Friday, June 29, 2018

faith, sin, Moses' Insight

The Lord Jesus repeatedly warns us against doubt and fear. The command to love might be expanded to say "faithful, trusting, courageous love." Defining terms is always the key. Love and faith are especially important terms to define correctly.

The Morning Office readings assigned for this date is Numbers 20. We read that Miriam dies, she is the feminine member of the human trinity (with her brothers Moses and Aaron)  which leads Israel in the desert. Recall, she played a key role in saving Moses' life as a baby. We then read that there is no water. Water is a rich symbol in the Bible, both for evil (chaos) and good (refreshment, cleansing). In the NT Jesus refers to living water flowing out of the Believer. On the literal level, to have no water is to die of thirst. In a spiritual reading the death of Miriam and lack of water can be seen as the loss of the feminine/spiritual. The reaction of Israel, in either case, is open rebellion. The Blue Letter Bible says that the Hebrew riyb literally means to grab by the hair in a conflict. It means to strive or contend with, hence to doubt; or to contend with in a legal dispute. The congregation of Israel gathers "over/against" (the connotation is to be above) Moses and Aaron and "contends'' with them about the issue. However, ten verses later the text says that Israel was contending with the Lord. God and the leaders of His congregation are closely aligned, a high ecclesiology indeed.

We have heard this before, Israel quickly loses faith, bemoans her fate and appeals to the good old days of slavery. Israel, when confronted with hunger and thirst, is prone to lose hope. Spiritually, this is akin to what Jesus exhorts His disciples not to do. "Keep faith. Be brave. Do not let the threats you face turn you from God."

The word for "contend" first occurs three times in Genesis 26:20-22, where Jacob digs wells and the neighbors contend with him for the land. First parallel, note the presence of water/well. The next occurrence of the word, in Genesis 31:36, Jacob contends with Laban for pursuing him when he is innocent. Note Moses and Aaron are also innocent in this quarrel about water.

God, in His mercy, chooses to hear Israel's complaint and faithfully responds. He commands Moses to strike the rock with Aaron's rod. Yesterday we read that many rejected Moses' and Aaron's leadership role. Some claimed that they were worthy to be priests of God. God's response was to have Israel gather twelve staffs, each with the name of a tribe on it. God said that He would make clear who was His priest, and the next day Levi/Aaron's staff was budding flowers and almonds. Now that same staff is to be used to hit the rock and cause water to flow.

Moses strikes the rock. Twice. God tells him that for doubting he will not enter into the Land of Promise...

While here and in Deuteronomy 32 ("you shall die there on the mountain...because both of you broke faith with me among the Israelites at he water of Meribath-kadesh in he wilderness of Zin") the reason is the same, breaking faith/doubting earlier in Deuteronomy Moses seems to give a different spin on things.  He tells the people (Dtn 1:26) "you rebelled against the Lord...(1:32) you have no trust. (1:35 God said not one of the evil generation would see the land except Joshua and Caleb) Moses then concludes "even with me the Lord was angry on your account, saying, "You shall not enter there." Moses said he prayed to enter the land (Dtn 3:26) "But the Lord was angry with me on your account and would not heed me. The Lord said, "Enough from you! Never speak to me of this matter again...for you shall not cross over this Jordan." Then for a third time he blames them, "The Lord was angry with me because of you..." (Dtn 4:21)

This second component adds another layer to the story. While the Scriptures tell us much, we must be careful not to think they tell us all. Three times Moses says that it is Israel's fault. Can this be a peek into a more complex explanation for Moses' punishment? Or is it the product of another tradition (like the multiple explanations given for why Moses got other chiefs to help him judge Israel)? Our assumptions about the Bible will limit our options for understanding this mystery.

The idea that a leader is held to a higher standard and is responsible for the people s/he serves/leads is found elsewhere, i.e., James 3:1 (not many should become teachers... for you will be judged with greater strictness.") Ezekiel was told that he would be held responsible if he failed to warn the people (Ez 3:18, 33:6) which is similar to Moses' role. The modern view, with its focus on individuality, does not easily understand the ancient concepts of corporate guilt, or the leader suffering for the sins of the people (does that last phrase ring a bell? Jesus who dies to save Israel, and by extension the world, from its sin!) The Modern world is consumed with facts, individualism, rationality and other good, but also limiting approaches to reality. We do well to enter the text to hear more ancient views and interpretations.

Moses hits the rock twice and cannot enter the promised land; it seems harsh. Perhaps there lurks a spiritual warning. To enter the promised land (symbol of Kingdom of God) requires faith. The rod of the true priest (Aaron here is a type of Christ) is the wood (type of cross) which strikes the rock (a type of the hardened hearts of sinful humanity) and releases the life giving waters (Holy Spirit--God's own life)--hence, I discern an insight into theosis, because a rock//human heart cannot generate water//Holy Spirit so it must come as a miraculous gift. God encompasses the rock and makes it a stream, God fills the human heart and makes it a divine dwelling place.

The message is clear: doubt and unbelief is the problem, a barrier to entering the kingdom. It matters not if you are a foot away from the door or ten miles, in both cases you are outside the house. Like a football player who is tackled on the one foot line, or a the baseball player whose hit was an inch from being fair, we are all in a situation where our sin (failure to hit the target), which is best understood as a failure to be united in mind and heart with God, are a barrier to communion with God.

Do not misread my reflection, I am not denying that Moses is with God. What I am saying is that this story in this text teaches us that failure to obey is a function of unbelief and has consequences. Was Moses worried, confused, afraid? We do not know. Why did he double tap the rock? what motivated him? Again, I think we do not know. Perhaps we would do better to ask, why do I waver? Why do I disobey? Why am I afraid or doubtful?

We are on the journey to union with God. The fullness of His healing love in a saving communion. Let us not waver or doubt. Let us do as He commands. And when we fail, let us accept our fate in faithful, loving obedience. Even if, at times, it is also the fault of others...

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Faith, Courage, Life

Job 38:1-11   2 Corinthians 6:1-13   Mark 4:35-41

Carol A. Newsom [The New Interpreter's Bible  Volume iv, Job, p600] reminds us that "a storm often accompanies a divine appearance in biblical tradition." The Bible's first whirlwind (sa-ar in Hebrew) 2 Kings 2:1, 11 transports Elijah into the heavens. Job 38 is the second. Whirlwinds reminds us that God and His creation are not under our control nor are they "safe." That sense of danger is evident in the Gospel today.

It is a simple story. After a long day Jesus and His disciples began crossing the lake with some other boats. Jesus fell asleep almost immediately, and when a storm came the disciples accused Him of not caring about them. Jesus awoke and commanded the storm to stop; then He accused His disciples of *cowardice because they were *faithless. Even to this day the sudden storms on this sea are notorious for their intensity. So why does Jesus upbraid the disciples? I assume because fear and doubt, the twin engines of sin, are of the Enemy. You and I cannot fall back on the "only human" excuse without realizing that being "only human" is the deadly problem. We were created to be filled with God, not "only human" but divinely infilled (theosis). We are to become what Jesus is and share in His life.

The storm, well known in ancient creation literature, is often a symbol of chaos and the evil spirit which rules the world. The pagan myths were familiar to the Jews and early Christians. Tiamat was a water goddess of chaos and Ba'al was a storm god. These stories also lurk in the background at a deeper, mythic level where God calls us to order and unity, the false gods of paganism (Satan's realm) seek to disrupt God's creation with disorder, chaos and death. The storm is at odds with God, and Jesus, as God's Messiah, will literally muzzle the 'monster' and command it to be silent.

The Gospel is no doubt a real memory from the historic ministry of Jesus. Little details (just as He was, the other boats, asleep on a cushion) are the sign of an eye witness production. But there is something more than a memory going on here, there is also a revelation and confrontation. Each question resonates not simply as a historical remembrance, but as a spiritual accusation. The Scripture text turns outward and asks us the same questions....

Why are you so afraid?
Why are you so timid?
and then the heart of the matter.... Do you still have NO faith?

To believe or not to believe, that is the question.
Have you NO faith? The Judge asks the question of our eternity.
Why so scared? Why so timid and afraid? Do you not believe at all?

It is easy to ignore the reality of the incarnation, and make excuses for ourselves about the challenges of life, but remember Jesus was in the same boat in the same storm. He was so exhausted from ministry that He was sleeping. He trusted. He was brave.

And we also overlook the blasphemy of the question "do you not care that we are perishing?" Only a cold, untrusting heart could raise such an accusation against Him, especially after witnessing the hours of healing ministry and teaching. Unbelieving hearts are ruled by doubt and fear. Unbelieving, frightened hearts accuse Jesus. Our hearts, mine and yours, are often such hearts...

Life is full of storms. Family life, economics, social and political life, our mental and physical health. Chaos, death and pain are always lurking nearby. Frequently, to avoid the fear, we distract ourselves with the middle class lifestyle and all its trinkets and technology. But deep within we know that at any moment, chaos can sweep it all away, like a vicious, unexpected storm on a lake. We pretend its okay, but once the storm hits our hearts accuse God, "Don't you care if we perish?"

The decision for faith is best made before the storm. Understand, friends, the storm clouds are on the horizon and the chaos comes. We cannot delay our conversion. It is time to embrace courage and nurture faith. One with God in theosis, we must battle the sin within us and embrace His Word and Spirit bringing healing salvation. We must also be brave, very brave (Joshua 1). Faith produces courage. Jesus may sleep in the boat for awhile, but He is with us...

*deilos the Greek word for coward appears also in the Matthean parallel of this story. The third, and only other time, the word appears is Revelation 21:8. TO lack courage or not have faith heads the list of those who will perish outside the Kingdom.   "The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But to the cowards, unbelievers, detestable persons, murderers, the sexually immoral, and those who practice magic spells, idol worshipers, and all those who lie, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. That is the second death.""

Thursday, June 21, 2018


The last two days we have read from Matthew 18 in Morning Prayer. I direct you to Tom Wright (Matthew for Everyone) as a guide, to get insight into Jesus' thinking.

The chapter begins with a focus on children, "the little one." The status of children in the Ancient world was abysmal. Wright indicates that in some places they were considered only half human, and frequently babies were exposed or sold into slavery because it was too expensive to feed another mouth. Girls, he said, were especially vulnerable to abuse and death. The Gospel of Jesus includes the cross. The cross is the ultimate negation of one's humanity. Jesus' teaching that we should become like children is another angle on carrying the cross.

We live in a culture of enhanced awareness of oppression. Every group is voicing its victim status with various demands for justice. The idea that Black lives matter, that women are equal to men, that the alien and immigrant have human status, that the mentally and physically handicapped are people, and that the unborn are deserving of life are all connected to the Western World's embrace of the teaching of Jesus. The "child" (a real child) is a metaphor for everyone whose humanity is negated. The poor, the needy, the outcast--even the criminal--are called to be children of God.

The importance of each human person to His heavenly Father, Jesus says, is absolute. The word picture, the shepherd searching for a lost sheep and leaving the ninety nine behind, illustrates the idea that no one can be thrown away. No one. All life is precious in the eyes of God. All human beings matter.

Another word image is less pastoral, but equally stunning. Jesus says do not harm the little one. Racism, sexism, violence, abortion--these and other human sins are offenses against the weak and are also sins against Jesus. He will be their champion and avenger. You would be better off with a rope tied around your neck, attached to a huge stone and thrown into the middle of the sea, Jesus said, then to harm a little one.

Here, of course, it gets political, doesn't it? Here is where our interpretations, reflecting our assumptions and politics, employ Jesus to our own ends. Here is where the Social Justice Warriors and the Old Time Religion enter into endless battle. I will refrain from commenting on that battle, besides, most folks have made their minds up. But I would caution us all, that Jesus is not laying down a mandate for politics or moral policing here. He issues a warning, do not lead the little one astray. Lead astray includes leading the little one away from Him, away from the truth, away from repentance and worship and obedience to the Word of the Lord. That would be the problem, wouldn't it? We prefer to choose only some parts...

The other issue is the invitation. Jesus is not laying down a program for social justice here, He is asking each of us to change. Become a child. Become a little one. Negate yourself and your agenda. Be a child, be my child. Be part of my flock, little lost lamb. Jesus makes it clear, if you do not become like a child you will never enter into the Kingdom. Become a child or perish...

What does it mean? Children are self centered and demanding, throwing fits and wanting their way, so being a child is easy, right? Once more, we are called to context. Children in our culture, at least the group I am part of, are the centerpiece. We schedule our lives around them. This was not so in Jesus' day. I return to my opening point, to become a child is akin to picking up the cross and dying to self. For Jesus and His followers, a child has no status, no claim, no rights, no importance. A child is a nobody. A child is not demanding. A child is dependent upon grace for survival. Jesus loves the children and they have value because He values them. He gives them value.

The church of Jesus, then, was a group of nobodies given value by His mercy and love. Repeatedly, Jesus makes clear that our attitude toward one another (in the church) was to be humble and loving. Servant, or slave, is another early church word image. We are slaves of God, the Apostle wrote. We are slaves of God, Jesus said. In fact, taken from Isaiah, one of the titles of Jesus is Suffering Slave/Servant of God.

In the church, mutual love and kindness rule the day. However, people are sinners. No one is perfect. At times we do things which hurt others. Jesus lays down a three stage plan for dealing with sins and offenses. Jesus does not call us to ignore it or pretend it did not happen. Jesus did not say, evil is fine, just ignore it. What did Jesus say?

Go to the person who sinned against you. Tell them what they did. Reconciliation has several dimensions. You must forgive those who harm you. They must repent and make amends. You release them from the debt and, to the extent possible, seek a more loving relationship. If they refuse to repent, then bring in two or three others. These are the witnesses. These are 'the other' who can provide insight. All of us have darkened minds/hearts. All of us perceive through our own filters. The witnesses, like a marriage counselor, provide us with the wisdom of the other and free us from our own biased opinion. If, however, this fails, then, Jesus says, we must go to the church. Sadly, for most of us, this option does not exist. In my life as a priest I have never experienced this. I know some churches do have this practice. It is not flawless and I have dealt with the victims of the malfunctions on several occasions. However, it is the teaching in Matthew that the church sits as the final arbiter. If reconciliation does not take place, Jesus says, then treat them like a tax collector of Gentile. Jesus speaks as a Jew here. Jews are a people. Jews are in fellowship with one another. Tax collectors were Jews who betrayed their people and worked for Rome (an oppressor). Gentiles are pagan people who reject the God of Israel and God's people. Jesus says, if you have done all you can to reconcile and it doesn't work, then break fellowship. Treat them as an outsider.

This is where it seems that Jesus muddies the water. Fellowship limitations--insiders and outsiders, members and non-members--seems to run counter to His teaching. I can hear the universalists rise in revolt. But, of course, Jesus is no modern (or post modern) American. Jesus is not a Right wing conservative Evangelical, nor is He a Social Justice Warrior (nor is He easily identifiable with any particular contemporary group). Our modern politics and contemporary beliefs are under His judgment, too.

There are outsiders, people with whom we do not have fellowship. That is why He sends us in mission, to draw them in. Lost sheep do wander away, even if the Father loves them all. Sometimes people break fellowship and divide. The sad reality of the church: Catholic and Orthodox split. Catholic and Protestant split. Protestant splits over and over into denominations. Denominations splint into varieties of sub-species of denominations. There is no repentance. There is no reconciliation. There are lots and lots of varieties. Each one right and wrong in its own unique ways.

This is why I believe we need a Savior to come. I think we must work to reconcile, with God and one another. I also know that we will fail, ultimately, to complete the task. But, if we become like children, refusing to seek our own glory, refusing to see ourselves as independent, autonomous and right, then there is hope. 

It is hard to get this right. Very hard. Childlike can become childish. Self-negating can devolve from Christian holiness into victimhood and debilitating self hatred. A thin line divides true Christianity from a sick caricature. Yet, it is worth the trouble. Becoming a child is the only way to enter the kingdom. Dying to self. Trusting Him. It is hard to get this right, but there is no other option. 

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.
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,

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 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.

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.
"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.