His Last Twenty & The Widow’s Mites

homeless-Αντίγραφο-2-796x418

In this Nov. 17, 2017 photo, Johnny Bobbitt Jr., left, Kate McClure, right, and McClure’s boyfriend Mark D’Amico pose at a CITGO station in Philadelphia. When McClure ran out of gas, Bobbitt, who is homeless, gave his last $20 to buy gas for her. McClure started a Gofundme.com campaign for Bobbitt that has raised more than $13,000. (Elizabeth Robertson/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP) 

The man, whose name was “Johnny,” told her it wasn’t safe and he bought McClure gas with his last $20. McClure promised she would return to pay him. McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, have since raised over $20,000 for the former ammunition technician. The pair hope to get “Johnny” an apartment and help with transportation. Source: AP

The_Widows_Mite

The Widow’s Mites – James Christensen

LUKE 21:1-4  And Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”

How much fun is it that we see a deep spiritual truth incarnated in the street or interstate!  Johnny Bobbitt, Jr. is the last in a long line of  “Holies” who moved from contribution to full donation.

There is an old joke that the American breakfast of ham and eggs consists of a donation from the hen and total commitment from the pig!

Jesus saw the woman cast two “mites,” a minuscule valued coin, into the treasury. Her quietly deposited gift interspersed with the largess of the rich and proud deposited gold and silver, the “folding money” of the First Century was unnoticed to all but Jesus. He discerned the subtle, yet cosmic order of giving from the Widow.   Giving something is good, but giving all is a different ORDER of giving.  Johnny could have given her ten dollars of gas and that would have been amazing for a fellow down on his luck. The whole twenty-spot is breathtaking.  It is this that caught the country’s imagination this Thanksgiving Holiday.

God Bless You Johnny!

JWS+

Epiphany VI

February 12, 2017
John W. Sewell

MATTHEW 5: 21-24, 27-30, 33-37

CONCERNING ANGER
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

CONCERNING ADULTERY
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. † 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

CONCERNING OATHS
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

tzimtzum

The Trouble begins and ends with freedom. Freedom is an aspect of creation. Our elder brothers in faith, the Jews, call this TZIMTZUM (Contraction). God chose to no longer be all there was and contracted to make room for creation to have its appointed degrees of freedom.

Jesus: “You have heard…. But I’m here to tell you.” I have come not to abrogate the law, I’ve come to fulfill the law! Or, “I have come to fill the law full!” Full of What? John says that the word became flesh and came and dwelt among, “full of Grace and Truth.” This grace and truth went all the way through Jesus. There was nothing else to find in him except more grace and truth!

The law filled full of grace and truth just as our Lord is full of grace and truth. In other words, God does not act in a contradictory manner. And of course we too are called to not act in a contradictory manner. That is the goal of the Christian life, that our insides will match up with our outsides.

In the Gospel we hear Jesus tell us that obedience must become internal if it is to bring authentic life. The Gospel is troubling. Not only are Christians not to do certain things, apparently they are not even to want to do them. Grace and truth must become our automatic unthinking response.

This is troubling because most of us have a Zoo on our insides. We can be of several opinions at the same time, with thoughts and feelings coming and going constantly. The question is what do we do with this? We have this ideal that we so far from attaining. So how do we then live, this being the human condition?

Christians have always felt tension between the inner and outer life. In the third century one of the Desert Fathers, Evagrius Ponticus, wrote about this very issue. Evagrius contends that the arch-enemy of the soul is in practice a certain kind of thought, which he called logismos. I am much indebted to Simon Tugwell’s book: “The Way of Imperfection”, for his discussion of Evagrius.

evagrius-ponticus

Evagrius Ponticus set for himself the task of detailing the different traps and temptations that can distort understanding by imposing on the mind some false perspective. These logismos are thoughts that bewilder and befog the mind so that slowly, bit by bit, we drift away into a world of self-destructive fantasy. Logismos involves choosing to see the bad — bad in the sense of “unreal,” not fitting reality. Logismos destroy proper perspective on the world and thus prevent us from concentrating on the actual reality of our life, leading us further and further from our actual condition, making us try to solve problems that have not yet arisen and need never arise.

Evagrius says that there are EIGHT categories of these thought-traps. The seven deadly sins grow from his work.

1. GLUTTONY: not over-eating as harmful as that may be. The essence of the problem is anxiety about one’s health. The ‘thought’ of gluttony goes like this, “Imagine that you are going to get ill, and then you won’t have medicine, your doctor will be out of town… Then the ‘thought’ calls to mind other people who gotten ill from various diseases which we might catch.

Notice that the heart of the temptation is a train of thought leading us further and further away from our actual condition, making us solve problems which have not yet arisen and need never arise.

2. FORNICATION: Again it is a matter of allowing our fantasies to run away with us. The ‘thought’ of fornication fills our minds with desire for ‘a variety of bodies” (notice how abstract it all is). This is not a matter of a real relationship with a real human being. A real relationship which goes wrong does far less damage than these purely imaginary entanglement.

3. AVARICE: the love of money. The essential problem is one of futile planning for an unreal future. This ‘thought’ says, “you are going to live into a terrible old age, in which all sorts of dreadful things happen. You will poor and have to be dependent on others. Here we are preoccupied with what does not yet exist, with hopes and fears, with imaginary or future things.What we ought to do of course, is have faith in God and leave the future to him.

4. ENVY: involves obsessing about the past. A haunting remembrance of “the old days” as those “happy days” now gone and never to return. Much of the pain of spiritual suffering comes from wallowing in wishes and fantasies of things being other than the way they are.

The difference between Psychosis and Neurosis:
Psychosis is: 1 + 1 = 7.
Neurosis: 1 +1 = 2, but I won’t have it!
It is a real trap that thought.

5. ANGER: not the emotion but a clinging to the resentment that refuses forgiveness. Evagrius as an example, offers the experience of obsession with someone who has wronged us, the situation of being “unable to think about anything else.” Such fixations can ruin our health, As always, the trouble comes from failing to see the real issue. After all, if someone has wronged us, our Christian duty is simply to forgive them, and that should be the end of it. Anger, which is inevitable, is not to be squandered by focusing attention on the wrongs of others; rather, it should be directed at our own faults, and especially at how we have wronged others, thus moving us to make amends, to do something kind even for the people who have offended us.

6. ACEDIA: Listlessness: This is a condition in which we cannot settle down to do anything; nothing appeals to us, nothing engages our interest. The day seems eighty hours long. … Everything that we have to do goes sour on us. The “thought-trap” is self-pity and the temptation is, of course, to make us abandon our course, thinking that the spiritual life is really beyond us anyway. Again the problem is not being in reality.

7& 8  VAINGLORY/PRIDE:
7. Vainglory: daydreaming about our own magnificence and imagined glory.
8. Pride consists in supposing that we can do anything without the help of God, it is to claim to be God.

What do we do with these thought traps by which we get trapped into pointless and irrational reactions.

The first step is that we should come to be aware of the situation and bring some order into our lives.

  • For example, the ‘thought’ will come to us that we are entitled to be annoyed at somebody. If we succumb to this, then we shall devote our attention to the thought of the person with whom we are annoyed. What is needed is to focus attention on the fact that we are annoyed.
  • Instead of seeing some other human being angrily, we turn our attention to see our own anger.
  •  We can then begin to fight against it. And at first we may have to use any device we can think of…
  •  Most essentially we need to reclaim anger for its proper purpose. It is always a waste of good anger to get annoyed with other human beings.
  • Instead we should turn our anger against the thoughts. …
  • In this way we shall be using anger in accordance with its true nature, to clear a way thorough the thoughts which swarm all around us, so that we can gradually come to a clearer perception of what it is all about.
  • All knowledge is characterized by clarity. What we need is to get clear and then make choices accordingly.

tugwell

As Tugwell says, “The desired goal of this whole exercise is a state in which we are no longer at the mercy of inappropriate reactions. And this is a profound state of balance and harmony.” We are called to see ourselves in the proper perspective. “Pay attention to yourself!” The emphasis on honest self-knowledge. How to we foster this honesty?

1. Practice self-observation, what is going on here?
Not just from my perspective, but from the other persons?
2. Pay attention to our sleeping dreams. Dreams do not lie.

they tell you the truth. Twelve Step groups know how true this is. We cannot make on our own.

Ernest Kurtz writes, “As our vision of the world changes from a strictly self-centered view point in which feelings are in control to an other-oriented perspective in which “feeling good” flows from “being good,” we begin to see how we are connected with other realities and especially with other people. Most important, the tradition of spirituality suggests, we come to see that the criterion of spirituality is not subjective feeling but the reality of our “relationships with others, the reality of community.

This week we will have chances to watch what is going on in us and around us. Let us experiment with the Grace that God gives us to get beyond the ‘thoughts’ that beset us. Amen.

Save

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.

icon-of-christ-high-priest-the-holy-eucharist

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

SERMON 83

saint-bernard-of-clairvaux (2)

During the last three days I have spent the time allotted me in showing the affinity between the Word and the soul. What was the value of all that labor? Surely this: We have learned that every soul- Even sin-burdened, vice-entangled, pleasure-enticed, Even though in exile, a prisoner-of-war, incarcerated in body, mud-stuck and mire deep, limb-fastened and care-fixated even though strung-out over business wrangling, fear-knotted and sadness-crushed even though errant in wrong-headed wanderings, in anxious uneasiness, in restless suspicions, even though a foreigner in a foreign land, among enemies, and – as the Prophet says – one polluted by death with the dead and numbered among those going down to hell even so, we have learned, I believe, that every soul (however condemned, however hopeless) can turn around, can turn back and breathe once more not only the hope of mercy, the hope of pardon, but can even breathe aspirations of wedding-nights with the Word.

— Bernard of Clairvaux

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

 

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

5-stanley-spencer-english-painter-1891-e28093-1959-the-foxes-have-holes-21

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

episode-8-group-funeral

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

Save

Perfect Fear Casts Out Love (& Common Sense).

Jesus assured his followers that, “perfect love casts out fear.” The outcry against Syrian refugees brings to mind, “perfect fear casts out common sense as well as love.”

Living things instinctively view the “different” as potential threat. While, mistrust is in many cases warranted, human beings, at our best, are not merely instinctual, but seek by responding to, as Abraham Lincoln once said, the angels of our better natures form a community worthy of our place in creation.

Such union is always in jeopardy, as anxiety tempts us to regress, operating solely by instinctual, automatic unthinking, response. The challenges of this present time require thoughtful reflection which instinct cannot do. Since 9/11, terror is personal and local. Anxiety is paralyzing and never far from us. There are many things to fear. What we must do is not become our fear!

Syrians refugees now ask for entrance and solace among us. Though we are a nation of immigrants, fear of strangers, motivated by agendas that do us no credit, tempt us again. We are told that the wicked might slip in

painting by Anna Shukeylo

among the refugees. That is likely, however, clear thinking advises us that rejecting these in need arms our enemy more than protects us. These are the very people who have paid the most to these killers. Let us embrace them as the friends they can be. They are not our enemies.

In this Thanksgiving week, let us hold fast the values that raise us above instinct, while employing thoughtful vigilance in guarding all we hold dear. We are better defended by thoughtful response than fearful reactivity.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

©John W. Sewell
Rector, Saint John’s Episcopal Church
Memphis, Tennessee

From Sermon 83

saint-bernard-of-clairvaux-10

During the last three days I have spent the time allotted me in showing the affinity between the Word and the soul. What was the value of all that labor? Surely this: We have learned that every soul-Even sin-burdened, vice-entangled, pleasure-enticed Even though in exile, a prisoner-of-war, incarcerated in body, mud-stuck and mire deep, limb-fastened and care-fixated even though strung-out over business wrangling, fear-knotted and sadness-crushed even though errant in wrong-headed wanderings, in anxious uneasiness, in restless suspicions, even though a foreigner in a foreign land, among enemies, and – as the Prophet says – one polluted by death with the dead and numbered among those going down to hell even so, we have learned, I believe, that every soul (however condemned, however hopeless) can turn around, can turn back and breathe once more not only the hope of mercy, the hope of pardon, but can even breathe aspirations of wedding-nights with the Word.

— Bernard of Clairvaux

Pentecost XV

James Christensen

James Christensen – The Parables of Jesus

MATTHEW 20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers* for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.

These workers are the best in town. Given a level playing field they come in first every time – often with a bonus! He goes and hires more at 9, noon, 3 and just an hour before quiting time.
8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought [HERE COMES THAT BONUS!] they would receive more;  So here it comes – but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it,

Rembrandt - Parable of the Workers in the Vinyard

Rembrandt – Parable of the Workers in the Vinyard

 • they grumbled [murmured] against the landowner: Where have we heard that before, it began with Cain, Lot & family, don’t forget the poster children – the children of Israel in the desert for forty years, driving Moses crazy. No wonder he kept asking God to kill him, “Just kill me” – You know that original sin is the only doctrine that is so obvious that no one contradicts us. You have a perfectly lovely baby – Dorothy Biedenharn – only yesterday, handing out with Dad at SOULWorks – just glad to be there – but give it 18 months or so and it’s Katy bar the door. You hear it before you see it, the metal piercing whine that grates on the ear and enrages the heart.

They complained, not just about it amount of money… 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’

13 But he replied to one of them, “Friend” or in Southern, “Bless your heart, Bubba , I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

Is your eye evil because I am good?”Or are you envious because I am generous?’
Envy, the green eyed monster, is always accompanied by its buddies: the sneaky, shifty, sly, Slander and Murder, shadowy, tall and terrible, violence – who is known as much reputation as by presence: whether it be a flash mob at Kroger or ISIS. But the ring leader is Envy – the very vermin that Lucifer the beautiful loosed into the world out of malice and spite.

Here we see the two economies:

•  Economy of scarcity, lack and fear
• Economy of the Kingdom of Heaven, in contrast is abundant, pressed down & overflowing and bullish on the future.

Them There & Then – Us Here & Now

A story from the Chapel of the Cross years is instructive. Robert Farrar Capon, of blessed memory, lectured at the Chapel of the Cross back in the 1990’s.  He was teaching that salvation is Grace plus nothing!  No hedging your bets just straightfoward grace. Robert was ruthless about grace!   I’m telling you, I have learned more about grace from Robert than anybody.

So Robert reinterates, “It’s Grace plus NOTHING.  A lawyer raised his hand and asked, “Why be good?” That’s a fair question of course. Why be good?  With a twinkle in his eye, Fr. Capon replied, “BECAUSE IT’S MORE FUN!”   So, you’re saying, it doesn’t matter how you live, said the lawyer his voice revealing his tension and barely restrained outrage. “I never said that,” Robert said, “Of course it matters how you live! – But it doesn’t earn you anything”

Well that did it! Robert just ripped the bloom off their bush. The Room divided right down the center.  One half of the room were righteously offended, while the other half aroused up in hope. Do I need to say that they righteous didn’t show up the next night?

Well the other half did return and here they cam dragging their friends – the halt and the lame – blind – none physically but of spirit – those abused by the Church of their understanding! So the room was full.  I realized that I had just witnessed what happened when Jesus taught.

You see we are called to a life spontaneous, creative and playful . Jesus promised us that we would be absolutely free, fully joyful and always in trouble. Ready at a moment’s notice speak a good word for Jesus, Therefore as Hunter Thompson put it:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside/sideways in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow Jesus ! What a Ride!” HUNTER S. THOMPSON.

September 21, 2014 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee

JWS