Who Do You Say That I Am?

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The question asked by Jesus’ disciples after the calming of the storm is the theological question all our theologies, ministries, life commitments and searches for meaning bring us to: Who is this? Who is this Jesus? He asks us Who do you say that I am?

In the three gospel accounts each writer frames the story and the question in his unique style but in such a way that the disclosure takes on a deep significance, for the witness of his life. They ask questions about sign and the event foretells another in which their understanding of who their Lord is will be sorely tested once more. In the death of their leader, left adrift upon the storm-tossed seas of political agitation and social upheaval in Jerusalem, not to mention a radical new way of seeing the old covenant turning into the new, their faith will undergo its greatest peril. And it will carry them across the greatest divide. In his death, Christ’s final ‘crossing over’ occurred. As the Mark and Luke stories are framed around images of seed and of spirits, so the Passion event of Jesus is about the seed, like the Word, slumbering in its depth, in order to awaken, overcoming the natural phenomenon of death and once for all freeing his disciples from the fear giving way to a holier (and more whole) more confident Spirit.

Upon the seas they could not run away; but from the rocky slopes of Calvary they ran, their fears keeping pace with them.  They went into hiding.  They still were unable to answer the question that shadowed/dogged their retreat: “Who do you say that I am?’  This question rings in each gospel story we read, in each explicable and inexplicable moment of our lives, in our approach to the holies of holies and in our flight from the invitation before which we feel ourselves unworthy. Even with a captive audience the Lord who commanded the seas could not command their understanding.  But he had captured their hearts and would return to be present to their sinking troubled spirits.

We study theology two thousand years later still trying to understand, asking questions of faith, searching the history, the stories, the artifacts, the language, the silence and the events of his life over and over again, from this perspective and that, just as the first disciples did after retreating from what they believed was the end of everything they believed, our own hearts captured just as theirs had been and our imaginations caught up by the risen Lord who is present in our little boats upon the thalasse and lailaps of theology and our searching with us.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

You Meant it For Evil…

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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.

Jesus Shows Us The Way

 

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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.

 

They Went To The River

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They didn’t go to church.

They went to the river.

The deep river they’d crossed

again and again.

 

There were gathering places

for the Sabbath

where the scrolls were unrolled

morning petals opening to the new light.

A wide open circular room

welcoming

empty chalice of space

save hearts hoping from more manna.

 

Yet, they went to the river.

The one they crossed

from captivity to freedom.

To the camp ground where the god

refused a house of wood and

kept to his tent as well.

They had traveled so far together.

 

They returned to the river.

Where memories ran.

Someone was preaching there.

Calling them home

again and again.

 

They put the beasts to rest

Tethered the plough

put down the needle and thread.

Left the leaven

rising in the sweet morning air

to cross the corn fields, the pasture lands,

the portico to

listen, listen

to a soft young-man voice

reading from the rolling waters

the story of their lives and his.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


			

Their Names Are Legion

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The first time I saw him I was coming down the ramp off the highway. He wasn’t the usual homeless man who sat on the concrete abutment holding up a piece of ragged brown cardboard with anything will help scrawled in black letters. A few days before the man with the ragged brown beard had been standing there in the cold and rain, decked out in a black trash bag from head to toe, its torn top like a hoodie covering an old cap, his beard-wet face peering out of a body bag. It always makes me sad, and not a little guilty, as I drove past, his eyes following me. I had my own near-homeless and struggling family members to care for I consoled myself. But there was something haunting in that face that haunts me still. Perhaps because in some way it was familiar, a not-so-cleaned-up version of the holy card man. And, of course, his words where were you when I was homeless scrawled on my consciousness.  

Today the man who was sitting there was younger, tangled hair to his shoulders, unkempt beard, looking like he had just risen from a palette of rags. As I waited for the light to change I notice he wasn’t moving. I don’t try to make eye contact. I assume it makes it more difficult for both of us. But the stillness of this gentleman, and he did somehow appear to be gentle, so quiet I kept my gaze upon him to see if he moved at all. Was breathing. It was hard to tell. He appeared to be one of those art sculptures, a metaphor sitting out in a public place. But when the light changed and I drove past his eyes followed me. Like a painting you walk around and the eyes seem to follow you about the gallery, his eyes made its way into my soul. What was curious though was that he held no sign. He held no cup. His hands were resting, one easily cupped atop the other, his gaze distant yet piercing as I eased my way into the turn.

He looked like Jesus. Not a Hollywood Jesus, with trimmed beard, just washed hair, clean flowing robes, leather Italian sandals. He could have been the same age. He could have been two thousand years later the same iterant rambling man with nowhere to lay his head. His clothes were old, worn, non-descript. I cannot describe what he was wearing. My memory holds only his face, and those hands. A real person. A presence.

What was he waiting for? Godot? The diversion of anonymous passersby? Or reminders, just as he is reminder to us as we hurry past on our way to the Pharaoh’s glass pyramids where we toil during the day, hurrying through interminable slowly moving traffic to our gated communities in the ‘burbs. Waiting. Simply being. Being there. Waiting to wake us from our benumbed commute. A reminder, the bridegroom is no longer with us.

Called by Name by the Risen Lord

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Jesus of Nazareth has risen. Mary sees him in the garden, just beyond the empty tomb. She hears her name and recognizes the Lord she thought she had lost. His disciples who were in despair at the loss of his life and his life work see him cooking a meal over the open fire by the lakeside. Walking on a road, eating at a meal where they too now recognize him. And because he lives again, we know with unreserved certainty that God’s choosing him, means God chooses us. Each morning he says our names out into the universe and we rise with a bit more compassion for the day, for ourselves and for the world. They hear his voice and once again they are changed forever. When John baptized Jesus hears a voice calling him beloved. Then Jesus immediately goes off to a quiet place to pray and think about what just happened to him. And what it would mean for his life. For now he is changed forever as well.

This is where we follow him. Up from the Jordan, into the wilderness, across the rocky paths and through the bustling city. Into the synagogue, out on the hillside, listening to his stories, at wedding feasts and ordinary meals. Across life times and across all the moments of our lives.

What does it mean for my life, for your life to know he lives again? That we are each called by name. The name that is ours alone. That is unlike any other when it comes from him. It is perhaps knowing we are loved in the breadth of our names uttered and from this like the new spring we come to more tolerance and forgiveness for one another. Because we know we are loved, we are capable of love. This is the richness of the gospel that is the good news.

In Jesus’ new life is our own new life. We are now that new self St. Paul speaks of. The self hidden in Christ. The Christ hidden in our lives that comes to life in the garden, on the road, by the lakeside.  When we hear our names and we run to tell others that he lives again.

A Good Friday Meditation

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

He is led out of the garden, where he has gone with his disciples after they shared a Passover meal, not by angels with fiery swords, but by men armed with swords sharp enough to cut off a person’s ear. He has come to the garden to pray. While his disciples, full of Passover wine, sleep. For Jesus there is one more cup from which to drink.

At the meal he pours the wine into the cups and after he said the blessing everyone drank from their wine cups. Three cups of wine are blessed and the blessing cups drank from. Someone that night reads the story of the Hebrew’s peoples flight from Egypt. The story of how God saves. Then Jesus takes the unleavened bread from the bowl, the matzoh, breaks it in half, and shares with all present a piece of the same bread that sustained the Israelites as they made their long journey to the land of promise. At today’s Seder Supper, a piece of that bread is wrapped in linen and hidden away, for the children to go in search of after the supper ends. In a few days the women who have wrapped Jesus body in linen will go in search of him but find no one where his body had been lain, except once again the angel standing guard in the garden. This only after Jesus has given himself, broken like the Passover bread, shared now with the world, his life-blood spilled out upon the hard ground of Calvary for all to see.

Today we experience the deepest expression of self-giving, where Jesus of Nazareth continues to share with us the greatest and final Passover. The passage of the Son of God from life to death. And we understand what this offering in complete freedom and love means only as it stands in the midst of Jesus’ final meal and in his rising to new life in three days. We can only make sense of this day when we think of it in terms of his whole life, his words of care and concern for others, his healing, his teaching, his message, his work, his whole person. In his life and in his death he is the embodiment of God’s love and good will for us. We see the Father’s com-passion, the God who suffers with us, in Jesus’ Passion−the cross where we encounter God in the depths of his/our humanity.

That this God is no extra-terrestrial is nowhere more evident than today. This is the day called good because God shows us in no uncertain terms his willingness to suffer for all human kind, for every human person, for you and I. Today God in Jesus embraces every lost, lonely, suffering, unloved, betrayed, sick and dying human being. In this day’s death because we know he is risen we know that it is God who protects and sustains Jesus and ourselves, and truly becomes one with all human kind. Not in spite of human suffering, but in the midst of it. Today in Jesus on the cross the human and the sacred become bound irrevocably together. Today there is no longer any barrier or boundary between us and the God who comes to earth, to experience all we experience and joins, in the human and sacred Jesus, with us forever. We live now in the unfailing presence of Yahweh, the God who saves. In Yeshua of Nazareth, which means God saves, we know without a doubt his good will for us. The promise now to us is that in the face of any death, evil or  suffering, any ‘no’ to life, God’s ‘yes’ is greater. This is the only certainty of God’s will we can speak of. Today we glimpse the kingdom of God come in Jesus’ life and in his death because we know that in him the promise of eternal life is kept. Today is a Promise kept. And if we doubt that, we might hear the echo of the final words of scripture forming in the heart of Jesus today as he extends to us the unleaving bread of himself and the final blessing cup is passed on to us for us to partake.  For in Jesus God truly makes his home in us. And his name is God-with-us. He will wipe away all tears from (our) eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. (Rev. 21:4)

 

Servant and Savior

Last Supper

Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is one of the most touching scenes from his life. Here is Jesus, Lord, Savior, Messiah, the Christ, before these titles were placed upon him, on his knees washing the feet of his friends. He tells Peter in his exuberance that he is setting an example for them. Tonight our priests will wash the feet of their congregations. I must say having done this every year it is a rather odd experience. Somewhat uncomfortable as you are there in front of everyone having the leader of your church washing your feet. I have to wonder if this isn’t how Peter felt when he at first refused Jesus to wash his feet. But Jesus tells Peter he is setting an example so that they might copy what he has done for them.

Then Jesus was deeply disturbed because he knew that he was going to be betrayed by Judas. But after Judas leaves the room, Jesus speaks to his disciples one of the greatest talks of his life. (John 13:31-17:26) These four and half chapters of John’s gospel contains the whole meaning of Jesus’ life. Who he is. What he is about in his own words. All of what he meant when he begins the discourse with I am the Way: I am Truth and Life.

These are the words of transformation. These are the words that change the ordinary substance of our humanity into something sacred, into Christ. These are the words that feed us and sustain us. These are the words that change Jesus’ life into our own. These are the final words of man who has just risen from his knees before his friends, knows one of them will betray him, and then goes on to tell them that he loves them. That he will always be with them.  No matter what.

Here is an image we can take beyond the cross; here is the Savior of the world on his knees with a rag in his hand washing the dust of the road off his companions feet, preparing those who have traveled those dusty roads with him all this time, for something even more astounding. Through it all, the man who was reluctant to change the dirty water into wine at Cana, at his last meal, will hold up a cup of wine, and say I Am the life-blood, that he gives himself as the best wine saved for last, servant and savior, guest at the feast, bridegroom of the soul.

A Wedding and A Passover

Passover with Jesus and disciples

Have you noticed that Jesus spends a good deal of his time in the gospels at meals with others? Meals have a significant meaning in Jesus’s life. The wedding feast at Cana, according to John’s gospel, is a prelude to his public life. Jesus story begins then and we know ends with a meal. One a wedding celebration where Jesus and his mother are present; the last where Jesus is at table with his disciples, sharing with them the Passover meal. These two meals, one where Jesus has gone to celebrate a wedding with his disciples, friends and family, and the last meal of his life, where he celebrates another transformative moment in the lives of himself and his friends. The wedding at Cana has become famous for Jesus turning water into wine. His first (recorded) miracle. One he seems reluctant to perform – when told by his mother (a not so subtle hint) that they have no wine – he replies with that enigmatic statement it is not yet my time.  But apparently his mother had every confidence he was a capable of because she then addresses the wine steward and tells him to do whatever Jesus says.

The Passover meal that Jesus celebrate with his disciples is a celebration of another sort. It is the remembrance of the time when the angel of death passed over the home first born Hebrew child, a prelude to the Exodus. So two meals, preludes to pivotal moments in Jesus’ life. For at the Passover meal Jesus will shortly become the Passover himself. He will be the first-born of the Father, who is raised back to life, effecting the greatest transformation one can make. From death to life is the preeminent Passover. One that is perhaps previewed in the wedding feast at Cana.

The water that Jesus changes into wine will become the water and blood that will flow from Jesus’ punctured side as he hangs on the cross. The soldier’s spear was meant to verify that Jesus was  indeed dead, and yet as it did show that in human terms Jesus had expired, the water and life-blood that drained from him, gave witness to the transformation that would take place in three days, with the ultimate wedding of human and sacred life when Jesus came forth from the tomb where he had been buried. In three days time the life-blood of Jesus would flow in him, the union of body and spirit now a living person, and thereby change the way a small cultic group of  his followers would grow into a world-wide movement, the Jesus movement, watered if you will, with his own life-spirit, which is now available to all of us in abundance.