Sunday, August 26, 2018

Where to go?

John 6:56-69

Today I will share the Gospel with 3-8 year olds. How does one explain the deep meaning of Jesus' preaching in a synagogue, saying very strange things which sound like cannibalism? It is beyond the grasp of adults, how much more the concrete, simple minds of the young. It was certainly offensive to Jewish ears, even more than it offends our own. Jews had a law not to eat blood. The words "eat my flesh" and "drink my blood" are such graphic images that baffled and confused both Jesus' friends and foes.

The reaction of some followers, paraphrasing here--"This is rough stuff," they say, "too hard to handle!"--caused them to leave Him. Jesus asks too much. Is it any different today, when often times, we are tempted to tone Jesus down, to manage Him by softening His message and conforming it to our views--theologically, politically, socially.... Yes, we call Him a great teacher, a wise man who preaches love and acceptance, but always garbed in robes which do not offend our sensibilities and keep Him under our control. Yet here, baffling our expectations, He confronts the discomfort of His listeners by upping the ante. "You think this is hard, what about me returning to the Father in heaven?"

Jesus is so much more than a teacher or rabbi, so much more than a healer of bodies and forgiver of sins. At the heart of His message today is the idea that communion with Him (eating and drinking) is abiding in Him. To abide, literally to stay in or live in, in Jesus is to share in His life. If our image of heaven is a place where we go to enjoy the after-life, it is possible to see eucharist and communion as tools to achieve eternal bliss, boxes to be checked off. We do this in memory of Him to assure our place--whether we take the eating/drinking literally (catholic) or not (protestant). Perhaps there is more to it. In John 1:36 when the first disciples come to Him, they ask Jesus, "where do you abide?" Five chapters later we read one of the answers, Jesus says, "I abide in those who eat my flesh and drink my blood."

This is theosis. I was recently asked by a young child, "What does you are what you eat mean?" In eucharistic terms it means we eat Jesus and we become Jesus. Our bodies become temples of His presence. The incarnation extends to our very person and we become one with God--divinized. The nine paths of sin provide insight into how we are particularly inclined to see the world and twist things to meet our fears, needs, and desires. Unity with Jesus--His abiding presence within and through us--saves us from our own efforts to be "good" (or helpful, successful, special, knowledgeable, peaceful, strong, right, etc.--we each have our particular favorite). It's not simply a legal fiction where God says "innocent" because Jesus took our sins upon Him (although that is an angle). The words of Jesus today remind us that the Father sees Jesus when He looks at us because we are, in fact, one with Jesus. We are Him and He is us. Food really becomes us when we eat and digest, just so spiritual food becomes us as well.

Jesus uses other analogies, Lord/servant, Husband/wife, Father/child, Vine/branch, Shepherd/sheep. All shed light on a mystery, a mystery too deep for adult minds, but hopefully one which resonates with a child's heart.

If Jesus is "too much," and He is in a sense, then we must answer His question: "will you leave Me, too?" Worldly wise are leaving in large numbers. Jesus has been rejected by most--whether overtly (in unbelief) or covertly (in wrong believing and unconverted minds and hearts; perhaps my own?). In the end, Peter speaks for us all. "Where would we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Some, those afflicted with acedia, despair of the enterprise. Jesus requires too much, so they embrace agnostic or atheistic rejection of His demands. Some, afflicted with hubris and self-deceit, construct a religious bulwark (and sometimes cleverly declare it 'not religion') adopting a creed and practice which provides surety and comfort in the face of life's travails. Some, Jesus says "few," eat Him and drink Him, these are in the process of becoming Him.

Where do you go for the words of eternal life? Are you aware of the foolish voices within? the idolatrous constructs which you have embraced? The false self which encompasses your heart keeping Jesus at bay? Will you be brave and trust Him, doing the work of the journey?

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, I will abide in him, and he will live forever....

Friday, August 24, 2018

Cry Baby?

The "white middle class," like all demographic groups, tends to have a particular lense through which it sees things. Arguably, 'being a success and looking good' are shared values for many of us. Hence, the church is often understood to be a place for people who look good and are successful (measured in various ways) to gather as "good Christians" to pray and fellowship. This is a big a problem when it is an unconscious rule for behavior. "Are you saved?" means did you complete the prescribed process and are you now a good person. Salvation, understood as union with God, like Jesus' incarnation, is a process which is far more complex than joining the church, or making a confession of faith, or receiving imputed righteousness. 

A group of women shared with me their experience of crying at church sometimes, and having people ask them, "What is wrong?" Sadly, few Christians are trained in the spiritual way of the Ancient Church which spoke of tears as part of the salvation process. 

We weren't trained in a model of salvation as union with God. Rather, we saw our duty as checking the boxes to insure eternal bliss in Heaven and tried to maintain a lifestyle which kept God from getting too close without making Him mad at us. Sort of like our parents when we were teenagers.

In Orthodox Psychotherapy, Bishop Hierotheos provides the science of the Fathers. Psycho (Greek for soul) and Therapy (Greek for healing) are understood spiritually as the fullness of salvation--including repentance in response to grace, discipline in conjunction with the working of the Holy Spirit, and the embrace of a new mind and new heart as (slowly) given us by God.

When our mind (Greek is nous, basically our personality=thinking, feeling, perceiving, judging) is fallen it is in darkness.  The essence of our identity, our real self, lies deep within the heart (I call this the Image of God). As one's nous (understood as our 'ego' or constructed identity) is healed by divine light, it becomes one with our deepest heart and true self. When we are no longer divided (torn between allegiance to God and the 'world, flesh, devil'), our "personality/mind" and deep heart (true self) become one. The heart is freed of sinful passions, or deadly desires and is transformed to seek Abba Father and union with the Holy Three. Bishop Hierotheos writes (143) "This union is confirmed by tears of compunction and a sweet sense of the love of God.' He continues that tears are a sign of that healing process and that the ascetic rank tears very highly.  A bit later the Bishop says (183) "The value of tears is great...Tears are a sign of a man reborn...if we realize our sinfulness...if we have acquired the gift of self-knowledge and self-reproach, then we spontaneously begin to weep....Tears open the eyes of the soul...St. Symeon the New Theologian, who with others can be characterized as a theologian of tears, says that tears are a sign of life." He concludes that tears are as necessary for the soul as food and drink are for the body.

Weeping in public in "our world" is embarrassing. It is considered weak by many, and it leads people to ask, "What is wrong with you?" There is much teaching from Ancient Fathers (and Mothers) about the importance of tears. We are talking about the work of the Holy Spirit within us, no one should generate emotions to appear to be crying. Anything false does not give life. However, as the Ancient Tradition understands the Scriptures, the process of becoming one with the Lord is intimately tied to facing the personality/self which we currently are and mourning about the gap (from what God created us to be) as we walk the wrong path/miss the target. As we honestly and courageously do this, we simultaneously see God more clearly--His love and mercy also produce tears of gratitude and joy.

The Bible is filled with stories of tears. Jesus Himself wept on more than one occasion. You and I, if we are growing closer to the Holy Three God will find that we cry more and more. It is what happens. The road to salvation is watered by many tears. The question is, if church is not a safe place for people to cry as they grow closer to the Lord, where then shall they go? 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Come Home to Abba

Book of Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Proverbs 9 is an image of the celebration feast when finally we come home to Abba Father. Jesus is the meal, the Bread of Life, feeding anyone, even the poor and outcasts. These people, looked down upon by the "proper folks" of Jesus' day are marginalized. In Wisdom they are called the foolish—immature, na├»ve, and easily led astray—and we are included… So Ephesians warns us: "Look diligently how you walk, not as fools but as wise."

we know that Jesus is the wise path, but we are not always exactly sure how to walk in Him. There are so many foolish paths in the world and the signage is not always clear. Because humans instinctively avoid pain and seek pleasure, the sinful passions lead us to choose the false paths. We wander in falsehood with hungry souls, while in God’s Kingdom the table of real food and fellowship untouched. 

Remember the commercial, “What’s in your wallet?” Wisdom asks, “What’s in your heart?” Hear this: The Image of God is in your heart. At your core you are beautiful and beloved, but the Image is covered by the “self” you have created in response to the pain of life and to avoid your greatest fear: the fear of—being bad, being unloved, being worthless, being insignificant, being helpless, being unsupported, being trapped, being hurt, or being lost—pick one or many, whatever it is, doubt and fear are the rich soil for your rebellion and sin. The Holy Spirit is in your heart, too, we are not alone or hopeless, but we sometimes we do turn in the wrong direction.

“Sin” is often called “walking the wrong path.” It is easy to get lost. There are many paths to Jesus, but they are narrow and hard. There are many more paths, easier and wider, headed away from home. We get wrong directions, we don’t read maps, we want to do our own thing and sometimes we hurt so bad that we just run away without paying attention to where we are going. So, the most important question of life is, “How do I find the way home to Father God and myself?”

We are all different, but there are similar patterns which people adopt in thinking, feeling, perceiving, and judging. God is saving us, even now, so we must cooperate by becoming more aware of which foolish paths appeal to us. The most dangerous path—trying to heal ourselves—takes many forms and we unconsciously cling to. We prefer distractions rather than face the Lie at work within us. We reject the way of the cross and death, but understand, the self which dies on the cross is a usurper, our own creation, and until it is gone, God’s Image remains hidden within us. The Christian life style open us to Jesus’ healing light. We cannot fix ourselves, but God will not save us against our will. We must work to remove the obstacles to union with God. We must get on the wise path. We must see ourselves for what we are, but we can only face ourselves if we look to the Lord and see our face reflected in His eyes. Abba sees what you are, but also what you shall be when united with Jesus you are fully a child of God. Jesus heals. Come home to Abba Father.

The Enneagram comes from ancient wisdom traditions and can be helpful in discerning the ways we are unconsciously led astray. Here are three tests to help you begin your personal discernment process

For an overview of the types:

The three books I've read (there are many more)
"The Road Back to You" Ian Cron & Suzanne Stabile (they have podcasts too)
"The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective" Richard Rohr & Andreas Ebert (Check Rohr's website)
"The Sacred Enneagram" Christopher Heuertz 

I value the Enneagram as a supplementary tool to Orthodox Psychotherapy. It makes the concept of "the passions" concrete and helps us see how they are at work in the "nous" (mind/soul) and how the heart is made inhospitable for God. Discerning your type takes time and effort, and each one of us has our own particular way of living it out. Trust God, be patient, and begin the journey!

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.