Easter Day 2015

Paschal (Easter) Candle - Chapel of the Cross, Madison, Mississippi

Paschal (Easter) Candle – Chapel of the Cross, Madison, Mississippi

On Thursdays since last Labor Day, my SOULWorks Group has volunteered at Manna House, a place of radical hospitality at Cleveland and Jefferson. There street folk can shower, get clean clothes and several cups of the strongest coffee in Memphis, Tennessee. I have many new friends there. I have yet to hear anyone complain about their lot. Actually, “I woke up this morning and I’m glad to be moving, today,” is the most common remark. I now know both coming and going a profound truth. Namely, having little doesn’t necessarily produce bitterness any more than having everything necessarily produces gratitude.

A young man there is tormented by voices in his head. That’s an irony as his name is Emmanuel, “God with us.” Every time I meet him, it is for the first time. He looks carefully, quizzically at my face and I introduce myself (again). Recently, I learned that his mother comes there most every day. She stands and looks at him, he looks back, but he never knows her. Yet she comes. That’s what mothers do. What she feels, she has never said.

Presentation in Temple

Presentation in Temple

Certainly Jesus knew his mother that Friday morning, as they began to crucify him. Perhaps, amnesia would have been a kindness. She stood looking up, he looking down and their eyes met. I’ve often wondered if Simeon’s words echoed in Mary’s memory that Friday noon. He had snatched Jesus from her arms over thirty years earlier, announcing to anyone who would stop and listen that this one was Messiah! His parting line, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed,” gained strangling clarity as she stood in the mid-day sun.

That strangling clarity is exactly what we avoid knowing and especially feeling. No avoidance can protect us. It is futile. It is futile because in the deepest place in our souls, we know: Suffering is the promise life always keeps. Suffering is the promise life always keeps. Never achieving your dream Suffering is the promise life always keeps Achieving your dream, only to discover it was unworthy Suffering is the promise life always keeps Marrying and family Suffering is the promise life always keeps Unwed and solitary Suffering is the promise life always keeps In spite of our ego’s best laid plans, promoting our terminal uniqueness. Regardless our wealth, family, ethnicity, race, nationality, or zip code It is a true saying and worthy of all to be received, that all humans are more alike than we are different! Therefore, beloved… Suffering is the promise life always keeps

1 AVOIDANCE OF PAIN – PURSUIT OF POWER

The unfortunate incident in the Garden of Eden never tells how evil began. The fall of Eve &  Adam explains how humanity go entangled with evil and sin. Sin and its consequences, suffering and death is lot of all humanity just as sure as sparks fly upward. We cannot not assume that all people that have ever lived on this green Earth felt joy. We can assume that every person who has ever taken breath on this green Earth has experienced pain. The strategy for avoiding pain and sorrow, loss and suffering has always been power. We have pursued power, to protect ourselves from pain. The exercise of force, can in fact, keep many species of wolves away from our proverbial doors. ‘

But then, because power is addictive in itself, we pursue it for its own sake. Naturally, as with any competition, where everybody is driving and finally diving for the prize, there must a winner and lots of losers.

How many remember who won the final-four last year? How many remember the third runner up? How many remember last year’s runner up.

Winners are empowered and losers are not. But even the winners are empowered for a short time before it all begins again. On and on it goes. As it has ever since Cain lost God’s regard that time and enraged at his loss of power, murdered his brother Abel.

Regardless then we lose or win, we have the same fear: having enough, or not being enough or, finally not being at all, that twists us into perverse caricatures of what a human should be. There we will always trust our own ego above all others and distrust anyone else.

Power has been our strategy, Control is our universal policy. We have consoled ourselves with the idea that if we worked hard enough, learned enough built technology powerful we could in our way finally achieve what our distant ancestors could not achieve that time with the tower.

Truly it is true that never in the history of our race have so many had so much for such a long time. We split the atom looking for power, last century and we found it. The irony is that while splitting the atom produced power beyond imagination, the bitter irony is that nuclear energy is lethal. Our will to power is lethal such that it will cost us our souls. The Gospel revealed by God in Christ is that something is terribly wrong in the human heart – and before the foundation of the world, God set out to do something about it.

2 THE BIZARRE OPTION

Of course no one got what God was about. That has been clear since, the Evil One gave Jesus advice on how to get the Kingdom underway that time in the Wilderness. The disciples didn’t get it either, nor his family or the priests, scribes, Romans of every station and power. And frankly, few have ever “gotten it”! Why was that? God’s plan was so outrageous, so clever that we marvel today at the elegant equation of grave. God’s secret weapon was humility.

I believe that I speak for all of us when I state that this is, in point of fact, exactly what we are not looking for!

As Woody Allen once said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.”

3 KILLING DEATH BY DEATH

John Behr, the Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Seminary, succinctly states Jesus’ counter-intuitive strategy of “surrendering to win,” in his recent book, Becoming Human, (I’m borrowing several passages)

  • “Christ does not show himself to be God by being “almighty,” as we tend to think of this. As moving mountains, throwing lightning bolts and so on – It is rather by the all-too-human act of dying, in the particular manner that he dies.“ BH [21]
  •  Death is, in point of fact, the only thing that men and women have in common from the beginning of the world onwards, throughout all regions and cultures of the world.
  • And thus Christ reveals what it is to be God through the only thing that we have in common. He does this not simply by dying –, he does it by the way that he has died.
  • Had Christ revealed what it is to be God in any other way – for example:
    •  by being rich and powerful (reflecting our own desires),
    •  by being poor and outcast (as we might conclude by the special place the poor have in the heart of God.)
  • Any such option will have excluded some people: for those who do not fit any such group would have had no part in him.
  • Alternatively, if it were simply because he was human, like us, that he died, but because he is also God he is able to get himself of the grave that would have been great for him, but would not really have helped others.  It is rather because he conquers death by his death that he enables all men and women also to use their own mortality to come to life in him. BH [23]
Victor Safonkin

Victor Safonkin

      Ironically, it is precisely where the world detects the most obvious example of weakness— the cross— that God triumphs over sin and death at the peak of their most deadly power. Here’s the irony: Just where the highest and holiest victim of truly undeserved suffering cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” victory over sin and death is taking place. This the foolishness and weakness that trump the wisdom and power of the ages! Horton, Michael S. – A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering (p. 28y).

4 ALL WE NEED DO IS BE DEAD.

You do know we are all going to die? Is this not incredible? The only thing we have to do is be dead! We begin to die by repenting.

I have told this story before in this. What I lose in novelty, let me take up by way of testimony. I want to tell you of the day that the truth the way down is the way up became more than theology, more than abstraction, a nice idea but unrealistic. It happened on this wise… In the winter of 1978, I was driving on the Bluegrass Parkway in the central Kentucky. 1978 was a brutal winter over all this country. Snow was deep and the road icy and dangerous. I say that because I was literally had seen no other car for miles and hours. Well, I was doing pretty well, having experience in icy weather. That was when it happened. Suddenly, without warning the car began to spin 360° – as the landscape began to spin, time slowed & I thought, I hadn’t planned on this what and I going to do after the car turns upside down? My foot and leg and already learned that slamming on the brake was a really bad idea. Steering wildly had no good outcome.

Then I had that moment of clarity. A thought came to me, one so outrageous and counter-intuitive I would never have entertained had I any other option. But, I was flat out of options. There was simply nothing I could do to fix my problem. I could makes things worse but not better. I took my hands off the steering wheel, held them in mid-air. No longer in charge, having given up any power I had remaining was just along for the ride. The car righted itself. Now, I was headed in the wrong direction and grateful. What I learned that day in the frozen hills of Kentucky has served me well all these years and decades in two different centuries. Dealing with matters of power and faith is like driving a car on ice. Doing what comes naturally, is almost always not the thing to do.

The death of Jesus shows us what an authentic human being looks like AND the death of Jesus releases grace, the energy, to get over ourselves and our ego. I see this power at work in lives of people every day.

Every day, Alcoholics Anonymous teaches me that what can never be done with white-knuckled will power, happens whenever any of us finally take our hands off the steering wheel, raise them in the air and surrender to the power of Christ’s death.

  • In that moment we die in the death of Christ.
  • In that moment we also rise with Christ in his resurrection.

What one repents of is sin, but sin is understood as ‘a matter of trying to block the activity of God, which entrails some curtailing of human freedom. [106] The Necessary Unity of Opposites: The Thinking of Northrop Frye – Brian Russell Graham

We first give up blocking God • We limit our ego • We take up freedom

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “here is the true Christian definition of freedom. Freedom is self-limitation: self-limitation for the sake of others.”

From Under the Rubble; Repentance and self-limitation in the lives of nations.

We are free, beloved, we are free to limit ourselves for the sake of others. Brothers and Sisters of the household of faith, I say to you this Easter day, self-limitation is true freedom.

  • The ‘particular manner’ in which Jesus died was exactly self-limitation for the sake of others.
  • And by exercising this true freedom, by pursuing humility instead of power, his suffering was transformed into salvation.
  • And now we, on this Easter Day, praise him in celebration of the downward trail he blazed.
  • We follow the way Jesus, the Christ leads by limiting ourselves, for the sake of others,
  • We do this in faith that in humility, our suffering, too, is transformed into salvation.

TO HIM, BE GLORY NOW AND FOREVER.

Alleluia, Alleluia – Christ is Risen – The Lord is risen indeed Alleluia, Alleluia

Lent IV

“It’s snakes, why does it have to be snakes?” Indiana Jones

It is a true saying and worthy of all people to be received, that When 2 or 3 are gathered together, someone is always complaining

The Brazen Serpent - James Tissot

The Brazen Serpent – James Tissot

The children of Israel (note they were never called the adults of Israel) are complaining about, you guessed it, the food. They got really personal about it too, doubting God and sassing Moses.

So they certainly had it coming when the serpents slivered into camp with their names written on them. Naturally, they came running for help, given the bite of consequences. They never seemed to “get it” or at least the crowd that exited Egypt never got it. That is why only two of that generation made it to the Promised Land. It took wandering in circles for forty years for them to die off. Their children were a hardier lot.

Hold that thought.

Seeing the cross coming and going and coming again.

28-serpentJesus seeing his passion coming picked the story of the serpent on the pole as a metaphor for his coming death. This is called the type. However, this is a type only because what Jesus saw the striking similarity of the upward movement of the serpent on a pole and his body on a cross.

This is called the Antitype. After Good Friday, the disciples saw the connection and realized that the incarnation (Jesus coming as a man) reflecting back and forth.

Over time, they realized the New Testament as it developed, was concealed in the Old Testament and the Old Testament was revealed in the New Testament.

This is reading
• “forward (New Testament)
• backward (Old Testament)
• forward” (New Testament again with greater insight.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Let’s examine two words that are often misunderstood.

  • Believe
    Belief is not an affirmation of facts and data.
    Belief here is internalizing the truth perceived, evidenced by the reordering of our loves.
  • Eternal Life
    Eternal life is not endless chronology. An old movie device for the passage of time was a calendar with leaves for each day set upon by a fan. The days flipped by and then moving faster and faster, years and decades. Calendar leaves blown by gale force winds in perpetuity is not eternal life.

Eternal life is the quality of time, transcending the clock.

As Robert Capon once put it, “Clock time is, “what time is it?” Eternal-life time is, “high time, what it time for is?”

The eternal is the quality of reality outside time and space. Since we have never been outside either, we cannot conceive it (yet).

Some people are incapable of going to hell, because they are living there already in this present time. In the same way, eternal life begins now.

Take heart. God is not like us!

Moses did not hoist the serpent in the wilderness to taunt the Children of Israel with the image of the punishment they had earned by doubting God and sassing Moses. That is not how God works. Moses, not being God, was tempted to go that route a few times, but was, to his credit, mostly restrained. The serpentine image was a sign of and a source of healing and salvation. All this when the Children of Israel clearly had it coming.

Raising the Cross - James Tissot

Raising the Cross – James Tissot

Jesus was not lifted up to shame or pronounce judgment on the sinful and uninformed there that Passover. No, so that everyone who accepts the improbable good news of saving from the pandemic of sin, always fatal. Bizarre as it seems it makes perfect sense with the mind of faith. Don’t just do something today, stand there. Gaze upon the inoculation from death.

Is this not wondrous, O my soul? Is this not wondrous, beloved to your soul?

How then should we live?

Salvation is the free gift of God to sinners; in Christ, man is given union with God even though he crucifies it. We are saved through faith in this gift, and through gratitude for it perform good works. Alan Watts – Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion (p. 198).

In this post-Christendom where we find ourselves, we no longer have the luxury of an unexamined and lazy spirituality. Now, we simply must know better. That being the case, let us live like it, being in constant prayer. What is ours in Christ Jesus is a gift. But finally it is a gift we must act on and live in. Lent will soon end. Easter is coming. When Saint Paul exhorts us to live in the power of the resurrection, it is not just a metaphor for moral living Life. Saint Paul means it literally. In this, we must be literalists!

Remember, Easter is coming. Amen

The Kingdom of God Comes Without Observation

 NOTE:  I found that I had neglected to click the Publish button. So it is late, but it is now here.  JWS

The Eve of the Feast of the Incarnation 

The Kingdom of God comes, as our Lord put it, “without observation.”

Even so, it was a particularly inauspicious beginning. Gabriel had come to a young woman in Nazareth named Mary. He told her that God had chosen her to be the mother of God’s only son and that the Holy Spirit would accomplish it. She agreed, and it was so.

The Anxiety of Saint Joseph - Tissot

The Anxiety of Saint Joseph – Tissot

Joseph, Mary’s fiance, at first thought to divorce Mary quietly. But then Gabriel let him in on the plan and so he took Mary for his wife. I’m sure there was unpleasant gossip about the pregnant bride and her husband who some in town thought a fool for marrying her at all.

It was not an auspicious beginning.

In response to the census decreed by the Emperor Augustus, Joseph traveled to the hometown of his ancestor David. Apparently Joseph didn’t want to leave Mary alone so late in her pregnancy she rode a donkey 75+ miles to Bethlehem. There was no room in the inn so they wound up in a stable. Tradition says it was a cave.

It was not an auspicious place for a birth.

Seeking Shelter - Tissot

Seeking Shelter – Tissot

And there her first born son was born – laid in a manger – with the animals all around.

It was not an auspicious nursery.

An Angel appeared to shepherds who had the night shift watching the sheep. The angel said, “To you this day in the city of David is born one Christ the Lord.” Then suddenly more angels appeared. Was it 2, 20 or 200 angels? It’s hard to know when you have so little practice seeing angels. “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.”

It was not an auspicious audience.

The shepherds went into Bethlehem and indeed it was so: Emmanuel – God with us.

The Angels & the Shepherds – James Tissot

It was not auspicious in any way we would usually recognize! But the truly important things in our own lives have always come without auspicious beginnings. We never saw their importance at the time. It is only in getting still and looking at our life that we see the outline of meaning. Oh, we say, that’s what that meant.

  • How amazed would Augustus be to know that more people know him from the opening line of the Christmas Gospel than from any inscription on a building in the forum in Rome?
  • Quirinus is the only Roman Governor of Syria now remembered and that for an event which he never knew of.
  • Those taking the census, those who could afford rooms in the inn that night never knew that an event born out poverty would be the very event by which we divide history before and after.

“Here in time we have a holiday because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature, The birth is always happening. But if it happen not in me what does it profit me? What matters is that it (the birth) shall happen in me.” Meister Eckhart

The inauspicious surroundings of our lives are the very occasion new birth in us!

It is the dark recesses of the stables of our souls that new birth begins.

It comes quietly hardly noticed by the turning of new leaves and amid the litter of good intentions. It is when we are powerless and come to know it that the birth pain begins. We give up and know that we cannot make it on our own – there is a sudden irresistible movement of grace and there it is – new life – laid in the manager in amongst the ruin of our well laid plans.

Adoration of the Shepherds - Tissot

Adoration of the Shepherds – Tissot

This is not what we expect. This is not what we desire. We want drama. We want the earth to tilt further on its axis in order that we will know that we are alive and that all is well. But that is not how it happens.

Meister Eckhart: “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.”

Tonight heaven and earth meet in that inauspicious event born of poverty. Earth is drawn up into heaven. In the great silence — without observation – He is come!

CS Lewis once said, “What a sorry place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.”  Well, it is finally winter even in Tennessee. And it is Christmas — let us be still and silent before him that he may be reborn in us.

Deliver us, O Lord, From the Peril of Invincible Ignorance

Sometimes it's best not to know

“The unconscious comes to the aid of the conscious ego when it is grappling with a task that is beyond its capacity.” Anthony Stevens from Private Myths

What help could come our way if we were willing to pay attention to our dreams and visions. The resolute determination to avoid a meaningful connection between the inside and outside of our being almost rises to the level of what the Roman Church calls “Invincible ignorance” — the ultimately fatal decision to not accept the truth.

However, in the past year I have been in sustained conversations with men who are working with their dreams and I observe the amazing change in them as them as they take seriously this communication. I have observed one fellow getting “unstuck” in his career as he listened to the coaching of his sleeping dreams. He had never considered such work, but now calls me with reports of his nocturnal adventures.

I am more convinced than ever that soul work is the principal task of priests & deacons in parishes. It requires vigilance not to succumb to the tyranny of the immediate, losing focus on the essential task at hand. The institution of the church no doubt needs maintaining but only when that maintenance supports the Cure of Souls, as the ministry of the Church. So long as Church leaders, lay and clergy, keep that in mind the institution thrives and souls are augmented.

As Saint John writes in Third John chapter one verse two, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” (KJV)

Even as your soul prospers, what if our life reflected the health of our soul? Would it look like Dorian Gray’s portrait? Some of the problems of life do not depend on our personal functioning. Other people’s choices can make a difference in the prosperity or famine of one’s life. However much of our dis-ease comes from within and Jesus warned when he said that what defines comes from within not what sort of food that is eaten.

John Sewell 2010©

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]

Feast of Saint Hubert


hubertus
Patron of Hunters & Dogs
October 26, 2014

Hubert (657 – 727 AD)  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 self-denial. He crossed the line when he 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 Men.

Jame Tissot  "And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright." (Genesis 25:30-31)

James Tissot
“And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.” (Genesis 25:30-31)

In the OT reading, Isaac and Rebecca had twin sons, Esau and Jacob:
Esau was a hairy man’s man – a mighty hunter – a Bubba – with gun-racks (or in this case bow-racks) on 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 leaving home but not growing up either.

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 and left everything behind to go and hunt the place that 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.

emblemWhat 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.

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.

Zacchaeus

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.

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 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. You see that when you are hunted and treed by Jesus things change, they change for the better and they they change in a hurry.

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.

The Vision of Saint Hubert - Jan Brueghel - after Rubens

The Vision of Saint Hubert – Jan Brueghel – after Rubens

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

Pentecost XV

James Christensen

James Christensen – The Parables of Jesus

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

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

Rembrandt - Parable of the Workers in the Vinyard

Rembrandt – Parable of the Workers in the Vinyard

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

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

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

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

Here we see the two economies:

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

Them There & Then – Us Here & Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JWS

Pentecost XIV

Forgiveness is needed, desired, costly & required. Forgiveness requires honesty, a letting go & grace. Harming another is a sin; however, holding a grudge is sinful as well.

Peter, “How should I forgive, 7 times 7; Jesus, no 70 times 70”. Why 7 & 70? Plucked from the air?

Adan, Zillan & Lamech

Adan, Zillan & Lamech

No, back in Genesis 4 we find the hot-head Lamech.

In verse 23 Lamech said to his wives: … I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. 24 If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.’

Jesus means to undo the rule of revenge by instituting a rule of forgiveness Now does that mean that we mosey along until we see the magic number 4900 on the moral speedometer & then rise up and smite them asunder? Forgiveness must be unlimited.

Servant

Jesus tells a parable about a servant who got upside down in debt. His boss cancelled his delinquent, un-payable debt. The same servant put a fellow in jail for a small sum. The Boss was so angry that he un-cancelled the jerk’s debt & threw him in jail.

Why, because the Master instituted the comprehenive Economy of Forgiveness by cancelling the debt of the first man. The first man didn’t “get it,” the directive here is, “go you therefore and do likewise.” He could have said, “The master has forgiven ALL that I owed him. Therefore, I cancel your debt to me out of gratitude. He could have done that without it costing him much at all. But he did not. I think it just never occurred to him and so he did what he always did, think only of himself. Jesus says in the punchline in the Parable of the Fool, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” — Luke 12:16-21

Terry Anderson
On this Sunday after the anniversary of the (9/11 Attacks) I find my mind going back near half a generation to another time where the world worried about western captives in the Middle East. Those of you of a certain maturity will remember Terry Anderson, now forgotten by most, was an American journalist, held hostage in Lebanon from March 16, 1985 until December 4, 1991. What did he do for 7 years? Read, for one,

“You know, my fundamentalist, radical Shiite Muslim kidnappers went out and bought me a brand new Bible, and I kept it for six and a half years. That was very strange, but I read that, and read that, and read that. And you know, it was kind of like, what do you mean forgive your enemies? Now? How about we wait until they unchain me and stop beating on me, and then I’ll work on it, you know. But it doesn’t work that way. … I am a Christian, and I am required to forgive as a part of the bargain, as a part of the contract.”

unforgiving_servant1.jpg 2It is part of the contract, but it is not an unfunded mandate. What forgiveness costs (& it is very costly at times) is only possible because of grace. The magnitude of God’s saving grace is the proper mode for forgiveness.

Any forgiveness we really give costs us to give and it comes always wrapped in the gift paper of grace. Amen. JWS+

Constance & Her Companions: Martyrs of Memphis

Van Gough

Van Gogh – Crows and Field

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone. John 12:24 KJV

THE PART OF US THAT CALLS US – “I” VALUES SAFETY ABOVE ALL THINGS.

As a child it is a shock to learn that things end. For example a pet dies and we learn a couple of things:
• One is that parents are not as omnipotent as we had thought they were AND
• Some things can’t be fixed!

No amount of yelling, weeping, begging, threatening, hoping or screaming at the heavens with our fist shaking with rage phases the smooth impenetrable walk of reality.

Having bounced off that wall, we propose not to let that happen again. You want to know from whence control- freaks come? Right then, right there, reality shall not come nigh me again, thank you very much.

Through careful planning and enough money; you do realize that is really why money is so important. Money will keep many wolves away from the door and keep them at bay for a long long time. But the longer we live and the safer we become — shielded by the investment of the CORPUS (interesting expression that) of our assets we find ourselves strangely alone.How we get out of this solitary confinement of ego safety?

David Richio says that there are five universal truths we must KNOW AND EMBRACE in order to live healthy and productive lives.
1. THINGS CHANGE AND END.
This is not fun. My hair is a victim of change and ending. You may not know it but today is international RedHead Day. My hair was copper red as a child. Do you think anyone will wish me a happy Redhead Day? No, my hair faded and then let go.

You our ego we can retreat into the past, the good ole days of our memory. Of course these days never existed except in our selective memory. Sam Keen calls selective memory, nostalgia. Nostalgia, he calls, “diseased memory.” Our beloved South has been trapped in that flytrap for pushing two centuries and you see what that has gotten us. As native Memphian, Alan Lichtman puts it, “IF YOU GET STUCK IN THE PAST YOU ARE STUCK ALONE.”

2. LIFE IS NOT FAIR
The most unfair that American parents teach their children is that Life IS far! You sign up for soccer and at the registration there is a fee for a trophy! What? You know that children aren’t stupid. When everybody gets a trophy it doesn’t mean anything! Life is not fair.
The Rain falls on the just and the unjust.

3. THINGS DO NOT GO ACCORDING TO PLAN.
If you want to make God laugh just tell him your plans. Expectations – it has to be just this way.
• Psychosis – 2 +2 = 6
• Neurosis is 2 + 2 = 4 But I won’t have it!
Psychosis will get you medicated
For Neurosis there is no cure.

4. PEOPLE WILL LOVE YOU BUT ALSO LET YOU DOWN.
People don’t have to want to let us down – it’s just inevitable – The Church is a laboratory of relationships. Here we learn the discipline of forgiving each other and ourselves. It’s messy but like democracy better than any alternative. This is why people get married, you know. Not, because you won’t get let down, cause you will. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” Marriage is a container for love.

5. GROWTH COMES THROUGH SUFFERING.
Suffering is the promise life always keeps. If you don’t know that yet you will. No one gets out of this life alive!

Today we celebrate the feast day of Constance and her companions the martyrs of Memphis. During the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, Constance, the other Episcopal sisters and priests remained in the stricken Tennessee city nursing the sick and burying the dead until one by one they too sickened and died. Charles Carroll Parsons is a good example of what I’m getting at.

  • Things Change and End
    He was in the West Point Class of 1861 – Those cadets studied together in the Fall Semester and tried to kill each other in the Spring.
  • Life is not Fair: He watched friends, comrades die – He almost died himself. Battle of Perryville
  • Things do not go according to plan
    He left the army and became a priest,  He embraced the vocation of peace only to become with the violence of plague.
  • People will love you but will also let you down
    His wife died.
  • Growth comes through Suffering
    Yellow Fever in 1878

The Reverend Charles Carroll Parsons He got sick. All the priests were sick – knowing that he was dying (he had seen that enough times) he prayed the prayers for the dying for himself

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Charles. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringth forth much fruit. John 12:24

We do not die just once, you know, death comes to us many many times before the hour of our personal demise. Every time we bump up against things changing and ending. Whenever we realize yet again that life is not fair; When our plans go awry, when people let us down and when we suffer – When by grace we know and embrace these truths, the words of Jesus describes us “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” We get lots of practice laying down our lives IF we will embrace the truth of our Lord’s words.

That sounds like bad news doesn’t it. The good news is that if we embrace our many little deaths a different, new kind of life, sprouts in us. It is a kind of life based not on our merit or achievement. It’s a kind of life that is free of the competition that so rules our ordinary existence. It is a life of grace — where the energy for our being begins at the end of our striving. Our Lord promised us that if we believe in him he will not let us go.

Frederick Buechner said it best, I think, when he wrote, “The worst thing that ever happens to us will not be the last thing that happens to us.”

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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