Ephipany

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Once he came, walking the Judean roads. Over dirt and rocks, along sea shores, across the green hills down from Galilee.  Once he stopped along the road to speak words of comfort to those who were waiting for him. Many were waiting for him.

News spreads fast.

He went to the river just to see what his cousin, the wild man, was up to. But something more happened than just attempting for his family to stop John from his dangerous talk. After John, his own family would come looking for him for the same reasons.

We are told the heavens opened and a voice was heard, as he joined with the others in the water of new life. He went to rescue one but went on to rescue many. From the shores of the Jordan

News spread fast.

Have you ever wished for just one day that you could hear his voice, feel his touch, look into his eyes, hear his words, experience that presence. I have. And yet I also know

Christ comes to us in each moment of our day. His Spirit lives where we are. Rocky roads. I’ve seen a few. Quiet waters. Those too.  I only have to stop along the road, and listen for the footfall of God in my life.  I have only to Be. To Listen. Be still and you will know that I Am.  In every moment of every day, there is this still small voice speaking to us in our hearts. Look at the creature world, the world of nature and you will see not just the magnificence of this world, but feel the heart of this sacred heart, his Spirit, his wondrous wings beating with the rhythm of your heart beat and even in the cadence of your heart break.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

The End if the Beginning

As Paul proceeds through to the close of his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, he extols a rather lengthy ‘apologia’. It is a defense of his ministry in light of the challenges he faces more from those inside the faith they share than outside it. But as he moves toward this impassioned close he prefaces it by saying that everything he says and does has one goal. To win people over to faith in Christ.

He encapsulates this message owning that when he is away from the believers he can be a bully and when he is with them he is humble with the patience and peace of Christ.

In the final chapters of the 2nd letter to the Corinthians Paul says what he has said before, just more nuanced. And more Pauline lengthy. More Pauline boastful. More Pauline profound. And yet beneath all the bravado is a humility heard when he finally says God’s grace is enough. We can see that it is God’s grace in Paul that sees him through. Keeps him going. He goes on without giving up, bolstered by God’s grace, and Paul’s love for the people he has brought to faith in Christ. He knows that they are vulnerable at the outset. It’s a vulnerability he carries within him as well. By opening himself up to his own vulnerability, he is also opening himself up to further intimacy with those to whom he went to preach Christ risen. That is partly why he rises to a level of so-called bullying. He wants to encourage them in the face of their questions, doubts and the challenges they will face from non-believers. Beyond that to clear away the obstacles to further intimacy with God in Christ. He will do whatever needs to be done, expend himself in any way so the Goods News lives and flourishes in his newly formed believers. He does this with a demanding urgency believing that they too will soon experience the risen Lord who he believe will come again in his and their lifetimes.

Perhaps the crux of the matter is this: On the one hand Paul is affectionate and passionately cares for his converts when he is with them. However, when out of their sight, in the letters he addresses to them, he rises to his full powers when confronted with those who do not yet reflect the Christ life. He arms himself with a righteousness, (which is his own sense of being saved by Christ, where it is done on earth as it is in heaven) knowing himself to be one with Christ and with the absolutely certainty of the Christ he preaches, especially when faced with the challenges that met him as he brought the ideas and reality of the new faith, the new way of being one with God, to nonbelievers.

Challenges even from other apostles. The dilemma of those who are posing to preach Christ but have other agendas in mind. It is not just an lst century Palestinian problem. Then there are those who apparently have also hurled at him the charge that he did not go around with Jesus himself. Did not know Jesus in the flesh. Perhaps his message is skewed as well. Paul continues with an unrivaled confidence. Because he says over and over it is not from himself but from God that his mission comes. For that reason Paul often acquiesced for the sake of the gospel and for fellowship within the one message and one body in Christ which is so all important to him. Even to remain in fellowship with the other apostles costs him dearly.

But perhaps that too is part of the plan as well. Paul knew and experienced Jesus Christ in another way. It appears perhaps in a more intimate way. Perhaps even in a more profound way, because he experienced the risen Lord. Paul, why are you persecuting me? This certainty, this passion, the strength of his belief and experience will father the faith that will come to be known as Christianity.

Before the gospels were written, Paul preached Christ to others personally. He did not compose a story of the Christ-event. The gospels are very important. They are significant chronicles of the Jesus who walked Judea and through them can walk into our hearts and lives. Paul encountered the risen Lord. He went to the people. He knew Christ in a singular way without having the experience of Jesus of Nazareth. And it is in this way that we too know and come to the risen Lord as well.