Jesus Shows Us The Way

 

footprints

He is the first born. He is our hope. He is our way. He shows us how to live. He shows us how to die. He shows us that death is not the end. He shows we will live on. Changed. Transformed. He shows us how to be in relationship with God, others, the world. How to be at one with our fellow human beings. He shows us the meaning of friendship. Of solidarity. The meaning of true leadership. He shows us the power of story. That power is the ability to act for what is true. And he shows us the cost of freedom. The cost of speaking truth to power. Of not settling for the status quo. He shows us how to become vulnerable and shows us that this is the paradoxical path to intimacy. He shows us who our neighbor is. And how to live in community. He shows us how to be alone. He shows us how to be faithful to who we are. He shows us the value of human life, even in the face of death. And he shows us how to pray, to reach beyond ourselves. And trust that all he shows us is all that we too might become.

 

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Freedom, a Secular and Sacred Trust

Pentecost red ribbons                                   4th of July

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

These are St. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians. In a few days we will celebrate the 4th of July, Independence Day. This country’s victory to gain freedom and pursue life, liberty and pursue happiness on our own terms. This is the American spirit.  It is also the gift we call free will. It is the ultimate freedom to choose. To choose who we are, how to lives our lives, and how to practice our beliefs. At the core, this is the freedom those who came here fought for and for which many died.

Having said that, I am also painfully aware of the history of this county which continues to spill into the present, where liberties were denied, freedoms are withheld.

          The interesting thing about spirit is that unlike the body its very nature is its ability to be at liberty. The inherently sacred nature of our humanity is bestowed with this spirit of freedom. Freedom is a sacred trust. Stories of faith are fraught with journey narratives where the protagonist’s/hero’s goal is freedom. The story of Israel which began with Abram/Abraham is such a story. A people seeking to be free of Pharaoh, free from Exile, of her oppressors. When Jesus came upon the scene, she wanted to be free of Roman rule. But the Galilean carpenter had another idea of what freedom meant. It was a freedom within, whose only rule was the reign of God. He told us stories so we too might make our own journey with more insight and understanding, and perhaps the awareness of the presence and experience of the Spirit carrying us to the new land of our truest and most free selves.

          Long before Jesus came on the scene, a Hebrew shepherd boy, who lost his home, his family and his country, and became a slave in Egypt, had something also to tell us about captivity and freedom. For Joseph, the son of Jacob/Israel, came to realize that in the most foreign circumstances nothing is foreign to the Spirit of the Lord God. Even in the prison of our lives a light can begin to dawn. In the darkest, deepest prison we can be most free because we carry our freedom within as a rescuing presence, a redeeming love. A love that redeems not just us but the circumstances of our lives as well. This is Genesis’ final revelation. Our humanity is shaped by a sacred design, endowed with a sacred spirit ever available to us.

          Life’s purpose is often hidden within the unlikely path, the unintended journey, the fall from the garden or from grace, the fall into the abyss as it appears to harbor the absence of God. We are a sacred design created for good, for well-being, that no prison can prevail against. In the midst of suffering and loss, in betrayal, alienation, captivity, in our most unfreedom, we are most free in the Spirit that journeys with us, the Spirit that is often seen by others rather than ourselves as we struggle with the daily round that challenges the awareness of Spirit dogging us to the awareness of the sacred in our lives. The Spirit of the Lord of Life is the way in which we are free, successful, whole. For it is God that is the definition of what it means to be whole. The deepest human bondage is no barrier for the sacred available to us, not instead of but along with all we carry with us into bondage and captivity. We have built altars to the processes that would care and cure the captivity and bring us release through self-understanding and insight; to the crumbling altars of our displaced hopes where we worship the false gods of processes that only further imprison us. The life of Joseph and Jesus, along with the letters of St. Paul, remind us that even death or being forgotten can stay the presence of the Spirit of Christ Jesus who is for us wholeness, his Spirit the freedom that is ours, which grows brighter as we turn into the image and likeness we reflect.

Enjoy and be thankful for Independence Day.

 

Captivated by Christ – Part I

cropped-pond-at-the-farm-21.jpg        In Romans Paul touches on our next topic for transformation. In Christ, he tells, we are transformed from slavery (slavery to the old ways, to the old Law) to the freedom that is now ours in Christ. Beyond freedom we becomes heirs of the kingdom. (Romans 6:15-23). In the next chapter of Romans he talks about being freed of the written code to a new life in the Spirit. But it is in Romans 8:1 that he sums this up. ..the law of the Spirit of Christ has set you free from the law of sin and death. The Spirit flows like a symphony through Paul’s letters, the repeated refrain of our lives transformed in the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit that remains with us yet today. At Pentecost the resurrected Christ endowed his followers with himself.
Jesus came back to life. He came back to us. He made his return, transformed. And when he had done what he had meant to do, he commissioned his followers to do what he had done in his name. And so before he made his ascent to the Father, another remove from the visible world, he caused his presence to go on. He sent his Spirit, to dwell, strength and guide us.
It is his Spirit that speaks to us today in the mosaics of his life we find in the gospels. This is where we find him. This is where his presence begins to make itself known. And then too, in the community of his followers who gather together in his name. To continue a living relationship by prayer and presence, doing as he did, singing the Psalms and recalling the history of Israel, a history that was his own.
His Spirit remains also with us in the symbols that speak his name, convey his presence and provide for us a means, a way into the reality that is the Christ-life, available to us at each turn of every waking and sleeping (through our dreams and in the peaceful rest that allows the Spirit to take hold of us, to make his unhampered claim upon our lives). To make its imprint upon our souls, so that waking we sense that indeed something, someone has changed our lives.
Like Yahweh of old, his is not found in wood or stone so that he might be found in our hearts.
His Spirit is not all invisible field/meadow/pastureland.

(To be continued)

All the writing, quotes, artwork and photography are the work of the author unless otherwise stated. Scripture readings are from the Jerusalem Bible.

This work, including its contents, may not be used, reproduced, duplicated, displayed or distributed without the express written permission of the author.

The Garden Gone Silent – Transformed by Experience

 

Day Lily open    This past week I’ve spent as much time as possible drawing and photographing the day lilies as they’ve come and gone in the garden. Trying to get as many different views, angles, shapes, gestures and colors as I can before they finish blooming. It occurred me to that this is what the evangelists, and Paul, were doing when they began to write about the experience of Jesus of Nazareth and the experience of the risen Christ. Each began with experiences, experiences told and retold. Brief encounters with a man who would change Western civilization, whether he intended to or not. So, Paul from his experience on the Damascus Road wrote letter after letter (there are more than likely more than we have which have been lost) trying to convey that experience and how it transformed his life and inviting others to see that living in Christ, could possible change their lives as well. You don’t retell or image an experience or event unless it has had a profound and positive effect on your life. The evangelists, like me trying to capture the beauty and experience of the day lilies that wouldn’t be here very long, also took the stories of the experience of Jesus and each in their own way began to find shape and contour to the Christ-event and  what that experience looked like.  Reading through the gospels you come to see that what is conveyed in each instance is an encounter with someone that made such an impression, and often made a profound difference in their lives for the better, that they wanted to tell that experience with others. They wanted, I believe, to give that experience to anyone who would listen.

We will all be changed Paul says. Changed from sin to being alive in God. From the old written code to the new life in the Spirit. From flesh (as that which is fleeting) to Life according to the flesh in the Spirit. From rejection to acceptance. From evil to good. From captivity to freedom. From weakness to power (power as the ability to act for the good). From being servants and workers to growth and empowerment. From class and hierarchy to equality in Christ. This is not a Christianity as a burden but as a freedom. As a presence, something, Someone living we can be touched by.  A faith as the experience of Someone who touched others, ate with others, prayed with others, spoke and went about with others, and had a love so strong that his being dead could not keep him from his own. We are all his own.

Lately there is a lot of chatter about the state of the churches. People are leaving the churches. The body is in danger of dying. The lamenting is loud. The doctors have been called in. Prescriptions written. Two thousand years of the church not getting it right – oh, the list is long – is in part summed up by what I said previously. Being a Christian has been presented primarily as a burden rather than a blessing. Reading St. Paul turned into picking only the parts that served the agenda of a Roman Empire whose institution of religion was much like the art it made: derivative, without imagination, staid, a pale copy of the real thing. And you can go as far back to James and Peter in Jerusalem and how they ‘altered’ some of Jesus’ examples – like ceasing to have table fellowship with ‘outsiders’  – being chief among them. So the church became who’s in and whose out. Who’s called and whose not.

Carl Jung says one of the problems with Christianity is that it’s all out there. All ‘going to church’ with little attention to our inner lives, without any sensibility of the experience of Christ.  Kierkegaard said that we are in the soup we are in because Christianity changed into doctrine. He would go on to say that we need to ‘compel the age to take notice, to teach the age what it is to become Christian.’ To attend to the person and experience of Christ Jesus. Because that is what transformed all who encountered him, what transformed the evangelists and St. Paul, who through their writings are trying to give us the experience of an encounter with a Person.

What would our lives be like if we had the experience of the risen Christ? What would our lives be like if we experienced for just a brief moment the Christ-life in us and all about us? We all know how it feels to be in love. To want to be with and near that person as much as possible. The way suddenly the world seems to revolve about that person. In first century Palestine people were drawn to him. Men and women loved him. And they knew he loved them too. Crowds followed him. The needy sought him out.  St. Paul says nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We now need to have the experience of that love.

The church may need to die. Jesus did. He got into the hands of the wrong people. If the body today is going to be resuscitated then perhaps it is by breathing the lived awareness of the love and the experience of Christ back into our every day and in our hearts.

 

 

Singing in the Fire

Corinthians Chapters 1-3

Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians sometime around Easter. It would have been Spring time. The season of new life. The season of the Resurrection. The season when the path to becoming, becoming a new creation was paved for us. So it would follow that one of the metaphors Paul uses for this new creation in Christ is planting, sowing seeds. It is Paul who has sown the seeds of his message; it has been watered by Apollos, one of Paul’s companions. But it is God who makes things grow. Paul goes on to liken the faithful in Corinth to a farm, God’s farm.

 What Paul addresses here in his writing sounds like weighty doctrinal issues of moral conduct. Corinth was a thriving and diverse metropolis in Greece. It was a port city on the Mediterranean Sea with a divergent populace of aristocrats, tradespeople, farmers and slaves. At some point in his letter Paul will address the issues facing all strata of his new community of believers. Earlier we heard him addressing the challenges of the unreasonableness of the cross from the Greek philosophers. There was also a large Jewish contingent who had migrated from Rome, and possibly Palestine. Corinth was a great cultural and religious mix. There were various challenges to religious practices, rites and rituals that Paul would also have to address. Most of the issues facing Paul’s converts arose from the mixed cultural and religious atmosphere this thriving metropolis. The believer were also surrounded by the ever attention getting conduct, the lewd and lascivious goings on in their midst.

 But it is the genius of Paul to turn these issues on their head, uprooting them from their strangle hold on the newly elect, shaking them loose of their power to assail the budding faith. They are God’s farm and at the same time working right alongside God, the farm and the farmer.  As co-workers with God their lives are rooted in union in Christ, where they share in the freedom of the Spirit, planted in love and tended by the Spirit that reaches into the depths of thing, even the depths of God. For Christ has become our wisdom, our virtue, our holiness and our freedom. Bound to Christ we are no longer slaves to the world, life or death, present or future.

 Paul changes his metaphor to one a building whose foundation is Christ. Moral conduct then is determined by the Christ we have received, not by our status in life, rich or poor, slave or free. Freedom is to live under one sign, the sign of the cross, and one master, Christ. Our only wisdom is to know that we are God’s temple. Just as the Temple in Jerusalem was the destination, goal and center for the Jews, to say that we are God’s temple now relocates what is central, holy and our goal into the present and presence of the sacred reality that we are, our Holy of Holies the indwelling of the Spirit. It is the reminder that as God’s temple we are sacred. And this is the temple that no one can destroy. This is how we are to carry and conduct ourselves, as temples of God. (If the dating of this letter is correct it comes before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. If that is accurate then Jesus’ words about destroying and rebuilding the Temple in three days echo eerily in Paul’s words to the Corinthians.)

 Paul likens us to tradesmen who are build something, building our lives of faith. Paul asks us to think about what we are building. What is the quality of our work? Will what we build, what we do, last? Can what we have built withstand the fire. The first association with the image of the fire that comes to destroy is that this is apocalyptic rhetoric. That Paul is referring to the end times and the coming of Christ. But knowing that Paul was a devout and well-read Jewish man, a well-schooled Pharisee, who knew his Hebrew Scriptures very well, I thought of another association that Paul might have had in mind here. If you recall, in the Book of Daniel, when the King sentences Daniel and his friends into the burning furnace because they would not worship false idols, remain faithful to the Lord God of Israel, they go, into the fire singing. When the guards go to see them turned to ash, the guards burn up because the flames are so hot, but the three men are still alive, singing in the fire. The earliest Christians in Corinth were in a kind of melting pot (could not resist the pun) with challenges to their faith on all sides. Perhaps our lives today are like that. Challenges within and without to living our lives in Christ, to putting on Christ, looking like God’s fool. And yet Paul by his triune metaphors suggests that if we build it he will come. If we have Christ as our firm foundation, if we plant with God and see ourselves as the sacred beings we are, what we plant and what we build will last, and we can go about our lives singing in the fire.