Sunday, June 17, 2018

Little is Enough

Ezekiel 17:22-24          Ps 92:1-4, 11-14           2 Corinthians 5:6-10-17            Mark 4:26-34

Ezekiel is a prophet during the exile. In chapters 16&17, he says that Israel was a little girl saved and chosen by God. But the adopted child grew up to be wayward. Then, using the image of marriage, Israel is graphically portrayed as unfaithful and wanton. She does not deserve to be rescued, but the merciful God, ever faithful to His covenant to Israel, saves her in His longsuffering love.

The tree in today's first reading is a metaphor. Israel's King is the top of the cedar, clipped off and transplanted to Babylon in the exile. This prophecy is God's promise of a new beginning. There will be a new king planted--like a majestic cedar stretching to the heights--and the Kingdom will be expansive. This messianic promise is fulfilled by Jesus on a tree--the cross. Crucified Kings disappoint the worldly. It takes the eyes of faith and a pure heart to see God in Jesus.

The "weakness" of God is called the scandal of the cross. It generates the parables today. Jesus compares the kingdom of God to seed growing in a field. Jesus want us to understand how God works--slowly and, often, unimpressively. Jesus ends the parable with a quote from the prophet Joel (3:13, see below). The verse is part of a prophecy where God condemns the nations and promises deliverance to Israel. Jesus turns this expectation on its head, announcing judgment on Israel as well, for failing to accept Him. NT Wright's insight (in "Mark For Everyone") is that the growing seed actually finds its fulfillment in the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The Kingdom will grow undetected among us. Jesus warns against being dismissive of the small beginnings of His ministry.

The second parable has a similar warning. People doubted that an itinerant preacher-healer could be ushering in God's great victory? So Jesus points to the tiny mustard seed and invites us to "see how God works." The humble seed becomes a bush which is then compared to the great tree of Zechariah in its size and scope. Jesus' parables are commentary on Scripture, let those who have ears to hear, hear.

Mark 4 should give us great consolation today. As we see hostility to Jesus growing, it is easy to be dismayed. We are becoming smaller, weaker and are increasingly marginalized. We read about people losing their livelihoods for the faith. It is shocking and can be disheartening.

Jesus says: Size is not the measure. Human power is not the means. His message is apocalyptic. God will establish His Kingdom among us. Our human effort can never build the kingdom. His message is ancient. Our work is to be open to receive purification. We are to pray, to learn, to trust and love. we are to guard our thoughts and offer our hearts to the Holy Spirit. Salvation is the hidden work of God in each heart. Purifying, healing, and sanctifying. This is how God saves the world. Like a mustard seed in each human heart. This is good news. We are a small, unimportant parish, but God is among us healing and saving. Our power can not achieve much, but the  Holy Spirit quietly does great things. The purpose of life is theosis, seek union with your God and trust in Him.




Joel 3 "For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehosh'aphat, and I will enter into judgment with them there, on account of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations, and have divided up my land, [directly addresses various nations and makes accusations]….

Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare war, stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, "I am a warrior." Hasten and come, all you nations round about, gather yourselves there. Bring down thy warriors, O Lord. Let the nations bestir themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehosh'aphat; for there I will sit to judge all the nations round about. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the wine press is full. The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. [RSV]

*Daniel 4
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a similar large tree which shaded all. He was the tree but his power as king was, in fulfillment of the dream, taken from him for awhile before he was restored.

https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Waiting-On-God
https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Man-Keeping-Watch
See a number of Biblical references to watching and waiting.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Real Family

Genesis 3:8-15
Ps 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

The story of Adam and Eve illustrates that sin is a self centered act of rebellion against God. Temptations appeal to our self-will, the desire to do what we want. Therefore, all sin is really idolatry because we put ourselves in the place of God.  We were created for theosis, union with God in love, but sin is a rejection of that union which produces within us a destructive illness which disintegrates the heart and mind. This soul-sickness darkens how we perceive, think, feel and judge. So we compound our sin with further sin. Look at their reaction; "the man and his woman hid themselves from the Face of the Lord God." Rather than repent, they hide. Instead of requesting that the Father heal them, they hide from the only source of salvation. Sin, like a cancer, is a malignant power destroying us from within and impacting all our relationships.

"Where are you?" God asks. "Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" Adam continues to reject the opportunity to repent, choosing instead to blame Eve and God: "The woman whom you gave me...", he says. Sin feeds the impulse to be "me-centric." Humanity is separated from God, which then bleeds over into other relationships. The family stories of Genesis, starting with Cain and Abel, are full of endless conflict and betrayal. Human families and human relationships need saving.

In the Ancient Middle East, the family dictated identity. People were constrained by a very structured order of expectations. Remember, that broken, sinful people with darkened souls (nous) and wounded hearts make up family and clan. So when Jesus heals and casts out demons, some celebrate, but others judge Him. Jesus did not fit into the societal box, so their social expectations cause them to say 'He has lost His mind.' Think about this, He is working miracles and they think He is crazy?  To protect their family's honor, His relatives go to restrain Him. Even worse, the religious leaders call Him satanic. Jesus points out the ridiculousness of this claim, pointing out that if Satan is fighting demons then the divided kingdom is falling. Jesus offers another option. He is the strong man defeating Satan. He is not crazy, nor possessed, He is God at work among us (Emmanuel). It is like Jesus is saying. "open you eyes to see. open your hearts!"

Jesus has come to heal and save the human family, a family which is torn by selfishness and betrayal since the garden. Every biological family is impacted by sin and dysfunction. Jesus offers an alternative, the spiritual family of redeemed humanity. Faith, love, obedience are what bind us together in Jesus, not DNA. Many of us have experienced this truth. We have experienced the birth from above where the Holy Spirit makes us one in Christ. The family bond of faith and love in Jesus is stronger than Satan, soul-sickness and death. But those who cling to the blindness of self worship, those who reject the ways of God for the sake of their own expectations, those who refuse to repent and submit---these have rejected the life of the Holy Spirit and have cut themselves off from God.

We were made for union with God, to be a real family--each of us a son or daughter of God. God has made His choice, now the response is up to us. We can choose not to hide when we sin. We can choose to take responsibility and repent. We can reject society's norms and submit instead to Jesus. We can see that our true family is the people of God gathered around Jesus. We can live into the freedom of the children of God.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

You Feed Them

13 Now when Jesus heard this [that John the Baptist was beheaded], he withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (RSV, Biblia.com)

Jesus withdrew (anachoreo this Greek verb is associated with the monastic vocation, people called anchorites or hermits who have withdrawn from the world to pursue a deeper relationship with God in solitude and prayer. see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchorite) to an eremos (dessert, deserted place, wilderness. The word "hermit" is derived from this Greek word. The early church practice is modeled on this and similar passages about Jesus' spiritual life. See for more this article. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eremitical

Jesus is withdrawing at the news of John's death. What does it mean for Him? Is it a sign of His own demise? The death of Jesus, of course, is connected to Passover and the Last Supper echoes in the wording of the miracle of the loaves and fish.  He looked up to heaven, blessed, broke and gave to the disciples. This connects the Last Supper//eucharist to feeding the crowds, and it is a preview of the church's ministry through the apostolic church's ongoing celebration of the eucharist. The huge crowd is fed by five loaves plus two fish (seven), which may be symbolic in meaning. The resulting left overs is twelve baskets, certainly an image of total Israel.

The words of Jesus are important to hear. "You feed them." You. In the end, of course, Jesus works the miracle, but what He starts with is their gift. So often our resources are insufficient to the task at hand. We  are overwhelmed by the demands of life. The crowds are few and we have only a sack lunch, not even enough to care for ourselves. Jesus makes clear, our mission is to serve. He heals. He feeds. So should His church. If we fear to give away all we have, perhaps we should meditate on this story. Twelve guys have five loaves and two fish to share. Twelve guys who were hungry. Jesus said, "you feed them." So they did. Nothing left, yet somehow at the end of the day each disciple sat with a basket full of loaves and fish. A basketful!

The church in an age of diminishing membership and resources much become more generous with its time and resources. The church must be more completely focused on teaching and healing. The crowds still need what Jesus has to offer. We must trust Jesus.  



Sunday, June 3, 2018

On Pharisees and Closed Hearts

Deuteronomy 5:12-15     2 Corinthians  4:5-12     Mark 2:23-3:6

"Look…. Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?"

What was the motivation for this vicious resistance to Jesus? It is easy to condemn the Pharisees as self-righteous villains, and some were, but really, that *spirit is at work in all of us. The Pharisees suffer from the universal human problem: sin. Humans make bad choices and do bad things. We freely choose to sin. Humans are also broken. Our nous/mind is prone to error. Our wounded hearts cause relational disorder. Our unconscious fear, despair and anger spill out in dysfunctional ways. Religious faith can simply become a cover to avoid facing our deepest hurts and insecurities. Instead of repentance or crying out for healing, we become abusive, attempting to control God and others.

The Pharisees wanted to be holy, yet many were blind to Jesus, the Holy One of God among them. In their fervor for the Torah, they read selectively, forgetting that the purpose of God's law was to heal and save people. Instead of embracing salvation, they became self-appointed legalist enforcers, and in the process they cut themselves off from the Lord of Salvation. This is a warning to each of us. Everyone is at risk of losing God for the sake of their beliefs. Legalism takes many shapes and disguises*.

The human condition is the problem. Our beliefs are infected by the  darkness of sin. Our wounded hearts are ruled by passions which blind us. We are afraid; so we try to control. We project onto others what is wrong within us. We are frustrated and angry so we become petty and cruel. Life is hard and we need to feel safe, so we each find our own way to do "the Pharisee thing." Or worse, in an effort to not be Pharisees, we negate spiritual discipline and ignore Jesus' concrete teaching, falsely claiming that God has no expectations about such things.

What to do? Let us hear the text. Jesus starts with human need. We must see the image of God in others. Poor people getting a morsel of food should not be condemned by others for breaking a law that was given in response to human need. Sabbath rest is not an excuse for doing nothing in the face of suffering and human need. Jesus does not advocate lawlessness, He often deepens the demands of Torah. God's will for all people is health and salvation. Humans need nutrition and physical healing. They also need spiritual healing--freedom from sin, freedom from the false mind and freedom from the sinful passions. Jesus did not throw the Torah away. What Jesus said was, "is it right to do good on the Sabbath or evil?" We know the answer, now let's do it.


*after writing this I read the following, which illustrates the pharisaical spirit in a non-religious setting. http://thefederalist.com/2018/06/01/white-privilege-become-religion-complete-church-ladies/
"Ignorance of this religious dimension leaves the adherents of woke social justice especially prone to the pitfalls that the traditionally religious are familiar with. Many stumble. They become the preachers and church ladies of wokeness: smug, sanctimonious, uncharitable and unforgiving — always ready to take offense and call someone out. And there is no shortage of people willing to undertake the task. What are we to make of the priests of this harsh religion?"

Friday, June 1, 2018

Rain and Prayer

One of the greatest benefits of our tradition is the spiritual discipline of the Office. Morning and Evening Prayer are the primary daily prayers in our denomination (with a midday and compline/night office as well). This is from the Benedictine tradition, which is the primary Western monastic expression of this way of life. Students of the early church are aware of the many individuals and groups who sought to live lives consecrated to the Lord. They are our great spiritual teachers on prayer because so much of their life is focused on the work and discipline of prayer (just as scholars are a more focused expression of study, missionaries are a more focused expression of the apostolic vocation, and other ministers--teaching, healing, serving the poor and needy, administrators, choirs, and others--are each practitioners of the ministries in which we all engage).

I have heard people who criticize monastics, but I think it is unfair. Historically, some of the greatest missionaries of the church were monks. Monks copied scriptures and other ancient manuscripts and without them much of our Christian heritage would be lost. And above all, the way of holiness in which we are all walking, can be informed by the experiences and insights of those who do more completely and intensely what we all try to do in our own ways.

This morning we have had intermittent rain, some of it quite heavy. The big, high church roof (for an otherwise a relatively small space) creates a wonderful background for prayer when the rain falls. Today was very meditative, but at one point the rain came much harder and louder. As the church echoed with the drumming melody, we prayed together the assigned Canticle 10.
Seek the Lord while He wills to be found; call upon Him when He draws near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways and the evil ones their thoughts; And let them turn to the Lord, and He will have compassion, and to our God for He will richly pardon.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.
For as RAIN and snow fall from the heavens and return not again, but water the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth, seed for sowing and bread for eating, SO is MY WORD that goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to me empty; but will accomplish that which I have purposed and prosper in that for which I sent it.

The Word spoken through the prophets, the word written in Sacred scripture, the word preached and proclaimed by evangelists and ministers--that Word is incarnate in Jesus, God the Son. Jesus' work is effective and will not be empty. Whatever the state of the world, whatever the state of the church, whatever the state of our hearts and souls...whatever things appear and are, the Word is at work, like falling rain, bringing life.

Hearing the rain and declaring it is a sacramental of the Word, was a very profound experience today. Every Friday we proclaim this canticle from Isaiah 55. Every Friday those words are spoken by the lips of those gathered together, and we know it mostly by heart, and our hearts are being filled with life and God is accomplishing His purpose a bit more in each of us.

The monk way is for you and me. The office, praying Scripture (the Word) and encountering Jesus (the Word made flesh); and God doing the slow work of growing His kingdom (like a mustard seed or a woman kneading dough into enough loaves of bread to feed hundreds and hundreds).

Thy Kingdom Come! Thy will be done!
we also prayed this today, in the rainy echoes of our little church.
I hope all who read this are inspired to learn the Benedictine way and the discipline of praying Sacred  Scripture.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

God's work in us and through us


 (Trinity Sunday)



Isaiah 6:1-8
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17


The insight of mystical theology is that one can have an experience of God in this life. However, the masters teach that it is a struggle to find God. We are flesh and blood living in a fallen world. The words flesh and world, therefore, are double meaning. Incarnation and creation are God, God's creation. They are also used negatively to indicate the rebellion against God and the barrier to communion with God. It is the latter, negative, sense which we encounter in Romans and the Gospel of John today.

Humans are not God's children in he sense that Jesus is. Paul says we are children of God by adoption. Adoption in Roman culture was a socio-political process to raise someone to a higher status. God adopts us to share in the divine status of Jesus--it is a work of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel, Jesus says that we are 'born from above' by the Holy Spirit to enter the kingdom. What we were--sinful flesh in the rebellious world--is changed by the life breath of God Himself.

One model of our experience of God is Nicodemus. The Fourth Gospel uses intentional language to portray this Jewish leader, and it is vital that we understand this story. We begin with the end of chapter 2, where we read: "When he[Jesus] was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed (pisteuo) in his name because they saw the signs that he was performing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust (pisteuo) himself to them, because he knew all and needed no one to tell him about humans (anthropos); because he knew was in humans (anthropos). Now listen to chapter 3... 

There was a human (anthropos) of the Pharisees named Nicodemus... and he said..."no one can do these signs that you do apart from God." He came at night, nux is the hour of darkness when no one can work and the time of betrayal. This is also our situation, we are in the dark, drawn to Jesus by His miracles, but our faith is not always an entrusting of our selves to Him. 

"God so loved he world that He sent His only Son; not to condemn the world but to saved it." God's intent and goal is to bring the rebellious world and flesh into union with Himself. This is why Jesus came. The problem is the darkness. In John 1 the author provides a summary of the Gospel which will help us here. Jesus is life and light, a light shining in darkness. The darkness cannot (katalambano The Greek means to comprehend, it also means to seize) overcome the light but neither does it understand the light. John 1 continues, those who believe in him, he gave power to become children of God, [not any human agency]...but of God. The same concept of God adopting us or being born from above.

Jesus came to share the life of God with us. Jesus came to make us what he is. The problem is that we are in a broken creation and we have broken minds and wounded hearts. The "world and flesh" cannot get Jesus. Like Nicodemus, we half understand, in part because we live in darkness and care more about signs than Jesus.

The experience of world and flesh are part of Isaiah's horror in seeing God. "Woe is me!" he exclaims. I am a sinner living in a nation of sinners. There is no discipline by which Isaiah can make himself presentable to God. Purification is a divine gift. But note what happens, a burning coal is placed on His (unclean) lips. The coal is a burning piece of wood. Typologically, wood is the cross and fire is the Holy Spirit. Like Isaiah, we are made clean by the cross/Jesus and fire/Holy Spirit. We are born from above. But Isaiah's experience is not for the experience of "being saved." The voice of God asks "Whom shall I send? who will go for us?" Salvation (theosis union with God) is for the sake of mission. We share in the mind of God His goal. We are now called to be Jesus to the world
As The Father sent Him, so He sends us. We are the body of Jesus in the world. We are on mission, he mission of Jesus. That is our purpose and that is our reason for being. 
*******************
As it is Trinity Sunday I want to share some insights into how the early church read Isaiah and found the Trinity there. This was part of my original homily but as is often the case the third draft is a new work completely. Even so, it is still of value to share, I hope:
>>>
Isaiah had an experience of God. It is one of many varieties, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, and many prophets. However, as Theodoret (5th C Antiochene) makes clear "Isaiah has revealed the Father's existence but not his essence (which cannot be seen). In other places God reveals himself in ways that also demonstrated no one has seen his essence...God is incorporeal, indivisible, simple, invisible and inaccessible."  So while in a real sense no one can see God; the passage says Isaiah saw God. The Hebrew verb "to see" (ra'ah) has a special connotation (1 Samuel 9:9 "what we now call a prophet was once called a 'Seer') and illustrates the prophetic substance of this narrative. God is high and lofty; the title "The Most High" appears over one hundred times in the Jewish Bible and reminds us of the limits of our human experience of God.

The Christian view of this short reading connects it the Trinity. The six winged attendees to God are called seraphim. Origen (3rd C) said that his Hebrew teacher told him that the two seraphim were Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Other church Fathers focus on triple--Holy, holy, holy--the earth is full of His glory. Ambrose says  "that even in a hymn you may understand the distinction of persons in the Trinity and the oneness of the Godhead." Likewise, Theodoret says that when they repeat "holy" three times...they are referring to the one essence of Deity. Further "their song praise[s] the eternal essence for having filled both heaven and the entire earth with his glory. This happened through the incarnation." Cyril of Alexandria and St. Jerome both state that this declares the Holy Trinity exists in one divine nature; and Cyril agrees that the incarnation of Jesus fills the earth with God's glory. Clearly, the ancient Fathers read with a heart of faith, so they find the Trinity in the Jewish Bible. We, too, can bring our faith to every day experiences and discern Trinity.
<<<<

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Apocalyptic, Prayer and the Holy Spirit


"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies."  [also 2 Corinthians 5:2, "here indeed we groan and long to put on our heavenly dwelling"] Paul speaks of this life as a time of groaning and struggle; not because life is bad, but because the new life of the Kingdom is being born.  (see also Jesus in Mk 13:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:3, Revelation 12:2). The Bible declares that the world as we know it is passing away. Jesus said it (Mt 5:18; Mk 13:31). Paul said it to the Corinthians in two letters (1 Cor 7:31; 13:10; 2 Cor 5:17). 1 John said it (2:17). Seven times we read this in the book of Revelation (17:8, 11; 18: 14, 21; 21: 4, 11; 22:5). Jesus said it will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night (Mt 24:42-44; also 2 Peter 3:10).

Jesus uses the language of Jewish Apocalyptic* literature and many early Christian writings do the same. The Apocalyptic worldview rejects the notion of progress, predicting that chaos and destruction will increase. The apocalyptic world view is of a creation that will be consumed and something new will replace it--much like the death and resurrection of Jesus. Humans cannot and will not progress into a brighter future; only God and His Messiah can save humanity. Salvation, though, is a painful process, like giving birth to new life. So anguish and physical duress are part of the process, in part because the world, the flesh and devil are in open and hostile rebellion to God's healing work. While some might find this message bleak, it does seem to reflect the real world. If the apocalypse says that bad things will happen to God's people, maybe we should not be surprised when bad things happen. This is why Jesus told us to expect trouble but not to despair. We are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. We are Christians who know that Jesus is Victor, even if the victory is not fully revealed. This is why Paul says that we have hope--we hope for what we do not see and we hope in patience awaiting it to arrive.

The truth is, life can be hard and we get discouraged. We are weak---but the Spirit of God helps us in our weakness. Paul says that weakness is manifested in the inability to pray as we ought. The Spirit, he says, intercedes on our behalf. There are many excuses for not praying, but in the end the core reason is we do not want God at the center of our life. We literally choose darkness and death rather than light and life. It is why creation groans---our sins and offenses. It is why we suffer--sins and offenses. It is why we need to be saved and it is why only God can save us.

Prayer, then, is an encounter with the God who saves. Responding to His Love, prayer unites us to Abba Father. Paul says that deep prayer may have no words. The groaning of our hearts, lifted to God, is the best kind of prayer. And the Spirit does it within us.

The challenge is to set aside time to turn to Him. The challenge is to be quiet and say, "Here I am, Abba." We seek Abba--not to get, not to ask--but to simply be with Him. Prayer is so simple that a young child can do it, yet so sublime that a spiritual master never becomes competent. Prayer is our duty and it is God's gift to us. Remember, the Holy Spirit is praying in us, give over your heart and stop worrying about the words to say. The Bible gives you all the words you need.

Our foundation for prayer is the daily office. Take a verse and sit with God: "To you, Lord, I lift up my heart, in you, God, I put all my trust." "Create in me a pure heart, Lord, and put a right spirit within me." "Jesus mercy." "Thank you Father." Simple words from our groaning heart. Again. Again. Again. Letting the words become part of us and allowing the Spirit to make us one with God.
Now do it each day.

*For a simple introduction to the literature see
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalyptic_literature