Sunday, August 12, 2018

Ephesians, Transformation and the Nine Paths

1 Kings 19:4-8
Ps 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

(I suggest actually reading Ephesians to experience the depth of what is there, but my sermon provides a brief overview of some key points and texts)

Salvation is Orthodox "psycho" "therapy"—or Christian soul healing—the process of theosis, union with God. Ephesians provides us with the blueprint and language.  

Ephesians 1:4-5 reveals that 'God chose us in Christ, adopting us as His children—to be holy and blameless.' We are adopted into the divine life in Christ. While we are made in the image of God, Ephesians 2 addresses the human crisis: we are born fallen and sinful; 'dead and under the power of the world and evil spirits.' Ephesians 2:3 brings it to a sharp point: “All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and mind and we were by nature children of wrath like everyone else.”  Things are not as they were intended, the world is fallen and hostile to God, each mind and heart twisted by the passions. So, Ephesians says, God graciously sends Jesus to dwell in our hearts through faith; and we are commanded (4:1ff) "to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been grow in every way into Him who is the head—Jesus Christ.” Salvation is a slow process of growing into Christ: theosis takes time.

Growing is a gift but also a struggle, as we leave behind the false self. Ephesians 4:17ff “you must no longer live as the Gentiles, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart... You were taught to be renewed in the spirit of your minds and to clothe yourself with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness... So then, putting away all falsehood, speak the truth…”

Falsehood…. Satan has spoken lies into your heart since you were a baby. The World’s lies affect every community, even the church. Our doubts and fears are a barrier to trusting God. So we try to find a way to save ourselves. The Jews called idols “False Things” and we entrust our salvation to our own idols daily.

Disease is disease, but there are different types, right? Treating heart ailments is different from cancer. And heart ailments and cancers are also further differentiated.  The passions are a spiritual cancer in each of us, but you need to know which type you have. The darkened mind is a learning disability in each of us, but you must diagnose what the problem is. We all suffer from a heart malady—our spirit heart needs healing—but how is your heart broken or sick?

We are driven by different fears and different needs—find out what yours are. We all keep our personal secrets—ask the Holy Spirit to reveal yours. We are each deluded and lead astray in a particular way—ask Jesus to guide you from the path onto His path. The journey to theosis requires the receiving saving grace by painful repentance and conversion. I suggested Enneagram last week, if you don’t like that, then find another tool to help you become the New Self, the True Self, in union with God.   
Last week we offered the Exodus narrative as a revelation from God about our spiritual journey to theosis union with God. We spoke of Salvation as a process of leaving Egypt/slavery to sin, being purified in the desert and going to the Promised Land into freedom from the passions into union with God. This week Ephesians talks of the darkened mind/heart and the Gentile life which parallels Egypt! The New Self is the Promised Land. The Bible reveals the basic truth of salvation is myriad ways.

If interested in enneagram here are some online tests.

Here is a great overview of the types which should help you clarify

These are but three of the many excellent books out there.
"The Road Back to You" Ian Cron & Suzanne Stabile (they have lots of podcasts as well)
"The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective" Richard Rohr & Andreas Ebert (Rohr has a website and lots of information)
"The Sacred Enneagram" Christopher Heuertz

The import of the Enneagram is to understand the Passion/Deadly Sin secretly at work within your own soul. It cannot capture all there is to know about you. As you answer questions you might not be consistent or accurate. Reading the descriptions will probably clarify things, or at least narrow down the possibilities. Most people find it to be very useful.  

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Supplementary Notes on Theosis and Nine Ways

Reflection on Genesis, the Enneagram, and beginning one's journey.

Enneagram is not intended to be another personality test, it is a tool for self discovery. My embrace of it is tied to its focus on the Deadly Sins or Passions, about which I have preached a great deal for over two years. Finally, I found something which can help us deal with our real life and personal journey into God. This school provides three generic ways of being a human in the world, and three more specific variations of each general type. The authors I have read all make clear that the types are not set in stone. They further emphasize that we are unique humans who embody the type in our own complex ways. It is meant as a mirror to provide insights into our own unconscious motivations and the strengths and weaknesses of our way of being. However, already the feedback is coming in; this helps me understand why I do what I do, which helps to choose better.

We need to see both the forest and the trees, we need to see Genus and Species. Grouping humans allows us to recognize similar patterns across larger sub-populations. It is the age old issue of "the one and the many," what makes us the same and what makes us different. Terms like Christian, athlete, or teacher do in fact have meaning and are actual subdivisions of human life. Such categories are helpful and give insights into others. However, one also learns such divisions do not do justice to the complete person, there is always more to the story. The Nine Ways points to something real, even if it is not able to explain us 100%.

Genesis 1 describes creation from a global, ordered (very priestly) view point. God says, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." This is the starting point for Judaeo-Christian anthropology. The Bible does not give an exact, detailed account of human construction. We know humans have bodies--the physical man. Humans also have an inner dimension, which is variously called spirit, soul, mind, heart, or identified with the working of desires, hungers, needs, wants, etc. Some Biblical authors differentiate, for example, the mind from spirit. Others use the terms interchangeably and a survey of a biblical dictionary does little to clarify because the same word can have myriad meanings. The "image of God" is never fully explained, although it appears again in Colossians 1:15 ("He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth...all things were created through Him and for Him.") where it is applied to Jesus with a huge twist, the image is actually divine. Genesis says God gave Man a role which is 'godlike' translated as dominion, rule, mastery, authority, etc. God also gives Man plants for food.

Genesis 2's more anthropomorphic rendition (where man is created before vegetation) is more intimate. The soil and divine breath composition is called a nephesh--a living soul (but nephesh has other nuances of meaning including passions, desires, mental and emotional function, and various spiritual and human angles. This raises the question: what is human? Once again, we note God's provision, and that the man is charged to guard and keep the garden. We also learn that it is not good for man to be alone.

What comes clear here, and what follows in the rest of the Bible, are basic patterns. Relational Man--not alone but partnered with someone of "like strength." The Scriptures regularly focus on God's love and human love (for God and others). Scripture celebrates unique persons, service and success. Human capacity and power are also present in dominion and watching. Safety needs--will God save us--are central to the texts. How often do the psalmists say "God is my stronghold, my surety. my safety"? There is a command to love your neighbor as yourself, there are many commandments about justice and right dealings with one another. The constant demand that we love and serve God, and no other, and the Lord's wrath against those who harm others or embrace other gods might be the most important topic of the Jewish Bible. Lastly, the recurring theme of idolatry. A close analysis of these and other Biblical themes reflects the threefold understanding of humans as mind-heart-instinct. The human needs which we all share, are also more intensely experienced in different ways. Which is decisive--the need of knowledge or safety, the need of relationship and loneliness, or the need of power and confrontation? In the end, one of the three is the final court of decisions and that court is our type. We all know that there are patterns, people whose first impulse is to withdraw from others, move toward them or confront them. Certainly we do not always do the same thing each time, but the underlying motivation remains the same. Other consideration impact the how, but the why remains the same.

I think our True Self is the image of God. Each of us was born with a basic task of being some aspect of the Jesus Image by whom we were created. God gifted us with a particular "spirit" and we choose spiritually to be one with God or not. Our souls and bodies comprise us in real time. Some things are not in our control, others are. The world impacts us, for better or worse, particularly our parents (or care givers) and families. Our experiences are always based on an interpretation of the events of our life, and our way of being is in constant flux as we, in our particular expression of one of the Nine types, negotiate our personal journey of life. The grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit is enhanced or impeded by our willingness or reluctance to become what Abba Father intends us to be. Unbelief can be a sufficient barrier to healing love. Sins, known and unknown, complicate, slow down and otherwise conflict with healing salvation.

Everyone knows bad thinking and wrong desires are deadly, the issue is how to understand the particular way each of us moves to chaos and pain. Our apparent virtues are often nothing of the sort. Jesus says it is what is within a person that makes him/her unclean. Sadly, the most deadly thing at work in us is often hidden. The unseen passions which generate the sin. Understanding the why of the behavior does not excuse it. Each person can choose to journey into God, and obediently take up their own God given identity. That is a major component of the Journey of Faith.

I am no teacher of he Enneagram. I do find it fits into those things about which I do teach. I hope you find it helpful as well.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Tools for the Journey out of Egypt

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

“Manna is not the real Bread of Life, I am,” says Jesus. Jesus fulfills the Scripture, which requires a Spiritual-metaphorical reading of the Bible. Jesus is the Real Exodus. Let us read for the deeper, Christian mean:

*Egypt is a metaphor for 'Slavery to the passions' (sinful desires which keep us separated from God. Egypt is a state of mind and heart).
*The wilderness is a metaphor for repentance (Greek metanoia means a new nous)  a change in how we think, feel, perceive and judge.
*The Promised Land is a metaphor for union with Abba Father—we are healed and holy. 

So spiritually, Egypt is the condition of our hearts. We were all born in Egypt. For us, Egyptian slavery is the false gods or passions--anything that separates us from YHWH. It started in the womb. Genetic malfunctions, environmental toxins, and emotional duress all damaged us before we are born. Family and societal problems made it worse. We are fragile people in hostile world at enmity with God. We never learn how to truly love and serve God—and the false desires harm us from within.  
As small babies we battle the world, the flesh and the devil and choose our identity, never knowing the image of God within us. In Egypt God is not near so He must come to save. But we "Israelites," still slaves in our minds, have doubts and fears so we build our golden calf and murmur that we were better off in Egypt (serving the world, the flesh and the devil).

Yes, salvation is God’s grace, but like the Israelites we must trust, walk in the hot sun and fight many enemies. Only Joshua and Caleb, trusting and faithful, entered the Promised Land. Everyone else died in the desert; they left Egypt but never escaped it. We must be like Joshua and Caleb, with God's help.

The passions are Egypt in our hearts. The deadly moral sins, like murder, are obvious. Sometimes, however, the sinful desires are disguised as good things. The Enneagram is an ancient explanation of how these false desires work.

We are not one with God is pain. We doubt and fear, so we serve false gods. We become slaves to being good, helpful, successful or strong. We choose the slavery of duty, observing, being happy, content or different. These things sound positive but they are cover for the passions. We feed on them, but they are not the Bread of Life, so the hunger of our human soul is never filled.

The deadliest sin works secretly in our unconscious. We live in denial as we seek to do the impossible and save ourselves. The Ancient Church tells us: Be awake and keep watch so Jesus can heal you. I have been preaching this for years, but like you, do not know how to do it.

You are a child of God, but in Egypt you were made a slave. Jesus is saving you and I offer the Enneagram as a tool to uncover the deadly sins in the wilderness as we journey to the Promised Land.

If interested in enneagram here are some online tests.

Here is a great overview of the types which should help you clarify

These are but three of the many excellent books out there.
"The Road Back to You" Ian Cron & Suzanne Stabile (they have lots of podcasts as well)
"The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective" Richard Rohr & Andreas Ebert (Rohr has a website and lots of information)
"The Sacred Enneagram" Christopher Heuertz

The import of the Enneagram is to understand the Passion/Deadly Sin secretly at work within your own soul. It cannot capture all there is to know about you. As you answer questions you might not be consistent or accurate. Reading the descriptions will probably clarify things, or at least narrow down the possibilities. Most people find it to be very useful.  

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Jesus the Shepherd

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Ephesians 2:11-22

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In Numbers 27:12 Israel stands poised to enter the Promised Land. This is the completion of the salvation begun when He delivered them from Egypt. While the Exodus is about real people in a real place, the underlying revelation in the story is about a universal spiritual story. Salvation has two dimenions—freedom from sin and death (Kingdom of Darkness; metaphorical “Egypt”) and entry into God’s Kingdom where we become one with Him and each other (Promised Land= theosis).  Moses "knowing he was soon to die, Moses asked God to "appoint someone over the community... [to lead them]… so that that the Lord's community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd."" Why did Moses make such a prayer when God is faithful? Because God has given over the world to us. Our openness is a vital part of the Kingdom coming. This is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” God heard Moses’ prayer and designated Joshua as the shepherd. There would be other shepherds as well, the Judges, the Kings, especially David, and, of course, the Messiah, Son of David.  

In Jeremiah’s day, the failures of David’s sons had reached its pinnacle. The King and leaders had failed the people. God was angry and spoke a word of judgement. First He condemns those in leadership for abusing their power. God says that He 'tend' to them, and then He will tend to the people. In every age those in power are accountable to God for abusing their power. In every age God speaks salvation to those who are victims of oppression and abuse. We will all be responsible to God for our abuse of power.

In the Gospel reading today we see Jesus fulfill the Word: Jesus is the perfect fulfillment both of Moses’ prayer and Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jesus is the True Shepherd who brings us into the Kingdom union for which we were made.

Mark shows how hard this type of Kingship was. Jesus gets no rest. Ever. The crowds seek Him out everywhere. Wherever He goes, they find them, so He teaches and heals, endlessly. He is fully human, and we sometimes gloss over this. We negate His humanity and say "He is God," ignoring that He is God Incarnate. No doubt exhausted beyond our imagining, Jesus is always the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. Every day He dies on the cross so we can live.

Believe this: Jesus is your Shepherd, too. You are His lamb, a sheep of His flock. You are precious and beloved. He wants to teach and heal you: body, heart and soul.  But we doubt it is true. We are afraid it won’t work. We look at the crowds and say “others are more needy or deserving." So we withdraw or  wander.

But, if we turn to Him, He will minister to us. But God said that He will raise up other shepherds, raise up others who will tend to the broken ones. Jesus empowers us to be shepherds in His name. The Church is Jesus present in the world. The world does not need our arguments and political wrangling. It needs truth and love. It needs to be taught God's word and be healed and set free. We, too, must believe and have the courage to act on our faith. We are to be the answer to Moses’ prayer and Jeremiah’s prophecy. Through us, Jesus continues to teach and heal. In us Jesus is God’s love incarnate, leading people from Egypt to The Promised Land. This, too, can be hard to believe and hard to do, but it is what God redeems us to be: One with Jesus. And Jesus sends us in His name for others. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

On Living Together Well

From Daily Office lectionary for today

Romans 12: 9-21

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I used bold to emphasize some of the verses. The verses where Paul is quoting Jesus' teaching (as found in the Jewish Scriptures) and is challenging us all to a way of living which is foreign to every impulse and desire of our hearts.

I recommend Orthodox Psychotherapy by Bishop Hierotheos, who has been a bishop the last twenty three years. It is a handbook on theosis as understood by the Ancient and Eastern church. Psychotherapy in Greek means soul/spirit healing. I have slowly read the book the last two years and am in my third read through. 

It calls us to pursue union with God. Until we are united with God, our values and efforts to do right are going to be fatally flawed. Our mind is "darkened" and we need the Light of Truth (Jesus) to heal us. Our heart is attached to the wrong things, or the right things in a wrong way; these 'passions' or hurtful, sinful desires need to be forgiven and healed. Until that happens, any efforts to bring justice will always be impacted by our selfishness and sinfulness. In other words, Christians will battle each other, even to the death, in the name of Jesus. We do not fully know the truth, but we still impose our faith on one another. 

In every conversation between people of good will, the first task is defining terms. What do I mean by justice, peace, racism, fairness, honesty, etc. This is not semantics, nor is it avoiding the issue. It is just clarifying things so we can engage in the hard work of living together. Many conflicts are the result of people using language in different ways, or coming to different conclusions based on faulty assumptions. Remember the biblical "mind/soul" or nous, includes the functions of perceiving, thinking, feeling, understanding and judging. None of these is totally trustworthy because we are all malfunctioning and we do not always know how. This produces dangerous conflicts. This why even good people do great damage, and why conflicts quickly escalate into uncontrolled rage.  

The renewal of our mind, for which Paul advocates, entails the sort of attitude and behaviors found in the reading today: Genuine love for the other, especially the other with whom I disagree. The unhealed mind and heart are incapable of it and none of us will achieve it on this planet, but we can begin each day to guard our thoughts and hold them to the light of Jesus. We can be aware of the movements within our own souls and the need for constant repentance. It is difficult to say the least, and few of us are inclined to do it, or good at it even when we choose to do it.

The dilemma is in the current unpleasantness people are going after each other in vicious ways. There is actual emotional and physical harm. People are destroying the lives of others, and often times feel morally superior in the process. The human reaction to such threats is to respond in kind. Can we learn from Paul (who was often beaten and died a martyr) who is preaching the Crucified Jesus? Can those who claim Christ also embrace His willingness to forgive all, to love all, even as He challenges each one to convert and believe?

My guess is the passions (fear, anger, resentment, greed, envy, etc.) make it difficult to even try. Today, reading Romans, I experienced my daily reminder that I have far to go in this journey of faith. I was reminded that the world will be a better place if I simply do what I am told to do in this reading. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Suffering for the Word and Discerning the Word

Amos 7:7-15
psalm 85:8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Amos is probably the first prophet whose preaching was complied as a written document. He lived during the reigns of the two kings Uzziah (783-742) of Judah and Jeroboam II (785-745) of Israel. It was a time of economic and military expansion. However, the material success did not reflect faithfulness to God.

Amos says that he was an ordinary man (working with flocks and trees) when the Lord sent him to bring the bad news to the Israel that their end was near. This judgement happened twenty five years later, in 722BC, when the capital of Samaria fell to the Assyrians and those tribes of Israel were lost forever.

Judgment is never pleasant and so we understand the Amaziah's of the world. We also prefer to hear that "all will be well." We, too, are inclined to "shoot the messenger." Amaziah told Amos "go home." Most of us would cheer the priest who stood up to the negative prophet. Amos stood steadfastly and declared Israel's end. In 7:16-17 (left out in today's reading) the prophet responds on a personal level: "your wife will be a prostitute, your children will die by the sword, your land will be divided out, and you will die in a foreign land; because Israel will be exiled." That is harsh. I can imagine the prophet confronting the politically connected priest and I can imagine that priests reaction to such words. No one wants to hear such words, but it doesn't really matter what we want to hear. The truth can be harsh.

John the Baptizer was also an unwelcome prophet. He confronted Herod and made enemies in high places. the man who lived in the desert under the stars spent his last days locked away in a dank prison. Then a soldier was dispatched with a sword. Did John wonder if God had forsaken him during that time? He was faithful to God and the cost of such loyalty to God is the way of the cross.

Because the world can be harsh, Jesus tells us, "Do not fear but believe." Courage and trust are at the heart of our Christian life. The struggles and challenges of Amos and John remind us why faith and courage are so important. When the powerful of the world turn against you, it is a temptation to edit the message and make it more pleasing. Faithfulness takes faith. Faithfulness takes courage. Living God's word has a price.

Please understand, this is not a call to pessimism or negativity. It is a call to reality. God's prophetic word is always judgement but that judgement is not only exile, death and punishment. It is also deliverance, healing and mercy. It is our task to discern what the Father is truly saying. Fr. Joseph and I read the word and preach it, but each of you, must prayerfully discern if you hear God speaks through us.

How can one know if Amos or John, Joseph or Jeff is speaking a true message from God? One ancient biblical criteria was confirmation--Amos warned and Israel was exiled--so are the warnings accurate, or the promises fulfilled? Another criteria is the Scripture and Tradition: is it consistent with God's Word in the Bible and His Church's teaching? On a personal level, the criteria is theosis. Does the message bring God into you and you into God? Does the message enlighten your mind? Does the message free you from the deadly passions? Does the message make you holy?

There are many voices and much that is new and innovative. We do not want to be Amaziah or Herod rejecting the ones whom God has sent us. Yet with some many conflicting voices it is hard to know what to believe, especially when many of those voices seem so confident. The hard task will probably only get harder in days ahead. And the opposition to God and His word will get worse. Much worse. Union with God is the only way to make it through the challenges we face ahead. Like Amos and John, we must be prepared to declare His word if He sends us.

Let us pray: Lord, the world, the flesh and the devil speak falsehood, send the Holy Spirit to guide us in all truth, to be filled with Jesus and serve you faithfully. Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Jesus Couldn't

Mark 6:1-13

The Gospel today is a difficult one to process. we hear that Jesus "could do not deed of power there, except He laid His hands on a few sick people and cured them. And He was amazed at their unbelief." Mark's story has a parallel in Matthew 13:53-58. One wonders if this scandalized Christians so that later Matthew wrote Jesus 'did not do' many mighty works there (along with a couple other interesting edits). Did the later Gospels worry that Mark might be misunderstood and that the wrong conclusions might be drawn about Jesus?

The Scriptures are the revelation of God to us, but God uses human authors. How much autonomy they had is a matter of debate. What we do know is they are not always in complete agreement. The assumptions we bring to this collection of ancient books will dictate how we understand and interpret them. Mark clearly states that Jesus is amazed by their unbelief. What exactly does this mean? No one knows. We do not know the exact psychology of Jesus. We do not fully understand the flow of power from Jesus into others, what this power is, exactly. We do not know how human unbelief was a barrier to Jesus' ministry (after all He raised the dead and no one expected that). It seems important because it gives me reason to believe that not believing may well continue to thwart the saving ministry of Jesus in and through His church today.

The "God can do anything" assumption from which many of us operate, is not be the whole story. It appears that unbelief can block God's power. Perhaps, unbelief is sufficient to insure suffering and death are untouched by His healing love. It often seems to be the case in my life and ministry. I think this sheds light on the meaning of "saved by faith."

It is interesting that the crowds are amazed at Jesus, and He is amazed at unbelief in His home town. Jesus could be amazed, an important datum for understanding His humanity. The Gospel also reminds us that we cannot assume we totally know "the familiar." Jesus was familiar to them, but they did not know Him. The same is true of us. Sometimes the world is not what we think it is. There is a mystery at work in our ordinary lives. Believe and unbelief present God with opportunities to do mighty works, or thwart His efforts to save.

Mark 6 is not the whole story. There are other angles on this, for example in Matthew, but we do well to process all the information. All of it. Especially the parts of revelation which do not neatly fit into our theologies. And the Gospel raises the question: Are people amazed that the power of Jesus is manifest in me to heal, deliver and instruct them? Or is Jesus amazed at my lack of belief?