The Shrewd Manager or Getting Unstuck

PROPER 20C – SEPTEMBER 18, 2016 – SAINT JOHN’S EPISCOPAL – MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

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The manager was never sure who turned him in. But somehow the master got wind of his little “on the side” business deals and called him on the carpet. The boss said that an outside accountant was auditing the books and just as soon as the report came and he knew the bottom line of the manager ‘s malfeasance: he was out on his ear. Back in his office, the manager thought to himself, “Self, what will I do, I’m too puny to dig and too proud to beg.” Then it hit him. He would fix things so he would have a few friends when he needed references.

Now, let me pause in our story for an infomercial on stuckness. We have all experienced being stuck – when the way we have always done something no longer works. Paralysis strikes individuals, institutions and nations. What happens when things get stuck?

PEOPLE KEEP TRYING HARDER BUT WITH NO NEW RESULTS.

There is a treadmill effect of trying harder. No one changes perspective or direction; they just keep trying harder. A bird will see its reflection in the window and spend hours bouncing off the window in the vain attempt to get at the other bird. Trying harder will not get you unstuck.

PEOPLE KEEP TRYING TO FIND NEW ANSWERS TO OLD QUESTIONS INSTEAD OF CHANGING THE QUESTION. Questions are perceptions. How you phrase a question determines the range of possible solutions. For example, you put a person on the witness stand and say, “now answer yes or no, do you still beat your spouse.” If indeed you do not and have never beaten your wife or husband, the question won’t let you get at the truth.

WHAT ARE NEEDED NEW QUESTIONS.   Perhaps that is why the Gospels rarely show Jesus answering people’s questions.  He usually asked another question.

PEOPLE GET POLARIZED.  They only see utter black and pure white. Things are really great or just shy of a disaster. Not only are there extremes but also there are many options in between. Polarization keeps people from coming up with new possibilities.

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Stuck systems get un-stuck via adventure!

In 1492 Columbus sailed west, in order to arrive in the east. On his way to China, he bumped into the Americas. The moral of that story being, “What you find may be more valuable than what you were looking for.”

NOW BACK TO OUR STORY. THE MACHIAVELLIAN MANAGER GETS UNSTUCK.
1. He doesn’t keep doing the same thing, only harder. He does a new thing.
2. He does not look for new answers to old questions; he asks a new question.
3. He’s too puny dig and too proud to bet, but between those extremes are lots of options.

Since on one knows he is about to be fired he calls in the accounts receivable and says to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” The answer, “a hundred jugs of olive oil.” The manager said, “Take your bill, sit down quickly and make it fifty.” He has another account mark his hundred containers of wheat down to eighty. What is he doing?

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In that culture, a manager did not earn a salary for running the estate, and so, when he agreed to lend on his master’s goods, he had been paid in kind, correspondingly increasing the amount of the bill. Fearing for his future the manager cuts his markup and reduces the receipts to their amount. While he had previously inflated the bills to enrich himself, now, he sacrifices his markups. By giving up what was ill-gotten, he made an investment in good will in the community without costing the master anything. At any rate, when he heard what the manager had done, the master commended him for his shrewdness or prudence. His adventure got him unstuck!

This parable is disturbing which is what a parable is supposed to do. A parable is designed to create distance and provokes thought. Parables challenge one’s sense of the proper hierarchy of things.

The manager is not praised in general but only for his “prudent actions.” The manager recognized the critical danger of the situation. He did not let things simply take their course, but boldly, resolutely and prudently moved to make a new life for himself. Jesus tells his listeners and us that we need to wake up and discern the real situation. Discern what is going on and take action.

In the past 15 years, stuckness has become a way of life. Since September 11, 2001, as a nation we feel stuck in a conflict that is disturbing, even terrifying. How do we function in a world of terror? People are stuck in their lives, marriages, careers, and families. Fear and paralysis are common. The challenge of this time demands wisdom and shrewdness.

There are two kinds of situations in life that I might call level I and level II.

1. A level I situation is one in which nothing we do will make a difference. The collapse of the Twin Towers of the Trade Center was a level I. If you were on the top floor of one of those buildings your personal maturity and wisdom made no difference to gravity.

2. A level II situation is one in which our response makes a crucial difference.

I trust you remember the old TV show MacGyver. Given the anxiety in the society, I’m not surprised a remake is about to launch on TV. In every episode, the hero, MacGyver, originally played by Richard Dean Anderson, now by Lucas Till, found himself in some scrape that appeared to be a level I situation. He would take a hairpin, the contents of his fountain pen and some aluminum foil and escape. The show was built on his response making all the difference. Most situations we encounter in life are level II. But all too often we go around mistaking level II for level I circumstances. Our response is crucial.

We must dig deep into our faith and find the resources to conquer fear. As our Lord once said, “Perfect (mature) love casts our fear.” As Christians, we believe that the worst things that happen to us are never the last things. For Jesus has overcome the world.

If we are shrewd, we recognize that our wealth cannot get us out of the last crisis. No, says Jesus, “read the signs and be shrewd. Don’t depend on money that is passing away. Rather rely on those things that do not pass away – love: God’s love for us and our love for each other. The resurrection of Jesus opens vast possibilities for because he overcame the ultimate level I situation: death.

Remember the way to get unstuck is an adventure. I believe that Jesus is saying something to us like, “Trust me. Come and follow me on the adventure of eternity. You may be scared, but you will not be bored. For I will never leave you or forsake you.” Our response here is crucial – will we accept the call of Jesus or not? It is up to us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

MEISTER ECKHART Sermon 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

He does not look directly at the woman before him.

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

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

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

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

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

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Being Known Hand to Foot

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

Dearly beloved,

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

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

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

1. We must be FRIENDS BY CHOICE

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

2. We must proclaim an ESSENTIAL FAITH

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

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

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

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

3. We must wash THE WORLD’S FEET

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

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

washing feet

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

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

May Choirs of Angels Sing you to your Rest!

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P. Jacques Hamel (1930-2016).
Requiescat in pace.

I suppose we all wonder from time to time as the cause and time of our own death.  When Fr. Jacques awakened this morning he rose to celebrate the Holy Eucharist for his people at Saint Etienne.   After 58 years of presiding at the table of the Lord in the midst of the Holy Mysteries, there was little that would have surprised him. However, this morning at this mass  he was attacked at the altar by evil men who mixed his blood with the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. Today, the faithful 84-year-old servant of Christ laid down his life for his faith.  He is the most recent martyr for the sake of Christ.  God grant us grace to follow his example.

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

JWS+

 

PENTECOST TEN

July 24, 2016

Lately, I have been listening to an audible book by Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy 

Ryan became breathtakingly successful in 2006, when at the age of 19, he became the youngest executive among Hollywood Talent Agents.  By 25 he wrote a bestselling book, and a TV show was optioned, based on his story.  He began to believe his own script, believing that he had produced all this in the power of his ego carefully editing out his own failures and mistakes. Then in 2014 his 3 mentors who meant everything to him each crashed and burned.

Ryan Holiday

These were the people I had shaped my life around. The people I looked up to and trained under. Their stability— financially, emotionally, psychologically— was not just something I took for granted, it was central to my existence and self-worth. And yet, there they were, imploding right in front of me, one after another. The wheels were coming off, or so it felt. To go from wanting to be like someone your whole life to realizing you never want to be like him is a kind of whiplash that you can’t prepare for.

How did this come to pass?  Ryan continues.

The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition. That’s the definition this book will use. It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility— that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent. It’s when the notion of ourselves and the world grows so inflated that it begins to distort the reality that surrounds us. When, as the football coach Bill Walsh explained, “self-confidence becomes arrogance, assertiveness becomes obstinacy, and self-assurance becomes reckless abandon.”

In this way, ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Most of us aren’t “egomaniacs,” but ego is there at the root of almost every conceivable problem and obstacle, from why we can’t win to why we need to win all the time and at the expense of others. From why we don’t have what we want to why having what we want doesn’t seem to make us feel any better.

We think something else is to blame for our problems (most often, other people). Especially for successful people who can’t see what ego prevents them from doing because all they can see is what they’ve already done. With every ambition and goal we have— big or small— ego is there undermining us on the very journey we’ve put everything into pursuing.

Hang on to your egos, I’ll circle back in a few minutes.

Following Jesus must have been a heady experience.  Most of the disciples were working class folk with a couple of exceptions, but even then there were no blue-bloods.  Imagine how it was the first time Jesus sent them and others out in pairs and told him to get busy doing what they had seen him do all over Galilee.  They proclaimed the Kingdom of God, they taught, they healed and they cast out evil spirits.  Everybody thought they were pretty important (and so did they).

The wanted to be like Jesus for all the wrong reasons.

So his disciples watching this asked him to teach them to pray and. he taught them what is called the Lord’s Prayer.

 

I.    THE LORD TEACHES HOW TO PRAY — OUR FATHER …

 Robert Farrar Capon, “Parables of Grace” – “It begins, simply, “Father” a term of relationship which is natural rather than earned.  Then Jesus tells the disciples and us to pray for the food they need for each day.  Notice that nothing in the way of human achievement is requested. The heart of the prayer is, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone indebted to us.”  We receive forgiveness because Jesus died for our sins.

And lead us not into trial (insert your most recent one here). Life is a web of trails and temptations, but only one of them can ever be fatal, and that is the temptation to think that by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life.  But that will never work.  If the world could have lived its way to salvation, it would have, long ago. The fact is that it can only die its way there, lose its way there.  The precise temptation, therefore, into which we pray we will not be led, is the temptation to reject our saving death and try to proceed on our own living.  Like the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that is the one thing that cannot be forgiven, precisely because it is the refusal of the only box which forgiveness is ever delivered.”

 II.    THE SHAMELESS NEIGHBOR

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 To make his point about praying clearer, Jesus then tells a story: ”It’s like,” he said, “you are sound asleep in bed when the doorbell rings. You look at the clock and see that it is nearly 2:30 AM.  Peeping through the curtain you see your college buddy, whom you have not seen in years standing at the door.  He needs to spend the night and has not had a thing to eat all day.  You’re glad to see him, but you have not gone to the grocer all week and all that is in the fridge is a head of dead lettuce and a bottle of good champagne.

What to do?  “Well,” you think, “I could go next door to the neighbor.”  So in your robe and bare feet you paddle over next-door and ring the bell. Your neighbor first doesn’t answer the door, no doubt hoping that you will go away.

So you lean into the doorbell and your neighbor’s sleepy and irritated voice comes on the intercom by the door.  “What on earth do you want at this hour?”  You explain your unexpected company.  He says that this is not his problem, and furthermore his baby with the colic has just gone off to sleep in his bed and he doesn’t want to get up and wake the kid.  Off goes the intercom.  You STAND on the doorbell!  If your neighbor will not get up because you and he are golfing buddies, he will get up and get you what you need because of, as the scripture puts it, your PERSISTENCE.

 III.   SHAMELESSNESS AS A VIRTUE.

The word persistence is not really the best translation.  The better translation would be shamelessness or lack of shame.

Capon says, “What is this shamelessness but death to self?  People who lead reasonable, respectable lives, who are preoccupied first and foremost with the endless struggle to think well of themselves – do not intrude upon their friend’s privacy at midnight.  And why don’t they, because that would make them look bad.  But if someone were dead to all that – if he could come to his friend’s house with nothing more than the confession that he was a total loss as a host (or anything else) – then precisely because of his shamelessness, his total lack of a self-regarding life, he would be raised out of that death by his rising friend.”

 IV.  ABRAHAM: A MODEL OF SHAMELESSNESS

 In the reading from Genesis for today God tells Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness.  This is a problem for Abraham because his nephew, Lot, lived there.  “I’m going to nuke’em,” says God.  Abraham said, “Suppose there were 50 righteous men in the twin cities? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be it from you!  Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” [Jews talk to God with an intimacy that few Christians ever muster].  God said, “If I find at Sodom 50 righteous, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”

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Abraham knew the twin cities so he thought to himself, “I’m not sure there are 50 righteous men in the city limits.”  So he begins a shameless negotiation: “What if there are only 45 righteous?”  God agrees; 40 – God agrees; 30 – God agrees; 20 – God agrees.  “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more,” said Abraham peeping through his fingers, “If there are only 10 righteous men, will you not destroy it?”  God agreed and went his way.  (I wonder if God got out there before he gave away the farm.)

Just like the man caught at midnight without a thing to serve his buddy, Abraham is shameless.  Why did Abraham risk such shameless behavior?  Because he knew his God.  As the Prayer Book puts it in the Rite One Eucharistic prayer, “You whose property is always to have mercy.”  This merciful God is our Abba/Father.

V.   GOD’S CALL TO SHAMELESSNESS?

 We can define prayer as an endeavor to behold what is real.

That brothers and sisters is the only antidote to the Ego-centeredness we call sin.

What is real then to those who accept the good news of God in Christ? What is real is that Abraham and the man with the empty larder and, yes, we also are invited into a shameless and bold relationship with the Holy One of Israel.

Paul, writing the Christians at Colossae, spells out the invitation, “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him though faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.  And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”

 We cannot make it on our own; therefore we are invited into a life of shameless reliance on God.  God desires that we pray not to pester him into doing what he would not do unless we whine long enough. Our shameless – boldness rises from our being dead in ourselves and alive in the power of Jesus and his resurrection.  It is a case of, as the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous puts it, surrendering to win.  It is a matter of life and death that we learn that God really loves us.  He promised that He would never abandon us or leave us.

Let’s live like it, maybe?

To him be glory, now and forever. Amen

 

What I hope Christians learn while following Jesus?

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For five years,  we at Saint John’s have lived in the rhythm and measurement of RenewalWorks.  (www.renewalworks.org )  The means, practices and resources we have created we file under the rubric: SOULWorks.  What now?  Last month,  I was pondering that question and began to list some skills, practices and states of being that grow from and promote a life of faith.

These are the consequences of forsaking egocontrol, taking up our cross and setting off behind Jesus.  By now he is a good ways down the road, and I doubt I will ever overtake him at the rate I slip and slide.  However, I’m convinced that I’m on the right way, narrow though it is,  as I meet people who carry crosses similar, though not identical to mine.

As a pilgrim what do I need to know, take with me and seek as I go along the way he leads me.  Below I list some suggests.

  • The supernatural is real
  • Nondual thinking
  • Thinking Systemically (Bowen Theory)
  • To follow Jesus is to serve
  • Difference between job and work
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  • Regardless of the event, first ask, “How is my functioning contributing to this situation?”
  • Suffering is the promise life always keeps
  • God knows the outcome. God does not choose the outcome.  That’s your job.
  • Judge not! I mean literally, suggest Judge not at all.

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  • Biblically literate
  • Journaling is essential if you seek to grow in soul.
  • More Orthopraxy not more Orthodoxy
  • Constant Prayer (literally)
  • Honesty is more important than religious talk
  • Tithing as a way of life.
  • Faith not certainty

In the days ahead,   I will reflect on these practices and resources for the journey.  Doubtless, there will others as get on down the road.

JWS

Marfo-Mariinsky & St. Elizabeth the Martyr – YouTube

via Marfo-Mariinsky & St. Elizabeth the Martyr – YouTube

Jobs lead to God?

Meister Eckhart

                                         Meister Eckhart                                           1260 – 1328

Eckhart says, “If one were in [a state of mystical] ecstasy, even if it were as high as that of Paul, and knew that beside him there was an infirm man who needed a bowl of soup from him, it would be better for him to abandon his ecstasy and serve the needy man.” And this is not just a momentary concession. “We are brought forth into time,” wrote Eckhardt, “in order that our sensible worldly occupations may lead us nearer and make us like unto God.” Thus “One can gather nettles and still stand in union with God.”

Chris Armstrong – Grateful to the Dead: a Church Historian’s Playground (blog)

PENTECOST VI

PROPER 8C – Saint John’s, Memphis, Tennessee – June 26, 2016

Who Can Pass Jesus’ Test?

He set his face like flint

“He set his face like flint!”  Tissot

Jesus is about to be “taken up” or crucified.  So he “set his face” or literally, “He set his face like flint” to go to Jerusalem.  This is a Semitic expression, which means opposition or contention.  What is about to happen is difficult and requires courage and will.  This is in sharp contrast to what has been going on in Galilee.  Jesus had been going from town to town, village to village, teaching, healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of God. He was very successful: there were great crowds following him, around hanging on every word that he said.  People were beginning to nominate him “Messiah” (the anointed one of God).

The Kingdom of God is what scholars call a “tensive symbol” which evokes not one meaning but a whole range of meaning.  There are certain symbols that always have a one-to-one relationship to the things they represent such as the mathematical symbol pi or a red signal light at an intersection.  These are steno-symbols; they are useful precisely because they have single, clearly defined, and clearly understood meanings.

Kingdom of God

“He set his face like flint!”  Tissot

Norman Perrin writes, “Since the kingdom of God is such a tensive symbol it is a mistake to try to reduce it to any one idea or conception.”  That is why we are always frustrated when we attempt to “define’ the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God does not have a definition: it tells a story.”

People were fascinated and excited about the stories of the Kingdom: the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, the Kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field.  The Kingdom is like a party.  These images and metaphors suggest and evoke what cannot be properly put into words: the fullness of salvation wrought by God beyond this present world…

THREE TESTS

Some of the people who heard Jesus were overcome with the excitement of it all.  It is these people that we encounter in today’s Gospel lesson.  They illustrate what might be called the three tests of what it means to be a disciple:

The sentimentality test,   the tribal test,  and the conditional test.

THE SENTIMENTALITY TEST

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Foxes have dens, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.                                                                                                             – Sir. Stanley Spencer 1891

 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  This person has decided to follow without counting the cost.  Excited by the Jesus movement he does not realize that Jerusalem lies at the end of the journey and that the cross is the point to which Jesus is traveling.  Jesus said to him, “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  Marshall, p. 410 …Jesus bids the man count the cost.  The Son of man experiences rejection and homelessness, and his followers must be prepared to do the same.  As one writer  [Synthesis] says, “Jesus reminds this disciple, whose boldness suggests that following Jesus is a never ending

Marshall, p. 410 …Jesus bids the man count the cost.  The Son of man experiences rejection and homelessness, and his followers must be prepared to do the same.  As one writer  [Synthesis] says, “Jesus reminds this disciple, whose boldness suggests that following Jesus is a never ending succession of kumbayas, that, if he is to follow, all financial standing and social security have to be reattached – from the world to the Kingdom of God.  For Jesus’ closest disciples, there will be no worldly security whatsoever.  Faith is not an electric blanket.  Even foxes and birds have less vagrancy than the Son of Man.

To follow Jesus requires an enlightened recklessness.

 To follow Jesus means that one gives up the traditional securities and opens oneself to rejection and homelessness that has just occurred in the village of Samaria.

THE TRIBAL TEST

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Group Burial – Walking Dead

 To another, he said, “Follow me.”  But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Marshall, p. 411, Burial of the dead was a religious duty that took precedence over all others, even including study of the Law.  To assist in burying a person who had no claims on one as a relative was a work of love that carried great reward from God both in this life and in the next world.  It follows that the burial of a father was a religious duty of the utmost importance.  To leave it undone was something scandalous to a Jew.  This does not mean that the person’s father was lying in state at the local funeral home.  He wants to wait until his father is dead so that he will not be troubled by the decision of his child to follow Jesus.  But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury the dead; but as for your, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  To follow Jesus, to be part of the Kingdom of God, takes precedence over all commitments, even burying the dead.

I knew an old couple in Lauderdale county Alabama who waited to get married until their parents were dead.  They dated for over forty years.  Then when both parents were dead they married.  Only a few years passed before the husband died.  We can’t put off following.

THE CONDITIONAL TEST

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James Tissot

 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.  This is the yes, but of discipleship.  It is the Yes I will give sacrificially, Lord, only when I get a raise.  Yes, I will commit to being at worship on Sunday when I get caught up on my sleep. I will … But …Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”  I grew up in the country.  The family had five farms that joined.  Dad borrowed a mule from Great Granddad’s place to plow the garden as it began to mature because the mule didn’t damage the crops like a tractor.  Plowing with a mule is interesting.  Plowing a straight furrow requires looking at the end of the row in front of you and moving toward it.  If you keep looking back to where you came from or at your watch to see when quitting time is the row is crooked.  That’s what Jesus is talking about.

THE CALL IS UNCONDITIONAL

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The call of Jesus is unconditional.  The OT story of Elijah and Elisha illustrate the unconditional call clearly. Elijah came by and threw his cloak over Elisha, which meant that Elisha was chosen to succeed Elijah as the prophet of the Lord.  Elisha was out plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. This was a big farming enterprise.  Elisha slaughtered the yoke of oxen, broke up the yokes and plows for fuel, fired up the grill and threw a farewell barbecue.

 BELOVED, IT IS A TRUE SAYING AND WORTHY OF ALL TO BE RECEIVED, THAT IT’S HARD TO GO BACK TO PLOWING IF YOU JUST ATE YOUR OX!  JWS

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Reluctance to seek God…

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Meister Eckhart asked why people are so reluctant to seek God in earnest. Then he made this comment: When one is looking for something and sees no sign that it is where he is searching, he will keep on looking there only with painful reluctance. If, however, he begins to find traces of it, then he will hunt gladly, gaily, and in earnest. The man who wants fire is cheered by feeling warmth and then joyously looks for the blaze. It is like that with people who ought to be seeking God: if they get no taste of the divine sweetness, they drag; but if a man lies in wait until he does catch the taste of the divine, ever afterward he is a glad seeker of God.

Eckhart, Meister; O’Neal, David. Meister Eckhart, from Whom God Hid Nothing: Sermons, Writings, & Sayings (p. 4). Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.