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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Called by Name by the Risen Lord

daffodils

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)

 

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.

Didn’t our hearts burn within us…?

 footprints  One of my favorite Easter stories comes at the end of Luke’s gospel. The road to Emmaus.  As Luke tells it, Peter has just gone home after he looked in the tomb. Although Peter is amazed, he goes back home. Apparently, Peter is not very curious about Jesus’ disappearance from the tomb. So Jesus has to go out to the shore of the Sea of Galilee and wait for Peter to recognize him as he stands over a charcoal fire, on shore, waiting for Peter to recognize him.

The scene then shifts to the disciples walking along a road talking, disheartened, about all that has happened in their very long Passover weekend. Unlike Peter, they are apparently rehearsing what had taken place and trying to figure out what had happened, what the meaning of the empty tomb could be.

Suddenly there is someone else walking with them. They do not at first recognize Jesus. Jesus asks them what they are talking about. Discussing is the word used, and it implies more than just a casual conversation. The disciples are a bit taken aback by Jesus’ question. Could this man be the only person who does not know the things that have taken place in Jerusalem in the past few days? What things Jesus asks.

Cleopas tells him about Jesus of Nazareth and briefly retells the whole gospel story of Jesus’ life and death. Then Jesus chides them for not understanding what had taken place. It was part of the plan from the outset. Then Jesus begins to depart, but they invite him to stay with them. It is only when they are at the meal with him, and he says the blessing, breaks the bread and gives it to them, that they recognize Jesus. Then as suddenly as he had come, he is gone.

Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he explained the scriptures to us? I would have loved to be privy to this conversation, when Jesus enlightens them. Didn’t our hearts burn within us is such a poetic and meaning-laden way of expressing their feelings as their rabboni reveals what he has been teaching them all along. It is one more example of the great love his disciples have for Jesus. For even as this stranger speaks something within them stirs to that understanding. Responds to the voice if not the face of the Man telling them what the scriptures mean…about him and what his life means.

It is telling here that Jesus has come to his followers whereever they are. On the road, he is there. In a harrowing change to their lives, puzzling over life events, he is here. In a boat out to sea, trying to make a living to no avail, he is waiting; he is there. Crying in a garden, he is there. Bereft and lonely, scared and frightened, he is there. Where they are, wherever we are, he is there. Perhaps we are a lot like his disciples. It takes us a while to get it. To get him. To not only understand – understanding takes us only so far- but to see, to recognize the presence of Jesus in our lives, as he walks and waits, comes to our tables, blesses us and our meals, tending the flock or readying to care for a friend believed gone from this world, he is there. Sometimes we just have to look up or to turn around or scan the horizon to find him there.

 

 

 

Feed My Lambs

 

  shepherd   Now we have seen Peter twice after the Resurrection. Once where he runs ahead of the others to the empty tomb. The next is when he literally casts himself from the fishing boat into the water when he sees Jesus on the shore of Tiberias. In both instances Peter hurries ahead of the others, unafraid to get to get to Jesus and see him up close. Perhaps his joy and eagerness to see Jesus is because there is something he sorely needs to say to Jesus.

The last thing Jesus did with his disciples was share a meal with them. The first thing he does after the Resurrection is also to share a meal with them. A meal of fish and bread. Echoes of the loaves and fishes. A sacred symmetry meant to evoke their memories. A chance to talk, to catch up, or simply to be in his startling presence. To remember what he had said to them and suddenly realize the significance of all he did and all he said. The significance of his life. And now the significance of their lives, especially Peter’s.

After the meal Jesus takes Peter aside. He wants to ask him a question. He has a job for Peter to do. Commentaries and sermons on this scene often focus on the three questions ‘do you love me?’ as the way in which Peter redeems himself from the thrice denial of knowing Jesus during the trial. What I find wonderfully consistent with who Jesus was before and now, is that he doesn’t chide Peter, he doesn’t even bring the denials up. He doesn’t condemn Peter as a sinner. He doesn’t go right for the sin. He goes right for the very heart of Peter. He goes to the man he knows Peter to be, in all his exuberance; impetuous, skeptical, self-protective and, yes, a man scared of death. He knows what that feeling felt like.

Why does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him, if, as Peter insists, Jesus already knows Peter loves him? And Jesus knows he does. Perhaps because Peter needs to hear himself say the words. Perhaps because Jesus also knows the doubt that may still be lingering with him, especially his own self-doubt and self-condemnation.  For no one is more aware of Peter’s sorrow and shame than Peter. In repeating that he loves Jesus, Jesus gives Peter a chance to not only forgive himself, but also to focus on what is really important to Him.

With each affirmation of his love for Jesus, Jesus tells Peter to feed my lambs. Look after my sheep. Feed my sheep. Jesus is asking this fisherman to become a shepherd. The catch is in. A shepherd to those lambs-innocent followers of his who are going to be in need of protection from the wolves still prowling about waiting to snatch them away from the greener pastures of Jesus’ fellowship. His sheep-the inner circle of those more seasoned in following Jesus, his disciples. Look after them. Clearly Jesus is concerned for them. Wants them to be taken care of. Wants them to safe. And yet….

Jesus is evoking the image of past shepherds of Israel, like Joseph, who saved his family and all of Egypt from starving to death when the famine came. Who led them to safer pastures. (At least for a few hundred years.) Of the lowly shepherd boy who slay the Goliath waiting to devour his people and led them to a kingdom where he would be their first king. The old kingdom was gone. The new kingdom would need another kind of shepherding. Surely Jesus knew it would take all the shepherding qualities, to feed, to ensure well-being, to be ever watchful, to make sure that none get lost, that all have safe pasturing. Peter is making his pledge and promise, a pledge and promise because he loves Jesus.

After Jesus tells Peter the cost, he simply repeats the first words he ever said to him. Follow me.

 

Gardener of our Souls

 daffodils    Before Jesus appears on the shore of Tiberias he appears to Mary of Magdala in the garden. This is one of my favorite Easter stories. Mark identifies this Mary as the one from whom Jesus cast out seven devils. ‘Casting out devils’ is a phrase in the scriptures meaning a healing took place. In the ancient world illnesses were thought to be the result of some demonic force. The number seven in the scriptures repeatedly refers to something sacred, someone made whole. Whatever this meant it was powerful enough to cause Mary to become his most faithful follower and the first person to whom he appears after he is risen.

It is Mary alone who has the courage to go in the dark to the tomb in search of Jesus. Finding the stone rolled away she goes back to tell the others. It is Peter again who sets off running to the garden to see for himself. The disciples look inside and when they see that Jesus is not there, they finally understand what Jesus had said to them about his rising from the dead. Then they go home.

But Mary stays. She is still distraught and is crying. When the angels sitting where Jesus had been ask her why she is crying, she tells them Jesus has been taken away and she doesn’t know where to find him. But then something makes her turn around. And there is Jesus standing before her. She thinks he is the gardener. The he speaks her name. Mary. She only has to hear his voice to know it is Jesus. This is such a tender moment. And such a real moment. I hear in this moment how much she loved him and that he loved her and cared for her deeply.

The others hadn’t seen him in the garden. Perhaps when he knew she was looking for him he came to her. But he would not let her ‘cling’ to him. For surely this is what he knew she wanted to do. Instead he told her to go and tell the others what she had seen, and what he had said to her. And she did.

Where do we look for him? Do we hear or read the gospel message and then just go or stay home? Perhaps the invitation to become whole, to rise up with him, and the love he empowers within us, might cause us to go out and tell others, like Paul did, about the power of his resurrection. That love has overcome hate. That life has overcome death. That his presence and love is a more powerful force than all the daemons that threaten our good life.

It would not be a mistake for us to think of Jesus as the gardener of our souls. That the first encounter after the resurrection took place in a garden. It was in a garden that life began. And now in a garden that new life became possible. That we have been seeded with his life. That when we seek him, he brings that seed to life out of the dark tomb of our souls, into the light, to flower, to become whole. To see the sacred life he brings to us. For some of his disciples, including John, after they saw the empty tomb they went home. It was enough for them to merely understand. They did not remain. They did not look for him. Perhaps they were still afraid. In Mark’s account the women who came that day left in fear as well and told no one. But in John’s gospel it was Mary who remained, who searched for him, whose love for him caused him to come to her. So perhaps knowledge and understanding are not enough. Perhaps it is love that brings his presence, that brings the life and love of Jesus to us. The disciples now understood but it was Mary who would see him more clearly and love him more dearly.

Jesus Waits

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One of the last images of Jesus before his arrest is of him bending down to wash the feet of his disciples. One of the first images of Jesus after his resurrection is of him standing on the shore while his disciples are out in a boat fishing. He stands on the shore, waiting. He throws out a question to them across the water.  Have you caught anything, friends.  No, they hadn’t. So he tells them where to throw out their nets and they catch more fish than they could haul. He calls them friends. Some of them are the same friends whose feet he washed just a few days ago. But somehow he is different. They do not recognize him yet.

But then John, the disciple Jesus loved, does recognize him. He tells Peter it is their Lord. With this the ever passionate and exuberant Peter wraps his cloak around him, jumps out of the boat, slogging through the water, rushing to the shore where Jesus waits. There is something about this action of Peter that is so touching. It is so human. Peter who had been afraid to even admit he knew Jesus during his arrest and trial, now is so overcome with joy that he jumps out of the boat, into the water, in order to get to the shore where Jesus waits. Jesus will soon give Peter a chance to redeem himself. The others remain in the boat, perhaps taking it all in, incredulous, making sure the boat and their catch gets to the shore. They all in their own way bring themselves to Jesus. To meet him as he is, transformed and yet capable of building a fire and cooking fish, once again breaking bread with those who were his own in the world. Those who now understood and are given this very ordinary extraordinary moment of a simple breakfast with the risen Lords. Another meal where Jesus once again serves them. Another meal that is very different from the last they had together.

Jesus cooks them breakfast! Come, he says and invites them to eat.  He serves them bread and fish. Such a simple, ordinary thing to do after such extraordinary events of the past three days. Much is made of Jesus coming back in glory. But this is not the story John tells. It is the story of a man restored to life by the one he called Father who goes to those he loved and lived with in the world and meets them where they are. Working at their trade, fishing, walking on a road, searching for him in a garden and even those hiding in an upper room.

Jesus stands on the shore of our lives, calling us to himself, to be with him in the most ordinary of ways, meeting us where we are, pointing the way to a life of abundance. The abundance of our lives transformed by the Lord into that which will nourish and sustain us as we go about the business of our lives.

Getting the Story Right – Mary Magdalene was Not a Prostitute

daffodils  Most of Lent I’ve spent finishing the manuscript for a book I have written. It is finally finished. As anyone who writes, or undertakes a project that consumes much of your days and nights, a kind of void ensues. There does come a sense of loss along with a sense of job well done. What once filled your days, your thoughts, your every waking hour, is now no longer yours in many respects. It’s for those who will read it. But because of the subject matter I suspect I will never entirely be finished with it. Because it has become important to me that we get the story (of Christianity) right. And we haven’t yet.

So this week I have been doing things that have gone undone during the writing. Like cleaning house. Cleaning out closets, throwing things away that I no longer need or can use. Or that fit! I’ve started thinking about what annuals I’ll plant in the garden this year.

We are one week away from Good Friday. And I woke up this morning thinking about other things that needed to be discarded, things we have outgrown in a spiritual context. Outdated ideas that no longer speak to us, no longer serve our journeys to new life. No longer fit the life we live today.

This thought conincided with something that has been sticking my craw for some time. Its been gaining purchase in my thoughts for a while now.

During a bible study class there was a woman who said she has read the bible through three times. Great. One of the points I make in my writing is that we need to actually read the biblical text in context and see what it is saying, rather than taking bits and pieces, a sentence here or there, the way we have with St. Paul, and misreading them. Later in the discussion this same woman referred to Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. Whoa! No she wasn’t. And I said so. Really? Was the woman’s incredulous reply. No where in the scriptures does it say Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. No where.

This idea came from Pope Gregory I, aka Gregory the Great in the 6th century. He was wrong. But this notion has persisted throughout Christendom and beyond for centuries. I have never heard one person from the pulpit discredit this error. This sin done to women and to the gospel in the churches. A few weeks later a man made the same observation. Again, I tried to right this misunderstanding of a woman who was one of the most devoted followers of Jesus and to whom he first appeared at the Resurrection.

My point: How much more have we believed of the gospels that is not true. In spite of the fact that the woman had ‘read’ the bible, evidently she, like many of us, has been reading it with the overlay of church teachings that considerably miss the mark. How much more have we gotten wrong about our faith?

We need to right this wrong because it represents the great injustice that has done been done to women and to reading the stories of the scriptures more carefully.

So while you do your spring cleaning, you can throw this one out.

I for one am going to follow this woman through Holy Week, to the Cross, and to the Garden because this was one woman who got it right, while all the men ran away.

 

 

 

Creative Spirituality

Pentecost red ribbons   In spite of the vast and varied array of interpretations that have been lumbered on St. Paul’s letters, let me suggest that we also see the importance of his letters as they portray the creative process. For it is the cream rising to the top after we sort through the behavioral cautions and his perplexing treaties on the Mosaic law.

From Genesis we know that we are created in image and likeness. Being created human means we are sacred and we are meant. Something within us looks like the God who created us. For Paul living in Christ is the completion of the creation process.

Spirituality is living in the Spirit of Christ where Christ is the epicenter of our spirituality. This spirituality is creative because in it we come to the fullness of life, more truly who we are and are meant to be.  It is the life of Christ that animates our being. It is a new way of being that we can never exhaust. Here we live beyond mere existence. In a creative Christ-centered spirituality we grow and become; we discover that this life is the most real part of who we are, without which we are just walking bodies.

Creative spirituality is living in our depths. And in our depths is the sacred. This is the hidden self we endeavor to bring into awareness. The hidden self as the Christ-self, the realization that within us resides not only the life but the love of Christ. Discovering this and being changed because of this awareness is at the heart and soul of a creative spirituality. This is the discovery that Paul made on the Damascus Road. It would fire his whole life. He set out to share and to create a way of living that not just resembled, but re-assembled us into the person of Christ. This way of living is about transformation. The Way of becoming whole. (I am the Way, to the Truth, that gives Life.) A way of becoming fully human; experiencing the fullness of the God-life within us.

Creative spirituality is also the realization that like Jesus we are human, and like Jesus as the Christ our lives are ever being renewed, resurrected. Creative spirituality, like all creative endeavors, is open, attentive, flexible, alive and the willingness to participate in mystery and be surprised by what is forming in us. In a Christ-centered creative spirituality we are ever in the process of self-becoming. The Christ-self as the coming to be of the sacred in our lives. A transformation that is ever at work within us.

In creative spirituality we are both forming and being formed. Shaping and being shaped.  It is the genesis in solitude of awareness, attention, receptivity and trust, to trust oneself and ones instincts, which are the cornerstones of the creative spirit. Creative spirituality is the expression of one’s own soul as it forms, finds and keeps to the deepest center of one’s life. It is the ability to become whole, to discover and be discovered by a sacred purpose and allow oneself to be led by the creative spirit as one makes one’s way into the heart of divine existence and the sacredness of oneself.