One for All

St. Tim's stained glass window

Jesus of Nazareth is a puzzlement. A paradoxical figure who does not become clearer to us the farther we are from lst century Palestine. The farther we get from the first more approximate witnesses to his life. But Jesus’ importance lies precisely in this strange, often off-putting man whose family thought he was crazy, posed a threat to the religious and political establishment, and was a devout Jew who worked on the Sabbath and went around with a ban of fishermen, and with any and everyone who came to his table, and even kept company with women! He not only upset the tables outside the Temple but upset everyone’s apple cart. We shy away from this Jesus. A man who stood everything his fellow Jews believed on its head. If we pay attention to his whole story, not just the parts we are comfortable with, that carry more sentimentality than truth or have been emphasized to the exclusion of others, we are faced with a person whose image cannot be sprayed with fixative or content ourselves with neat or systematic pictures of this man. And by wanting to assert his divinity – his extraordinary closeness to God – much of him and his reason for living and dying have been eclipsed.

One thing we can say with some certainty. He provoked change. He invited transformation. He stood at a moment in time between the faith of his fathers, the patriarchs of Israel, and a faith that would follow him and gather together, take up faith in the God of Life, Yahweh, and transform how we would now see, know and experience God, because now God has a human face. As the echoes of Isaiah gather about him, he brought once more the good news, now in his person, where God’s cause became his. Where God’s promise might yet come about.

He took up the cause of the marginal and dispossessed, of outcasts and of sinners, of lepers and prostitutes, the disfigured and the demented. Because of this he would be betrayed, betrayed so that he could become the one through whom (like Joseph) the betrayed and outcasts, the slaves and the homeless, could be numbered among the elect.

The history of the world collapsed on Calvary, as Jesus secured a place in the kingdom of God for those who were believed to be set outside this kingdom. On that hill he held the history of the Jews in himself, their suffering and their cries to their Lord, their beliefs and hopes, their sense of forsakenness and the deafening silence of false gods. All of history that would follow culminated there as well, in him who would stand for, live and die for all who would come after and follow in the footfall of his people through the vast wilderness of plenty and loss, suffering and chaos, hardship and the endless renewal of life which would rise out of the collapse of the world as he breathed his last. In him Israel would rise. In him all that have come after would rise as well. Rise to the possibility and promise of life saved, redeemed and whole.

He came for many. For many he lived. To many he taught. And for many he healed. But in the end he died for all. He died, not for sins, but for all, so that we might become healed and whole, and experience in him the reign of the Holy One of Israel in our lives. For he too could say, echoing the words of Joseph, you meant it for evil, but God – my Father – meant it for good. And Jesus was and is that good.

 

 

 

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You Meant it For Evil…

Day Lily open

At the end of Genesis is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph goes on a long and arduous journey, sent out from home, betrayed by his brothers, taken as a slave in Egypt where he rises from the lowly shepherd-servant to the great vizier in Pharaoh’s court, second only to Pharaoh in power. Joseph grows from wounded to wisdom. If you read the story carefully you will see that Joseph’s journey mirrors our own. Each event in his life is a place that we too pass through on our own journey’s to wholeness and maturity. This is a very human paradigm, which coincides with the passages that we make in this adventure called life. In Joseph we see the sacred design we are enacted in the drama of this one person’s life as the story of creation closes.

Because Joseph is in Egypt and in charge of the management when a famine comes, he will be able to send for his family and save the ones who betrayed him from starving to death. Save the family of Jacob-Israel to become a nation with a far reaching destiny. Like our lives too, Joseph’s life is informed by dreams, dreams Joseph knows how to interpret. For he is not only shepherd, but also the wise dreamer. Near the end of the story when Joseph’s brothers finally recognize who he is, they are fearful that he will retaliate for the evil they did to him. But, now knowing that it is the hand of Yahweh that has led them all to where they are, he tells them: You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

There is another well-know story of a journey, that ends with much the same words Joseph spoke to his brothers. It is the journey that Jesus makes and the words the risen Christ echoes to those he met along the road, by the lakeside in the Upper Room. For God sustained and journeyed with Joseph throughout his life. It is this same God, the God of Israel, who sustained and brought Jesus beyond (even) death. At the close of Genesis, out of the garden, from tree of life, to the tree of death, to another garden, at the close of Jesus’ earthly life, we are reminded once more, that the gift was not lost when we left the garden, but continues in unhampered freedom as the good will of God to all of his creation, to all of us.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

rhizome  He came into this world with little more than a story, surrounding him like the swaddling wrapped about him at his birth. By then the news of his coming was already running rampant across the countryside. The stories taking on a life of their own. Told, retold, ancient memories coming to life in the darkness of Israel’s winter.

Reach back over the two thousand years of debris that cover his story, back over the institutionalization of the soul, ritualization, dogma, defense, legend and myth, to the words, the Word that became flesh in the story of his life.

Before his birth his people made their long journey across the wilderness forming a sacred identity. Israel’s journey changed her. The story of this journey informed the Hebrew nation as it unfolded over time. Over time the story was knit and reknit, a weave of many colors that would unravel and be reshaped again and again. Eventually it took on mythical proportions that no longer looked like the covenant woven by the Lord God of Israel. As Israel strayed farther and farther from the heart of her identity, the Lord God of Israel unraveled into a distant silence as well. The silence drove John mad, drove him into the wilderness. Irony of ironies. One Hebrew alone in the desert now.

Into this silence came the Word; the Word that created, the Word that led, the Word that shaped and formed Israel into Yahweh’s own. To start over? Not exactly. But to reknit, to restore, rekindle, the true faith of Israel.  He came made of the cloth of humanity, a man, who would carry within him the promise. By his life he touched the people with words, with healing and more importantly with his presence. He embodied the faith of Israel keeping the promise Yahweh made to Abraham, to extend that faith to all the nations of the world, even the gentile nations. And yet, he too would be misunderstood.  He would challenge the powers that be, both religious and political, and in the end, his mission could not be sustained. Undaunted, the Lord God of Israel, whom he called Abba, would not let misunderstanding or death defeat his plan for his people. His a promised kept.  And so one fine Monday morning, when all seemed lost, his friends, weary and sleepless from their own betrayal and bewilderment, saw him, walking beside them, tending a fire by the shore, beckoning a woman to rise, as if proving himself to them, yet again, reaching beyond the boundaries of nature in order to call forth meaning from the dark tomb of their ignorance. From this seed a faith sprang up around him, vestiges of himself, fumbling forward for two thousand years, a rhizome swept away in whatever current paradigm it found to pitch its tent, shifting, sifting, defending, wending its way across the wilderness once more.

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Joseph’s Tomb

Joseph's bones

I was distressed to hear that Joseph’s Tomb, where his bones are supposed to be buried, after the Israelites carried them as he requested, into the new land they were to inhabit, had been bombed and set on fire. How is it that art work and artifacts and sacred sites are now the target of animosity and warring? Is nothing sacred. Or were they ever? How is it religious wars still rage after thousands of years. Does anyone pause long enough to see that what they are tearing each other apart for is what holds them together, or should be uniting them, rather than setting them against one another.

Joseph’s tomb has been the site of conflict over the centuries. The issue being – to whom do Joseph’s bones belong? What faith claims him? Can any one faith lay claim to Joseph and his bones. Moses carried them beyond Egypt. Beyond Egypt what they had encountered in the wilderness was to go out to all the world.

Joseph’s tomb has been the a venerated site for centuries by Jews, Christians, Samaritans and Muslims. All claim rights to the tomb and at one time or another have paid homage to the last patriarch.

‘The walls of the interior covered with the names of pilgrims, representing almost every land and language; though the Hebrew character was the most prominent one.’ (Wikipedia) From my interest in Joseph’s story, I find it interesting that so many people, different people, different faith, identify in one way or another with Joseph. And rightfully so. For his journey is the journey we all make. His story is the story of the journey the soul makes to become authentic and whole. Joseph is now  a symbol for everyone. I am Joseph. You are Joseph. We are all Joseph. His story is our story.

And whatever happens to the site (or sites) where his bones are said to be buried, one thing will endure untrammeled:his story.

Writing Joseph

It occurred to me yesterday that the Sunday sermon comes up short at the altar rail unless the preacher has the ability to incarnate the person of Jesus there in our lives. If his or her words cause Jesus to come alive to us, so that Jesus walks out into the sanctuary, down the aisle and touches the lives of those sitting there hoping for a word, something to take home with them so that the Christ life might enliven their own lives. That’s what Jesus did. He walked right out into the mess and muddle of everyday life, to ordinary people, to touch, heal, teach and love. We ministers of the Word need to school ourselves beyond scholarly and academic considerations. Unless the gospel lives for us, we cannot hope to make it, Jesus, live for others.

This is what Joseph does. In his story he walks out into our lives, so we can journey with him. So we can learn what it means to be fully and authentically human. He shows us how to navigate the pitfalls in life and become wise and heroic.

The narrative of Joseph’s life comes alive because it resonates with each of our own lives. Before I can say a word about Jesus, I had to begin by saying many words about Joseph. Jesus will carry the story of Israel within him. As the last patriarch Joseph stands for that story. Where the Hebrew people will go, Joseph has been. Joseph goes before each of us, shepherd, dreamer and savior.

For me Joseph was the place to begin, because all the rest of scriptures hang on understanding the final chapters of Genesis. I did not want to rush and make him a Christ-figure. Or prefiguration. He isn’t. What he is is a person much like you and I. ‘A man with his moments. Moments of being loved. Moments of being betrayed. Moments of dreams and moments of stark reality. Moments of blessings and moments of loss. Moments on the way to becoming himself. And in between all these moments is a life. A life of wandering and work. A life spent trying to piece together all the scattered moments of his life in order to give them meaning, in order to come to know himself and the sacred Reality at the heart of all the moments of his life.’ (From Page 1 of the Preface to I Am Joseph, Shepherd, Dreamer, Savor.)

All the writing, quotes, artwork and photography in this blog, fortydayswith stpaul, 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.

Passover and Maundy Thursday

 Passover began this past Monday evening. During Passover, our Jewish brothers and sisters invite friends and family into their homes for a Seder supper, to celebrate Passover together. The Seder supper recalls  the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Pharaoh’s house of slavery. In preparation for their being led out, Yahweh gave instructions to the people as to how to prepare themselves for their flight from Egypt. It is also called the feast of Unleavened Bread because the people had no time for the bread they would take with them to rise. The name for Passover comes from the their sprinkling the blood of a lamb over their two doorposts and lintel so that the angel of death, one of the plagues set upon  Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go, would pass over the houses of the Hebrew people.

Jesus’ last supper was the Passover meal. Tonight Christians go to their respective churches to celebrate the Last Supper. It is called Maundy Thursday as it recalls Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples before  the Passover meal they shared together.  The meal together becomes a sign of his self-giving, his sense of service to his followers. The Last Supper recalls the Exodus and the Passover meal Jesus shared with his friends the night before he died. The words of the Eucharist celebration are the words St. Paul puts down in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27 that he received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you. They are the words that turned Jesus’s last supper, his final Passover feast, into the Eucharist, the Mass, as the Christian remembrance of Jesus’ Passover from death to life.

There is much speculation outside the gospels accounts of the Jesus’ last meal with his friends, as to what actually occurred there. The gospels tell us that Jesus knew one of his own would betray him. It would not have taken super powers for Jesus to know that there were those who were out to put an end to him and his teachings. He was surely aware that John, whose work he most likely took up after his cousin’s death, had been killed because he challenged the status quo both religiously and politically.

As a devout and faithful Hebrew, one very familiar with the sacred writings of Israel, he would have read, along with singing the Psalms, the story of the Exodus.  At the close of the reading he would have held the scroll up and said ‘this is the word of the Lord.’ Soon enough he would be raised up to the world as the living Word, the Word of G-d become flesh.

Part of the readings that night would recall Yahweh’s command to Israel in the Book of Exodus to perform Passover as a yearly ritual in remembrance of the day Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. You will observe this ordinance each year at the appointed time. For St. Paul these words that Jesus’ disciples heard at the Passover meal with him would also be remembered as Jesus’ own instructions to remember what they did together that night on the final Passover he most likely knew would be his last to celebrate with them.

In the Passover meal Yeshua of Nazareth stands as the center point, at the heart, of the ongoing faith journey of G-d’s sacred people. The people chosen and meant, called to be his own. Part of the promise given to Israel was that she would bring the rest of the world to faith in the one G-d, the Lord of Life, the I Am Who Am.

Yeshua of Nazareth came to his own people. He came to a scattered and oppressed Israel.   His mission as he understood it was to the Hebrew people. We understand from St. Paul too, that being saved, saved from oppression, being set aside as a sacred people for G-d, would come to the Jews first and through them to the rest of the world.

Israel gave us Jesus. We believe Yeshua (which means Yahweh saves) of Nazareth to be the Christ. Our faith in Christ is also faith in the G-d of Israel.

As we all join this week in spirit if not in place to celebrate the Passover of the Lord let us remember together with gratitude the bitter tears and the suffering of our shared faith journey that transformed forever who we are, a people all, meant and sacred.  Let us remember as charged the G-d of Israel and of Jesus, who brought us from slavery to freedom, from death to life, giving us a way of being his, a way to  him.

The Waiting Remnant

IMG_0231      In some respects one might say we are still the waiting remnant of Israel. Waiting to take the fullness of our humanity as sacred and meant into the fullness of our faith-life. Waiting yet to bring to fullness the realization and embrace of our identity as Christians as it is rooted in the journey of Israel. Israel gave us Jesus. Jesus said he came to Israel. He came to gather together the twelve tribes. To restore Israel to its rightful place and in some respects get her back on track. The liberator will come from Zion.

Like Paul Jesus would address the tension between law and the spirit of the law. Law and love. For both love wins out. For both, Israel, Paul and Jesus faith was in a person, not in the law. You could say the law held us in the embrace of God until Jesus came to extend his arms in love to everyone on the cross. No one was every meant to be excluded. Exclusion’s purpose, setting oneself apart, as Israel needed to do at the outset, was to enable their novice faith to grow strong, to solidify as a people, in their forming faith. By 1st century Palestine, Jesus welcomed everyone to his table; his message to all who could hear and to those who would follow. Paul is the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles and the world. So that one can still say that faith came through Israel. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

In giving the promise the Lord God of Israel had a plan. Israel was the plan. God chose Israel first and loves them still Paul reminds us; they remain the people of the one god, first to work through an understanding of what monotheism meant and then to shape their identity from the fullness of that meaning and their relationship with the god who was shaping them and forming them as his own. As his own so he could proselytize the world to him.

They have not fallen out of the embrace of God’s design for them in the world. All that has occurred, even their tenure in Egypt under Pharaoh became part of God’s cause in the world for all humanity. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. In Egypt they were preserved from the famine, grew into a nation large in numbers and then made their trek across the wilderness of Sinai to the land of the promise. It is through Israel, in whom the seed would grow, that the other nations of the world would come to know I Am Who Am. The living God. The very presence of the Lord of Life in their midst. We know this God through his Son, Jesus Christ, who is now Lord of all. We know Jesus the Christ only to the extent we know the story of Israel.

We too need to honor Israel and rather than consider the story of her journey as an ‘old testament’, regard the Hebrew Scriptures as a paradigm for all those who would follow, even Jesus, especially Jesus. Israel gave us Jesus. Both Paul and Jesus were formed in the faith of Israel. Their message and mission came out of the wilderness and the lion heart of Judea.

Israel’s story is much like our own. I feel we have a long way to go in understanding and valuing the place of the Jewish people in the grand and greater schema of what we call salvation. I did not lose one of those you gave to me. Our saving is in the heart and soul of the footsteps of God’s sacred people, the people who are our spiritual ancestors and in whose footsteps Jesus and we follow to the fullness of life; realizing our humanity as both sacred and meant. We too are ever on a journey like the Hebrew people. As we follow Jesus we follow the story of Israel as it continues to teach us today about what it means to be human. What it means to be God’s.

Paul and the Law

I feel like I am procrastinating on the schedule I set for myself here. By now I had planned on reading and writing about lst and 2nd Corinthians. As I read over these two letters at, I must say there is reason to procrastinate. For those who view Paul as a chauvinist, Corinthians provides their proof text. Perhaps.

But I do want to discuss one last and important theme running through Galatians and into Paul’s later letters. It is that of the law. In all of Paul’s letters we hear him warning the people about their behavior. In a word, it should exemplify behavior which does credit to Jesus, to be an example to others as bearers of the Christ they have received, faithful witness in their lives to the faith Paul has preached and that is now theirs. They can imitate the behavior of Jesus Christ in Paul himself. On the one hand Paul hears about their misbehaving warning them to shape up and they have asked him what in fact it does mean to be a follower of The Way, of Jesus.  I live now not I but Christ lives in me.

This is where Paul will launch into his diatribe on the Law. As I said earlier, it is something Paul wrestles with and within himself; at one point in his life he was a faithful Jew and kept to the Mosaic Law. His Gentile followers want to know if in order to follow Jesus do they too, like Paul and Jesus before them, follow the Mosaic Law, become Jewish as an entree into their life in Christ. Paul begins his schema citing the promise made to Abraham and follows it through to finding fulfillment in Christ. This is something the law, Paul says, could not do. Then he talks about the law bringing sin. I always had a hard time understanding this, if the Mosaic Law was good?  If it brought sin why would Yahweh go to all the trouble, and he did, of giving it to the people and telling them that observing the law was requisite Yahweh being their God and them being his people? Abraham was not justified, or made righteous, by the Law. Only by faith in God.  Part of what Paul is getting at is the laws only tells you when you are misbehaving. The key here is in Deuteronomy. In Chapter 4 of Deuteronomy Yahweh tells the people that as they go into the land he had given them, that they are to keep the laws and customs he enjoins on them. This is how they will demonstrate their fidelity to him. In Deuteronomy 6:4-13, begins with the Hebrew prayer called the Shema, that beings Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is God, Yahweh alone…This prayer is still prayed by the Hebrew community today.

Yahweh gave the law to the people to take with them as they went into the Promised Land. The law was given them so that they would have something that governed their relationships with the other people they would be neighbor to, to each other and to God. In other words the law was given to set out the parameters of their relationships with others and with Yahweh.  You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. Let these laws I urge on you be written on your heart. There it is. The Mosaic Law and its purpose. This is not a law written on stone.  It is the law to be carried in one’s heart. It is the law to carry with you in your heart, repeat to their children, take with you walking or at home, rising up or lying down. In other words, make it the very part of your being. In this was right living. To be righteoused–which means to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

So what is Paul talking about? There is the Law and then there is the law. Sometimes Paul is referring to the Mosaic Law and at other times he is referring to the minutia that the law had evolved into; prescriptions for every little thing, like you could be stoned by pulling your ox out of hole on the Sabbath.

The story of Israel will break your heart. It is the story of repeated captivity, oppression, wandering and waiting for a savior to come to end the exiles and oppressions. But it wasn’t happening. So along the way some decided that they needed to do better, to be better. Of course, the Hebrew Scriptures has a lengthy accounting of the Prophets also railing at the people to get back on track. Repent. But by the time of Jesus and Paul it was primarily the Pharisees who set out these laws; really superstitions they believed would cause the messiah to come and save them. The monks at Qumran were thus motivated as well.

In Galatians Paul finally comes back to the spirit of Deuteronomy and concludes that the sum total of the law resides in what we now call The Golden Rule. Love your neighbor as yourself.

I suggest you read Deuteronomy. It is significant in the story of Israel. It is the story of Israel. And it is wonderful, beautiful. In it is the heart of a loving God. The God in Christ that Paul brings to us.