Christmass Eve 2015

Black hole warping space-time, computer artwork.

Black hole warping space-time, computer artwork.

We live inside a box formed by time & space. Standing at the edge of that reality, peering beyond, we see, as the Apostle wrote, through a glass darkly and our mind fills with haze and vapor. We just can’t go there as nothing inside compares with the outside (so far as we know). Carl Jung posits the need for a point of reference outside the conditions of present reality.

Carl Jung, “It is possible to have an attitude to the external conditions of life when there is a point of reference outside them.”

Andreas Wagner, “All we know and experience is mediated through matter. If we step on a sharp object, the material known to us as a foot, begins to phone home: pain, pain, puncture, puncture, what is it? Pull it out right now. The change in message from my foot requires a change in the matter of my foot. Wagner concludes by saying, “Matter impacts meaning.”

Andreas Wagner, “we overlook that there is no conversation without matter, and similarly, that any change in the meaning of a signal requires a change in matter. Matter impacts meaning.”

We need two things to make sense of anything and everything.

1. What we must have then, is a point of reference beyond the time & space container in which we live.
2. And that reference point will be experienced through matter which is the only way we know how to know anything.

Before the foundation of the world, The Holy Trinity promulgated the incarnation.  The Second Person of the Trinity, coming from eternity into time and space fully material to promulgate salvation.  Matter impacts meaning and Divine matter imparts ultimate meaning.

 

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Christ in the flesh is the reference point beyond time and space. image by Spalinka

Nativity story begins with an enrollment. The early enrollment that precedes the birth of Christ alludes to the “enrollment in heaven” that is his birth’s consequence. As he said to his disciples, “Rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you but rather rejoice, because you names are written in heaven.”

The Christ-child is born and laid in a manager because there was no room for them in the inn. Like the birth of this child the origin of this son of God is outside the inn of the world and laid in a MANGER.

Interesting word, MANGER The Greek Old Testament uses the same word Kibotos (kib-o-tos)

arkconstruct1

Noah’s Ark floated in the waters of the deep carrying the pioneers of the restored the world. Noah believed God, built the ark, filled it with beasts, went aboard and God, it says, Closed the day.

Princess plucks Moses from Nile

Moses, in his ark, floated out of the bulrushes into the life of Pharaoh’s daughter.

The Ark in the Jordon

The Ark of the Covenant – The box containing the Law – through the desert toward the promised land.

 The manger in the Bethlehem stable.

manger

The Ark/Manger: This Kigotos is a sign of Christ coming as servant as well as a king.

The manger signifies emptiness that is to be filled. The container available and waiting to be filled with the precious gift of God, the gift of the Son.

In this box, we live in time and space. To this ark, this Manger of time and space, is born a material reference point: Jesus the Christ.

Now, let me string together reflections by the Church Father on this great night.

In this manger Mary puts Jesus wrapped in swaddling bands (KJV). As Gregory of Nazianzus puts it, He was wrapped in swaddling bands, but at the resurrection he released the swaddling bands of grace. He was laid in a manger but was praised by angels, disclosed by a star and adored by magi.”

manger animals
Inmost crèches and art of the nativity you find animals around the manger, always an ox and always an ass, why because of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib.”

 

manger-animals-christmas-coloring-pages-02

NO PIG!!!

On a humorous aside.  Last night (Christmas Eve) at the family service performed the traditional Christmas Pageant. Children were dressed as all the usual suspects. I  did have to intervene when one little girl announced she wanted to be a pig at the manager scene.  “No pigs,” I pronounced!  Even though Memphians revere all things porcine, especially in its myriad of eatable forms,  there was still no pig at the manager.

After the Church Fathers, the Venerable Bede, whose tomb lies at one end of Durham Cathedral, wrote in the 7th century,   “He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter from the inn, that he may for us prepare many mansions in the house of his heavenly Father. Hence we have ‘because there was no room for him in the inn.’ He was born not in the house of his parents but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the incarnation be is become the Way by which he guides us to our home, where we shall also enjoy the Truth and the Life.”

The Angels and the Shepherds

James J.J. Tissot

Luke ends the nativity gospel in fields near Bethlehem where the angel of the Lord proclaims, this day is born to you a savior who is Christ, The Lord, Savior = God’s activity come to earth, Christ/Messiah/the anointed one, the Lord, the prince of peace.

So there you have it. The story that begins this night with this Mass in the mid-night, ends on Easter Eve after the fall of darkness, but in that darkness has come a great light.

manger & cross

A latter day Church Father, C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “What a terrible place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.” Unfortunately there is not much winter (70 degrees but thank God for 30 ton air-conditioners) but it is Christmass!

We are not alone, the Christ Child, the only Son of God, has come to be born in us. To Him be honor and glory now and forever. Amen.

©John W. Sewell
The Feast of the Incarnation
December 25, 2015

Experience More Important than Credentials

“Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart throughout the world. There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, social meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.” -Carl Jung

The Archetype of the Shape-Changer…

magicians_work_1479

The magician is the archetype of the shape-changer, the protean power of men to move mountains, to adjust to changed conditions, to find a way to make things work. As Sophocles noted twenty-five hundreds ago, “How numberless are the world’s wonders/And none more wonderful than man.” He who tamed the salt-churned seas, who built roads across the mountains, who wrenched from the recesses of his soul the Fifth Symphony, is the wonder-worker in nature. His shadow side, though, is control, manipulation, sleight of hand and charlatanry. He is not to be trusted. He embodies the ethical edge along which all men walk, the fine line between working wonders and treating the world as a shell game.

Under Saturn’s Shadow: The wounding and Healing of Men – James Hollis [95]

Give Me an N!

You may have noticed in the last few days what appears to be an Arabic sign popping up all over the place.  I checked it out and immediately changed my profile picture on Facebook to this sign.  Why?

The sign is the letter N (nun)  in Arabic.  It is the first letter of the word Nazarene, the name by which Christians are known in the Middle East.  This letter has taken on sinister meaning as the forces of IS or ISIS mark people, property or chattel with an N meaning that the property or persons now belong to the ISIS.  Fellow Christians are given the ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a tax or die.  Many have taken a fourth option of fleeing for their lives.  The tax of Christians and Jews by Muslims is an ancient practice from the early days of Islam.  Check it out.  I am unaware that this is the practice of modern Islamic states but it has been a  teaching of the religion.

arabic nThis reflects the problem of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists of any variety have in common a desire to regain the golden age of their faith. For Muslims it is the seventh century for many Christians 1950, but be that as it may such golden ages never existed. These fanatics (check my posting from August 9th – The True Believer) are setting out to remake the Caliphate of the Seventh Century in the Twenty-first.  Pray God they fail. It will require someone stop them as they cannot be reasoned with by honorable men. .

I have learned in my long study of Family Systems Theory that what my teacher, Rabbi Friedman, said about such is painfully true. In systems thinking all living things composed of protoplasm organize themselves in the same ways.  What is true on a cellular level is metaphor for all other levels of living things. They will behave in predictable ways.  Ed Friedman labelled them pathogens.

  • Pathogens do not self-regulate
  • Since they do not self-regulate they ooze into their neighbors space
  • Also, since they do not self-regulate themselves they never learn from their experience
  • They do not have to be hostile in order to be malignant.  Oozing into others space is sufficient.
  • Pathogens achieve their conscious or unconscious effect because those around them allow them to ooze into the others space.  Remember Munich in 1939.

It really does not matter if we are talking about cancer cells,  packs of dogs or ISIS: they all function the same.  Something will have to be done about them for the cancer they represent in the body politic.

I invite you to wear, wave or affix the Arabic Letter N to Facebook, your lapel or the bill board down the street as a mark of solidarity with our fellow Christians.  If someone reading this is not a believer please do so because the weak and innocent should not be murdered, enslaved nor raped and tortured. Call on those who have power and the responsibility for leading nations to stop these fanatics before the region is in flames not only of churches but of everything in their path. For this is a Caliphate of Evil. Muslims who do not welcome them are destroyed as well. What I say is not about the content of their belief as it is a critique of their succumbing to ideology.  Succumbing always leads to trouble (Carl Jung).

The Holy Innocents

The Holy Innocents

Please join me all of you of good will in praying for these Christians and othersr, indeed all in danger on account of their faith. I propose the collect for Holy Innocents as a place to begin.

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of  ISIS [Bethlehem by King Herod.] Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

God grant us and to his whole world peace and the knowledge of His love for the doing of His will. . JWS

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The True Believer

Those with a death wish have an advantage over those who have a life.

The term “True Believer” is a common expression in American speech.  What most people do not reaize is that the turm comes from a book of that titile.  Eric Hoffer published this study of the nature of mass movements in 1951 (the year of my birth).

t b 2Given the rise of increasingly violent groups fueled by pathological ideology, Hoffer tells us that the content of the ideology is less important than the process of fanaticism.  This is a distinction that we really must learn.  It is not really about Islam, though the ideology in this case is Islamic. ISIS’s fighters, having sucumbed to ideology do not fear death. Actually dying is martyrdom for these young men.  Their opponents fight to protect their families.  Those with a death wish have an advantage over those who have a life. Thus in the short run evil has an edge.  In time, God willing, the rest of us will rise up and put an end to this most recent eruption of a chronic infection of a will to power.

Fundamentalism longs for a golden age that in fact never existed. Deep belief in fantasy promotes delusian. Delusion demands not faith, but rather a kind of “sccumbing” that produces fanatics.  I also recommend Carl Jung’s insights in the last chapter of his book,  Memories, Dreams and Reflections, where he lays out the dangers of succumbing to or being addicted to anything.

I highly recomend Eric Hoffer’s classic and  the insights of Carl Jung on fanaticsim.

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

 

Anyone who wants to know the human psyche…

jung “Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart throughout the world. There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, social meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.”
  -Carl Jung

Overcoming the Split Between Fact and Value

One of the fates of spending six years and three denominations in theological education was to come to a place of not taking any point of view all that seriously as people seem largely to think in the style in vogue at the time they were schooled.

Reared in an evangelical (pre-fundamentalist) Baptist Church, I was impressed by the unconscious allegiance to the Gospel as we had received it.  The Bible spoke we believed to the real situation of people in their lives and that the text was reliable in how it spoke of God. It never occurred to us to think otherwise.  I was largely unaffected by the hermeneutic of suspicion, as it was called, seeing what I call a hermeneutic of hostility, a militant regard that the scripture speaks in a hopeless superstitious way, with a sort of arrogant assumption that we now had it right being post-enlightenment and all.

I also observed that the reactivity to this hostility was to retreat into a rigid, sterile fundamentalism.  The thinking of liberal Christianity is formed; best I can tell, around a commitment to the fruit of faith without regard for the vine that bore it.  Anglicans, especially American ones have spent the patrimony on a “feel-good,” hearty hospitality inviting people to a sacrament having form but little power. Actually, that is not true.  They invite people to the mass, denigrating it by discounting the very sacrament of hospitality, namely baptism. A priest colleague of mine once responded to my stated commitment to classical Christianity with a dismissive, “Oh, John, we are redefining everything.” What?

Or as a priest, who dabbled in ministry, said by way of invitation to a Jungian seminar, “All of you who like me, cross their fingers, when they say the creed, please come.”  The same cleric while teaching confirmation class told everyone to stand and as the Nicene creed was read aloud to sit when something they did not or could believe was read and promptly sat down as it was barely underway.  My reaction to that is that we do not judge the creed the creed judges us.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neither the extreme fundamentalism of the right or left has life in itself.  I found myself deeply attracted to the Anglican tradition.  The radical middle, pulling the extremes to the middle seemed good to me at the time and serves me still.   At the same time at the age of nineteen I had a life affirming charismatic experience in the 1970s again observing that while I counted that experience real and valid that the interpretation of that movement produced a “rigidity flexibility” (as Ed Friedman once put it.)  What I longed for was a way to make sense of what had happened to me so I searched for what I called a “religious psychology” seeking to understand why such a powerful and creative experience seemed to produce a neurotic state that in some cases left the person worse off than before. Embracing non-dual thinking, giving up the comfort of contradiction, all the while knowing that what we know is not all to be known will bring us closer to the Kingdom than all the certainty we could ever muster.

JWS

THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

A family was driving in the car on a trip.  The little girl, who I will call Sally, insisted on standing up right behind her father’s head.  Finding this distracting he asked her to sit down.  And she did for a few minutes but then she forgot and hopped up behind his head.   Finally he stopped the car and turned around, sat her down and told her to stay there.   He resumed driving.   In a little while a little voice was heard from the back seat.  It said, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.”

Sally points to the dilemma in which all human beings live – that our insides and our outsides do not match up all that well. We can put on a good front (in public) but under our facade – there is pain and brokenness.  That is the human condition.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells a parable. A parable, by its’ very nature, is a story which contradicts and brings into question a commonly held belief.  Jesus says, “What do you think? A man had two sons.  He said to the first – go and work today.  The son said, ‘No,’ but later he went and worked.  The man said to his second son, go and work today. The son said, ‘Yes, I’ll go.’ But he never go there.  Which one did the will of the father.”  “The first one.”  “I tell you that harlots and tax-collectors will go into the Kingdom of God before you.” That harlots and tax-collectors would make it into the Kingdom at all was a shock. But that they would get in before the good religious folk was a deeply contradictory thought for them.

2 sonsGod’s call to us, as it was to them, is a call to attentive consciousness.  Religious people are qualitatively no different from sinners.  Nobody’s insides really match their outsides. The difference was that the sinners were conscious of their brokenness and the religious folk were not. Frederick Beuchner says that, “the Gospel is always bad news before it is good news.”  The bad news is that the Kingdom of God is not ours on our terms.  The Good News is that the Kingdom’s terms are better. What does this say to us?  We Christians find it fairly easy to make our outsides look good (at least when we think folks are looking).  But that is the easy part.  In our honest moments we admit that each of us is broken – that in us are deep contradictions – the dark and the light, good and evil, sin and virtue.  In the midst of our very best intentions we find the shadow.

St Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “ 5 Let the same mind be in you that was  in Christ Jesus,  6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

Now, to our way of thinking, when we hear the word, “form” we think in terms of shape.  The form of something is the shape it takes.  This was not so for the Greeks.  To their way of thinking, the word, “form” refers to the outward expression a person gives to his or her innermost nature.  This is not assumed or varnished on the outside but proceeds from the inside, so that the outward form is a genuine expression of the inner reality.  What Paul is saying is that the glory of the Father is a genuine expression of Jesus’ nature but that he put aside the outward expression of glory and by his birth as a human being he put on the outward expression of servant hood.  He was not pretending to be a servant, but rather servant-hood was as much a genuine expression of Jesus’ inner nature as glory.

For example, what Paul describes in his letter to the Church at Philippi is the opposite of what happened to Jesus on the Mountain of Transfiguration. Jesus and three disciples went up the mountain.  There as Jesus prayed he was transfigured.  For a moment the outward expression of a servant was replace by glory. In this computer age we might say, his outward form of servant defaulted to the outward form of glory.  The account says that his face and clothing were brilliantly bright. Both glory and servant-hood are genuine expressions of who God is in Christ Jesus.  Jesus was consistent all the way through his being – without contradiction.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

How do we have this mind? The most basic and continuing step is to become conscious of who we are and who we are not. Then the process of integration begins and continues. We must be conscious of our inner contradiction.  This is painful and our natural reaction is to avoid such a state of being.

The story is told by Carl Jung of a pastor who came to see him.  The man was overworked and burned out. Jung told him to work eight hours a day and then spend the evenings alone by himself.  In a couple of weeks the pastor returned no better and perhaps worse off than before.  Jung said he was surprised that there was no improvement and inquired about the man’s following his instructions.  The man said that he had worked eight hours and that in the evenings he had listened to Mozart and read Shakespeare.  Jung replied that the man had misunderstood his instructions.  He was not to spend the evenings with Mozart and Shakespeare but to spend the evening alone with HIMSELF.  The man said that he couldn’t imagine anything worse that that.  To which Jung said, “The very person you can not stand to be with is the very person you are inflicting on everyone else every day!”

When faced with our inner brokenness we often do one of two things:  We ignore or deny our condition. Grace comes not by denial or ignoring. Graces comes when we face our brokenness, acknowledge our shadow.  The tension of facing our contradictions opens a crack in the shell of our ego and grace seeps in. We bring ourselves, the good and bad, to the Holy One and ask for healing.  The process of healing/salvation is that over time our insides and outsides can both reflect the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

That is what happens at this Eucharist. We come bringing all our stuff with us and present the gift of our lives at the altar.  We, all the parts of us, meet the risen Christ, here in this bread and wine – and we go from here a little more whole than we arrived. The Gospel is always bad news before it is good news. The bad news is we all will die.  The good news is that we don’t have to die sick.  Come risen Lord and be known to us in the breaking of the bread.      Amen