Gospel as Comedy not Tragedy

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In his book, Telling the Truth, the Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy and Fairy Tale, Frederick Beuchner says that if you can’t take a joke you’ll never understand the Gospel. There is a profound difference between tragedy and comedy. In a tragedy the hero pits himself against the gods and is destroyed by the process. Tragedy is concerned with struggles of power. Comedy, on the other hand, is about ambiguity, and the transformation of roles. We think it is one way and it turns out another. Tragedy invariably ends in death; comedy ends in marriage – a criss-crossing of boundaries and limits. One is serious and the other is playful.

The Gospel lesson today is a tragic-comedy. The setting of the readings for today is feasting and partying. Here in the first act, if you will, of today’s production. The prophet Isaiah marches out mid-stage and issues the invitation of God to a party. The aristocratic prophet from Jerusalem in his best prophetic voice proclaims, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

This is a to be a lavish party with the best vintage wine and rich food full of fat. This is long before most of the human population had to worry about fat in their diet. This is a time when fat was good news not bad news. Not only will the eats be great, but as a further act of excess God will shallow up death forever. He will wipe away the tears from ALL faces. Not only will the feast be of the finest food full of fat and taste but the shroud of death will be removed. It will write paid to the old saying of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die. Wrong, eat, drink and be merry for death is swallowed up and tears are wiped from every face. Death is no more. Furthermore, the disgrace of the people will be removed. God’s salvation — restoration and healing will be unveiled to all the guests — to all people: what an extraordinary vision. We can eat anything that appeals to us without remorse for the things that trouble our consciences and with the sure and certain knowledge that death is no more. Not a bad first act.

Now on to the Main act: Jesus picks up the setting of a party in the Gospel reading today. “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared,” says Jesus, “to a King who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” In the ancient world one received an invitation to a feast by messenger. Then messengers then delivered a second message that the feast will soon begin. The King sent servants with the message; “The ox has become barbecue. The fatted calf is now filet minion. Countless cases of Dom Perignon are chilled. The tables are groaning with everything from Buluga caviar and Italian truffles all the way to MOON PIES and R.O.C. cola. There is some of whatever you want to warp your beak around. (It’s enough to drive the editors of Gourmet Magazine wild.) Come to the Wedding banquet,” they said. BUT — the guests made light of it . . .One went to his farm — One went to his business, while the rest seized the servants, mistreated some and killed others.

The King’s reaction is like a scene out of Rambo or The Terminator: Houses exploding in flame. These are the beautiful people from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” They are the very folk we admire. They are beautiful people who have everything but the one essential thing, namely, trust — the only, from God’s point of view, that matters. They have everything but lack the one thing essential, namely, trust — faith, the only from God’s point of view required. That is the tragedy. They have trusted themselves when that is the only thing that will not work. They are like the long list of winners who lose: the Pharisees, the Priests, the rich young ruler, they are you and me, they are all of us . . . who live the twin mistaken notions: Our good works will get us into the marriage feast. And that God’s nature will absolve us from having to sit through it if we happen to have other plans. Both are tragic mistakes. As the guests learn they are dead wrong. Salvation is not by works and the heavenly banquet is not optional. We are saved only by accepting a party already in progress and God has paid the price with his own death. He counts only two things grace and faith. Nothing else matters!

The scene changes – Act II, Scene 2, The King says to his faithful butler, “the wedding is ready, but those invited are not worthy (by their unfaith.) Go into the streets and invite those you find to the wedding feast. Out all the uniformed flunkies went. They went out and gathered all they found: good and bad. (Note he does not invite the good and snub the bad, he invited ALL, while we were yet sinners. He simply invites us to trust his invitation. So the poor, the prostitutes, bag ladies, men with missing front teeth and the smell of Thunderbird on their breath, all the ner-do-wells completely overlooked by the beautiful and important are all home free. See the comedy breaking out? So the hall is filled with guests.

Act II, Scene 3: Now, let me admit that what I am about to say is conjecture. Just go with me, here, … you can’t hold it against someone if they are shanghaied to a party and you don’t like what they wearing. So I think . . . the “sudden guests” are provided wedding clothes, suitable clothes — Bill Blass – Valentino — all sorts of designer rags in exchange for their filthy ones. As the King comes by to mingle with the guests he spies a man without a wedding suit. He apparently came in since he was forced but he will not put on his suit. The King said to the man without a wedding suit. Friend (or as Ann Landers used to say, Buster) How did you get in here without a wedding garment?! The man was speechless! And then they threw him out. Even in a comedy some will always insist on tragedy. You might make some people show up, but you really can’t make them like it, after all, can you?

What is this tragic-comedy telling us? Invitation is the principle judgment in this parable. Notice that “Nobody is kicked out who wasn’t already in. Hell may be an option; but if it is, it is only one that we insist on after we had already been invited to the heavenly dance. The first Guests are worthy. They just wouldn’t come. Their unacceptance was the issue. The Replacement guests become guests by accepting the invitation. The man without a garment wouldn’t accept or even speak and out he goes. The King insists on dragging everybody and their brothers to the party. Everyone is a member of the wedding party and is only shown the door AFTER they were invited in.

GRACE is the only basis of entrance into the Kingdom . . .Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus EXCEPT our unwillingness to accept his INVITATION. The difference between the blessed and the cursed in one thing and one thing only: the blessed accept their acceptance and the cursed reject it; but the acceptance is a done deal for both groups before either does anything about it.

Here in the epilogue, [following my device to the end] in the reading from Philippians, Paul writes from the perspective of one who has said yes to the heavenly banquet. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. … I have learned to be content with whatever I have. [That sounds un-American] I know what it is to have little and I know what it is to have plenty. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

If God accepts us then we no longer take our identity from our circumstances. We begin to relax in the comic “joke” that what we have always been told about who is in and who is out just isn’t so. Let’s relax, this show isn’t a tragedy after all. Yes, Jesus does die, really dead, on the cross. It’s not stage make-up and fake blood. He’s dead, really dead. That would be a tragedy, if that were the end of the production. But it isn’t. God raised Jesus from the dead. That same resurrection is ours, if we’ll just take it. Therefore things for us are not necessarily how they appear. Let us not be defined by circumstances. God is giving a party and all that is required is that we accept the invitation and show up. There is no end to the party he has prepared for those who love him!

Amen

The Feast of Saint Hubert

 

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Saint Hubertus, Bishop of Liege, Patron of Hunters, Fishers, Hunting dogs,  Rabies victiums

 

October 23, 2016
Saint John’s Episcopal Church
Memphis Tennessee

Hubert was the self-absorbed heir of the Duchy of Aquitaine in the 600’s. He was obsessed with hunting and went every day. Hubert could not restrain himself even in Lent continuing the chase during the forty days of (expected) self-denial. He crossed the line when he chased an enormous stag on Good Friday. With his dogs in full cry he pursued the deer – only to have the animal stop and turn. In the stags antlers was a crucifix – and the animal spoke & said essentially, “HUBERT IF YOU DON’T GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER YOU ARE GOING TO HELL!”

This young man got more than he expected on that Good Friday hunt. He became a priest and then a bishop and followed Jesus as a hunter of souls all because the Holy One went hunting for Hubert’s soul on a Good Friday.

In the OT reading, Isaac and Rebecca had twin sons, Esau and Jacob:

Esau emerged first from the womb – 114. Redness thus suggests earthiness, capacity for reproduction and humanity. It is positive for a young man to be called ruddy. Ruddy and Hairy – Hairy is animal-like, thick, smelling of the fields.”[115] My Brother Esau is a Hairy Man

Esau was a hairy man’s man – a mighty hunter (if you will pardon me) a bubba – with gun-racks (or in this case bow-racks) on the side of his chariot.

Jacob was a momma’s boy – staying at home reading cook books, while there is nothing wrong with cooking and many of the great chefs are male, the little brother has not yet begun to move from the nurture of childhood into the journey toward man-hood. Esau and Jacob are the twin issues of men not leaving home and not growing up AND leavening home but not growing up either.

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Esau comes home down and very hungry from a hunt having bagged nothing. Jacob has cooked up a pot of red lentils which must have smelled better than I imagine, so he says he’s dying can he have some of the, literally, red-red stuff. Jacob says sure big brother, it’s yours if you will give me the birth-right making me the eldest of the two of us and the heir. So Bubba did it despising his birth-right.

Esau could read the signs in the field but he could not discern the signs in his own life, does not connect to the deepest issues of his heart. In this we, especially men, are the sons of Esau who sell our treasure without considering its value.

The twin’s grand-father, Abraham, was a great hunter. Although there is no mention of his hunting game – he stalked a greater prize – a country promised by God. Leaving everything hunting the place God promised. By faith he left home not knowing where he was going – and he went.

Faith is the evidence of things not seen – Abraham is the type of this for believers ever since – today the religions count him as their spiritual ancestor. Abraham is the grand-father of hunters and from him the lore and the art of spiritual hunting is our legacy and our inheritance.

What are we hunting when we go hunting and who is hunting us when we go hunting? Hunting is a metaphor for growing up and going on adventure – the goal being maturity and wholeness.

Jesus is God’s best and most complete attempt to come and hunt so that we and all who have ever lived and ever will live may be saved. After all, he said he came to seek and to save that which was lost. He of course tended to bring them back alive as he told the fishermen by the lake, “come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men;” of course he could just as easily told a party of hunters to follow him and he would make them hunters of men.

Hunting has a shadow:  The Shadow of Hunting, lies, however, in the fact that early in their evolution, humans, with their Hunting is embedded not only in the drive for survival and the killer instinct, but also in the lust for domination, the pleasure of blood sport and the desire for trophies.  Headhunt, bargain hunt, job hunt and house hunt, to detect disease and track down criminals, in search and destroy missions, gang wars, sexual predation, stalking and serial killing. The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images

The shadow is always present but also there the tradition of feeding families and doing it carefully, humanely and respectfully. Prayer and hunting have always go together because one dies on this planet to nourish the life of another. I have been taken to task about hunting by some who live by vegetables alone. My response, “Do you not realize that broccoli screams at being pulled up by the roots? Something always ends in order others to begin or continue.

In addition Hunting became a powerful metaphor in religion.
• This hunting metaphor becomes the metaphor of evangelism.
• While hunting and feeding on the animal becomes the language of sacrament, “behold the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world” AND Jesus’ admonition, “eat my body and drink my blood” has been practiced by Christians ever since. In matters of faith as in nutrition you are what you eat.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is passing through Jericho, the oldest continuous human settlement on the planet. Here the trade routes from Africa, Asia and Europe intersect. And wherever the trade goes the tax-collector follows.

Rome said, “Come and follow me and I will make your taxers of men.” Tax-collecting was a franchise with a stated amount required by the state, whatever else the tax-man could squeeze out of the traffic was his to keep; and trust me they could squeeze quite a lot – Zacchaeus was the head-taxer and therefore filthy rich.

Somehow, Zac knew that Jesus was coming. So he went out hunting that morning. He didn’t have too far to go from his home in the gated community, the bombing incident had been some years back but any scalawag worth salt knows you have to keep your eyes open. Parking, he walked down into the crowds. Apparently, this Jesus draws a crowd.

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James Tissott

 

He goes out to see Jesus and he is a little man so the crowd no doubt made sure he couldn’t see (the sort of petty revenge taken by the weak on the powerful). But Zac didn’t get where he was because of his dignity or passivity so he shinnied up a sycamore tree. As Jesus came along he looked up and realized that he has treed something important or this case someone.

Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come on down, I’m inviting myself and a bunch of my closest friends to lunch.” The text doesn’t record the reaction of Mrs. Zacchaeus when her husband showed up with all those strangers. After lunch, Zacchaeus – I will give half of all I have to the poor and if I have defrauded anyone [of course he had], I will pay them four times as much.

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Saint Hubertus – German Art Bronze

 

When you are hunted and treed by Jesus things change and they change for the better. In 1492 Columbus set sail to the west to find the orient only to run into the Americas, and in that case for the explorer, as the tax-collector in Jericho, what he found turned out to be better than what he was looking for. Saint Hubert heard the call of God and laid down his bow and took the hunt for souls, even as Jesus called the disciples. Let us seek God knowing that we find be found by Him and know that he sent his Son so that we might be Brought back alive – in fact more alive than we have ever been before – to have life and that life abundantly; may that be the ultimate concern of all hunting.

In the name of God… 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?

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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.

MEISTER ECKHART Sermon 3

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ST. LUKE 1:28.”Hail, thou that art highly favoured among women, the Lord is with thee.”

I count my time as Rector of Saint John’s as the high mark of my public ministry for a myriad of reasons and near the top is the murals by John Henry De Rosen in the church.

Under the rubric of the ancient practice: Constant Prayer, several of Saint John’s company has spent the summer reading the writings and teachings of Meister Eckhart.Today (July 31st) we listened and followed alone with the text of sermon 3.  This sermon’s text is the  greeting of the archangel Gabriel.

HERE there are three things to understand: the first, the modesty of the angel; the second, that he thought himself unworthy to accost the Mother of God; the third, that he not only addressed her, but the great multitude of souls who long after God.

I’ve never considered the event from the point of view of Gabriel.  I supposed that being one of the Four Archangels of the Quarters,  Gabriel was not starstruck by celebrity.  However,  for the first time a detail in the DeRosen annunciation mural was thrown into high psychological relief.  Always,  I have pondered the posture of the messenger.

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Gabriel’s body is full of tension.  Note especially his right foot, especially the great toe.  His modest diffidence is carried in this posture.  The weight of expectation and hope, perhaps.

He does not look directly at the woman before him.

I affirm that had the Virgin not first borne God spiritually He would never have been born from her in bodily fashion. A certain woman said to Christ, “Blessed is the womb that bear Thee.” To which Christ answered, “Nay, rather blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it.” It is more worthy of God that He be born spiritually of every pure and virgin soul, than that He be born of Mary. Hereby we should understand that humanity is, so to speak, the Son of God born from all eternity. The Father produced all creatures, and me among them, and I issued forth from Him with all creatures, and yet I abide in the Father. Just as the word which I now speak is conceived and spoken forth by me, and you all receive it, yet none the less it abides in me. Thus I and all creatures abide in the Father.

Hereto I adjoin a parable. There were a certain man and wife; the woman by accident lost an eye, and was sorely troubled thereat. Her husband then said to her, “Wife, why are you troubled? “She answered, “It is not the loss of my eye that troubles me, but the thought that you may love me less on account of that loss.” He said, “I love you all the same.” Not long after he put one of his own eyes out, and came to his wife and said, “Wife, that you may believe I love you, I have made myself like you: I, too, now, have only one eye.” So men could hardly believe that God loved them till God put one of His eyes out, that is took upon Himself human nature, and was made man. Just as fire infuses its essence and clearness into the dry wood, so has God done with man. He has created the human soul and infused His glory into it, and yet in His own essence has remained unchangeable. If you ask me whether, seeing that my spiritual birth is out of time, whether I am an eternal son, I answer “Yes,” and “No.” In the everlasting foreknowledge of God, I slumbered like a word unspoken. He hath brought me forth His son in the image of His eternal fatherhood, that I also should be a father and bring forth Him. It is as if one stood before a high mountain, and cried, “Art thou there?” The echo comes back, “Art thou there?” If one cries, “Come out.” the echo answers, “Come out.”

Again: If I am in a higher place and say to someone, “Come up hither,” that might be difficult for him. But if I say, “Sit down,” that would be easy. Thus God dealeth with us. When man humbles himself, God cannot restrain His mercy; He must come down and pour His grace into the humble man, and He gives Himself most of all, and all at once, to the least of all. It is essential to God to give, for His essence is His goodness and His goodness is His love. Love is the root of all joy and sorrow. Slavish fear of God is to be put away. The right fear is the fear of losing God. If the earth flee downward from heaven, it finds heaven beneath it; if it flee upward, it comes again to heaven. The earth cannot flee from heaven: whether it flee up or down, the heaven rains its influence upon it, and stamps its impress upon it, and makes it fruitful, whether it be willing or not. Thus doth God with men: whoever thinketh to escape Him, flies into His bosom, for every corner is open to Him. God brings forth His Son in thee, whether thou likest it or not, whether thou sleepest or wakest; God worketh His own will. That man is unaware of it, is man’s fault, for his taste is so spoilt by feeding on earthly things that he cannot relish God’s love. If we had love to God, we should relish God, and all His works; we should receive all things from God, and work the same works as He worketh.

God created the soul after the image of His highest perfection. He issued forth from the treasure-house of the everlasting Fatherhood in which He had rested from all eternity. Then the Son opened the tent of His everlasting glory and came forth from His high place to fetch His Bride, whom the Father had espoused to Him from all Eternity, back to that heaven from which she came. Therefore He came forth rejoicing as a bridegroom and suffered the pangs of love. Then He returned to His secret chamber in the silence and stillness of the everlasting Fatherhood. As He came forth from the Highest, so He returned to the Highest with His Bride, and revealed to her the hidden treasures of His Godhead.

The first beginning is for the sake of the last end. God Himself doth not rest because He is the beginning, but because He is the end and goal of all creation. This end is concealed in the darkness of the everlasting Godhead, and is unknown, and never was known, and never will be known. God Himself remains unknown; the light of the everlasting Father shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. May the truth of which we have spoken lead us to the truth. 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.

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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

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

Being Known Hand to Foot

Note: This statement went out this afternoon to the Saint John’s Community.  I thought to share it here.

Dearly beloved,

I spoke last Monday night (July 25th) at a city-wide gathering of Memphis clergy, our third meeting since the “Black Lives Matter” protest on the Mississippi River bridge (I-40) on July 11, 2016. We have come together to pray, to fast, and to create common purpose in bridging the divides in this city. I spoke without notes, but I’ve written down the essence of what I said.

Have you noticed that Christendom is over? The culture of the West is severed from the Christen Gospel and for the first time since the Fifth Century we are no longer the dominant culture in the West.

That being the case, how do we live? I believe that we must be friends by choice, we must proclaim the essential faith and we must wash the world’s feet. catholic worker homeless

1. We must be FRIENDS BY CHOICE

We must be friends, not because of this or any coming crisis. We must be friends regardless of the boundaries of race, creed, culture or polity. When Christianity was the dominant culture in the West, we had endless arguments over almost everything. Arguments over matters of doctrine and practice for five hundred years are now luxuries we can no longer afford. The people in the street neither understand nor care about these issues. Continuing these controversies is like having an argument over what brand of hardware is on your front door while your house is on fire!Let us choose to be friends and all else will follow.

2. We must proclaim an ESSENTIAL FAITH

How do we come to a genuine consensus on the essential Gospel of Jesus Christ? Just before Christianity became the dominant culture of the West, in the fifth Century, Saint Vincent of Lerins said the Church should follow universality, antiquity, and consent in what we believe.

Logo-Paroisse-St-Vincent-de-L--rins

“Moreover, …all possible care must be taken that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.”

   –St. Vincent of Lerins. The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lerins (p. 7). Veritatis Splendor Publications. Kindle Edition.

It doesn’t mean that we will not believe many things that differ but that all these doctrines and dogmas are not ESSENTIAL!

3. We must wash THE WORLD’S FEET

Americans love words. We talk a lot. Talk is not going to communicate what must be said. I’m an Anglican Christian, so my mind turns to sacraments and signs. What is a sacrament? What is a sign?

  • SACRAMENT: “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Sharing bread and wine (communion), pouring water (baptism), or holding hands while giving and receiving rings (matrimony).
  • SIGN: “a symbol that transmits the very thing it symbolizes.” A five dollar paper bill represents and transmits five US dollars in currency.

washing feet

We can’t have communion together easily as it is many fences around it. For five years as I’ve prayed, I have come to believe that what we must do is wash each other’s feet in public.  Yes, I said, “We must wash each other’s feet in public.”  Beyond that, we must wash the feet of anyone in our city that will allow us to wash their feet. It’s a bit humiliating to wash feet but it is more awkward to have your feet washed. We’ll simply choose to wash and be washed. What I can tell you is that when we make that choice, a mysterious intimacy washes the soles of feet, penetrating the souls of any who humble themselves, getting to know each other hand to foot.

As always, you can reach our clergy by phone (below) or by email. Our email addresses are listed on the website under About>Staff.

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?

follow 2

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.

follow 3

  • 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