Rector of Saint John’s, I call on the brothers and sisters of this household of faith to spend Monday, July 11, 2016, in fasting and prayer. If possible, please fast from dawn until sundown. If not that, please fast the noon meal. Your clergy will join you in fasting and prayer for Memphis and West Tennessee. The church will be open for prayer during the day on Monday.

Your clergy will join Memphis clergy brothers and sisters at Hope Church for prayer from 6:30 – 8:30 Monday night. Please invite any who will to join in this day of prayer and fasting for the good of our souls and the healing of our country.

John+

John Sewell,

Rector of Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee 38111

PENTECOST VI

PROPER 8C – Saint John’s, Memphis, Tennessee – June 26, 2016

Who Can Pass Jesus’ Test?

He set his face like flint

“He set his face like flint!”  Tissot

Jesus is about to be “taken up” or crucified.  So he “set his face” or literally, “He set his face like flint” to go to Jerusalem.  This is a Semitic expression, which means opposition or contention.  What is about to happen is difficult and requires courage and will.  This is in sharp contrast to what has been going on in Galilee.  Jesus had been going from town to town, village to village, teaching, healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of God. He was very successful: there were great crowds following him, around hanging on every word that he said.  People were beginning to nominate him “Messiah” (the anointed one of God).

The Kingdom of God is what scholars call a “tensive symbol” which evokes not one meaning but a whole range of meaning.  There are certain symbols that always have a one-to-one relationship to the things they represent such as the mathematical symbol pi or a red signal light at an intersection.  These are steno-symbols; they are useful precisely because they have single, clearly defined, and clearly understood meanings.

Kingdom of God

“He set his face like flint!”  Tissot

Norman Perrin writes, “Since the kingdom of God is such a tensive symbol it is a mistake to try to reduce it to any one idea or conception.”  That is why we are always frustrated when we attempt to “define’ the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God does not have a definition: it tells a story.”

People were fascinated and excited about the stories of the Kingdom: the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, the Kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field.  The Kingdom is like a party.  These images and metaphors suggest and evoke what cannot be properly put into words: the fullness of salvation wrought by God beyond this present world…

THREE TESTS

Some of the people who heard Jesus were overcome with the excitement of it all.  It is these people that we encounter in today’s Gospel lesson.  They illustrate what might be called the three tests of what it means to be a disciple:

The sentimentality test,   the tribal test,  and the conditional test.

THE SENTIMENTALITY TEST

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Foxes have dens, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.                                                                                                             – Sir. Stanley Spencer 1891

 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  This person has decided to follow without counting the cost.  Excited by the Jesus movement he does not realize that Jerusalem lies at the end of the journey and that the cross is the point to which Jesus is traveling.  Jesus said to him, “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  Marshall, p. 410 …Jesus bids the man count the cost.  The Son of man experiences rejection and homelessness, and his followers must be prepared to do the same.  As one writer  [Synthesis] says, “Jesus reminds this disciple, whose boldness suggests that following Jesus is a never ending

Marshall, p. 410 …Jesus bids the man count the cost.  The Son of man experiences rejection and homelessness, and his followers must be prepared to do the same.  As one writer  [Synthesis] says, “Jesus reminds this disciple, whose boldness suggests that following Jesus is a never ending succession of kumbayas, that, if he is to follow, all financial standing and social security have to be reattached – from the world to the Kingdom of God.  For Jesus’ closest disciples, there will be no worldly security whatsoever.  Faith is not an electric blanket.  Even foxes and birds have less vagrancy than the Son of Man.

To follow Jesus requires an enlightened recklessness.

 To follow Jesus means that one gives up the traditional securities and opens oneself to rejection and homelessness that has just occurred in the village of Samaria.

THE TRIBAL TEST

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Group Burial – Walking Dead

 To another, he said, “Follow me.”  But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Marshall, p. 411, Burial of the dead was a religious duty that took precedence over all others, even including study of the Law.  To assist in burying a person who had no claims on one as a relative was a work of love that carried great reward from God both in this life and in the next world.  It follows that the burial of a father was a religious duty of the utmost importance.  To leave it undone was something scandalous to a Jew.  This does not mean that the person’s father was lying in state at the local funeral home.  He wants to wait until his father is dead so that he will not be troubled by the decision of his child to follow Jesus.  But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury the dead; but as for your, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  To follow Jesus, to be part of the Kingdom of God, takes precedence over all commitments, even burying the dead.

I knew an old couple in Lauderdale county Alabama who waited to get married until their parents were dead.  They dated for over forty years.  Then when both parents were dead they married.  Only a few years passed before the husband died.  We can’t put off following.

THE CONDITIONAL TEST

don't look back

James Tissot

 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.  This is the yes, but of discipleship.  It is the Yes I will give sacrificially, Lord, only when I get a raise.  Yes, I will commit to being at worship on Sunday when I get caught up on my sleep. I will … But …Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”  I grew up in the country.  The family had five farms that joined.  Dad borrowed a mule from Great Granddad’s place to plow the garden as it began to mature because the mule didn’t damage the crops like a tractor.  Plowing with a mule is interesting.  Plowing a straight furrow requires looking at the end of the row in front of you and moving toward it.  If you keep looking back to where you came from or at your watch to see when quitting time is the row is crooked.  That’s what Jesus is talking about.

THE CALL IS UNCONDITIONAL

call of Elisha

The call of Jesus is unconditional.  The OT story of Elijah and Elisha illustrate the unconditional call clearly. Elijah came by and threw his cloak over Elisha, which meant that Elisha was chosen to succeed Elijah as the prophet of the Lord.  Elisha was out plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. This was a big farming enterprise.  Elisha slaughtered the yoke of oxen, broke up the yokes and plows for fuel, fired up the grill and threw a farewell barbecue.

 BELOVED, IT IS A TRUE SAYING AND WORTHY OF ALL TO BE RECEIVED, THAT IT’S HARD TO GO BACK TO PLOWING IF YOU JUST ATE YOUR OX!  JWS

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