PENTECOST XIX

proper c21  —  Saint John’s Episcopal Church  — Memphis, Tennessee
September 25, 2016 – 5:30 PM

dives

The rich man is usually called Dives (Latin for wealthy). He was so rich that he wore purple, which was so expensive that only the Emperor had an entire garment dyed purple. The wealthy had a stripe or two on their clothing. He also wore linen from Egypt which was so fine that it was worn by those who did nothing much all day.

Out by the gate, which was an elaborate ornamental affair that had as much to do with status as with security, was a man named Lazarus. Lazarus, which means, “he who the Lord helps” was poor and covered with running sores. Lazarus in his condition longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.*

*[It was the custom at lavish parties to use bread as napkins. The edible napkins were then thrown to the dogs as an act of extravagance. They did it because they could.]

Lazarus longed to eat those mangled pieces of bread but he didn’t get them. The dogs, however, took pity on him and licked his sores. There is no evidence that the rich man was mean to Lazarus. Apparently he didn’t think about him one way or another.

Both men died and were buried. The rich man went to Hades [the place of the dead], while Lazarus went to Paradise. Apparently these “places” are in sight of each other. In Paradise Abraham presides at a feast where Lazarus is the guest of honor. The rich man saw the festivities from his place of torment in Hades.

He speaks to Abraham, “Father Abraham send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue for I am in anguish.”

Notice that even in Hades the rich man is still trying to order people around.

rich_man_and_lazarus

Father Abraham tells him that there is a great gulf fixed between Paradise and Hades and no one can cross. “Wait,” said the rich man, “Send Lazarus to warn my five brothers.”
Abraham: “They have Moses and the Prophets.”Rich man: “No, if someone comes to them from the dead they will listen.” Abraham: “If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets they will not be convinced if one comes to them from the dead.

What does this mean? Are rich people going to hit hell wide open just because they are rich? Are the poor going to the best table at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb just because they are poor? I don’t think so, although I must admit that in the great big scheme of things we fall in the rich category. So I don’t want to think that…

WHAT DID THE RICH MAN LACK?

1. CONSCIOUSNESS: It is the nature of sin that We are stuck on ourselves and unaware of what goes on around us. We look fine to us, when we are really asleep/unconscious. The truth is that all people are more alike than they are different, but we spend a lot of time, energy, and advertising money convincing ourselves otherwise.

When we are conscious we read the situation not just for facts but also with wisdom like the village idiot who was stopped every day by the townspeople and asked to pick between a nickel and a dime. The idiot always chose the nickel and the residents went away saying, “There, you see what an idiot he is.” Except that the idiot in later life explained: “After all, if I kept picking the dime, they would have stopped offering it to me. This way I kept getting nickels every day.” Wake up and read the signs.

dives-burns

2. IMAGINATION: A man is in the waiting room while his wife is in labor. This
is back in the bad or good ole days depending on your perspective before husbands are in the room armed with digital cameras recording this birth as if it is the only birth to ever occur on this planet.

He is sweating and pacing the floor. Finally a nurse comes out and says, “You have a beautiful baby girl.” He said, “I’m really glad that it is a girl so that she’ll never have to go through what I’ve just gone through.”
We lack imagination. We find it difficult to put ourselves in the place of others. But as

Mark Twain once said, “You cannot trust your eyes if your imagination is out of focus.”

So we cannot trust our eyes blinded like Dives to the poor at our own gates while our dogs know and minister to the very ones we look through as we drive to and fro. Indeed we cannot trust our eyes for the lens of our imagination is badly out of focus and there is a certain fuzziness to reality.

3. GRATITUDE: Lewis Hyde in his book, Gift, writes, “People live differently who treat a portion of their wealth as a gift.” If what we have is a gift when we recognize that it is not ours solely. Hyde goes on to say that, “Gift establishes relationships while property establishes boundaries.”

cooper-owen_original

Owen Cooper

• If I Had My Life To Live Over— Owen Cooper (the one-time Chair of Mississippi Chemical Corporation)
• “If I had my life to live over, I would love more. I would especially love others more.
• I would let this love express itself in a concern for my neighbors, my friends, and all with whom I come in contact.
• I would try to let love permeate me, overcome me, overwhelm me and direct me.
• I would love the unlovely, the unwanted, the unknown, and the unloved.
• I would give more. I would learn early in life the joy of giving, the pleasure of sharing and the happiness of helping.
• I would give more than money; I would give some of life’s treasured possessions, such as time, thoughts and kind words.
• If I had my life to live over, I would be much more unconventional, because where society overlooks people, I would socialize with them.
• Where custom acknowledges peers as best, with whom to have fellowship, I would want some non-peer friends.
• Where tradition stratifies people because of economics, education, race, or religion, I would want fellowship with friends in all strata.
• And I would choose to go where the crowd doesn’t go, where the road is not paved, where the weather is bitter, where friends are few, where the need is great … and where God is most likely to be found.

300px-meister_des_codex_aureus_epternacensis_001

4.  SENSE OF SPIRITUAL REALITY: The world tends to believe that the rich are rich because God likes them better than others. However the Gospel tells us that earthly success does not equal salvation. The life and teaching of Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God is not about success as the world calculates such things.

Robert Farrar Capon, “The Parables of Grace” …if the world could have been saved by successful living, it would have been tidied up long ago. Certainly, the successful livers of this world have always been ready enough to stuff life’s losers into the garbage can of history. Their program for turning earth back into Eden has consistently been to shun the sick, to lock the poor in ghettos, to disenfranchise those whose skin was the wrong color, and to exterminate those whose religion was inconvenient. … But for all of that Eden has never returned. The world’s woes are beyond repair by the world’s successes: there are just too many failures, and they come to thick and fast for any program, however energetic or well-funded. Dives, for all his purple, fine linen and faring sumptuously, dies not one whit less dead than Lazarus. And before he dies, his wealth no more guarantees him health or happiness than it does exemption from death. Therefore when the Gospel is proclaimed, it stays light-years away from reliance on success or on any other exercise of right-handed power. Instead, it relies resolutely on left-handed power – on the power that, in mystery, works through failure, loss, and death.

And so while our history is indeed saved, its salvation is not made manifest in our history in any obvious, right-handed way. In God’s time – in that Kairos, that due season, that high time in which the Incarnate Word brings in the kingdom in a mystery – all our times are indeed reconciled and restored now.”

rich-dives-lazarusThis is hard for us to hear. We are weaned on the notion that WE are in charge of our destiny. Jesus has come to break the good news to us that this is not so. He requires not our success but our trust.

Capon continues, “Jesus did not come to reward the rewardable, improve the improvable, or correct the correctable; he came simply to be the resurrection and the life of those who will take their stand on a death he can use instead of on a life he cannot.”

Dives thought that if one came from the dead that people would believe. The Gospel tells us that one did come from the dead: Jesus the Christ. Abraham was right. Belief in the resurrection is not a matter of being convinced, but rather a matter of trust. The question today is, will we continue to rely on our success or will we trust in the words of Jesus, who said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

Amen.

PENTECOST TEN

July 24, 2016

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

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

Ryan Holiday

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

How did this come to pass?  Ryan continues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 II.    THE SHAMELESS NEIGHBOR

friend at midnight

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

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

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

 III.   SHAMELESSNESS AS A VIRTUE.

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

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

 IV.  ABRAHAM: A MODEL OF SHAMELESSNESS

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

3 angels of God

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

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

V.   GOD’S CALL TO SHAMELESSNESS?

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s live like it, maybe?

To him be glory, now and forever. Amen

 

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

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

The Wheat & the Weeds

 an enemy has done this

 The Gospel lessons for last Sunday, today and next Sunday are sequential parables of the Kingdom recorded by Matthew. Last Sunday we looked at the Parable of the Sower. The Word (the seed) has in it the power which brings the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not dependent on us. All we can do is respond. That is our contribution. The greatest yield per acre of soul comes to those who interfere with the word the LEAST! Next Sunday we will look at a grouping of little parables: the mustard seed, yeast hidden in flour, the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl merchant and the fish net.

Today we chew on the parable of the Tares/Weeds. A man sowed good seed in his field and while everyone slept an enemy came and sowed weeds in the field. So the wheat and weeds came up together.

wheat vs tares 001What the enemy sowed among the wheat was ziziania weeds, tares — specifically darnel, Lolium te-mu-len-tum, an annual grass that, with it’s long, slender awns, or bristles, looks very much like wheat. The weeds do not effect the wheat. It is clear from the story the weeds will not effect the fruitfulness of the wheat. It is not the danger to the crop, but the inconvenience to the farmer and his servants that is the issue. The servants, who will have to do the work, naturally enough, have the most intense feelings about the inconvenience. They want to immediately rip up the weeds. The farmer, though, is able to see the big scheme and has in mind another strategy: “wait, until harvest.”

taresAs Robert Farrar Capon says, “. . . the parable says that doing nothing is, for the time being, the preferred response to evil. It insists that the mysterious, paradoxical tactic of noninterference is the only one that can be effective in the time frame within which the servants are working. Not matter that they may have plausible proposals for dealing with the menace as they see it; their very proposals, the farmer tells them, are more of a menace than anything else. To be sure, he goes on the assure them that at some later, riper time, he will indeed interfere to a fare-thee-well with his enemy’s plans.”

Jesus then explains the meaning of the parts. In this story of the Kingdom we find what all Christians know: we live in the in-between-time of already and not yet. The Kingdom has begun but the full impact of God’s reign is not yet realized. What do we do with this injunction of let the weeds and wheat grow together?

The truth is:
1. we can not always discern the real difference between good and evil.
2. the real division between good and evil is not between one person and another, but rather in EACH person. Therefore to be rid of evil now will get rid of literally everyone.
So what do we do?

parable of tares Here we encounter a deep truth of Jesus; the sort of truth which runs counter to everything we instinctively believe. It’s like the instinctive response that I had the first time I drove a car on ice and it skidded. “You know, grab the wheel and steer!” That strategy will put you in the ditch in a hurry. You have to learn to go against your first impulse and let go of the wheel. Often the car will right itself. Or in other words, our first instinct is to say, “Don’t just stand there do something!!!” But what might really be called for is what Murray Bowen used to say, “Don’t just do something stand there!!!!”

The same sort of process goes on in the Spiritual life, particularly when it comes to power. I think it was Martin Luther who coined the expression “Left handed VRS Right handed power”. Right handed power is the power of force.

I borrow again from the Parables of the Kingdom, by Robert Farrar Capon. [p. 18]

“Direct, straight-line, intervening power does, of course have many uses. With it, you can lift the spaghetti from the plate to your mouth, wipe the sauce off your slacks, carry to them to the dry cleaners, and perhaps make enough money to ransom them back. Indeed, straight-line power (“use the force you need to get the result you want”) is responsible for almost everything that happens in the world. And the beauty of it is, it works. From removing, the dust with a cloth to removing your enemy with a .45, it achieves its ends in sensible, effective, easily understood ways.

wheatgatheredintobarntaresburntinfireMatthewthirteenthirtyUnfortunately, it has a whopping limitation. If you take the view that one of the chief objects in life is to remain in loving relationships with other people, straight-line power becomes useless. Oh, admittedly you can snatch your baby boy away from the edge of a cliff and not have a broken relationship on your hands. But just try interfering with his plans for the season when he is twenty, and see what happens, especially if his chosen plans play havoc with your own. Suppose he makes unauthorized use of your car, and you use a little straight-line verbal power to scare him out of doing it again. Well and good. But suppose further that he does it again anyway – and again and again and again. What do you do best if you are committed to straight-line power? You raise your voice a little more nastily each time till you can’t shout any louder. And then you beat him (if you are stronger than he is) until you can’t beat any harder. Then you chain him to a radiator till. . . . But you see the point. At some very early crux in that difficult, personal relationship, the whole thing will be destroyed unless you — who, on any reasonable view, should be allowed to use straight-line power — simply refuse to use it; unless, in other words, you decide that instead of dishing out justifiable pain and punishment, you are willing, quite foolishly, to take a beating yourself.

wheat-and-the-tares-2But such a paradoxical exercise of power, please note, is a hundred and eighty degrees away from the straight-line variety. It is, to introduce a phrase from Luther, left-handed power. Unlike the power of the right hand (which, interestingly enough, is governed by the logical, plausibility-loving left hemisphere of the brain), left-handed power is guided by the more intuitive, open and imaginative right side of the brain.

Left-handed power, in other words, is precisely paradoxical power: power that looks for all the world like weakness, intervention that seems indistinguishable from nonintervention. More than that, it is guaranteed to stop no determined evildoers whatsoever. It might, of course, touch and soften their hearts. but then again, it might not. It certainly didn’t for Jesus; and if you decide to use it, you should be quite clear that it probably won’t for you either.
The only thing it does insure is that you will not — even after your chin has been bashed in — have make the mistake of closing any interpersonal doors from your side.”

I believe that is why Jesus instructs us “not to resist evil” or in other words to become what we are opposing. I suspect that is why God does not seem to be “intervening” in human affairs. His ways or not our ways.

In the Wheat FieldsI quote from, The Parables of Jesus, Studies in the Synoptic Gospels by Herman Hendrickx (p. 72f.)

“Our natural tendency is to identify with the master’s servants. Do they not wish to be of service to their Lord by offering to weed out the tares? For what they see in the heat is the tares. But they have lost sight of everything else; they are forgetting about the wheat shooting up among the tares. As they see it, the tares are the stronger of the two plants. . . . If they leave them alone, they will get the upper hand and choke the good wheat. The are afraid; they want to act speedily and ruthlessly: weed out those tares. in so doing, they attach less importance to their master than to the enemy. In their eyes, the enemy is stronger; what he has sown will ultimately get the upper hand; perhaps there will be no harvest at all.

Satan Sowing

Satan Sowing

But, unconsciously, they are thus siding with the enemy and acting like him: they are against him in much the same way as he is against their Master; they are attacking the tares, just as the enemy attacked the wheat. . . Therefore they are making themselves dependent on the enemy and going away from the master: ’Do you want us to go off and weed them out?’ At the heart of the parable, Are we advised to let things alone, to be free and easy? Are we dispensed from sturdy action in the world? Of course not. The parable digs deeper: it gets down to the heart of things, to our innermost being whence spring our actions and our involvement: faith or fear? Faith or the desire to be all-powerful? All depends on the way we look at the world, that field where the good wheat and the tares are intermingled. Do we regard it as the property of Another, who sows life and whose servants we are? OR do we consider ourselves to be solely responsible for our history, for History?

There is great anxiety in the culture as we face emerging issues of our day. What do we do? Do we live in faith or fear? As Jesus said, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

Relax, we are not ultimately responsible, because we are not God. We become willful and anxious when we begin to think we have to be God. God is all knowing, all powerful, and without limit. We are not all knowing, all powerful, and we are limited. When we become willful we are motivated by anxiety and fear, not faith!!! We are called to be faithful, not willing people to be different than they are and then using a little body English and straight line power on them if they don’t change to suit us.

Some things just can’t be willed.

You can will eating — but not hunger
You can will drinking — but not thirst
You can will closeness — but not intimacy
You can will fear — but not respect.
You can will church attendance — but not worship

angels reap at the end of the ageYou can not will love. It just doesn’t work that way.
You cannot will hate either. That’s what the cross teaches us.

God calls us to grow up and mature. Maturity is the most important issue in life: taking personal responsibility for our own emotional being and destiny. Our part of the in-between-time dance is to love God, and proclaim God’s love to each other and creation. We are not called to weed control. The wheat and the weeds grow together and we can’t tell the difference yet. A weed may turn out to be wheat and what we thought was wheat may not be after all.

We are called to live and love in that tension.  It is a tension of grace!!  Amen.

christ-sower-200x267

 

Gabriel Stamp

Gabriel Stamp

One day God was looking down on Earth and saw of the despicable behavior that was going on. So he called Gabriel, the head of communication for heaven, and sent him to earth to observe the situation. When he returned, he told God, “Yes, it is bad on Earth; 95% are misbehaving and only 5% are not.”

Michael Stamp

Michael Stamp

God though for a moment and said, “Maybe I had better get a second opinion.” So God called Michael, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of heaven, and sent him to survey the situation. Michael reported, “Yes, it’s true. The Earth is in decline; 95% are misbehaving, but 5% are faithful.”

God was displeased. So He decided to e-mail the 5% who were being good, because he wanted encourage them…give them a little something to help them keep going. Do you know what the e-mail said — Okay, just wondering; — I didn’t get one either…

Actually all of humanity got the E-Mail in the person of Jesus, the Christ, which leads me to the Gospel reading for today. Jesus tells us that the seed is the word.

Parable-of-the-SowerAllow me an aside about, “word.” St. John the patron of this parish begins his Gospel with “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” Word: could be very legitimately translated “creative energy.” It is more a verb than a noun. So we could say, “in the beginning was the creative energy and the creative energy was with God and the creative energy was God.”

The late Robert Capon educated me more about the parables than anyone. He also taught me more about the radical nature of GRACE than anyone. I miss him. In the The Parables of the Kingdom, [page 73] he engages the theme of the Word of God in terms of: CATHOLICITY, MYSTERY, HOSTILITY AND RESPONSE.

THE WORD OF GOD IS CATHOLIC — UNIVERSAL.
The word is working everywhere at all times whether we know it or not. Even when we think it is not present at all the word is working. Jesus taught this from beginning to end. The kinds of soil described cover all the conditions and circumstances of humanity. The word of God is true then and now, in and out, up and down. No one is beyond the scope of its power and life giving grace. The seed is universal in its potential.

THE WORD OF GOD, THE SEED OF THE KINGDOM, IS MYSTERIOUS.

Christ the seed

Christ the Seed

Why choose seed as an image? Seed are tiny in comparison to what they produce. The seed falls into the earth and in the process of producing a new plant disappears or dies. Notice how this describes the life and ministry of Jesus.

In fact in John’s Gospel he uses this very imagery when he says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” The life, ministry, death and resurrection of our Lord is mysterious. He dies, rises, and ascends. As God’s ways are not our ways, we have faith that the mysterious word is working even when we can’t see its action.

THERE IS HOSTILITY TO THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM

leafing corssOn nearly every page of the New Testament there is hostility.

  • The devil tempts Jesus.
  • The religious establishment plots against him.
  • The Pharisees dispute with him.
  • The Romans execute him.

He appears to lose by dying on the cross. But that is not the end of the story. We can get so focused on the hostility to the word that we are almost convinced that the seed is without power. But the seed is still the word of God regardless of the hostility to it. Let us never forget that. It is the Word alone, and not the interference with it, that finally counts.

As Capon puts it, “the fullest enjoyment of the fruitfulness of the Word is available only to those who interfere with it least.”

THE RESPONSE TO THE SOWING OF THE WORD IS MADE IN THE FINAL THRUST OF THE PARABLE.

How we respond to the word makes a difference not in the power of the word but in how that power affects us. Jesus, the Word, came into the world to become the first of many brothers and sisters, the first fruits of them that sleep..

Our choice is not whether the Word will achieve his purposes. BUT whether we will enjoy his achievement OR find ourselves in opposition to it.

This is the parable of the Sower! Where I came from, the focus was on the soils and which one we were . See how the focus shifts from what the Sower is doing to what we think about it.

But look at the good news! Granted it is only good news in the Kingdom, but that is the only place that matters. This is the sort of Sower that no prudent farmer would tolerate. The only folk that would approve would be the seed companies for obvious reasons.

What a wastrel is the Sower! In full-swing he flings and slings the precious seed everywhere without regard. Avant-garde, comes the Kingdom. Like nard poured by Mary,  no actuary could calculate such waste; but beloved it is WASTE based on GRACE.

The Empty Tomb

The Empty Tomb

 

 

Epiphany VII

 “The mind thinks, the body does and the soul Imagines.”                          — Thomas Moore (Care of the Soul, 1992)

[Hang on to that! I’ll be back to it in a bit.]

Let’s hold hands and jump right into the briar patch!   Just what is it that Jesus is trying to do to us this time?  Let’s do inventory of our common life: Where are the Ancient Practices?

  • Many among us are engaging scripture like never before.
  • Many are meeting in Bible Studies in offices, shops and homes.
  • Many are moving outside the safety of the familiar and meeting, working with and loving children who live within a mile of here.
  • Many are praying, praying expecting something to happen! Some of you attended the public service of healing here last Wednesday night for Debbie Philips as many did a year ago for Patrick Crump.
  • People are aligning their checkbook with the goal of their soul moving toward a tithe as the standard of giving.
  • Soon we will take up the Lenten fast. 

Have you ever considered why we would take up these ancient practices? Or why did ancient people take up these practices?  Let me let you in on one of the obvious secrets – what I am about to tell you is the very seed-bed of the Good News in Christ.

Christian-Principles-Sermon-on-the-Mt

MATTHEW 5:38   You have head it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth but I say to you…

How many of you have heard of the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s?  We actually have a descendent of the McCoys of Kentucky in this parish.  Fortunately, we have no Hatfields from West Virginia on the roll so all is well (for now).

Please understand that an eye for an eye was a huge improvement over the practice of killing everybody in the family and having a “blood feud” that kills everyone in the neighborhood. Our justice system is a eye/eye –let the punishment fit the crime. Now Jesus begins where we are and says, You have heard it said… But I say to you!

Turn the Other Cheek - Linda S. Fitz Gibbon

Turn the Other Cheek – Linda S. Fitz Gibbon

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;

Why the right cheek?  You can only strike someone’s right cheek with the back of your hand, which to my way of thinking is more demeaning; as in “I will show you the back of my hand.

If anyone wants to sue and take your coat, give your cloak as well.

Here’s what we need to know about this.  Turn in the Bible to Deuteronomy 24:10-13  [page 148 in the pew Bible]

 When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. 11 You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. 12 If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. 13 You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the LORD your God.

 A cloak could not be taken from a poor man. It was like a kilt – long piece of tartan cloth – pleat it on the floor over your belt, lie down on it, belt it around you for the day – it was all they had.  It was called a PLAID = plaid. What Jesus is telling us, “So they take your suit and underwear, but rather than taking comfort that they at least can’t take your cloak — give it also!

the_second_mile_2pe

  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.

If you had the bad luck to be on the road when the Roman Legion was on the march the soldiers were allowed (who was stopping them) to enlist you to carry their pack one mile.  You choose to go on the second mile.

 Give to everyone who begs from you and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 

You don’t even run a credit check? You know the commercial that says, “We don’t care about your credit, we care about you!”  Who are they kidding?  This is foolish. This is good business.  As you know when someone says to you, “It’s not about the money…”  It’s always about the money.

Do an experiment.  In front a 18 month old or a 2 year child set a $20.00 bill on fire.  It’s just a piece of paper.  Set the same bill on fire in front of a four year old; there is a look of horror and a scream goes up, “He’s burning money!”

 These four situations are very different; what do they have in common?  What they have in common is that what Jesus tells us to do is UN-NATURAL.  It is not our first unthinking reaction!  Remember what Thomas Moore wrote?

“The mind thinks, the body does and the soul Imagines.”

  •  Our mind thinks – be afraid; protect yourself; get yours before someone else does.  It’s only natural
  • Our body prepares – kick, shove, back-hand right cheeks and even kill… It’s only natural
  • It is only imagination that can see a different way.

“You cannot trust your eyes if your imagination is out of focus.”  – Mark Twain

Our imaginations must be converted!  That is why we are taking up the ancient practices!!!!  Because we must learn to do what does not come naturally and only the Triune God can do that! Love your enemies – Why, because praying for those who harm us – is the only way we have to convince people that the Holy Trinity is at work in the world.

Hernando deSoto Bridge - Memphis, Tennessee

Hernando DeSoto  Bridge – Memphis, Tennessee

That is, therefore, why we are not in the judgment business!  Robert Farrar Capon was right on target when he said that people don’t need to be told how awful it will be when they go to hell.   They know that already; they are already in hell.If a man is standing on the Hernando DeSoto bridge over the Mississippi about to jump, telling him that he will reach the water at 125 miles per hour and the impact is the same as falling on concrete and he will die!  That man already knows that.

What that man needs to know is why he shouldn’t jump!

If we do not have a standard of caring greater than the jerk down the street and our ner-do-well brother-in-law; if our salt is not salty how beloved will anybody know Jesus loves them.  If the Church is persecuted in the United States it will not because we are Christians, NO. it will because we are not Christian ENOUGH!  We have to live our lives in such a way that the only way our community makes sense, is because God is real and transforming the souls  of human beings.

Now for just last bit of business and I’m done.  Verse 48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  That translation has been source of a lot of mischief; people in despair because they know they can’t ever be perfect and the others who, God help us, have convinced themselves that they are perfect.

Give it up.  The better translation is, “Be whole, therefore, as your heavenly Father is whole.” Not, no mistakes or errors but wholeness, compassion, affection, kindness,  generosity, joy, turning the other cheek,  being naked for God’s sake, carrying the burdens of others, willingly, thus fulfilling the law of Christ, generous to those in need; investing in the Kingdom of God, where the economy is based, not on scarcity, but on superabundance.

I’m done.  Amen.

JWS

 

 

 

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

A Shelter Island Retreat – 2004

Video

Find out for yourself what it was like to sit with Robert Farrar Capon. You never went to sleep, you always came away different and I came away shaking my head and thanking God for teaching me something that I knew but knew again (for sure).

Aside

I’m having a hard time shutting up tonight as I write in late evening in York, UK. I’m sad and happy at the passing of Robert Farrar Capon. I’m sad because the world is a little darker for his passing and I’m happy because  he now experiences the reality that is God moving beyond his intuitions of the mystery that moved multitudes to smile and weep as they smiled at the beauty of his light touch of the glory to be reveled.   One of his great works was a cookbook, a theological reflection.  In wonderful work of graceful whimsy is a toast that is a blessing as the great toasts always are.  But the man can speak for himself.

“I wish you well. May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable. May they rejoice that they will never again be taken for callow, black-haired boys. And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed. May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men.

We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot … Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts—for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem.

Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthoood, He makes all things new. Our Last Home will be home indeed.”

And all God’s people said, Amen!