EASTER V

JOHN 12:30 – 13:31 …so, after receiving the piece of bread, he (Judas) immediately went out. And it was night. 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.

tissot-judas-leaves

I begin with the last verse of Chapter 12…so, after receiving the piece of bread,   Judas immediately went out. And it was night.  Yes, night had fallen as the sun disappeared in the West. But… when they saw the back of Judas retreating down the stair, almost as if a switch was thrown, the mood quivered and flattened into silence. The company of disciples, mood dimming listened with the ears of their souls. And it was night.  It was night.

It was night, when Jesus squared his shoulders, cocking his head slightly to the right, appearing to hear.  This they knew.  He did it often, especially when one of them hunting him in the dim light of dawn, came upon him praying with a faraway stare, head turned listening.

Rising, he turned and as if returning from a distance and said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” They had followed him too far to mistake his words. “Glory,” was not the lockstep of Legions, Triumph in a chariot, the conquered trialing dejectedly along in the dust.   That was the Messiah of most Jews understanding. “David, now that was a King, I tell you. He would have driven the Romans straight through Caesarea into the sea.”

Are we different, beloved?  We have less excuse this side of the resurrection. We no less than they, want the God of our understanding or rather our ego’s understanding.   The gospel of prosperity, manifest destiny or Christendom, all fall short of the Glory of God revealed on that hill on that Friday.  Now, that was God-shaped glory.  We, who believe, are better for it.  God’s glory always first suffers first, them and only then resurrection.  Egos always hope for easier. Egos look for gain.  What egos never understand is that death always precedes resurrection.

I believe that Jesus was deeply moved by his love for these men. The expression, “Little children” is found nowhere else in the New Testament. I see it as a term of endearment, used privately.  “Boys”, he said, “this is the end of the road for our happy band.  Where I am going you cannot come.”  They were used to Jesus’ odd remarks, but this sounded terminal.”

I give you a new mandate (origin of Maundy) tonight.  “You know how much I love each of you.”  He paused, gathered himself and continued, “I need you to love each just the same. Through all our adventures, people have marveled at our relationships.  That is how they will know you are my disciples, when you love each other with a graceful, even reckless disregard for self for the sake of others.”

All too often, the line, “Behold those Christians, how they love one another,” is quoted ironically, given our propensity for emotional violence over any number of vain contentions.

That being said, turn to the Acts reading for today.  How does the Love mandate look in practice? This story is told three times in Acts.  Clearly it is an important story.

 Peter is wandering around and things began to happen.  Raised Dorcas from death to life. Last week’s lesson ends with Peter settling down for a long visit with a man who was known as Simon, the Tanner.  Leather works smell nasty.  I suppose the sea would be a good place to live given breezes.

The first crisis of those who followed the Way was the “kosher” wars.  How dare you go to dinner at a Gentile house?  You might as well as gone to The Rendezvous for pork ribs! What do you mean the Gentiles have accepted the Word! You can’t be serious!

For example, let us suppose that sentient humanoid folk show up on Earth.  H.G. Wells notwithstanding, we found them friendly, less warlike than we.  This would throw all sorts of wrenches into the cogs of creeds and screeds.  For the sake of conversation, let us call them, “the others.” 

The central issue for us is this, Did Jesus die for the sins of others, or just for us?  Actually the first question is, “Do others need salvation or not?”  Do they sin?  Was the Incarnation, passion and resurrection of Jesus felicitous for earth or for all planets?  

This is the very crisis that the Jews found on their doorstep.   It never occurred to them that Gentiles would be interested, let alone accept the word.  They didn’t want Gentiles meddling with a salvific system of the Jews, by the Jews and for the Jews.  Not only did they think Gentiles would hit hell wide open, they were glad and eager to buy tickets for the occasion. It would be nice if they were at least remorseful about it, but that’s a sin for another day.We do know that people are hungry to experience God directly, personally and in a way that reorders our very lives, beginning with the deepest longings of our hearts.

Peter's Vision - oil on panel - 8' X 12' - 2000 - $60,000

Peter’s Vision – Edward Knippers

Peter had a vision (dream while awake).

  • Sheet (filled with unclean animals. In many cases we would agree with Peter. But also in the sheet was Memphis’ all-time favorite PORK, lobster, clams, crabs, catfish, shrimp,)  The unclean animals are favorites of mine, like porkers, shrimp & Lobster, so much is good stuff; at least in my clan.
  • However, Peter did not see this as good news. I’ve never eaten any unclean thing in my life. Followed by a Righteous shiver and a mortally offended yuck.
  • To which God replied, “Nothing I have made is a yuck!”

This Happens a second and a third time.

CORNELIUS

About that time, God said to Peter, BYW, there are some Gentiles about to ring the bell downstairs.  I know it’s not kosher but you go with them. You hear? And Peter did just that.

He and the messengers went to Cornelius the Centurion.

What   do we   learn   from   Peter?

  • Pay attention to what is going on around.
  • Pay attention to what is going on in us.
  • Often the two spheres over-lap in interesting, even compelling ways.

Carl Jung called this overlap, Synchronicity:  Inner and outward life impact the other in a meaningful but acausal way.”

  • Often contradicts what we thought.
  • Broadens our horizons.
  • Calls us to transcend our limited perspectives.
  • Does an end run on our deeply held biases.

What would have happened if Peter refused to pay attention to the trance? He could have blamed it on being hungry at lunch time.

The Good News of God in Christ must be for any and all or it is not Good News for any.  Entrance into that company is a matter of grace.  They’ll let anyone in.  I don’t know about you but I’m real glad that is the case, given my background. At Saint John’s we have low standards, not no standards!

York Minster window gets major renovation – YouTube

 

I first visited York Minster in 2009.  This window removed a year earlier for conservation was replaced by the world’s largest photocopy.  This year is the year of re-installation of what is the largest Gothic stained glass panel on earth.  Take a moment and listen the extraordinary care and time required to restore this treasure, not only of our Anglican Church and the United Kingdom but all people.

to the tomb

The Disciples Peter and John on their way to the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection – Eugene Burnand  1850 – 1921

Be a Peter or a John; Hasten to the sepulcher, Running together, Running against one another, Vying the noble race. And even when you are beaten in speed, Win the victory of showing who wants it More— Not just looking into the tomb, but going in.

-Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (4th cent.)

Maundy Thursday

 

footwashing

Maundy Thursday – James Tissot

It is interesting that the Church followed the story line of Matthew, Mark & Luke + Paul in the reading from his first letter to the Corinthian Christians when they established the core act of worship for the Church.  So ever since the Church has gathered to break the bread and drink the wine as the principal metaphor of Christ’s continuing presence in the world. 

  Have you ever thought how things would have been different if instead the Church had cued on the Gospel reading from John? What if foot-washing had become our central Sacrament rather than communion.  Think of all the glaring questions we could be debating:

  1. How to wash feet?
  2. Should they be immersed?
  3. Should they be sprinkled?
  4. Should the right or left foot come first?
  5. Who is authorized to wash feet?
  6. Can women’s feet be washed?
  7. Perhaps most importantly could women wash feet?

 We laugh but are not similar arguments about Eucharist and Baptism in the same category? What is going on here?  What is Jesus telling us?

 During Supper, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe and tied a towel around him. The word, “took off” or literally laid down is the same word the Jesus used when he spoke of laying down his life.  When he took up his clothing again it is the same word as taking up his life again. There seems to be a connection between the foot washing and the death/resurrection of the Lord.

mary-magdalene

Womn Washing Jesus’ Feet

  This is what Paul was speaking to in the Epistle to the Philippians last Sunday when he remarked that equality with God was not something that Jesus exploited but humbled himself taking the form of a servant.  I will not go into all the discussion of Greek thought which that represents but let me say that Paul is saying that servant-hood and glory are each genuine expressions of who God IS!  Taking the towel is taking the role of servant. 

People walked everywhere and so feet got dusty when you arrived at your destination. Each house had a pitcher of water and basin + towels provided for people to wash their own feet.  Mosaic Law provided that Jewish servants did not have to perform such menial tasks. Jesus makes the point that for God nothing is menial. The very core of our understanding our understanding of God is that He is self-giving.

 So Jesus did for his disciples what they were not willing to do for each other and to those beyond the group.  Not much has changed has it?  Jesus is still more willing to reach out to us than we are to reach out to him and each other.

004-jesus-washes-feet

 There is also an ancient tradition that the spirit enters and leaves us not through the head but through the “soles” (souls) of the feet.  The pattern of whorls is the path of the wind of life as it entered and left the body.  So there is a spiritual idea about feet — that we to which we pay little attention to may be of profound importance.

So tonight we hear the call of God.  By our baptism we are to be servants to all that we encounter in the world.  Servanthood begins in baptism and is acted out in worship tonight so that we may serve in the marketplace. There is really a profound connection between getting to know each other “hand to foot” that is terribly important.

 To put aside our embarrassment at WASHING feet and having OUR feet washed by someone else.  Being embarrassed is not fatal.  A South American priest has said, “Embarrassment is as close to suffering as most of us have ever been.

 Tonight we remember just how much we really need each other.  I am never more aware of that truth than when we bury our children. We need each other to be real.  We are not perfect.  We are not always wise. We are lonely – we are afraid – we long for people who will forgive us and love in spite of what we sometimes are and sometimes are not.

jesus washing peters feet by ford madox brown

Jesus washes the feet of Peter – Ford Peter Maddox

 

 There is something about the washing of feet that breaks through all of our cosmetic differences and barriers. No one must do this, but I encourage you to stretch a little.

 We are a blessed people.  Remember that one is not blessed at the expense of others but for the sake of others.  We bring food tonight for the hungry as Christians have been doing for hundreds of years.  We are called to remember that human beings are more alike than they are different.

 Parker Palmer defines grace as, “the constant availability of abundance with the question always being am I open to it or not?”

Tonight like our Lord, we also are called to lay aside our pride and our dignity, as he laid aside his life as a sign of our life in him.  He came among humanity as a servant.  Let us claim his name now act like him.  There is something about getting to know people hand to foot that is transforming and liberating. Let us do for each other what he did for those with him that night.                                                                                                

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

 

PENTECOST

May 24, 2015
Saint John’s
Memphis, Tennessee
John W. Sewell

 

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days after the Resurrection. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the day of Pentecost and the indwelling of God’s Spirit in a new way, more continuous and more manifest than had been experienced before. The ancient Aramaic translation of the Pentecost story puts it this way, “And as the days of Pentecost were fulfilled, they gathered together as one. And there was from the stillness of heaven a sound like the stirring of Spirit, and the whole house was filled with it, where they were staying.” The spirit then fell upon them as tongues of fire. After Pentecost the word, God, as they had defined it, was no longer adequate to describe what the Christians were experiencing.

As John Polkinghorne puts it, [The Faith of a Physicist, pg. 146] “The early Church felt that it experienced divine power present within it with a peculiar intensity and personality.”

HOLY SPIRIT – BREATH, SPIRIT OR WIND
They looked into the Hebrew Scriptures for ways to explain what had happened. The language of spirit (ruah) was used in the Old Testament in relation to creation (Genesis 1: 2f.) The Spirit brooded over the waters of chaos in creation.

jesus_breathes_on_the_disciplesIn both Greek and Hebrew the word for spirit means also ‘breath’ or ‘wind.’ This is the sense of today’s Gospel reading. On Easter afternoon, the disciples were huddled behind closed doors for fear of the authorities. Jesus came and stood among them and showed his wounds. And as the disciples rejoiced he said twice “Peace be with you!” Then he said, “As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you.” Then, when He had said this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This verse can be translated, “Receive the holy breath.” He then says, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven him, but if you do not forgive someone, his sins are retained.”

Jesus breathed on them giving the Holy Spirit to the disciples. They had been behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. He tells them that they may forgive sins and retain them. I have been wondering? Is Jesus telling the church to be the moral police as has so often been the interpretation of this passage? Or is he saying in another way what he said in so many other places, namely, that we are to forgive everyone. If we retain sins is it because we can choose whether or not to forgive OR because we are unwilling or unable to forgive? Did our Lord not tell Peter to forgive infinitely? If we do not forgive is it because we unable to inhale the holy breath?

I am learning that deep breathing and fear are not compatible. Years ago and far far away I studied Yoga. The word comes from the Sanskrit and means union, from the words “to join”. Yoga is a technique for promoting “mindfulness.” — to become still and in that stillness to awaken and become conscious. To breathe and stretch promotes consciousness of one’s body one is present in one’s body. The yoga tradition says that each human being has a certain number of breaths to breathe in their lifetime. To breathe rapidly and shallowly is to wasting our very life. Although I doubt there are a set number of breaths per life, shallow rapid breathing does not promote health. Is the same true in the life of faith?

It is difficult to panic when breathing from the diaphragm. When people panic they breathe faster and more often, which in turn promotes more fear and less thinking. When we are afraid we have more trouble forgiving than when we are centered. The gospel tells us that perfect or mature love casts out fear. When we are centered we can choose to love rather than become our fear. After Jesus breathed on the apostles they were no longer afraid. They went into the streets proclaiming the good news of God in Christ to the very people from whom they had earlier hidden.

pentecostLike deep breathing, the presence of the Holy Spirit is incompatible with paralyzing fear. So it stands to reason to me that where we are afraid is the very place the Spirit is likely to be manifested. To be alive is to risk. Yet we are so afraid of risking. We run the numbers, buy insurance, take polls as if by some incantation or marshaling of force we shall at last be secure. But it is an illusion.

As Helen Keller, a woman who knew a good bit about challenge once wrote, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

The promise of our Lord is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly dove, the bird of open spaces, of the unpredictable, the risky and uncontrollable. Our part is to become quiet and be still, facing our fear that the love of God will be manifest in us. Fear prevents the breathing THAT PRODUCES SONG.

THE HOLY SPIRIT CREATIVE, SPONTANEOUS & PLAYFUL.
For example check out the Psalm for today –
PSALM 104
26 Yonder is the great and wide sea
With its living things too many
to number, creatures both
small and great.

whale3
27 There move the ships, and there
is that Leviathan, which you
have made for the sport of it.

God made the whale just for fun. As an old friend of mine, Fr. Craig Bustrin, used to say, “The Whale is God’s Rubber Ducky.”

THE HOLY SPIRIT AS ADVOCATUS

Advocatus: is a Lawyer, defender, in John 15, a defense attorney. Interestingly, the word, Satan is not a proper name, but a title, literally meaning, “The other side” or prosecuting attorney. The “Court of Heaven” is clearly displayed in the opening chapter of Job. Here the title, Satan, is used; in others accuser.

JOB 1:6-12 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro

on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”

Satan_Before_the_Lord_Giaquinto_17501

The scene, as the curtain rises is a court room. Each one, you and I, are seated in the chair reserved for the defendant. We are in a world of trouble, facing the death penalty; if the truth be told, we, every last one of us is guilty It’s an open and shut case without wiggle room. Not only are we addicted to sin, we are pushing it as well.

Now, the good news, beloved. Jesus served as our advocate so long as he lived in his incarnation (Christmas t0 Ascension). He is gone. Panic not. Jesus promised another Advocatus, one like him. Who is this defense attorney? It’s a senior partner in the old-line law firm in Heaven! Actually, it’s better than that. One of the masthead names of the firm, Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Attorneys & Counselors, founded before the foundation of the world is on his way.

The Holy Spirit is opening an office here just so we have immediate and continual defense! He is on retainer paid for by the cross and passion of the second person of the Trinity. Do you see what amazing news this is? What have we done to deserve this? Nothing, absolutely nothing. This, sisters and brothers for God is pro bono work! We call it GRACE!. .

In the Name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit!

The Convenient or the Real?

faux_chocolate_bunnies_8_m2

Arriving on Easter morning, having bypassed Good Friday reduces the Day of Resurrection to a Rite of Spring consisting of plastic eggs and chocolate bunnies. – John Sewell

Is the a Fire Truck in the Neighborhood?

Christendom is dead. Even in the provinces, yea verily, even in Memphis on the Mississippi it is so. Reciprocity between Western Culture and the Church is over.

The arguments between Calvinists and Arminians [as a prime example] must cease. It is not that such distinctions have no meaning because they do. I hold opinions about these matters and that is unlikely to change. The difference is that the people in the street neither, understand these distinctions nor do they care.

house on fireThat being the case we have better things to do. Preoccupation with these contentions is like arguing about what hardware should be holding up the front door of a house that is on fire!   Alan Watts writing in 1947 gets to the point.

At least we can cease from the interminable sermonizing … and tell the people in human speech as distinct from theological algebra, that the Church is where one comes to find union with God. [63] BEHOLD THE SPIRIT – ALAN WATTS

The Kingdom of God Comes Without Observation

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

The Eve of the Feast of the Incarnation 

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

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

The Anxiety of Saint Joseph - Tissot

The Anxiety of Saint Joseph – Tissot

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

It was not an auspicious beginning.

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

It was not an auspicious place for a birth.

Seeking Shelter - Tissot

Seeking Shelter – Tissot

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

It was not an auspicious nursery.

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

It was not an auspicious audience.

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

The Angels & the Shepherds – James Tissot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adoration of the Shepherds - Tissot

Adoration of the Shepherds – Tissot

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

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

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

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

From Sermon 83

saint-bernard-of-clairvaux-10

During the last three days I have spent the time allotted me in showing the affinity between the Word and the soul. What was the value of all that labor? Surely this: We have learned that every soul-Even sin-burdened, vice-entangled, pleasure-enticed Even though in exile, a prisoner-of-war, incarcerated in body, mud-stuck and mire deep, limb-fastened and care-fixated even though strung-out over business wrangling, fear-knotted and sadness-crushed even though errant in wrong-headed wanderings, in anxious uneasiness, in restless suspicions, even though a foreigner in a foreign land, among enemies, and – as the Prophet says – one polluted by death with the dead and numbered among those going down to hell even so, we have learned, I believe, that every soul (however condemned, however hopeless) can turn around, can turn back and breathe once more not only the hope of mercy, the hope of pardon, but can even breathe aspirations of wedding-nights with the Word.

— Bernard of Clairvaux

Bill, the Loitering Bishop, Blessed Be He

The Rt. Rev. Furman (Bill) Stough,  Eigth Bishop of Alabama

The Rt. Rev. Furman (Bill) Stough, Eighth Bishop of Alabama

One of the gifts of living past sixty is coming to treasure the people who help you along the way; you see Christ in them, and remarkably enough, they see Christ in you!   Bill Stough was one of the chief stewards of my life, ordaining me, first a deacon and then a priest.

Bill had this way of loitering by the door of this faith we share, lying in wait for the unsuspecting traveler.  Even though we may not even have known at the time, we were looking for God, Bill knew. More importantly, Bill knew God was looking for us.

The day I wandered by tugged by the longing of my heart for home. One Sunday at Christ Church, Lexington, Kentucky,  I knelt down to say my prayers before the Eucharist began and looking at the altar I suddenly knew this was my place and I wanted what I sensed there.

It was that very longing that drew me the day I made an appointment to meet with the Bishop of Alabama.  We were seated and Bill, asked what I had come for, and I told him.  He took me seriously, which the is the greatest gift one can give to another. My memory is that His Grace gave me the gift of two hours, an unheard of waste of a Bishop’s time.  He told me candidly that many people seek ordination, more than he could employ.  But he also said,  “If you are still interested to come back in a year.”  I left that day affirmed by the fellow who loitered by the door.  I did go back a year later, and that story is for another posting.

I learned the most important things from Bill by watching him, especially when no one was looking at him. What was he like in the unguarded moments?  He was a wise man, kind, direct and terrifying when righteously angry.  I came across his blessing a couple of days ago.  I share it with you because it tells you all you need to know about this man, whom I love(d).  He said it always, in a small group in the woods or at the altar of his cathedral.

“Let us depart from this place in peace, and as we go on our way, forget not the poor, pray for the sick, make no peace with oppression, and love one another as Jesus has loved us. And the Blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon you and upon all God’s people this day and forevermore. Amen.”

– The Right Reverend Furman (Bill) Stough, Eighth Bishop of Alabama

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