Gospel as Comedy not Tragedy

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In his book, Telling the Truth, the Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy and Fairy Tale, Frederick Beuchner says that if you can’t take a joke you’ll never understand the Gospel. There is a profound difference between tragedy and comedy. In a tragedy the hero pits himself against the gods and is destroyed by the process. Tragedy is concerned with struggles of power. Comedy, on the other hand, is about ambiguity, and the transformation of roles. We think it is one way and it turns out another. Tragedy invariably ends in death; comedy ends in marriage – a criss-crossing of boundaries and limits. One is serious and the other is playful.

The Gospel lesson today is a tragic-comedy. The setting of the readings for today is feasting and partying. Here in the first act, if you will, of today’s production. The prophet Isaiah marches out mid-stage and issues the invitation of God to a party. The aristocratic prophet from Jerusalem in his best prophetic voice proclaims, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

This is a to be a lavish party with the best vintage wine and rich food full of fat. This is long before most of the human population had to worry about fat in their diet. This is a time when fat was good news not bad news. Not only will the eats be great, but as a further act of excess God will shallow up death forever. He will wipe away the tears from ALL faces. Not only will the feast be of the finest food full of fat and taste but the shroud of death will be removed. It will write paid to the old saying of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die. Wrong, eat, drink and be merry for death is swallowed up and tears are wiped from every face. Death is no more. Furthermore, the disgrace of the people will be removed. God’s salvation — restoration and healing will be unveiled to all the guests — to all people: what an extraordinary vision. We can eat anything that appeals to us without remorse for the things that trouble our consciences and with the sure and certain knowledge that death is no more. Not a bad first act.

Now on to the Main act: Jesus picks up the setting of a party in the Gospel reading today. “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared,” says Jesus, “to a King who gave a wedding banquet for his son.” In the ancient world one received an invitation to a feast by messenger. Then messengers then delivered a second message that the feast will soon begin. The King sent servants with the message; “The ox has become barbecue. The fatted calf is now filet minion. Countless cases of Dom Perignon are chilled. The tables are groaning with everything from Buluga caviar and Italian truffles all the way to MOON PIES and R.O.C. cola. There is some of whatever you want to warp your beak around. (It’s enough to drive the editors of Gourmet Magazine wild.) Come to the Wedding banquet,” they said. BUT — the guests made light of it . . .One went to his farm — One went to his business, while the rest seized the servants, mistreated some and killed others.

The King’s reaction is like a scene out of Rambo or The Terminator: Houses exploding in flame. These are the beautiful people from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” They are the very folk we admire. They are beautiful people who have everything but the one essential thing, namely, trust — the only, from God’s point of view, that matters. They have everything but lack the one thing essential, namely, trust — faith, the only from God’s point of view required. That is the tragedy. They have trusted themselves when that is the only thing that will not work. They are like the long list of winners who lose: the Pharisees, the Priests, the rich young ruler, they are you and me, they are all of us . . . who live the twin mistaken notions: Our good works will get us into the marriage feast. And that God’s nature will absolve us from having to sit through it if we happen to have other plans. Both are tragic mistakes. As the guests learn they are dead wrong. Salvation is not by works and the heavenly banquet is not optional. We are saved only by accepting a party already in progress and God has paid the price with his own death. He counts only two things grace and faith. Nothing else matters!

The scene changes – Act II, Scene 2, The King says to his faithful butler, “the wedding is ready, but those invited are not worthy (by their unfaith.) Go into the streets and invite those you find to the wedding feast. Out all the uniformed flunkies went. They went out and gathered all they found: good and bad. (Note he does not invite the good and snub the bad, he invited ALL, while we were yet sinners. He simply invites us to trust his invitation. So the poor, the prostitutes, bag ladies, men with missing front teeth and the smell of Thunderbird on their breath, all the ner-do-wells completely overlooked by the beautiful and important are all home free. See the comedy breaking out? So the hall is filled with guests.

Act II, Scene 3: Now, let me admit that what I am about to say is conjecture. Just go with me, here, … you can’t hold it against someone if they are shanghaied to a party and you don’t like what they wearing. So I think . . . the “sudden guests” are provided wedding clothes, suitable clothes — Bill Blass – Valentino — all sorts of designer rags in exchange for their filthy ones. As the King comes by to mingle with the guests he spies a man without a wedding suit. He apparently came in since he was forced but he will not put on his suit. The King said to the man without a wedding suit. Friend (or as Ann Landers used to say, Buster) How did you get in here without a wedding garment?! The man was speechless! And then they threw him out. Even in a comedy some will always insist on tragedy. You might make some people show up, but you really can’t make them like it, after all, can you?

What is this tragic-comedy telling us? Invitation is the principle judgment in this parable. Notice that “Nobody is kicked out who wasn’t already in. Hell may be an option; but if it is, it is only one that we insist on after we had already been invited to the heavenly dance. The first Guests are worthy. They just wouldn’t come. Their unacceptance was the issue. The Replacement guests become guests by accepting the invitation. The man without a garment wouldn’t accept or even speak and out he goes. The King insists on dragging everybody and their brothers to the party. Everyone is a member of the wedding party and is only shown the door AFTER they were invited in.

GRACE is the only basis of entrance into the Kingdom . . .Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus EXCEPT our unwillingness to accept his INVITATION. The difference between the blessed and the cursed in one thing and one thing only: the blessed accept their acceptance and the cursed reject it; but the acceptance is a done deal for both groups before either does anything about it.

Here in the epilogue, [following my device to the end] in the reading from Philippians, Paul writes from the perspective of one who has said yes to the heavenly banquet. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. … I have learned to be content with whatever I have. [That sounds un-American] I know what it is to have little and I know what it is to have plenty. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

If God accepts us then we no longer take our identity from our circumstances. We begin to relax in the comic “joke” that what we have always been told about who is in and who is out just isn’t so. Let’s relax, this show isn’t a tragedy after all. Yes, Jesus does die, really dead, on the cross. It’s not stage make-up and fake blood. He’s dead, really dead. That would be a tragedy, if that were the end of the production. But it isn’t. God raised Jesus from the dead. That same resurrection is ours, if we’ll just take it. Therefore things for us are not necessarily how they appear. Let us not be defined by circumstances. God is giving a party and all that is required is that we accept the invitation and show up. There is no end to the party he has prepared for those who love him!

Amen

CHRISTMAS DAY 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us reflect on this glorious mystery.

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas! Amen.

JWS+

PENTECOST XXII

PROPER 24
Saint John’s, Memphis, Tennessee
October 16, 2016

 

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The Unjust Judge

 

In the Gospel reading from Luke’s Gospel, we hear the story of the persistent widow who pestered the judge who finally gave her justice to get rid of her. Does that mean that God is like a crooked judge? I don’t think so. Does it mean that we should pester God like a poor widow? No, The point is that God is NOT like the crooked judge and that those who call on God do not have to pester God into doing anything. God is always more ready to answer than we are to call.

Perseverance: continued patient effort. Perseverance is a frequent theme in the Lord’s teaching. We think of perseverance regarding our continuing to pray and to continue following our Lord to the place where he has gone. That is certainly true, but I submit to you and me that what is more extraordinary is God’s perseverance – the Holy Ones continued patient effort! Nowhere is this more dynamic more clearly revealed than in the life of Jacob.

We have the key part of Jacob’s story in today’s first reading from Genesis. But first, let me bring us review the story up to this point. Abraham’s son, Isaac, married Rebecca, the daughter of Abraham’s brother. Rebecca and Isaac had twin boys: Esau and Jacob. The boys struggled in the womb and Esau was born first with the hand of his twin firmly around his ankle. Therefore the second twin was named Jacob or heel-grabber.

The boys grew up to be very different men. Esau was a big hairy guy who liked to hunt and to be out in the field. I’m sure that he had a gun rack or maybe an arrow rack in the back of his chariot. He was sort of a Bubba, and his daddy liked him a lot. Jacob was more of a homebody, and he liked to cook and hang around the tent with his momma. Needless to say, she liked him a lot.

Jacob was a schemer and Esau was a bubba so one day when Esau came in from hunting and was famished he sold Jacob his birthright for a mess of lentils. And then Rebecca hatched a scheme to get Isaac to give Jacob the blessing that rightly belonged to Esau. Isaac was almost blind so when he asked Esau to get him a mess of venison she went into action. She made up a goat stew that would pass for venison, and she put the hairy skins on Jacob’s smooth arms, and so the old man gave Esau’s blessing to Jacob. When Esau learned what had happened, he threatened to kill Jacob. So Jacob skipped town and went to live with Rebecca’s brother, Laban.

Now Laban was even better at scheming than Jacob. Jacob may have been good as a schemer, but Uncle Laban was a master of the art of using people and getting the better deal at someone’s expense. To make a long story short, Jacob fell in love with Rachel, Laban’s second daughter. So he married her. But on the wedding night, Laban slipped the eldest daughter, Leah into the marriage bed. And Jacob in his haste didn’t know until morning that he had married the wrong sister. Leah was the sloe-eyed one. We don’t know what that means exactly, but you can count on the fact that it was no compliment. Maybe she had glasses that looked like the bottom of a coke bottle. At any rate for seven additional years, he was already signed up for seven years to marry the first daughter. So fourteen years became twenty-one by the time Jacob had worked off the flocks Uncle Laban “gave” him.

Then it was finally time to go home and face the music. So that brings us to the reading for today. Jacob sent word to Esau that he is coming home. The messenger tells him that Bubba is coming to meet him accompanied by 400 men. Jacob is terrified. He divided his company into two groups so that at least one group would likely get away if Esau attacks them. That night he got up and crossed the Jabbok River. He sent both groups on ahead, and he is left alone.

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On the way to Uncle Laban, Jacob had slept in the open alone like this night by the Jabbok. He had dreamed on that earlier night of a great ladder that stretched from heaven to earth. Angels were ascending and descending on that ladder. God spoke to Jacob and told him that he would go with him and that he would bring him home again.

Up to this time, gods were localized. If you moved from one place to another, you had to change gods like you have to change addresses. This is an innovation in the god business. Yahweh is not limited by the zip code! I will go with you, and I will bring you back again. So now over twenty years later Jacob is on the verge of returning home. And it was then that it happened. There on the river bank, (Note that crossing rivers symbolize the overcoming of an important personal threshold of experience.) in the night a being suddenly leaped on him. The literal words in the text say, “And there was one.” Some kind of seeming adversary grabbed Jacob. Jacob wrestles all night long. We never really know what the “one” is. Is it God? An angel? Does Jacob wrestle with himself? Today would we call it wrestling with our shadow? Or is it Esau or Esau’s angel that he wrestles with in a prelude to their match on the morrow?

They wrestled until daybreak. The “one” saw that he could not overpower Jacob, so he pressed Jacob’s hamstring so that he was injured.
The “one” said, “let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But he replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
He asked, ‘What is your name?”
He replied, “Jacob.”
He replied, “No longer will they say your name is Jacob, but rather Israel, for you have contended with the Lord and with men and have prevailed.”
Then Jacob asked, “Pray tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” And he blessed him there.

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The Sun shined as he passed Peniel and he limped on his thigh

This wound is a wound of the spirit as well as the hamstring. It is the sort of wound that you can never be the same again after it. This is what happened to Jacob. This is what happens to all of us in time. All of us are like Jacob. We are all egocentric, or in other words, we want to be the center of the world

Jacob called that place, “Peniel, for I have seen the Lord, face-to-face and my soul has been saved.”

John Sanford says that there are three basic experiences can break down this diseased ego: 1. suffering, 2. coming to care for someone other than ourselves, & 3. the recognition of a power greater than our own will is at work in our lives.

Notice that Jacob does suffer as a result of his choices. Uncle Laban uses him, and that produces suffering. He came to care deeply for Rachel and now by the River Jabbok, which is a pun in Hebrew with the word wrestle, he encounters a power greater than himself. He limps into the future, but he limps with a new name. He is no longer, Jacob/heel grabber, but Israel.

God promises us that he will go with us wherever we go. God promises to bring us back to the land of promise. And many times we will not see God’s hand at work in the world around us, but He is there.

“Elie Wiesel wrote as about Jacob’s encounter with the angel: “Jacob has just understood a fundamental truth: God is in man, even in suffering, even in misfortune, even in evil. God is everywhere. In every being. God does not wait for man at the end of the road, the termination of exile; He accompanies him there. More than that: He is the road, He is the exile. God holds both ends of the rope. He is present in every extremity, He is every limit. He is part of Jacob as He is part of Esau.”

The late Elie Wiesel is correct as a Jewish elder brother that God is in man, even in suffering, misfortune, even in evil. We adopted children of Abraham; We do not have to go looking for God. God came looking for us. We believe that God revealed himself most accurately in the person of his son, Jesus the Christ. Regardless of what happens – Regardless of what we do or where we go God in Christ Jesus is there with us. We meet the risen Jesus tonight here in this communion. Let us bring all our suffering; let us bring those who we love; let us bring all that we are and all that we are not and present them to the One who created us. Remember the words of his son, “I’ll never leave you or forsake you.”

Ego pain is growing pain.

PENTECOST XIX

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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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Lewis Madison Jones, Jr.

August 8, 2016 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee – John Sewell

We come to do what Christians do each time they gather.
We come to tell the story.
We come to calm the fear within us.
We come to speak of the hope that is within us.
We come to Celebrate: Interpret, to make sense of. We do that in the context of the Good News of Jesus the Christ. We come to celebrate the life and home going of LEWIS MADISON (BIG DADDY) JONES, JR.

I am rarely presumptuous enough to hazard a guess at what God is thinking. I work for him but I am rarely taken into his confidence. But today, I know Phyllis that you and Lewis kept your vows to each other, as the Book of Common Prayer has it, “Until you were parted by death.” I know that pleased God. Well done.

THE READINGS FOR TODAY SPEAK TO THE STORY WE SHARE,
THE FEAR IN OUR HEARTS AND THE HOPE THAT IS WITHIN US.

On this mountain

We hear first from the words of the Prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make feast FOR ALL PEOPLES, a feast of rich food, well-aged wines, full of fat [that was back when fat was still good news], well-aged wines strained clear.

If you recall Jesus produced excellent vintage himself at that wedding in Cana). The marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation is the consummation of Isaiah, the party planner prophet.

God is throwing a party, a gathering intended for all peoples. God gives us bread to nourish our bodies and wine to make our hearts glad. It is God who throws the party. There and then, God will shallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces. This is the salvation he promises to all peoples. Salvation is a party with God as the host.

The Eucharist carried to the dying has a special name – Viaticum, which literally means “food for the journey” a little something to “tide you over” until you arrive at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. A few days ago, I went out to Collierville, taking Viaticum. Around Lewis’ bed we made Communion together. It was a moment of deep and precious intimacy for Lewis, his family, his dog…

It is altogether appropriate we gather this afternoon to say our prayers for Lewis and that we do so as we celebrate this Eucharist together.

Hear again the words of Paul to the Christians in Rome, “For I am persuaded (not wishful thinking but the thought of one who has lived into the comfort of God’s love) that neither death, nor life, nor angels, not principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other else in all creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Be not afraid, for Jesus has overcome death, hell and the grave. Which brings us to hope that in within us.

icon-of-christ-high-priest-the-holy-eucharist

As Our Lord said to his disciples on Easter afternoon:
“Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so I would have told you. I go and prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and take you to myself that where I am there you may be also…”

We have come as far as we can go with Lewis Madison Jones, Jr. His soul has gone to God and his body today goes to the University making a final contribution to cancer research.

Fritz Kunkel wrote once, “Losing one we love to death always means the possibility of a new contact with the beyond, and of a new turning away from the past toward the future.” This statement while true, is in danger of amounting to nothing more than fluffy nothingness straight from a writer’s desk at Hallmark cards. What turns this existential cotton candy into nourishment is suffering.

Spiritual growth comes through suffering. This is not something we have a choice about. Suffering is the promise that life always keeps. Lewis had more than a passing acquaintance with suffering, especially in the last year.

Wendell Berry, writes of the essential “aloneness” of the human experience embedded in entering the big woods:

Always in big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feeling of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown,

You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of our essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground of our feet, and learn to be at home.

If we live long enough our world will be reduced to the dimensions of a bed. It was there, in a hospital bed that Lewis began his greatest adventure, and his final pilgrimage was not of miles to Jerusalem but inches into eternity.

Jesus didn’t say you can’t serve God and the evil one. No, he said, you can’t serve God and money. Lewis worked for mammon, but he didn’t sell out to it. With the unique candor of the dying, he said he never sold his soul for a markup of bonds. He arrived at the end, with his soul in hand. He was glad he could say his soul was his own and now it is God’s. Each of us owe God ONE soul

Big Daddy & Patrick

Lewis Jones & Patrick Moore

 

Big Daddy Jones was a tough man. He was a high school hall of fame football player, played for The University of Memphis. He learned out to take a hit. He told me the story of teaching Patrick to take a hit. I won’t go into details, but it involved the back yard, a mattress, a football and Lewis. Patrick learned to take a hit, and I daresay, he learned to love a hit. It is safe to say that no football came near Patrick that he didn’t try to catch. Also, he learned to never give up, not ever. Even with numerous opponents hanging on for dear life, Patrick was headed downfield always toward the goal line with Lewis cheering on the sidelines. That’s not a bad way to remember him.

Lewis has joined that great company that cannot be numbered who believed in the Word Made Flesh. He has entered into the great story of Scripture. Near the end of the last chapter of the last book of the whole sweep of salvation history, we see the end and we like it. What do we see? The New Jerusalem has come down out of heaven. When we are able to take a peek at the wonders of it all, we see our old friend, The Tree of Life, standing by the water that springs up into everlasting salvation. There are also other old friends, twelve trees each bear its fruit for one of the months and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. We are home and never even knew it. The place of leaving as well as the place of returning is one.

No longer, will we be bound by time/space and we shall see the Lamb that was slain. Having had all tears wiped away, we will get on with the business of worshiping the Holy One and that I’m reassured will never get old at all.

Angels, Evangelists/Creatures and Elders, myriads and myriads and myriads to the seventh power of tenors, basses, baritones, mezzo-sopranos, counter-tenors, altos of every timbre, coloratura sopranos joined by boys with their particularly other-worldly tone, joined by those who are tone-deaf with tin ears, and too scared to try: all of them every last one: all singing just as loud as they can and perhaps on that day any who want to can sing all parts of the chord at the same time and praise God, no one sings flat. Everything from Organs and Calliopes to brasses of every possible metal and size, joined by woodwinds both great and small, accompanied by drums of all nations and persuasions, lift their voices and sing as one, on that day, that great day.

And how could they not? For death, that dominates everything from actuarial tables to crop rotation; that with its bosom buddies, plague, famine, joined in our time by true believers, whose creed is death and worship murder. Death & company have stalked our ancestors and will our descendants on this planet from beginning to end, is defeated, and swallowed up by victory.

That has been true since that day, in one particular place in a small province of an ancient empire, the rumor of which has passed generation by generation to this day and beyond till Jesus comes. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!

We shall take our seat with the great crowd of witnesses, Big Daddy Lewis among them. Let us comfort ourselves with the hope of the resurrection. To him be glory, now and forever. Amen

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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

 

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

don't look back

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

call of Elisha

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…

Quote

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.

The Third Sunday After Pentecost

 Saint John’s Episcopal Church,  Memphis, Tennessee,     June 8, 2016

tissot-davids-valiant-men-600x311

In the Old Testament reading today,  David slipped on the banana peel of entitled rationalization, committed adultery with the wife of Uriah, a loyal officer of  the King’s Own Thirty. David compounded his sin of betrayal with murder.

Sin is a translation into English of several words in the original language.  The most common one is “missing the mark” a term from archery.

John Sanford writes, “If an archer hits the bulls-eye it implies consciousness, good aim, and steadfastness of character, for if the arrow does not find the mark it is the fault of the archer, not of the arrow.  It has to do with failing to act from one’s center, thus sinning against oneself. Wrong actions and attitudes spring from a wrong inner condition that causes us to ‘miss the mark’ in life.”

  • God created humans radically free; God respected himself and his creation and freedom is the result.
  • On the last day of creation, God pronounced that what was made was good, very, very good.
  • We are free to choose to be in relation with God or to reject that relationship.
  • Freedom brings complexity.
  • Thus, we have nearly an endless capacity to believe what we want to believe about almost anything.
  • Psychology calls that rationalization.

How do we know and when do we know it?

In 1955 Joseph Luff and Harry Ingham invented a model of human knowing that bears the merging of their first names and is know as the Johari Window.

Johari Window (002)

We have the part that is known to us AND to other people: general information that is common knowledge.

  1. We have that part to which we are blind: information others know that we do not know. We can be remarkably blind to our foibles. Dreams can sometimes give us clues into this blind part.
  2. We have that part which we keep hidden: information that we know but for various reasons keep from others. There is a lot of fear and shame in this area.
  3. There is that part that is unknown: information nobody has. This part is mysterious. We will never know everything is this part but some of it can be learned if we have the courage to do the work.

From this model, we realize that we are consciously working with about a quarter to a half of the information in our lives at any one time.  We get into conflict from time to time when people’s blind areas collide and neither person knows what is going on.

We also can “reason” ourselves almost anywhere

Subject:  Financial Advice in These Troubled Times

This is very important financial advice:  If you bought $1000 worth of Nortel stock one year ago (2008), it would now be worth $49.  If you bought $1000 worth of Budweiser (the beer, not the stock) one year ago, drank all the beer, and traded in the cans for the nickel/aluminum deposit, you would have $79.  It is therefore financially prudent in these troubled times to drink heavily and recycle.

This is the reasoning of someone who needs Alcoholics Anonymous

The antidote to self-rationalization is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works in the windowpanes of the Johari Window.

The Very Reverend Alan Jones, Sometime Dean of Grace Cathedral has said,   “The Spirit works in the three open places of our lives: the risky, the unpredictable, and the areas over which we have no control.”

Keeping that in mind … consider the process of rationalization and sin in today’s scriptures.

Abel Pann Paintings

Abel Pann – The Young David

David, no longer young, mature face hinting of excess, stared out into the gathering dusk. Standing on the penthouse terrace of the palace royal, the evening breeze played with the famous royal curls, unthinned through faded more auburn than the glorious red of his youth.

The future was as bright as his hair the day the Prophet Samuel came to the House of Bread.  The strapping sons of Jesse, an impressive tribe, each bigger than the previous were presented to the Holy Man. He was impressed enough, who wouldn’t be, but he wasn’t seeing what he looked for…  Are these all your sons?  “Oh, well no, the youngest is minding my ewes, but he’s little.”   What God was looking for that day was obvious to the Holy One and his assigned “chooser” but no one else. David’s amazing and thoroughly romantic rise to the top began the moment the Prophet Sam’s holy anointing oil dripped off his curls.

davidbath

David put his single malt on the balustrade, leaned across the railing, peering through the fading light, there she was,  a beautiful woman bathing on a nearby roof.  The King’s valet confirmed that the beauty was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. Of Hittite origin, Uriah was an officer in David’s army and at present was with his unit  and away at the front in the most recent dust-up with the Ammonites.  His own regiment, The King’s Great Men,  were in the van of the siege of Rabban.

David summoned Bathsheba for a nightcap and they got acquainted such that she conceived a son by the King. Learning of the complication from Mrs. Uriah,  David sent for Uriah to report of the siege.  He came.  Uriah was one fine man.  Honest, honorable, loyal and faithful.  David planned for Uriah to come home, sleep with his wife and she would, in due season, bear him a child.

Men of David

Uriah refused to enjoy anything that his comrades back in the camp could not enjoy, so he stayed in the regimental barracks and did not go home. The next night David got him drunk, no luck.  The king instructed Joab, his commander at the front to order the charge and then fall back leaving the honest Hittite exposed to the accurate Ammonite bowman. The fallen hero was buried with full military pomp and circumstance.

Bathsheba mourns Uriah

The King married the grieving widow who bore a son to her rescuer.  There was a little wink, wink, nod, nod (there always is) but most just went on their business.  Uriah was in the top tier of  “good-guys” in Bible. David, whose  character is iffy, buried and married his indiscretions, put the whole sorted mess aside and moved on.

God, on the other hand,  was not amused! He sent Nathan the prophet with a story for David. A royal court was executive and judicial.  The King, sitting on his throne, listened to any and all who presented their petitions and cases. The arrival of the Prophet Nathan appeared, as he routinely must have done,  standing in the back  of the throne room.

Nathan Wm Hole

 

 The King was a good mood that day.  Word was the siege at Rabbah was entering the end stage and he might well be King of Rabbah any day now, so all was well with the world. Nathan came forward and asked for the King’s indulgence, but he had a story he thought the King needed to hear.  “Say on,” said David.  “Well,  it’s like this.  Sire,  if you will,  look with me through the window of imagination and hear the tale of a good man, poor but righteous.  There are few joys in the lives of the poor.  Even so,  this good man had bought a little ewe lamb.  She was the joy of his life, more daughter than anything else.  He doted on her and she sat at table when he ate and retired to his bed at the sleeping hour.

Nearly across the road there was a man,  rich with flocks and herds.  He lived lavishly, every meal was Thanksgiving Day and he never wore anything but the ultrafine Egyptian linen.  He paid little attention to anything other than the interests of his own ego, but he did notice his neighbor’s doting on his pet sheep.  It was a little excessive.  He offered to buy the animal,  offered a lot of money.  He didn’t want the lamb,  he just enjoyed fooling with the poor man.  His neighbor, though in need, never considered his extravagant offers as he loved the lamb more than life.

However, one day the rich man’s college room-mate came through town and stayed the night.  Deep in their cups,  the rich man told his buddy the story of the ridiculously poor man who wouldn’t part with his pet for any amount of money. The guest wanted to see this beauty and off they went.   No one really remembered what happened but before the whole sick episode was over,  the poor man’s lamb was dead and the buddies shared the lamb with mint sauce for dinner that evening.

Sorrow of david William Hole

David was livid!  At heart a good man,  he couldn’t bear to think of that man’s pet being snatched when the host had hundreds of his own.  “That Jerk deserves to die for that little stunt!  He should pay back at least by a factor of four,”  he shouted!  Nathan stalked up the first two steps toward the throne,  looking David straight in the eye, “the jerk is you, Majesty!” Suddenly,  the window of Nathan’s story became a mirror and David saw his reflection. It was ugly.

 If we are going to become whole as people and our church is going to be a healing community, then we must operate more and more in the open spaces. We are called to wholeness – to health. We must embrace the working of the Spirit in the unpredictable, risky and uncontrollable parts of our lives.

  • Insight and repentance are the best antidotes to the sin of self-deception.
  • We will be as open and honest with ourselves as we are able.
  • We will find someone who can trust to confide our hiddenness. That why the confessional is inviolate.
  • When we find this trustworthy person we allow them to share our blind side with us (in love). We can only this from someone who loves us.
  • We get in touch with our unconscious, by working with our dreams and by paying attention to the contents of the blind side.

The Church is to be a healing community. We are being healed and as we are healed the community is strengthened for its work. Let us pray that our blindness will decrease and our openness to God and each other will increase.  This is the resurrection working in us springing up to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 Amen.