theotokos

The Theotokos (God Bearer)

“A person, whether human or divine, cannot be known — as a person rather than an image except by immediate presence.  If we want to project an image, either of Christians or the Church, we can do that by means of television, magazines, books, billboards, movies, bumper stickers, buttons, records, and posters.  If we want people to know Christ, we must be there face-to-face, bearing Christ within us.” 

Virginia Owens – “The Total Image or Selling Jesus in the Modern Age”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An’t No Trying Going On Here

Wordsmith Anu Garg, in A Word a Day: “Why is it that to ‘doctor’ a document is to falsify it, but to ‘vet’ it is to check it for its accuracy?” The range and use of language is rich with possibility and precise in communication. The words we choose say a great deal about us.

i-literally-want-you-to-follow-meFor several years now I have been death on the poor little word, “try.” Granted there are several definitions before the 5th one that I am after, however, “to make an attempt at” is the culprit. I am asked most years what I have given up for Lent. The truth is nothing in particular, but this year I gave up using the word, “try.” Actually I have proclaimed my office a “try-free” zone.

If asked to do something I can answer, “I will try” which means I am not going to do that but I don’t want to tell you that right out. So to try is not to try at all. To try is leave a loophole, while saying it is my intention to get this done says a lot more about my resolve than “trying” ever will.

I can’t imagine that Jesus, if he were interviewed by a Jerusalem Post reporter on Palm Sunday about his date with a cross on Friday, when asked if he really intended to go through with this would have said, “I’m going to try to make it.” No he set his face to Jerusalem to face his passion. Jesus didn’t “try” to do anything, he either did it or not but he left himself no loopholes.

When Jesus said to his disciples (including us) that if we wanted follow him we should deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. He didn’t say, “It would be nice if you would try to follow me.” Nor will he accept, “Lord, we will try to show up but a cross seems a bit extreme!” No we either follow or we do not. There is no try.

In a culture infected with trying at least in our faith let our yes be yes and our no be no for our souls sake and the sake of the Kingdom.

© John W. Sewell

WHAT WE DO AFTER WE SAY WE BELIEVE.

twitter_jesus

What does the life of a mature Christian look like to an observer? We ask people to grow in Christ. Actually this is exactly what we tell them when they are welcomed as newly baptized Christian, “We receive you into the household of God, Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” [BCP 308]   That is lovely, but now what? So the next Sunday what would the newly baptized do? In service of clarity, let’s name our brother Arthur.

The first thing Arthur does the next Sunday is that he rolls out of bed and gets ready for Church. This is the day when the largest number of his new community gathers. They do what Christians have done since that first day of the week, when Mary told Peter the Lord is Risen!

July 17, 2013 009

The Holy Thanksgiving is word, read & expounded and the sacred meal feeds the soul and equips Arthur to be a sign for others of what he received. If indeed he encounters the risen Jesus in the breaking of the bread, it is the single most important act of Arthur’s week.

Fed and equipped, now Arthur sets off into the marketplace on Monday morning. He is not a morning person, so he eats a bagel as he drives. He thinks about a report due that afternoon while listening to talk radio. Arthur arrives at his workplace having left parts of his psyche over half of East Memphis.

Having lost his center, he now is off and running; the day is a blur of emails, phone calls and demanding customers on every side. After a late consultation with his boss about a matter, he is on his way home by half past seven. He rushes to the drug store to pick up a prescription before it closes. By eight o’clock Arthur is home, settled into his chair eating a burger he snagged just past the drug store. He is exhausted, so much so that he does not sleep well.

Tuesday is another day, so what might Arthur do differently this morning? He rises earlier this morning, and while he has to get moving he is not as rushed. On the drive to work, the radio off, he thinks, actually he is praying, but he thinks he’s just thinking. He considers the challenges of the day and where the troubles may rise. Asking God to give him grace for the doing, he arrives at his office with almost all his psyche intact.

mission st clare daily offices

Mission Saint Clare

After greeting his co-workers, he goes into his office, shuts the door and fires up his computer. Getting online he surfs to the Mission of Saint Clare. On this site, the good Franciscans (Episcopal, by the way) make praying Morning and Evening Prayer ridiculously easy. Arthur follows the order for Morning Prayer from the prayer book, and all he need do is find the screen and add prayer. Having now centered in only 7 or so minutes, he is off and running. Tuesday goes better than Monday.

On Wednesday he meets with a few men from Saint John’s who meet weekly for lunch and Bible study. Though he is new to the group they are welcoming and clearly care for each other and there is a sense of trust in the room. He decides he will make this group a regular part of his week.

On Thursday he is out of the office on the road all day but arrives back in Memphis in time to make his appointment with one of the priests in their office. Arthur is not sure exactly what this is about but is interested in learning more. The priest explains that he wanted to sit together and see what questions Arthur had since his baptism. Arthur tells about his week and laughs when he tells how silly he felt at first praying in front of a computer screen. The priest tells him that the ancient practice is called constant prayer and quickly adds that all our thoughts are prayers.

“Well, God must have blushed after that driver cut me off in traffic on the Interstate this afternoon at Senatobia.” “I think we believe that God knows everything,” the priest says with a twinkle in his eye. “We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can somehow protect God from our meltdowns and outbursts. Just experiment by accepting that all your stream of consciousness is prayer. That way we can actually pray constantly.” Arthur is not sure about this but is willing to entertain the notion. He and the priest agree to meet one on one every other week on Thursday afternoon. In fact Arthur finds he is feeling a lot more relaxed on his drive home. The priest warned him that it takes more energy to keep the “rocks in the sack,” than to take them out. Maybe he’s right.

Friday is a catch-up day at work. There is a lot to do but Arthur takes time for the Clares. Even 5 minutes is better than nothing. In the afternoon he receives a call from his confirmation sponsor checking on him and inviting him to join him on Saturday morning to gather food for distribution. Arthur cannot do it but promises to help next time.

Saturday is taken up with errands, chores and preparing for the coming week. Arthur meets some of his buddies to watch the game, and even though they razz him for leaving early on a Saturday night, he goes on home, sober. It is much easier to rise on Sunday if you have no hangover.

Arthur particularly enjoys the music at the 10:30 Eucharist, and when the rector finished the announcements and before the peace, he asks if there is anything else. A man gets up, comes to the front and explains that a woman in the neighborhood near the church has broken her hip and needs a ramp built so she can come home from the hospital in a wheel chair. He needs help and it needs to happen immediately. “If anyone can help, I’ll be down by the pulpit after church,” the man said. While he is not all that handy, Arthur can hammer nails so he walked down, introduced himself and offered to work that afternoon to get the ramp ready for Monday.

When he finds the address and walks up to the house, three men are already there getting things together. Before they began to work, they stop and pray for the woman who lives in the house and that the ramp will not be needed for long. They end by offering this work to the glory of God and his work. By the end of the afternoon, the house has a sturdy ramp and Arthur, three new friends. We followed Arthur through a week of his new life as a Christian. This is of course fiction. That is a shame as I would welcome this man with open arms.

WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM SHADOWING ARTHUR?

SHOWING UP IS ALL THERE IS! Arthur has vowed to take maximum responsibility for his own soul. Everything follows from “showing up.” No one besides Arthur can make this happen. Clergy can will people to show up (making ourselves crazy in the process) but willfulness produces the opposite reaction, since protoplasm is perverse that way.

ANCIENT PRACTICES Early in the Christian experience believers discovered that certain practices nourished their vital union with the Risen Christ. One of the promises Arthur made at his baptism came directly from the practices described in The Acts of the Apostles.

Will you continue in the Apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Book of Common Prayer [304]

These practices serve as a check list of sorts. When Christians put a behavior in each of these categories they grow and mature.

READ THE SCRIPTURES DAILY The literature on spiritual growth stresses the essential nature that reading the sacred texts has for maturing faith. At Saint John’s we are embedding scripture in everything we do.

On the parish website http://www.stjohnsmemphis.org, on the Saint John’s Reads page are Bible reading resources.

  • Also on the website in the archive of sermons.
  • The Libravox Project (free app on ITunes) has free audio Bibles.
  •  www.Amazon.com has free texts of Scripture for free download to your iPad or PC.

The important thing is to get some scripture into your inner life. Just a few verses and the Holy Spirit will begin to enlighten your soul.

CONSTANT PRAYER

Saint Paul tells us to 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

While this seems impossible, it is holy multitasking. It is possible to ask a part of our psyche to take up constant prayer to pray while we are working and tending to business.

The Jesus Prayer is one way to enter constant prayer.

  •  Mysteries of Jesus Prayer – Norris J. Chumley (iTunes).
  •  The Pilgrim (classic work on the Jesus Prayer) – unknown.

The Daily Offices of Morning & Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer has nourished Anglicans for centuries.

The Anglican Rosary

Anglican rosary

Anglican Rosary

Praying constantly requires a shift in consciousness. While it is wonderful to have a period of quiet in the morning before the demands of the day grab us, my suggestion is simple and requires a shift in consciousness. When we realize that our stream of consciousness is a conversation with God, then everything changes. As you go along, you will learn to recognize the different textures of thought and from time to time sense the presence of the Triune God.

SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY (INTENTIONAL GROUP) Find a place where you can be yourself and tell your story with the expectation that it will stay in the group. There are several groups at Saint John’s, and they welcome newcomers. If you can’t find one that suits you, then start one! The clergy can help you do that very thing.

ATTEND EUCHARIST WEEKLY Christians are malnourished. It is a common malady. While carefully planned liturgies are always to be the norm, entertainment is not the point on Sunday. None of us are there to passively watch anyway. The folk up front in Third Century street clothes are not performing for our entertainment; they are not the players and we the audience. In fact all of us are the players and God is the audience, as Soren Kierkegaard once said. Liturgy is literally the work (of the) people, and no one can do your work for you. If you are out of town, go to Eucharist. You can almost always find a parish, and they will be glad to see you.

SPIRITUAL MENTOR It is important to have someone trustworthy to share the thoughts of your heart. Begin by reading about this practice. Thomas Merton wrote a wonderful little book called Spiritual Direction and Meditation. That is a good place to start.

The director is one who knows and sympathizes who makes allowances, who understands circumstances, who is not in a hurry, who is patiently and humbling writing for indications of God’s action in the soul… In a word, the director is interested in our very self, in all its uniqueness, its pitiable misery and its breathtaking greatness {27] – Thomas Merton – Spiritual Direction and Meditation

• Choose carefully. The counsel of one who honors confidences and gives kindly and sensible advice is a rare gift. • Call your priest. Even if mentoring is not his/her charism they can point you in the right direction. • They need not be ordained,

 
Christ of the Homeless  - Fritz Eichenberg

Christ of the Homeless – Fritz Eichenberg

SERVE THE POOR

Ministry to those who cannot repay us is good for our souls. It may or may not feel good and even if does that will not last. I assure you of that. We are not going out to fix the poor. That is not to say that they have spiritual and physical needs that need meeting. We are to meet the poor as we would meet Christ, as he told us we could find him there. There are many opportunities in Memphis (and where you live). • Manna House – radical hospitality for the homeless • MIFA – Memphis Inter-Faith • Emmanuel Center • Hospitality Hub Call the office. Deacon Emma will be happy to help you find the ministry suited for you. I believe that getting our hands into the mire is as important for our souls as anything we accomplish for others. Money is needed. Hands are needed also.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens - The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, 1626

Sir Peter Paul Rubens – The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, 1626

TITHE The Tithe (10%) is the Biblical standard for giving. Do you give 10% before or after taxes? That is up to you. Most people cannot give 10% at once so how to get there? The way forward here is to begin to give proportionally. If you are giving to the church already, take the dollar amount you gave last year and turn it into a percentage of your income. Whatever that is, you can move toward a tithe in stages. If you have never given before, decide on the percentage you can give and then move toward the tithe.

It is interesting that our Lord didn’t say, “You can’t serve God and the evil one.” He said, “You cannot serve God and money!” Our Lord knew money was his chief competitor. It is good for our soul to give money a black eye by giving up control of ten percent. It can also do a lot of good.

Bernard preachingSHARE THE GOOD NEWS YOU ARE DISCOVERING There is no necessity for Arthur to set off and assault the unsuspecting passersby in the streets of Memphis with the Gospel. This approach is not generally received as good news.   What will happen is that Arthur will not be able to contain his excitement at seeing his life change for the better. As he feeds his soul, people will notice, and he will share his source of bread with his friends. The Right Reverend John Finney, Suffragan Bishop of Pontefract (retired) in his book, RECOVERING THE PAST: CELTIC AND ROMAN MISSION, warns us to get out of our heads and abandon our conflicts over doctrine. Few outside the church understand the arcane sensibility of doctrinal debate. It is foolish to fight about the hardware of the front door when the house is on fire. Here experience trumps doctrinal “facts”.

“Christians should be more prepared to explain the spiritual life they have already begun to enjoy than to seek to persuade others of doctrinal truth [43]”

GET MOVING It is easier to steer a moving than a stalled car. Walk to edge of the light/understanding you have, trusting that when you reach the edge of the dark there will be more light and further understanding. You will not know this until you move. I know it is true because I experience it almost daily.

John W. Sewell June 26, 2014 – Memphis, Tennessee

 

RELIGION IS HARD-WIRED IN HUMANITY

Gertrud Mueller Nelson

Gertrud Mueller Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Epiphany

Transfiguration-2The Light of the Incarnate Word revealed or manifested to the world is the great theme of Epiphany. On this Last Sunday after the Epiphany this theme comes to a great cadence as we encounter the manifestation of Christ on the Mountain, transfigured in light. Six days after Peter said that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them to a mountain apart. And there he was transfigured before them.  The word transfigured is the same word used to describe the change a larva undergoes to become a butterfly: metamorphosi.  The glory of God broke through for a moment, and Jesus’ face was like the sun and his garments became white as light.

In the last year I have become fascinated with quantum physics. Quantum mechanics demonstrates that matter can be either particle or motion.  The physicist, David Bohm, writes, “The mental and the material are two sides of one overall process that are (like form and content) separated only in thought and not in actuality. Rather, there is one energy that is basis of all reality…. There is never any real division between mental and material sides of any stage of the overall process  It is now possible to examine the event on Mount Tabor in light of our greater understanding of reality. For a brief time, the matter that made up the physical Jesus shifted from particle to motion. Is that what happened? We don’t know, but it is interesting. The language of transfiguration is not limited to literary metaphor.  With Jesus, on the mountain, is Moses, the great Lawgiver and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets. There the two great heroes of Judaism talked with Jesus.

I. Today there is a tremendous preoccupation in our culture with two Things: CONTENT and TECHNIQUE. If we just know enough all will be well. My mentor, Rabbi Friedman, used to say that our current preoccupation with content/data was a form of substance of abuse. I think this is what happened to Peter.

transfiguration Peter had what we used to call in the church of my child-hood a “mountain­top experience,” which means that he got to feeling really good. No, as a matter of fact he got to feeling great. He had to pinch himself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. Peter was drunk on the glory of super-time, super-space:  on the content of his experience.

And as it is when we get caught up with content we want more. In addition, Peter, was the one who always had to manage and control everything and everyone around him (and why should God be any exception), decided that they should settle down and get more content, data, and enjoy the experience. In other words, make data and content the end not the means.

I used to hear and old Gospel song that said, All I want is just a little cabin over in the corner of glory land.” Well not only did intend to have a little cabin over in the corner of glory land, he intended to build it himself! At this point in his spiritual journey, Peter is danger of delusions. If he were allowed to build his dwelling places, he would have spent the rest of his life in a kind of spiritual illusion, enjoying himself, founding a cult, and impressing his followers with his marvelous visions. Preoccupation with content really can be seductive and it will not lead to maturity.

icon 4

The dangerous thing about mountain top experiences is that the air gets terribly thin up there and tends to cut off oxygen to the brain, so that people trapped in their Mountain top delusions cease to think, mistaking content for spirituality.

II.      Technique: Meanwhile, as the old TV shows used to say, “Back at the ranch”, at the foot of the mountain are the remaining disciples, the ones that Jesus did not take with him on the mountain.

James Tissot

James Tissot

Matthew 17:14 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, 15 and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” 17 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, t and it f came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “why could we not cast it out?”

The disciples who have stayed the valley are preoccupied with technique. “Why could we not cast it our?” In the Gospels, Jesus healed people in all sorts of ways. Sometimes he touched people. One time he spit on the ground and made mud which he applied to a blind man’s eyes. If the technique of Jesus was the issue then we could divide into competing schools. We could have the touching school; or the spit therapy approach; or we could become practitioners of Mud therapy and be called the “mudites”.

One of the great divisions between Christians is the one between the “spiritual/content” and “activist/technique” points of view.

  • The “spiritual/content” camp says that the poor are always with us and that praying and saving souls  is what Christians are to be about.
  • The Activists/technicians on the other hand are interested in justice and the plight of the poor is ever before them. They are busy doing and developing new programs and approaches and are often suspicious of those who are not.

Faith is not Content or Technique or Content and Technique, But PROCESS. Process in the sense that we are in the presence of Christ. To use quantum language, Jesus the Christ is both particle and motion. He is the Particle/model of what we are to be. And he is the Motion/means by which we become authentically human. The emphasis is not on content or technique but on OUR MATURITY.

icon 2 Maturity involves:

  1.  Knowing where we end and others begin.
  2. Knowing what we believe. What would we die for?
  3. No fear of taking stands. “My Father’s house is to be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”
  4. Staying the course in spite of resistance. And he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
  5. Remaining connected in spite of it all. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Maturity means learning from our experience. Whether that is on the mountaintop in glory or  with the gory/messy human beings in the valley.  The constant is to be our FAITH. The constant Will be the presence of the Risen One When they asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we cast it out”, He didn’t tell they needed to hold their mouth differently or find a new kind of mud.  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a t mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

The Transfiguration #4 The point is not to run out and figure out the volume of a mustard seed and then to figure out how to get that quantity of faith. Jesus seems to making the point that it isn’t the quantity of faith it is where that faith is placed.  For We like Peter need to hear the voice of God, “This is my well beloved son, listen to him.”  Lent begins on Wednesday. Let us not be overly preoccupied with content/data or technique.

A priest was walking home late one night when a man put a gun to his back and demanded his wallet. As the priest handed over his money, the robber, seeing the priest’s collar, apologized and gave back the wallet. The priest was relieved and offered the man a cigarette. “0, no thank you Father”, replied the robber, “I gave up smoking for Lent.”

Lent is not about content or technique; it is about the maturing of our Faith. Whether we are on the mountain seeing visions or in the valley failing at what we think we should be able to do, the common companion is the Lord Jesus. What is important is not where we are, on the mountain or in the valley, but who is with us.

We would like to meet Christ wrapped in clouds of glory – matter in process. But, if we are to do so, we must first meet him in the particles of our lives, in the brokenness of our own hearts. We meet him in the stranger. We meet him the bread and wine at Eucharist. We meet him in the unexpected places of our lives, but meet him we will! Lent is about process, the process of the maturing of our souls. Let us remember that as we journey again to Easter.  JWS Transfiguration - RaphaelTransfiguration – Raphael

Epiphany VII

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

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

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

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

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

Christian-Principles-Sermon-on-the-Mt

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

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

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

Turn the Other Cheek - Linda S. Fitz Gibbon

Turn the Other Cheek – Linda S. Fitz Gibbon

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

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

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

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

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

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

the_second_mile_2pe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hernando deSoto Bridge - Memphis, Tennessee

Hernando DeSoto  Bridge – Memphis, Tennessee

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

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

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

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

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

I’m done.  Amen.

JWS

 

 

 

Quote

Christ shows us what is to be God by the way he dies as human being and, in so doing, simultaneously shows us what it is to be a human being.

– John Behr – Becoming Human: Meditations on Christian Anthropology in Word and Image

A Prayer Before Hunting

O God, in your creation the death of one is life for another. Give me grace never to forget this sacred truth and grant that I kill nothing in anger; do nothing in cruelty and waste nothing I kill. Through Jesus Christ, who with You and the Holy Spirit   live and reign now and forever.  Amen.   
                        
                         

A Place for My Life to Happen…

The Holy One spoke to me through a TV commercial  a couple of days ago.  It caught my attention such that I searched for it on the internet. You can find it posted just before this one.  The pitch was for an online house search outfit.  I won’t give away the story but what caught my attention was the punch line: “You are not looking for a house — you are looking for a place for your life to happen.”

Durham Cathedral, County Durham, Great Britain

Durham Cathedral, County Durham, Great Britain

Commercials always have a “hook” that catches us in deep places.  That industry works hard finding ways to arouse the two motivations of all human affairs:  fear and desire.  Once the commercial has us then we are offered a way to safety or satiation.  The quality of the offer is everything from the sublime to the sinister.  For whatever is for sale a market can be found and precisely targeted.  Greater care is taken in the sale of toilet paper than is considered for the spreading of the Gospel!   The words of Jesus come to mind, “The children of this world in this their generation are wiser than the children of light.”

Now back to my basic notion.  Looking for a house is about shelter, while looking for a place for your life to happen is about soul. I am no good as a realtor but matters of the soul are my work.  What I know from soul work is that there is a certain loneliness that just goes with being a human being.  We are solitary in a body.  Regardless of how much we might hope for we can never get closer to anyone than body to body.  We long for relationship that is permanent, dependable and rich. But deep commitment does not guarantee we will not finally be alone.  Many relationships founder because they are not designed to carry the weight and intensity  of our deepest needs.  We need from each other what can only to found in God.  A collect from the Prayer Book resonates:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.(1)

What I seek is  the place where  my life can happen in  the company of  Christians who seek the same.  We call it the Body of Christ.  

I will explore these notions in the weeks ahead.

(1) The Collect for Proper 20 of Year C.  – September 21, 2013