ON LOVING GOD

I wrote this first back in 2013

St-Bernard-cropped

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

‘He spake the word, and they were made’ (Ps. 148.5). But to redeem that creation which sprang into being at His word, how much He spake, what wonders He wrought, what hardships He endured, what shames He suffered! Therefore what reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits which He hath done unto me? In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost. Created first and then restored, I owe Him myself twice over in return for myself. But what have I to offer Him for the gift of Himself? Could I multiply myself a thousand-fold and then give Him all, what would that be in comparison with God?

Clairvaux, St. Bernard of (2009-06-11). On Loving God – Enhanced Version (Kindle Locations 287-292). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition.

I walk early in the day mostly between 4 and 5.  I am usually left to my own devices so I pray and while I pray I walk and while I pray and walk I listen to some book.  To pray while listening to a book may seem contradictory but would you believe the text of the book often becomes the word of the Lord to my soul.  It was so this past Tuesday;  I walked a bit after five am and  listened to On Loving God by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Abbot Bernard wrote this little book at the request of a Cardinal Deacon of the Roman Church who sought his counsel as to living the Christian life. As is often the case, I gain insight from the teaching of a Christian from another time. Such instruction is often synchronistic for as I begin to explore, pertinent material seems to come to me as much as I seek it out.  Such is the case with this work.

When the earliest Christians read their scriptures they were looking for Jesus and found him on every page.  Of particular interest was typology where a type, a person or an event in the Old Testament is in some sense repeated in the New Testament (the antitype) only with greater clarity and completeness.   For almost a year I have wandered in the sacred texts finding types & antitypes.  In some cases the connection seems tenuous but even then provocative.

In the text above Bernard points out a fairly obvious example of type and antitype.  Creation is the type. In Creation God gives us ourselves. This is a gift that we find onerous at times. Someone has said that humanity demands freedom only to promptly give it away almost as soon as they grasp it.  The events of Genesis 3 displays how reckless our grandparents, Eve and Adam threw away the gift by turning it from gift to possession.

They stumbled and fell. (Joseph Campbell says, “Where you fall is where your treasure is buried.”  I want to consider that more at a later time.)  The “fall” some say was up which is a contradiction but as the truth lives in the country of paradox, the contradictions strain toward the way of grace.  When we humans, all of us, lost the gift of ourselves God acted.  And the type of Creation moves toward its consummation in its antitype of redemption.

Saint John elegantly lays it out for us in the prologue to his Gospel.  Now, that we have blown it, walked in and dwelt in deep darkness so that up is down and down is up and just when we are totally disoriented suddenly a light shines.  The eternal word became flesh.  In creation God gave us ourselves now in the incarnation God gives us himself.  Jesus came to tell us who God is.  The important to know is that God is like Jesus.  Jesus is the example of authentic humanity and he is the means by which we are redeemed and restored to full humanity.  Type and Anitype produce joy!

 

CHRISTMAS DAY 2016

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God.”

Christmas Day is not half over and already many people are exhibiting symptoms of the “post-nativity” depression! Needles are dropping from trees that were cut in July and put up at Thanksgiving. Scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon peep out from under furniture. Our clothing is tighter around the waistline and we are almost sick from the excess of the Christmas feast. We are like the little boy who unwrapped package after package on Christmas morning. Finally sitting up to his chin in wrapping paper and bows asked, “Is this all?”

lessons-2016-2

The Third Proper (sets of readings) for Christmas are not of mangers and shepherds, but the cosmic hymn of the mysteriously glorious origin of the Son of God recorded in prologue to St. John’s Gospel. To see what John is up to here we need to go back to the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures. Genesis 1:1 is usually translated from the Hebrew into English as, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” A more descriptive English translation can be found in Everett Fox’s brilliant translation of the Five Books of Moses. Here Genesis 1:1 goes like this, “At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth.” Here the emphasis in on process and the sense is more verb than noun. The Hebrew word is “Dabhar,” which can be legitimately be translated, “creative energy.”

It is no accident that this is the very language that John uses in the prologue to his Gospel. “In the beginning was the WORD,” says John. Here word is not a noun so much as verb. We could accurately say, “In the beginning was the Creative Energy: the Creative Energy was with God and the Creative Energy was God. The creative energy was with God in the beginning. Through the Creative Energy all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through the Creative Energy. Through the Creative Energy all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through the Creative Energy. All that came to be had life in the Creative Energy and that life was the light of humanity . . .. The Creative Energy was made flesh, it pitched its tent among us, and we saw its glory, the glory as is his as the only Son of God, full of grace and full of truth.”

Here is the deepest mystery of the Christian faith! How can this be? How is it possible that God has come among us becoming authentically human? Yet this is the core belief of our faith. We have been thinking, reflecting and fighting about how this is so ever since.

H. Richard Niebuhr spoke to this mystery when he said, “Jesus Christ is not a median figure, half-God, half-man; He is a single person wholly directed as man toward God and wholly directed in his unity with the Father toward man. He mediatorial not median!”

Let us reflect on this glorious mystery.

christthejudge

 

 

1. Jesus is fully human, wholly directed as a human man toward God. There was no alienation, no sin, between Jesus as a man and God as creator and Father. The alienation that has existed between humanity and God since Eden is overcome in the person of Jesus, the Son of God. It is essential to realize that all that Jesus accomplished as a human on earth was not accomplished through his divinity! The acts of Jesus, his preaching, his teaching, and his healing were done through his human obedience to God NOT because he was God! Thus he demonstrates for us what we are intended to be, authentically human.

2. Jesus is wholly directed in his unity with the father toward humanity. The important thing to say here is not that Jesus is like God, but rather to say that God is like Jesus. God, of course, is totally outside the realm of our understanding. As John says, “No one has ever seen God.” God is not playing hide and sick with us, it is just not possible to experience God the creator directly. Traces of transcendence are revealed in creation, but that is not enough to intuit God adequately. So in the fullness of time God’s son appeared, so that we believe we can now know who God is. So when someone asks, “what is God like?” The answer for Christians is, “God is like Jesus.”

The incarnation is good news because by the coming of God’s son in the flesh heaven and earth are joined and the alienation between God and humanity is overcome. Our God has acted! Alienation is overcome by LOVE! The incarnation changes everything. There is nothing so broken; nothing so jaded; nothing so twisted that it cannot be made new.”

  •  What happened in Bethlehem of Judea on that day when the calendar moved from one to one, there being no day zero
  • The Creative Energy: the Word has become flesh, the One who forgave those who crucified him, forgives us.
  • The Word who was baptized in the Jordan comes to us in our Baptism and claims us as his own.
  • The Eucharistic elements of bread and wine are more than mere bread and wine. Here the Word become flesh, broken on the cross, comes to us in the broken bread.
  • The same Word become flesh, drank the cup of suffering, comes to us in the cup of wine: the cup of salvation.
  • As the Word of God became flesh in Jesus, the Christ, so the truth of the Good News of that same Christ should become flesh in our lives.

 We are to go from here to be for those in world what this Word become flesh is for us. That is what it means to be the Church, the Body of Christ. The creative energy of God has come and dwelt among us and behold all things shall be made new! The Ideal and the Real here unite in the Actual. Is this all there is? Yes, and it is sufficient.

Merry Christmas! Amen.

JWS+

Bring us, O Lord God

John Donne

John Donne

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening
into the house and gate of heaven,
to enter into that gate and dwell in that house,
where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling,
but one equal light;
no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
in the habitations of thy glory and dominion                                                                           world without end.   —  John Donne

This may be my favorite poem.  I read it often in sermons at funerals as it gets at something intangible that touches me deeply.  Donne puts his inspired finger square on the point and that point is at the beginning.  Since the day of disobedience and the eviction of our for-bearers  from the Garden of Bliss,  we ride, caught on the horns of a PoemsbyJDdilemma of opposites.

If evil and good were not enough to learn, all the opposites imaginable caught us like wires, a nest, no a web of wires pulling in contradiction: up/down – in/out – come/go – black/white – friend/foe – hate and love and endless pullings such that we scream for release.

Through the maze, thicket of consternation and briars of expediency God longs for us; His Son came for us and The Holy Ghost schemes for that through union with God all contradictions, all opposites meet that we may be one, even as the Father and the Son are One!

It is here that Donne speaks the eternal truth:

no noise nor silence, but one equal music;
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity.

We shall be One and beloved it will be enough.

wey-navigation-at-pyrford2

The Summer House on the River Wey, near the Village of Ripley. Here John Donne, Dean of Saint Paul’s, lived from 1600 – 1604

The Unalienable Enemy

Colin Powerll

Colin Powell

Section of a Commencement Speech at Northeastern University – May 10, 2012

“I spent thirty years being a soldier in the Cold War. I stood watch on the Iron Curtain in Germany, as a corps commander and as a lieutenant. I fought in Vietnam for two years—an extension of that conflict. I served in Korea, on the demilitarized zone. It finally ended for me—finally!—on a day in 1988 in the Kremlin. I was National Security Advisor to President Reagan, and he was getting ready for his first trip ever to the “Evil Empire.” He was going to go to Moscow. And he sent me to Moscow first to talk to this interesting new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and to see what he was really planning to do.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev

It was a very difficult meeting. President Gorbachev kept beating up on me, and criticizing my role as a soldier for all of those years, and criticizing the right wing of the party that Reagan represented, thinking they didn’t understand the changes he was making. He was opening up his country. He was reforming his political and economic systems. And he didn’t think we understood.

And I just sat there watching him, impassiveness on my face. Finally he realized he wasn’t getting to me, and he stopped. He paused. He looked up. And then he had an idea and looked back down. Then he stared unsmiling across the table at me. His eyes were twinkling. And he gently says to me, “Ah, General, General. I’m so very, very sorry. You will have to find a new enemy.”

And I thought to myself, “I don’t want to.” I have a whole career invested in this enemy. Thirty years! Just because you’re having a bad year, why do I have to change?

But he was having a bad century. Within two years of that meeting in the Kremlin, the Iron Curtain was gone. That border I had guarded so many times. The Soviet Union was gone. Germany was unified. The Warsaw Pact disappeared. And Gorbachev had to step down, because he was a reformer, and they needed a revolution.

The general as a Christian saw the theological dimensions of the General Secretary’s remark.  It occurs to me that this is the “shift” at the core of the Gospel.  It is no mistake, I think,  that the central Christian symbol is a cross, one of the cruelest ways to die devised (so far).  That Cross is a sign of contradiction that if held long enough (and  we are willing) turns into paradox:  the way of death is become the way to life! To focus just on the horrible sufferings of Jesus (though worthwhile to contemplate) is to miss the deeper mystery.

Crucifixion with Darkened Sun - Egon Schiele

Crucifixion with Darkened Sun – Egon Schiele

This is the mystery at the very recesses of our feeble intuition of God.  It appears, since Jesus came to clearly reveal God what is important to know is that God is like Jesus! That being true then there is in the God-head a kind of power that transcends the transactional power of force.  We are comfortable with this especially when we have the power but we find in familiar even as we cringe.

What Jesus tells us, I think, is that the power of relationship is greater than the power of force.  Robert Farrar Capon helped me learn this when he wrote of the difference.  He pointed out that the most important things in life cannot be willed.

  • You can will people to eat but you cannot will hunger.
  • You can will people to drink but you cannot will thirst
  • We cannot will people to love us, though we can make them afraid.

This is also the reality, I believe, that makes Alcoholics Anonymous work.  No one has ever gotten into recovery by the will.  Oh, you can quit drinking by will power.  It is what AA folk call a “dry drunk”.  You will find them among the most angry people you will ever meet.  The profound irony pointing toward contradiction and beyond to paradox is that what cannot be willed into being can be surrendered into being.  Giving up willfulness releases the energy to accomplish the very thing that the will can never do.

No one can make another person their enemy if that person is unwilling.  As Gorbachev said to General Powell, “I’m taking your enemy away.”  In someways the West has been looking for a replacement ever since.

Think on these matters.  This way leads to life though it go through the valley of the shadow of death.  JWS

On Loving God – Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

‘He spake the word, and they were made’ (Ps. 148.5). But to redeem that creation which sprang into being at His word, how much He spake, what wonders He wrought, what hardships He endured, what shames He suffered! Therefore what reward shall I give unto the Lord for all the benefits which He hath done unto me? In the first creation He gave me myself; but in His new creation He gave me Himself, and by that gift restored to me the self that I had lost. Created first and then restored, I owe Him myself twice over in return for myself. But what have I to offer Him for the gift of Himself? Could I multiply myself a thousand-fold and then give Him all, what would that be in comparison with God?

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (2009-06-11). On Loving God – Enhanced Version (Kindle Locations 287-292). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition.

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Pilate Was a Man with a Future

Sunday after Sunday in the Creed we say, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.” 

Who was this man?

 

He was a member of the Pontii family

The Pontii were a second tier elite, equestrian order. 

The Equestians or Knights as we would call them – are largely military officers of the middle rather than general level.

 Pilate was a nickname meaning “pike man or one who throws a javelin.” 

Perhaps he was known as an jock,  

or it may have described his drive to succeed. 

 

§  Pilate married well by marrying Claudia Procula, the granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus Caesar. 

§  He was politically well connected being the protégé of Sejanus,  the favorite of Emperor Tiberius.

§  When he appears in the Gospel he was in his early thirties.

 

This young, ambitious, proud and hot tempered Roman Aristocrat arrived in Judea, accompanied by wife (which was most unusual) to become governor of Judea in 26 A.D.  He governed there for ten years.  

 

*  Immediately his temper got him into trouble.  He brought the Imperial Standards into Jerusalem.  The standards had the image of the Emperor on them.  Jewish law forbade graven images so bringing them into the holy city provoked a riot. 

*  Then Pilate took money from the temple treasury to finance the building of an aqueduct to bring water into the city.  The temple authorities complained to the Emperor. 

*  Another complaint was made to the Emperor when some Galileans were killed with their sacrifices in the temple.

 

§  These issues alone would not have been too much trouble

§  These missteps coupled with the fact that Sejanus had fallen from power and could no longer give him political cover. 

§  Pilate was in the precarious position being squeezed between Rome and the hostile population in Judea.

 

In April of 33AD, the eighth year of Pilate’s administration, he met a young man without much future.

Jesus did not have much family background. 

He was not wealthy.

§  He was from a poor part of a poor province. 

§  There were questions about his legitimacy and

§  He had no wife

§  No political connections

§  He had powerful enemies: the Pharisees, the priests and the Sadducees. 

 

Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, healed the sick and cast out demons.  He said things like, “They who try to save their lives lose them and those who lose their life for my sake will find them.”  He entered Jerusalem before Passover amid the crowds proclaiming him Messiah, the anointed one.  There was a scene in the Temple where he publicly took the High Priest and his family to task for their corruption.  The police arrested him.  The supreme council, the Sanhedrin, tried him finding him guilty of blasphemy, a capital offense.  Only the Roman Governor could condemn someone to death. So off they hauled Jesus before Pilate.

 

The young Roman with a future met the man from Galilee who had no future.

 

As the examination proceeded Pilate realized that Jesus was no terrorist.  So he tried to do the right thing and free Jesus. But the rulers pressed him.  When he offered to let him go with a flogging they said no.  When he tried to let him go with the special Passover pardon, No, they wanted Barabbas, a terrorist released instead.   They wanted Jesus crucified.

 

Claudia, his wife, sent a message to Pilate warning him

§  Have nothing to do with that just man. 

§  She had been troubled on his account in a dream.

 

A later legend has it that the Pilate & Claudia had a son who was very ill and that when requested by Mrs. Pontius, Jesus healed the boy. (That is interesting but un-provable, although there are letters purported to be from Claudia Procula to a friend named Flavia dated some years after the Gospel accounts.

The authorities said, “If you do not crucify him, you are no friend of Caesar’s.”   Pilate was caught.  Jesus was innocent.  He had some sense of fair play.  But if Jesus was released another critical report would go the Emperor.  He had his future to think of.  He had to protect what he had worked so hard to gain.

 

Non-dual Thinking: 

§  The Cross is a sign of non-dual/paradox. 

§  A means of death has become a sign of blessing. 

§  Christians believe that the future is not based ultimately on anything we do. 

§  The future is based not on what we know but who we know!

 

That Good Friday morning two young men met and parted:

§  one to life and

§  the other to death. 

Jesus died on the Cross. 

Pilate continued his career only to be recalled to Rome in disgrace where

One version says he committed suicide.

Another source reports that he was exiled to Vienne in Gaul/France where he died.

We all have a future,


§  THE YOUNG DREAM

§  IN THE MIDDLE-PASSAGE WE STRIVE

§  IN OLD AGE WE CONSIDER


Pontius Pilate, Portraits of a Roman Governor (Interfaces Barbara Green, editor)

§  I was only doing my job

§  I was the wrong  person in the wrong  place at the wrong  time

§  I did the best I could

§  The priests made me do it

§  I did nothing wrong

Pilate did all this in defense of his future, not realizing that the future is NOW!

Our Future is NOW.

We are busy.  I am a descendent in the Sewell line from Henry Sewell who arrived in Virginia in the early 17th Century.  He is my grandfather 11 generations removed.

§  I believe that if Grandfather Henry were plopped down this morning with us that he would be psychotic within 36-48 hours, why, because he would simply be unable to deal with the amount of stimulation that we consider normal. 

§  I also believe that given all the demands this stimulation makes of us that if most of went to Hell it would be because we had been too busy to make other arrangements.

§  If I may borrow from Saint Paul, “Beloved such things ought not to be!”

I am determined to the degree that I have influence, that we take time to recover from the mild psychosis we call our schedules, take stock of our souls, and move to do what is needed to do the most important work that a Christian can do.

 

Episcopal Spiritual Life Renewal

 

Pilate had no idea that on that day in April 33, that what he did that day would format the very calendar for evermore.  I don’t know if he ever believed on Christ.  But what I do know is that we do know who Christ is and that the most important thing we can do this week is to come to this place to experience the love and acceptance of God.

If not now, WHEN

If not here, WHERE

Our very future depends on it.