LENT II

March 1, 2015

God called Abraham to follow him to the land of Canaan where God will make Abraham the father of a great nation. He went.

“God promised him a covenant – a contract – God will, according to the contract, make Abraham, as he will be known, the ancestor of a multitude, not of people, but a multitude of nations. God will make Sarah, as she will be known, the mother of nations.
Abraham was almost a hundred & Sarah almost 90.
Paul writes to the Christians in Rome:

Romans 4:13 [page 118 NRSV] 13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on GRACE

[Grace is the constant availability of abundance with the question always being am I open to it or not. Parker Palmer]

…and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham [not genetics but faith] (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’, according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’

19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced [persuaded] that God was able to do what he had promised. Not wishful thinking – happy place self-created magical wishful thinking but the trustworthiness of the one in whom we have placed our faith 22Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ [Accounted, marked on his account – accounting term]

23Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Mark 8:27

JESUS; “Who, do you say that I am?”
PETER: Messiah – Son of God

Jesus began to say to his disciples what he would undergo in Jerusalem that he would go there and suffer, be rejected, killed and rise. Mark records that,”he said this plainly”. Peter could not bear hearing this so he took Jesus aside and said, “Now don’t you go talking like that. It’s morbid.”

Peter is horrified on at least two levels.

  1. On a thinking level, the idea of a “suffering” messiah was not part of the Jewish vision. Messiah was going to be like David, who would come and sweep the Romans into the sea, reestablishing the Jewish political state. Messiah was to be a King, a man’s man. The possibility of suffering was not at all what Peter had counted on.
  2. On a feeling level the notion that Jesus might suffer and die is emotionally painful. We say, “Don’t say that when someone voices a bad possibility as if by the mere saying it would make it happen.

I perceive that you & I are very much like Peter.

In America & the West we are at the end of an amazing ride, a ride that has gone on for over a century. Never in human history has so much been available to so many, continued and sustained for such a long time. As Immersed as I was in the 20th century, I thought that the word “Modern” simply meant new, improved, progressive, innovative, and inexorable even. Imagine my vertigo when I was introduced to the post-modern era. All that looked shiny and inevitable, you know modern, is now rusty, creaky, longer holding the promise upon which our culture relied. The greatest modern notion, the myth of inevitable progress, has failed us.

As Richard Rohr says, “Our age has come to expect satisfaction. We have grown up in an absolutely unique period when having and possessing and accomplishing have been real options. They have given us an illusion of fulfillment and an even more dangerous illusion that we have a right to expect fulfillment – fulfillment now – as long as we are clever enough, quick enough, and pray or work hard enough for our goals.”

We don’t want to hear that. It can’t be true.
And Jesus tells us like he told Peter, “Get behind me Satan!”
Why, because this is not how one follows Jesus!

Rohr continues, “We believe that we are energized by the bird in the hand; but believe it or not, the word of God and the history of those who have struggled with that word would seem to tell us that we are, in fact, energized much more by the bird in the bush. God’s people are led forward by promises. It is promises, with all their daring and risk, at empower the people of God.”

Beloved satisfaction is no longer immediate.
Beloved we are not entitled to satisfaction.
Beloved we have lived in illusion that we are entitled to immediate satisfaction.
Jesus promised his followers only three things that they would be absurdly happy, entirely free and always in trouble.

Martyrs 21ISIS announced the execution of 21 Copts but only 20 names were confirmed, most of them were from the province of Minya (Upper Egypt). There was an inaccuracy in the number of Egyptian hostages; there were only 20 Egyptians (Copts). Then who was this remaining one non-Coptic victim?

Ahram-Canadian News was able to gather information about this man. He was a Chadian citizen (darker skin shown in picture) [I believe his name is Samuel Alham Wilson] Who accepted Christianity after seeing the immense faith of his fellow Coptic Christians to die for Christ. When the terrorist forced him to reject Jesus Christ as God, looking at his Christian friends he replied,

“Their God is my God”

so the terrorist beheaded him also.

What if Samuel Wilson was imprisoned with 20 of us?
Would he have wanted what we have been given in Christ Jesus?
Do we even know what we have in Christ Jesus?

When Jesus said the way of the cross is the way of life, he wasn’t kidding. He meant it literally.

To him, be glory and may the souls of the martyrs of Libya and of all the faithful, rest in peace.

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 the 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

Justin Welby 3_0

What advice might you give to a local parish or other group that’s trying to discern where its call is?

First of all, just because you can’t do everything, it doesn’t mean you should do nothing at all. There’s a sort of a sense (that says), “I can’t solve the problem of world poverty and inequality, so I won’t do anything.” Do what you can. Not what you can’t. That comes out of prayer. So for a local church community, pray. Start with prayer about your local community. Contemplate, listen in silence. Allow the spirit of God to speak, and look and see what happens.

Secondly, be outward looking and engaged and take risks. Take risks, but risks that are based out of a life of prayer in your community. We are based in a relationship of love for Jesus Christ, so start with what we know and see what he calls us to do.

Excerpt from an interview with The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury – Trinity News, Trinity Wall Street

The Friend of the Bridegroom

Deesis

Deesis

Serigus Bulgakov – Essay on the Forerunner

There are two types of the soul’s relation to Christ as the Bridegroom. Every soul in the Church, giving itself to Christ and living his life, stands in the relation of ‘bride’ to him – like the Church itself, which receives its life of grace from him; this is the ‘feminine’ way of yielding to Christ.

But then there is another way – if not of communion with, then at any rate living for Christ, namely, our human, moral relation to him which consists in self-renunciation out of love for Christ. Then the soul learns the sweetness of friendship for the Bridegroom, the path of the Forerunner. This is the type of love between man and man, a ‘masculine’ relation to the Bridegroom.

These two types are not mutually exclusive but form a composite and indivisible unity. Love is both self-renunciation and communion, as life in another; love is the unity of two in one life. The Church as the Bride of Christ has and gives this unity and communion of life, which is the principle of divine motherhood as expressed by the Church. The Church as a multiple unity of person, after the image of the tri-Personal unity of God, consists in continual self-renunciation, dying for the sake of anther, friendship with the Bridegroom.

Love is sacrificial self-immolation and resurrection, union and friendship. The fullness of love and communion with Christ in the Church include two aspects of love for Christ, of which one is appropriate to the office of Our Lady, the other to that of the Forerunner, the two figures who stand together stand beside the the Saviour in the ikon called Deesis (‘Supplication’).

A Bulgakov Anthology (Page 87)

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.

A Word for the Soul

 

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The best word for my soul today came from a recipe for strudel dough, here thinness is the goal,

“In fact, forget being too careful. Hesitation won’t help you any at all. The best stretching will happen when the dough is in the air, not when you are pinching at it on the table.”

This is from The Lost Art of Cooking by Ken Albala & Rosanna Nafzinger.

 

 

Deliver us, O Lord, From the Peril of Invincible Ignorance

Sometimes it's best not to know

“The unconscious comes to the aid of the conscious ego when it is grappling with a task that is beyond its capacity.” Anthony Stevens from Private Myths

What help could come our way if we were willing to pay attention to our dreams and visions. The resolute determination to avoid a meaningful connection between the inside and outside of our being almost rises to the level of what the Roman Church calls “Invincible ignorance” — the ultimately fatal decision to not accept the truth.

However, in the past year I have been in sustained conversations with men who are working with their dreams and I observe the amazing change in them as them as they take seriously this communication. I have observed one fellow getting “unstuck” in his career as he listened to the coaching of his sleeping dreams. He had never considered such work, but now calls me with reports of his nocturnal adventures.

I am more convinced than ever that soul work is the principal task of priests & deacons in parishes. It requires vigilance not to succumb to the tyranny of the immediate, losing focus on the essential task at hand. The institution of the church no doubt needs maintaining but only when that maintenance supports the Cure of Souls, as the ministry of the Church. So long as Church leaders, lay and clergy, keep that in mind the institution thrives and souls thrive. As Saint John writes in Third John chapter one verse two, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” (KJV)

Even as your soul prospers, what if our life reflected the health of our soul? Would it look like Dorian Gray’s portrait? Some of the problems of life do not depend on our personal functioning. Other people’s choices can make a difference in the prosperity or famine of one’s life. However much of our dis-ease comes from within and Jesus warned when he said that what defines comes from within not what sort of food that is eaten.

John Sewell 2010©

Experience More Important than Credentials

“Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart throughout the world. There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, social meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.” -Carl Jung

“We are here tonight because we are searching.”

DaVinciCodeIn November, 2002, I led three conversations about the issues raised in The Da Vinci Code. Months earlier the cover caught my eye in a bookstore. Because I have a long fascination with Leonardo (he is never called Da Vinci), I bought to read as a diversion. I found nothing new there but it was a good page-turner. Then an interesting phenomenon arose. People old and young, male and female began to ask my opinion of the Code particularly could it be true that Jesus and Mary of Magdala were married and perhaps even had a child. These questions continued through the summer with such frequency that I realized that this book provided a teachable moment. I prepared to have a conversation about the book with interested members of the congregation I serve. A press release was sent to the newspaper and they wanted an interview. The publicity produced six hundred attendees at the first gathering. Toward the end of that first meeting a woman stood up and said, “We are here tonight because we are searching.”

What about the novel by Dan Brown brought so many people into church for a conversation? When questioned by a reporter about why I thought so many people were reading this book, I replied, “It is filled with delicious Christian heresies.” We are talking junk food for the soul, good tasting but of dubious nutritional value. Did Jesus marry Mary from Magdala and have genetic descendents? The Last Temptation of Christ, another novel, considers that marrying his girl Mary, having children and growing old as an ordinary human being was indeed the last and perhaps most pernicious temptation Jesus faced. There is no compelling evidence that Jesus married at all. But people are asking, “what am I to believe and why?” That is a very valid and enduring question.

The church teaches that Jesus is fully human and fully god. I believe that he is? That is an act of faith for me but increasingly I suspect that it is true because it is not the easy way out. Humanity likes the quick fix, the black or white option – clear cut and simple. Heresy, from the word, “to choose”, is the tendency to choose a part of a notion and carry it to a logical conclusion thereby ignoring the complexity and richness of the fuller reality. As Northrop Frye writes in his book entitled, Anatomy of Criticism, “…the full metaphorical statement “Christ is God and Man” is orthodox, and the Arian and Docetic statements in terms of simile or likeness (are) condemned as heretical.” The heresy is to not be willing to live with the tension of the paradox, but rather to want reality easily understandable.

The Da Vinci Code introduces many people to the fact that there were many weeds in the early garden of Christianity. There are many reasons that they didn’t become the dominant form of Christianity. In some cases they couldn’t compete in the marketplace of ideas and in others they were eradicated by the political power of the state allied with the church. The church has not always covered itself in glory by mercy and justice.

All that notwithstanding I think the principle reason that classical Christianity endures to the present is the fact that the easy way was not the way chosen. The fact that the church chose the way of paradox and ambiguity as the most authentic way to live in the mystery of God revealed in Christ is the most telling reason for the enduring power of its life and message. That is how I explain six hundred people showing up on a Wednesday night to talk about a novel.

JWS