The Sermon on the Mount: Teachings of a Jewish Mystic (Part 3)

 

Readings for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany:

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

Psalm 119:33-40

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Matthew 5:38-48

This sermon was preached at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in San Rafael CA on February 19, 2017.

When Jesus was in his mid to late twenties, there was a major political demonstration that likely had a significant influence on his life and teachings. In 26 AD, the prefect of Judea Pontius Pilate brought the Roman imperial standards into Jerusalem and displayed them at the Antonia Fortress, which was connected to the Jewish Temple. The imperial standards were symbols of the empire, sometimes a golden eagle on a pole called an aquila, but in this case, they included statues and effigies of Caesar. Now this was tremendously offensive to the Jewish people since it violated the second of the ten commandments: thou shall not make any idols or graven images. To have idols within the same complex as the Jewish temple was an absolute atrocity, so the Jewish leaders asked Pilate to remove them. Unsurprisingly, Pilate did not care that he was violating their law and so denied their request. So what did the Jewish people do? They organized a kind of sit in. Hundreds of them lied down, fully prostrate around Pilate’s house and remained motionless in that position for five days and nights. On the sixth day, Pilate said he would respond and so he had the protestors gather in a stadium to hear his answer. However, instead of answering them, he had his soldiers surround the Jews in a ring three soldiers deep. As historian Josephus tells it,

Pilate, after threatening to cut them down, if they refused to admit Caesar’s images, signaled to the soldiers to draw their swords. Thereupon the Jews, as by concerted action, flung themselves in a body on the ground, extended their necks, and exclaimed that they were ready rather to die than to transgress the law. Overcome with astonishment at such intense religious zeal, Pilate gave orders for the immediate removal of the standards from Jerusalem.[1]

 

The Jewish people opposed what they understood to be evil not by violently rebelling but by nonviolently resisting, to the point of risking their own lives. Although their sacred law was being terribly defied by Rome, they knew that attacking Roman soldiers would be yet another violation. They also knew that each human being was made in the image of God (whether Jew or Gentile) and there was a divine potential for good in every person. To destroy a human life would be to destroy a beautiful and beloved creation of God in which God had invested and inserted a part of himself. It was by risking their own lives that the Jewish people were able to appeal to that goodness even within Pontius Pilate, that divine spark. They resisted evil not with more evil but with a bold and courageous appeal to goodness, even within someone who might be considered a monster.

Young Jesus was steeped in these Jewish teachings and saw how they could effectively challenge and transform the world’s most powerful empire. He likely witnessed many other examples of Jewish nonviolent resistance throughout his childhood and young adulthood, and after spending a season in the desert likely marinating in what is called Merkabah mysticism, he developed a keen understanding of the connection between mystical enlightenment and an ethic of nonviolence. This morning’s section of the Sermon on the Mount provides an excellent case in point. Let us open our Bibles to Matthew 5:38.

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.” Now here it sounds like Jesus is telling his followers not to resist evil, not to engage in any form of resistance whatsoever. And this is where it is again helpful and even necessary to look at the original Greek. The Greek word for “resist” here is antistenai which is made up of two parts: anti which means “against” and histemi which is a verb that in its noun form (stasis) means violent rebellion and armed revolt. “It refers specifically to the moment two armies collide, steel on steel, until one side breaks and flees.” (Wink, 11) So a more accurate translation would be “Don’t retaliate against violence with more violence.” Instead, resist evil and violence in a different way. Seek that creative third way of resistance that transcends the primal response of fight or flight. Jesus then clarifies this meaning by providing three concrete examples of creative non-violent resistance to evil and oppression.

He says, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek turn the other also.” About three months ago, I preached on Luke’s version of this teaching out on the prayer labyrinth for All Saints day. It wasn’t that long ago so maybe some of you will remember that I asked Br. Richard to come up and show how he would strike me on the right cheek. (He’s not here today because he knew this was in the readings and he didn’t want to have to do that again). But I’m still kind of tickled by the fact that we have a picture of a Franciscan friar punching an Episcopal priest on our Facebook page. Apparently, he used to be a boxer so he knew that in order to strike me on the right cheek, he would need to use a left jab. So he would use his left hand and, at Jesus’s day, the left hand would only be used for unsanitary tasks. It would not even be used for striking someone on the cheek. Instead, someone would strike the right cheek by using the back of their right hand and that would be done not so much to injure but to insult, not to hurt but to humiliate. Masters would backhand their slaves and Romans would sometimes backhand Jews. And it is important to remember that Jesus is generally speaking here to a Jewish audience. So by turning the other cheek, the oppressed Jew would rob the Roman oppressor of the power to humiliate, essentially saying, “If you are going to hit me, hit me as an equal, as a peer, as a human being just like you.” So the Roman oppressor has the choice to either acknowledge the other as a peer or to stop hitting altogether. So the call to turn the other cheek is not a call to be a doormat but rather a call to nonviolently resist oppression, humiliation and dehumanization. (Ok, some of you already knew that. Let’s look briefly at the other examples.)

Verse 40: “If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” New Testament scholar Walter Wink thinks this teaching likely evoked some chuckles among Jesus’s listeners because it’s basically telling people to strip down to nothing. The Greek words for coat and cloak were himation and kiton, which meant outer garment and inner garment. So why would Jesus tell his listeners to strip naked? And how is this a form of creative nonviolent resistance? Well, many of Jesus’s listeners were likey in enormous debt, as they were overtaxed by an empire that needed money to fund its many military campaigns. Many who could not pay off their debts with money had to give away other personal belongings, including their clothes, including the shirts of their back. So when Jesus calls them to give away even their undergarments, he is inviting them to essentially say to their creditors, “You want my robe? Here, take everything! Now you’ve got all I have except my body. Is that what you’ll take next?” It’s important to know that nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell not on the naked party, but on the person viewing or causing one’s nakedness (Gen 9:20-27) (Wink, 20). So not only would the creditor be shamed by the nakedness he would also be exposed as a cruel moneylender, stripping his debtors down to nothing, and he would therefore be invited to change his ways and repent. Walter Wink argues that Jesus “in effect is sponsoring clowning,” playfully exposing the truth, and therefore carrying on a “venerable tradition in Judaism.” (Wink, 21). There is a saying in the Jewish Talmud: “If you neighbor calls you an ass, put a saddle on your back” (Baba Qamma 92b).

Finally, Jesus’s third example in verse 41: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” In the Roman empire, soldiers were allowed to force occupied peoples to carry their heavy packs and equipment for one mile, but only one mile. And there were mile markers on highways to ensure this because the Romans were enlightened enough to know that forcing people to schlep their equipment (which could be 65 to 85 pounds) over excessively long distances would easily provoke occupied peoples to violently revolt. Forcing a civilian to transport equipment for more than a mile carried severe penalties for the soldier under military law. So Jesus’s call to go the second mile is not so much about being extra generous and assiduous in helping others complete a task. It’s more about how an occupied people can take the initiative in an oppressive society, “how they can assert their human dignity.” (Wink, 24). So Jesus invites them to imagine the “hilarious situation of a Roman soldier pleading with a Jew, saying “Come on, please give me back my pack!’” and the Jewish person responding, “Oh no, don’t worry, I don’t mind carrying it another mile.” This is Jesus offering a creative, nonviolent, disarming and comical response to violent oppression. He was speaking to particular situations of oppression which his listeners knew very well and offering a playful third way to resist and dismantle systems of violence and to invite the oppressors and persecutors themselves to repent.

Jesus says, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Once again, Jesus sounds like a true Jewish mystic as he invites his listeners to see the divine spark within everyone, even our enemies, our persecutors, our tyrannical leaders who overtax us in order to fill their wallets and fund their wars (and perhaps avoid paying their own taxes). The Bible is clear that our God is a God of justice. Oppressors and tyrants will indeed reap what they have sown. And yet our job as children of our Father in heaven is to help others see the ways in which they have succumbed to evil and violence and to repent, just as the Jews helped Pilate to change his mind, even if it was just for a moment. The God who causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, wants all of his children to discover their divine spark, to recover their imago Dei, that image of God imprinted on them by Heaven at the moment of their creation. When Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” he is saying “Be faithful to your divine purpose just as God is faithful to his own purpose.” The Greek word for “perfect” is teleios, which comes from the word telos, which means “purpose.” The word “perfect,” I think, is a very imperfect translation. Being true to our divine purpose means connecting or reconnecting with our divine spark, our imago Dei, and seeing that same divine spark in others, even in our enemies; it means unleashing our divine potential through love, compassion, creative resistance to oppression and ultimately through our devotion to the One who fully embodied the image of God on earth, Christ our Redeemer and our Liberator and our Lord. Amen.

[1] Josephus, War 2.172-174; Antiquities 18.55-59. Walter Wink writes, “Despite the similarity to a wolf’s baring his throat to show he is overmastered, the two acts are polar opposites. The wolf is surrendering; these Jews were being defiant. The wolf seeks to save its life; these Jews were prepared to die for their faith. The Jews later tried the same tactic against the Emperor Gaius (Caligula), and again prevailed, aided by the providential death of the emperor (Antiquities 18.257-309).” In Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 108, n. 12

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The Sermon on the Mount: Teachings of a Jewish Mystic (Part 2)

 

Readings for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany:

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Psalm 119:1-8

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

This sermon was preached at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in San Rafael CA on February 12, 2017.

There is a wonderful collection of wisdom sayings from Jewish rabbis who lived from 200 BC to 200 AD. The collection is called the Mishnah Avot or Pirke Avot, which means “Sayings of the Fathers.” It is full of excellent little nuggets of wisdom such as Rabbi Hillel’s famous saying, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (1:14) And also a beloved saying of Rabbi Tarfon, who said, “You are not obligated to complete the task but nor are you free to abandon it” (2:21). And one of my favorites is Rabbi Gamliel who says, “I was raised on the talk of sages, and yet I find nothing more true than silence” (1:17). The rabbis in Pirke Avot generally sound very much like Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, which is why many scholars say that Jesus in Matthew sounds most like the Jewish rabbis of his day.

The first verse in Pirke Avot reads, “Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, who transmitted it to the elders, who transmitted it to the prophets, who transmitted to the sages of the Great Assembly, who taught three things: Be careful in judgment, raise up many disciples and make a fence around the Torah.” Now what does it mean to “make a fence around the Torah”? It means that in order to make sure they do not break any of God’s commandments, they thought it would be wise to make more commandments so that they do not even come close to breaking God’s commandments. For instance, in order to make sure that they never break the third of the ten commandments (“Do not take the LORD’s name in vain”), the Jewish people decided to never use God’s name at all, lest it be used in vain. That was their way of creating a fence around that commandment. So as a result, we actually don’t know how to pronounce the name of God in Hebrew. When Jewish people read the tetragrammaton, they say “Adonai” or “Ha Shem” or even “Heaven.” We actually see this same strategy being employed by the author of Matthew in the first Beatitude, when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3) while in Luke’s version, Jesus says “the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). Matthew is more careful when it comes to using the name of God. Matthew is making a fence around the Torah.

I share this idea of “making a fence around the Torah” because many suggest that this is exactly what Jesus is doing in this morning’s section on the Sermon on the Mount. They suggest that Jesus is, in a sense, adding to the commandments so as to make sure we don’t even come close to breaking them. If we don’t even get angry with someone, then we won’t come close to murdering them. If we don’t lust, we won’t come close to committing adultery. And we won’t break our oaths, if we don’t make any oaths at all in the first place. This understanding of Jesus’s teachings makes sense to me, and yet again I think it is barely scratching the surface of the profound meaning of his words.

Jesus seems to be describing a kind of people—God’s people—who cultivate their inner lives in such a way that following the commandments requires almost no effort. If we were to cultivate an inner life that was not plagued by anger or lust, then it would be natural and easy for us to avoid murder and adultery. In this way, Jesus again sounds like the rabbis who say that if we can follow the tenth of the ten commandments, then we will have no problem following the rest of the commandments. The tenth commandment being: “Thou shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17). If we are fully content with what God has given us in the present moment, we will have no reason to steal, lie, cheat, destroy and dishonor others. Jesus and the rabbis invite us to cultivate an inner life of peace and contentment, which is ultimately what the Torah invites us to do.

Let us turn our attention to the text, to verse 5:21. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” Woah there, Jesus! Hell fire? That’s not very Episcopalian! This is where it is helpful to look at the original language. The Greek word here for “fool” is more, which is actually where we get the word “moron.” Some scholars suggest, however, that more is the transliteration of the Hebrew word “more” which means “rebel” or “apostate.”[1] As a result, New Testament scholar R. V. G. Tasker thinks Jesus is saying that “the man who tells his brother he is doomed to hell is in danger of hell himself.”[2] In other words, when we point one finger at someone else, we are always pointing three fingers back at ourselves. This understanding makes sense in light of Jesus’s later command to not judge lest ye be judged.

Verse 23: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” You may be surprised to know that part of our liturgy this morning and every Sunday morning is shaped by this very teaching. What do we do before we collect our offerings? We share the peace with one another. We share a sign of affection and reconciliation with each other. If we are holding a grudge against someone or believe someone is holding a grudge against us, we are called to forgive and be forgiven and reconcile. The point is that reconciliation, for Jesus, is more urgent than financial stewardship; a healthy community is more important than a wealthy community.

Verse 27: “You have heart that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” It is clear that Jesus is speaking here in hyperbole, as rabbis are wont to do. (Unfortunately, some have taken Jesus literally, including an early Christian theologian from the third century named Origen, who apparently did actually mutilate himself. Ironically, this same theologian later became the leading proponent of allegorical [non-literal] interpretations of Scripture in early Christianity, after having learned the hard way not to take the Bible au pied de la lettre. Jesus’s strong language and his reference (yet again) to hell actually makes a lot of sense to me, especially in the context of addiction. In the 12 step meetings I have attended, I have heard the saying that “religion is for people who are trying avoid hell while spirituality is for those who have already been to hell.” And 12 step spirituality offers ways to help people from falling back into that hell, ways that require hard work and serious sacrifice. As someone addicted to nicotine who could not really imagine life without smoking, I have had to remove major parts of my life that felt essential (almost like body parts) in order to avoid falling back into the hell of addiction. I had to cut off certain relationships and activities that had become very important to me and yet had made me highly susceptible to smoking. Jesus calls us to make serious sacrifices in order to avoid falling into the hell of addiction, which comes in many different forms: alcohol, drugs, pornography, and others that might be less conspicuous but just as pernicious.

Verse 31: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Now this needs to be understood in the context of Jesus’s other teachings on divorce as well as the debates among the rabbis at the time. There were two major schools of thought on divorce at the time: the school of Rabbi Hillel and the school of Rabbi Shammai. Rabbi Shammai’s school taught that the only ground for divorce was sexual infidelity while Hillel was much more lenient, allowing men to divorce their wives “for any cause whatsoever.”[3] Now in this time, wives generally could not divorce their husbands, but if a man could divorce his wife for whatever reason he wanted (be it overcooking dinner or just losing interest in her), then the woman would constantly be under the threat of being divorced, which would lead to social ostracism and economic destitution. Although upon first read, it seems like Jesus is being harsh and even misogynistic, a closer look at his teachings on divorce (including in Matthew 19:1-10) shows that he is actually siding with the school of thought that protected women from simply being tossed aside by fickle and selfish men. (Often when Jesus comments on the Torah, he emphasizes the parts of the Torah that are intended to protect the vulnerable, in this case women.)

Finally, verse 33: “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make your hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” In Jesus’s day, the Pharisees made a fence around the command to not break vows made to the Lord by simply never making vows to the Lord at all, never swearing to God; instead, they would swear on everything but God: heaven, earth, Jerusalem, their own head. However, like a true Jewish mystic, Jesus explains that God is in everything and that’s God’s name has been sealed on all of creation so whatever you choose to swear by you are still swearing by God’s name. So we are brought full circle back to the Name of God: the Name that we ought not say in vain and indeed cannot say at all because we don’t know how to pronounce it and yet it is this same Name that infuses all created things with life and meaning and divine potential. We all have been stamped and sealed with this holy and ineffable Name of God; and in his teachings this morning, Jesus calls us to act accordingly and to treat one another and all of creation with honor and reverence, since everything that has been created has been signed and autographed with love by its Creator. If we let this truth seep into the deepest ground of our being, perhaps we can learn to let go of our anger, lust, rejection, and deceit, perhaps we can see ourselves and one another as beautiful expressions of the inexpressible Name of God. Amen.

[1] Psalm 78:8; Jeremiah 5:23

[2] R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel according to St. Matthew (Tyndale New Testament Commentary IVP, 1961), 69.

[3] Josephus, Antiquities, IV. Viii. 23

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The Sermon on the Mount: Teachings of a Jewish Mystic (Part 1)

Readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany:

Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 112:1-9

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

Matthew 5:13-20

This sermon was preached at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in San Rafael CA on February 5, 2017.

Although over the last several years, I have preached at many congregations throughout this diocese and beyond, I had never preached to the same congregation more than 2 or 3 Sundays in a row until now. It’s a wonderful challenge and it also gives me the opportunity to do something that I have never done before, and that is a Sermon Series. And the lectionary invites me to do this as we will be reading through one of the most (if not the most) influential sermons or speeches ever delivered: that is, the Sermon on the Mount. I plan to preach on the Sermon on the Mount the next two Sundays so it will be a kind of trilogy. I also want to do something that I’ve done only once before at St. Paul’s and that is invite you to respond to the sermon briefly with a question or comment, if you feel so led at the end.

Let’s begin by opening our Bibles to Matthew 5:1, which reads “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.” In Matthew, mountains are full of significance: they are where heaven and earth kiss and it was upon a mountain that Moses received the Torah. Matthew seeks to portray Jesus as a kind of new Moses, not to replace Moses but to correctly interpret and fulfill Moses’s teachings. So Matthew has Jesus, like Moses, teaching the law to the people from a mountain; and Jesus sits down, which was customary for rabbis to do while teaching and commenting on the Torah.

He then begins his sermon with a kind of poem or Psalm known as the Beatitudes. And that name comes from the Latin word beatus, which means “blessed.” However, Matthew was originally written in Greek and the Greek word used for “blessed” is actually makarios, which translates more literally to “happy.” So Jesus actually says, “Happy are the poor in spirit, happy are those who mourn, happy are the meek, etc.” This is partly why the famous pastor of positive thinking Robert Schuller (of the former Crystal Cathedral) called them the “Be-Happy Attitudes.” Although I fully support positive-thinking and actually really appreciate Bob Schuller, this understanding is just barely skimming the surface of the immense and profound meaning of these words of Jesus. And it is also important to know that Jesus is not preaching a Prosperity Gospel here, a Gospel that promises that if only you had more faith and could think more positively, then you would acquire perfect health and immense wealth. That is not the Gospel of Jesus; that, in fact, is a dangerous heresy. The Beatitudes are attitudes that help us be, attitudes that help us be present to the fullness of being human, present to the God who is working through our humanity, in the midst of all of our messiness, limitations, insecurities, and fears; the God whose strength is made perfect in our weakness, whose wisdom is made manifest in our foolish stuttering (as Paul says), whose perfection shines through in our imperfections. Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad because God is working through you, even when and especially when things seem to be very messy.”

After inviting us to find our true happiness in this God who manifests his power and love in the midst of our messiness, Jesus continues his sermon in verse 13, saying, “You are the salt of the earth.” Now what does salt do? First, salt preserves food by preventing decay. Second, salt functions as a seasoning: we pour salt on our food not only to keep it from spoiling, but to bring out the food’s true flavor. Salt doesn’t just make food taste salty. It can also make food taste like it’s supposed to taste, unleashing upon our taste buds the hidden and dormant flavors of the dish. It is both of these ways that God’s people function as salt in the earth: preventing decay and bringing out the best in other people and in the world. They bring out the world’s true flavor, which God intended when he first called creation not just “good” but “very good.” I have personally found that some of my closest friends are those who bring out the best in me, or who bring out flavors and aspects of me that I didn’t even know were there. God’s people bring out the best in the world by nonviolently subverting structures that oppress people and desecrate the planet. God’s people are “Subversive Agents of Love and Transformation,” which happens to be an acronym for SALT, not too unlike my acronym for SAINTs.

In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Anglican evangelical author John Stott urges us Anglicans to be this kind of Salt of the earth (“Subversive Agents of Love and Transformation”). He also sounds a clarion call to the many evangelicals who seem to have lost sight of their radical roots in Anglican evangelicals like William Wilberforce, Hannah More and the Clapham Saints (who worked to abolish the slave trade in England in the 18th and 19th centuries). John Stott writes about “revolutionaries of Jesus” who are “dedicated activists…committed…to spread his revolution of love, joy and peace. And,” he explains, “this peaceful revolution is more radical than any program of violence, both because its standards are incorruptible and because it changes people as well as structures.”[1] This is the kind of evangelical Christianity I can get behind. Stott then says, “We cannot opt out of seeking to create better social structures, which guarantee justice in legislation and law enforcement, the freedom and dignity of the individual, civil rights for minorities and the abolition of social and racial discrimination. We should neither despise these things nor avoid our responsibility for them. They are part of God’s purpose for his people. Whenever Christians are conscientious citizens, they are acting like salt in the community.”[2]

After explaining that God’s people are the salt of the earth who prevent decay and bring out the best in the world, Jesus then says in verse 14: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” German theologian Helmut Thelieke points out that “salt and light have one thing in common: they give and expend themselves—and thus are the opposite of any and every kind of self-centered religiosity.”[3] In this way, salt and light function as symbols similar to the Lambs of God in Scripture, who halt violence and protect victims by giving of themselves. And that’s what God’s people are called to be: Salt, Light, and Lambs of God who are willing to give of themselves and put their own well-being at risk in order to help others who are in need. By doing so, they let God’s love and light shine through them, not for their own glory, but for the glory of God. A major message throughout the Sermon on the Mount (and throughout all the Gospels for that matter) is that if we seek God’s glory, we stand upon a sure foundation, but if we seek our own glory, our house will come crashing down. And Jesus knows how tempting it is for people, especially religious people like us, to seek our own glory and to feel good about ourselves for going to church and being pious. I know I can fall into that trap.

But Jesus and Isaiah point out very clearly that the kind of religion and religious practice that God wants from us must involve feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and liberating the oppressed. As the book of James says, “The kind of religion God finds useful is one that cares for orphans and widows in their distress” (1:27). But then, what does that imply about our Sunday morning worship? Is this useless to God?

Jesus answers this question as the sermon continues in verse 17, when he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” Jesus wanted to be very clear that he was not abolishing the many rituals, rules and teachings of his Jewish religion. He was pointing to the purpose of those rules and rituals, which is to let God transform us and accomplish his good will for the world through us. Likewise, our liturgies and traditions and texts must be respected, even down to the tiniest detail, because we believe the Holy Spirit is transforming us through them not in order to make us into pious religious people but in order to make us into SALT and Light and SAINTS and Lambs of God in the world.

God’s people are called to a righteousness that must exceed the religious piety of those who perform acts of devotion for their own glory. They are called to recognize their profound need for God and for one another. They come to church not to be religious but in order to be fed and nourished and transformed by the rituals, the teachings and the fellowship because they are so hungry and thirsty and desperately want to be the change they hope to see in the world. They gather in a place like this because they know they are messy and imperfect and afraid and that they need a God whose strength is made perfect in their weakness. They understand what Leonard Cohen meant when he said, “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” They understand that God’s perfect love and light shine through their cracks and messy imperfections so that they themselves can be the light and the salt of the earth in a world full of darkness, degradation and decay; so that they can bring out the best in one another and so that the whole world may see the good works the Holy Spirit is doing among them and give glory, not to them, but to their Father in heaven. And we are God’s people. We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth and as we continue to read the Sermon on the Mount these next couple weeks, we will see that our job description as God’s people will actually get much more difficult and demanding, if not impossible. So stay tuned…

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7): Christian Counter-Culture (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1978), 64.

[2] John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7): Christian Counter-Culture (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1978), 67.

[3] Thielicke, Life Can Begin Again: Sermons on the Sermon on the Mount by Helmut Thielicke 1956, translated by John W. Doberstein, Fortress Press, 1963, p. 55, quoted in Stott, 64.

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Casting a Net with Chloe

Readings for the Third Sunday after Epiphany:

Isaiah 9:1-4

Psalm 27:1, 5-13

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Matthew 4:12-23

This sermon was preached at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in San Rafael CA on January 22, 2017.

In last Sunday’s Gospel from John, we read about Peter being introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew, who tells him, “We have found the Messiah.” Andrew arrives at this conclusion very quickly after hearing his former teacher John the Baptist refer to Jesus twice as the “Lamb of God.” In today’s Gospel from Matthew, we have a very different version of this calling of Peter. In Matthew’s version, both Peter and his brother Andrew are busy fishing when Jesus approaches them and says, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Each Gospel has its own agenda and seeks to communicate its own particular message and perspective on the calling of Peter to its own particular audience. And just as John played with the loaded and multivalent metaphor of the Lamb in the calling of the disciples so too does Matthew play with the metaphor of fishing when it comes to the calling of Peter. Now usually when I think of fishing, I picture Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer sitting on a rock, chewing on some straw, holding a fish pole with a line out in the water, just like I used to sometimes do back in the halcyon summers of my youth in upstate New York. But that’s not quite what fishing was like for these men of Galilee. Their work was more like the physically strenuous and demanding labor of the shrimp-fishermen who used to work up the road at China Camp, who would cast their nets into the water and then gather in several hundred pounds of shrimp. The Gospel makes clear that Peter and Andrew were casting a net into the sea in order to catch their fish. Jesus sees them doing this and says, “Join me and cast a net over the world and we will gather in all kinds of different people.”

The Gospel of John uses the same metaphor of casting a net in its final chapter, in which the Risen Christ inspires the disciples to miraculously catch and gather in 153 fish. And the author highlights the fact that although there were so many fish (153), the net was not torn. Commentators have puzzled over the meaning of the specific number given in the Gospel (153) and although no meaning has gained any widespread support, many have pointed out that according to ancient authors, there were 153 different species of fish. So the net that held 153 fish without breaking could function as a symbol of the Jesus Movement which can hold a vast variety of different peoples without breaking. In fact, the Jesus Movement could hold and include every variety, without breaking. That is what Jesus called Peter and Andrew to become a part of, a movement that would cast a net over the whole world and gather in all different kinds of people, without breaking. That is what Jesus calls us into, as the church.

Yesterday, I marched peaceably with about 60,000 people in Oakland, all of whom seemed to want our country to be guided by respect, equality and the inclusion of all. I felt like I was “praying with my feet” (as Abraham Joshua Heschel used to say) and fulfilling our baptismal covenant by striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. I was representing the Episcopal Church in general and specifically this community (the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in San Rafael) as I wore my clerical collar as well as a t-shirt designed by a fellow priest which displayed an image of Mary, along with the words “I am with her.” In many ways, the March was about reminding our nation’s leaders that we can indeed cast a wide net and include all peoples and we will not break as a result. The challenge is to remain unified in the midst of our many differences. Although there were many creative signs and shirts and hats at the march, I was most moved by the creative calls to unity. One of my fellow marchers carried a sign on which she wrote the wise words of Albus Dumbledore, who said, “While we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.” Or as MLK said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Many of these women at the March who called us to both wider inclusion and deeper unity remind me not only of Jesus and the movement that he launched with his disciples, but they also remind me of a woman in the Bible who is often overlooked. Her name is Chloe and she appears only once in all of Scripture. She is mentioned briefly in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, from which we read this morning. Paul writes, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.” Now although this is the only reference to Chloe in Scripture, we can still gather some important information about her. First of all, we can deduce that she was a friend of Paul’s, who refers to her by name. Second, she cared about unity and was concerned about the divisions that were jeopardizing the Jesus Movement. Third, she had her people seek Paul’s wisdom and guidance by informing him of the divisions. And fourth, and perhaps most importantly, we can deduce that she was likely a leader in the early church. She is referred to in the context of her people: “Chloe’s people.” They probably wouldn’t be called “Chloe’s people” if she wasn’t in some kind of position of leadership among them. This is significant, especially since the Bible has some very challenging things to say about women in general and specifically about women in positions of church leadership. Some biblical verses prohibit women from teaching or even speaking at all in church. However, at the same time, there is much evidence in Scripture of women in positions of church leadership, women such as Tabitha (Acts 9:36), Lydia (considered the first European convert to Christianity), Junia, Phoebe (who was a deacon), Priscilla, and of course, Chloe. Many historians would also point out the fact that prohibitions of an act are often evidence of an act. In other words, prohibitions against women speaking and teaching in church would likely not have been written and repeated (as they are) unless there were indeed women speaking and teaching in church. If there were no feisty women speaking out, then there would be no need for prohibitions. But because there are prohibitions, there probably were lots of feisty Christian women, some of whom became leaders, like Chloe.

And what were these feisty women of the early church speaking out about? We don’t know, but we do know that Chloe was concerned with unity, just like many of the women at the March yesterday. Chloe wanted her fellow Christians to lay aside the differences that divided them. She wanted them to remember that the Jesus Movement was a net strong and wide enough to hold all of their differences just like the net that held the 153 fish without breaking. She was likely heartbroken by the hostility and competition between different camps of Christians who claimed different leaders: Some said, “I belong to Paul.” Others, “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Obama,” “I belong to Trump.” When it comes to the church, Paul asks rhetorically, “Has Christ been divided?” When it comes to our country, we are compelled to ask, “Are we not the United States of America?”

Chloe and Christ invite us to cast our nets wide and to gather all peoples (no matter how different) into the loving and forgiving embrace of God. This is how we become fishers of men and women in the world today. In the words of our Collect, I pray that we have the grace to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ (the call to be one “unified” community and country) and to proclaim to all peoples the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works. Amen.

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Behold the Lamb of God

Readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany:

Isaiah 49:1-7

Psalm 40:1-12

John 1:29-42

This sermon was preached at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in San Rafael CA on January 15, 2017.

This last Wednesday was the third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. Some of you met me when I was a Postulant, which I was when I first started working as the Director of the Marin Episcopal Youth Group. I then became a Candidate for Holy Orders and I specifically remember sitting in one of the pews here on my last Sunday as a lay minister, in June of 2013, a few days before driving down to Los Angeles to be ordained to the transitional diaconate at St. John’s Cathedral. Six months later, I drove to LA again to be ordained a priest on January 11th, 2014. And I actually had a profound dream the night before my ordination that has informed my ministry ever since. Remind me to tell you about that sometime. Today I feel the Gospel inviting me to reflect on my three years of celebrating Eucharist as a priest and specifically on one part of the Eucharist that I personally find to be especially powerful and provocative.

After praying the final doxology of the Eucharistic prayer (as I hold up the Bread and Wine and say, “All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ: By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and for ever”), what do you then say in response? You say, “Amen,” which is called the Great Amen. Many liturgists argue that the communal saying of the Great Amen is the pinnacle of the Eucharistic prayer, when the bread and wine become fully consecrated by all of us. So always remember to say that Great Amen with lots of vim and vigor.

We then boldly pray together the Lord’s Prayer. And what happens after that? I then lift up the bread and break it. And according to the rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer, after the breaking of the Bread, a period of silence is to be observed (page 364). Why do you think that is? The silence is not given as an option, but as an expectation: “A period of silence is kept.” This is also perhaps one of the most ignored rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer. I am guilty of often ignoring it myself. Why do you think that’s the case? You don’t have to answer that now, but I invite you to think about it.

After this silence, the priest has the option to say or sing one of the many Fraction Anthems. When I first began here as priest, we were using one in which the priest says, “We break this bread to share in the Body of Christ” and the people respond by saying, “We who are many are one body, for we all share in the one bread.” However, what does the Book of Common Prayer suggest for a Fraction Anthem? It suggests what is called the Pascha Nostrum, in which the priest says “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” with the people responding, “Therefore, let us keep the feast.” Many find this anthem to be somewhat archaic and unsettling because it contains language of sacrifice and seems to suggest that we have just sacrificed a Passover Lamb, upon which we will now feast. Often used along with this Fraction Anthem is the Agnus Dei, in which the priest says three times, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.” The first two times, the people respond by saying, “Have mercy on us.” The third time, the people’s response is “grant us peace.” This anthem also seems to reiterate the idea that we have together sacrificed a Passover Lamb.

I will admit that I find some of this language and the theology often associated with it challenging and disturbing and yet, as I have been presiding as a priest for three years now, it is this breaking of the bread and the subsequent sacrificial language that I find to be the most powerful. I’m sure I will spend the rest of my life unpacking the multivalent meaning of these mysterious words, but this morning I’d like to start unpacking some of the meaning behind these ancient liturgical assertions that Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us and that the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world.

In our Gospel reading this morning, John the Baptist refers to Jesus twice as the “Lamb of God.” This is the first title given to Jesus in John’s Gospel, after the Prologue. This is also the only time in all of Scripture that the phrase “Lamb of God” appears (so it is a hapax legomenon), which makes it especially difficult to decipher. New Testament scholar Sandra Schneiders believes that “somehow, everything is contained, like the oak in the acorn, in this foundational identification [of Jesus as the Lamb of God].”[1] So what does it mean?

Although scholars have puzzled over this phrase for centuries, they tend to agree that the author of John’s Gospel has at least three Hebrew Scripture references in mind when he says “Lamb of God.” The first reference is to the Lamb that was substituted for Isaac when Abraham was called by God to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22. The second reference is to the Passover in Exodus 12, in which God commanded the Hebrews to sacrifice a lamb and smear its blood on the lintel of their door so that the Destroyer would pass over the house and not kill the firstborn son of the house. (This ancient ritual is actually not too unlike what we did last week when we chalked the lintel of our door and prayed for God’s blessing and protection over this building and community for the new year. And I’m glad we did since it may have helped protect the church from being flooded by the storm that passed over on Tuesday night). The third reference is to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52 and 53 who bore the suffering of an entire community and who was described as being “led like a lamb to the slaughter” (53:7). In all of these cases, the lamb is a vulnerable being who effectively combats violence and protects innocent victims. The lamb in Genesis saves the life of young Isaac. The Passover Lamb saves the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Hebrew children in Egypt. And the Suffering Servant saves an entire community. The lamb combats violence not through more violence but through completely non-violent self-giving. Violence cannot drive out violence, only non-violent self-giving love can do that; or in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

The author of John’s Gospel associates Jesus with the vulnerable and wholly non-violent lambs of Scripture that effectively halt violence and protect victims by giving of themselves. As I have said before, in Jesus, God reveals Godself to us as a vulnerable human being protecting other vulnerable human beings. And just like the lamb on Mount Moriah, the Passover Lamb, and the Suffering Servant, Jesus’s non-violent self-giving love tragically resulted in his death. Many others have followed in this same path of non-violent self-giving love and have met the same fate. This weekend we honor a contemporary “Lamb of God” in the person of Martin Luther King Jr., who was committed to peaceably protecting all victims. In fact, it was while working to protect victims of extreme economic inequality and dangerous working conditions in that Dr. King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. A vulnerable human being protecting other vulnerable human beings through non-violent self-giving love. These are the Lambs of God that take away the sins of the world.

And we are called to be these Lambs of God. We are called to imitate and emulate MLK by standing up for the vulnerable around us, even if that means risking our own safety and well-being in the process. We have an opportunity to emulate MLK and be Lambs of God next Sunday afternoon by packing 10,000 meals for victims of extreme hunger. There is also an opportunity this Saturday to emulate MLK and be a Lamb of God by participating in the Women’s March which will be held in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, a march that stands for justice, respect, and inclusion for all. I will certainly be there, wearing my clergy collar, representing all of us and I encourage you to join me as well.

As Lambs of God, we are not some docile community of bleating sheep. We are SAINTs, Subversive Agents Inspiring Nonviolent Transformation, as I spoke about on All Saints Day. And the reason we are able to risk our own safety for the sake of others is because we are fed and nourished each week by the divine Lamb of God who gives himself fully to us, who breaks himself open in the bread that we share, who pours himself out in the wine that we drink, who takes away our sins and the sins of the world and who invites us to abide and rest in him.

Our Gospel reading this morning includes the first words that Jesus says in John, which are a profound question: Ti zeteite? (John 1:38) What do you seek? What are you looking for? The disciples respond by asking about Jesus’s abode. And Jesus says, “Come and see. And abide in me.” In order to be SAINTs and Lambs of God in this world, we must abide in Christ. It is only by abiding in Christ that we can tap into that divine resurrection power that made a solid rock out of Peter, that made MLK continue trust in the power of love even on the day he was shot and killed, and that can make all of us shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory (as our Collect says). And it is by resting and abiding in him that our deepest desires are satisfied. As Augustine says, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

(And when it comes to this sacrificial language, I still have a hard time with it. Popular theology asserts that God needs bloody sacrifice in order to appease his wrath; and there may be some truth to that. The Bible seems to suggest that. And yet I have a hard time with that. And as we were praying the Psalm together, I felt like the Psalmist, perhaps David, was wrestling with those same questions. And he says, “You do not desire this kind of sacrifice. You do not demand the killing of animals or child sacrifice or human sacrifice, which is common in many primitive cultures.” But there is a different kind of sacrifice that we are called into. And I think the Psalmist moves into this when he says, “Here I am. I am willing to do your will. No matter what that means. I am giving myself fully to You, God, and to the vulnerable around me, to protect them.” That’s the sacrifice I believe we are called to as SAINTS, as Lambs of God. And that’s how Christ offers himself to us. And that’s how he feeds and nourishes us each Sunday.)

So when I break the bread at the altar, let us observe the silence for a moment and let us enter into that resting and abiding in Christ, in the One who breaks himself open for us, in the Lamb of God who takes away our sins and the sins of the world and who nourishes and empowers us to be Lambs of God in our world today. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Grant us peace.

[1] Sandra M. Schneiders, Jesus Risen in Our Midst: Essays on the Resurrection of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, 153. She also says that this identification functions as “a Johannine hermeneutical sword for cutting through [the] Gordian knot [of Jesus’ death as being simultaneously evil and salvific. Schneiders, 167.

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Epiphanies from the Magi Nation

Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm 72

Matthew 2:1-12

This sermon was preached at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in San Rafael CA on January 8, 2017.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, a feast that honors the surprising ways that God shows up in our lives insofar as we have eyes to see and as long as we “look around” (as we sang in Justin’s wonderful Epiphany song this morning). More specifically, the Feast of Epiphany honors three major biblical events in which God’s glory shows up in Christ, as theophanies or epiphanies. One of these is Jesus’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana in which he reveals his glory by miraculously bringing more wine to a party. The other major epiphany event is the Baptism of Christ in which the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove and says, “This is my Child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” which are the same words God said to all of us at our baptism and says to us every day, constantly inviting us to find freedom and redemption in that belovedness. And the third major epiphany event is the visit of the wise men or the Magi from the east.

When we heard the Nativity story at Christmas, we heard of the visitation from the angels and the shepherds but did not hear any mention of the Magi because we read from the Nativity account in Luke’s Gospel, which does not include any reference to the Magi. They only appear in Matthew’s Gospel, which we read from this morning and which we will be reading throughout the church year. It is a very Jewish Gospel in which Jesus sounds very much like the rabbis. And you all have Bibles in your pews so I invite you to open up your Bibles to Matthew now. It is the first book of the New Testament. As you glance through the first few chapters of the Gospel, you might notice that there is no reference at all to the shepherds or to the angels (apart from the angels that show up in Joseph’s dreams). The only visitors of the Christ Child in Matthew are the Magi and we don’t know all that much about them, except that they were from the East and they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. And we know that the Magi were generally understood to be followers of Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion, and they were believed to have spiritual power through their esoteric knowledge of astrology and alchemy. The word “magician” actually has roots in the word “magi,” which is the plural form of “magus” or “magian.”

I have been reflecting on the magi and my first Christmas here with you; and first of all, I want to say how much I appreciate your ability to magically transform this place into an especially festive and cheerful worship space for Christmas. Many of you are amazing magicians when it comes to decking the halls or decking this hall. So thank you. Now we just need some magicians to magically remove and put away the Christmas decorations.

Secondly, I was wonderfully surprised by the fact that during Christmas we also had some wise visitors from the East or at least visitors representing Eastern traditions. On Christmas Eve, a young Zen Buddhist joined us wearing his rakusu, a Japanese garment worn by those who have taken the Bodhisattva vows. He also brought his daughter and sat in the front row so they could both further enjoy the Christmas music performed by our excellent worship band. And on Christmas Day, a young man visited from Spirit Rock Meditation Center, representing the Theravada branch of Buddhism, specifically the Vipassana movement, which focuses on Insight Meditation. And also, on Christmas day, we were visited by a doctor of medicine who incorporates Eastern remedies such as Chinese herbs, acupuncture, and Qi Gong. She is a kind of modern-day Magian.

On one level, I was thrilled that these visitors felt drawn to worship with us on Christmas and another level, I was reminded of the fact that Jesus remains deeply attractive to people outside of the Christian tradition. I have noticed that anyone who dives deep into any spirituality or faith tradition is bound to find Jesus attractive; including many Jews, who have a very fraught history with Christianity. Many still remain very attracted to Jesus, who is after all, a Jewish Rabbi as the Gospel of Matthew reminds us.

I find myself all the more honored and proud to be a follower of this magnetic Jesus; and part of the invitation of the Epiphany season is to appreciate this quality or aspect of Jesus, this quality that draws in outsiders. And when visitors come, they bring their own histories, insights, understandings and perspectives of Jesus, which can help deepen our own understanding and appreciation of Christ. I always love asking people (especially those outside of the Christian tradition), “What do you think of Jesus? Who is Jesus to you?” The answers almost always provide me with some new appreciation or new epiphany. And I would encourage you to ask people in your life that same question, not in order to proselytize or to convince them of a “correct” understanding of Christ, but in order to broaden and deepen your own understanding in light of theirs, in order to have an epiphany; and maybe provide epiphanies for others as well.

About a century ago, an English minister named Henry van Dyke received epiphanies

about Christ by studying the Magi, the wise men from the East. He learned that, according to extra-biblical tradition, the wise men were understood as primarily three men named Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.[1] He studied Zoroastrianism and then steeped his prayerful imagination in the nation of the Magi. (There is very likely an etymological connection between the word “imagination” and the nation of the magi, the magi nation.) By immersing himself in the magi nation, van Dyke began to imagine a fourth wise man named Artaban. He said that while studying the “curious tales of the Three Wise Men” he began to see Artaban “distinctly, moving through the shadows in a little circle of light” (11). He then says “the narrative of his journeys and trials and disappointments ran without a break. Even certain sentences came to me complete and unforgettable, clear-cut like a cameo. All that I had to do was to follow Artaban, step by step, as the tale went on” (12), within his prayerful imagination.

Henry van Dyke wrote about Artaban in his book The Story of the Other Wise Man. In the story, Artaban was initially planning to join Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar on their journey to Bethlehem; and just as the three men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, Artaban was planning to bring his own gift of three jewels to the Christ child: a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl. However, as he was on his way to meet with the others, he came across a sick man, dying on the side of the road. By choosing to take the time to care for this sick man in need, Artaban ended up missing his opportunity to travel with the others and visit the Christ child. By the time Artaban eventually arrived in Bethlehem on his own, the other wise men had already left and so had Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who had fled to Egypt to escape the massacre of the Holy Innocents. Artaban decided to remain in Palestine for several decades, hoping to someday meet Jesus. Although he did not find him, Artaban encountered many other people in desperate need of his care. As van Dyke writes, “In all this populous and intricate world of anguish, though he found none to worship, he found many to help. He fed the hungry, and clothed the naked, and healed the sick…and his years passed swiftly” (73). In order to protect and help others in need, Artaban sold the sapphire and ruby that were intended as gifts for Jesus.

One day, after thirty three years, Artaban was walking through the streets of Jerusalem and overheard some Parthian Jews talk about going to Golgotha to see the execution of a man named Jesus of Nazareth. When he heard this, his heart leapt within him and he thought, “The ways of God are stranger than the thoughts of men, and it may be that I shall find the King, at last, in the hands of his enemies, and shall come in time to offer my pearl for his ransom before he dies” (81). So Artaban eagerly followed the crowd to Golgotha, but on the way, he saw a young girl being dragged down the street by soldiers. When she saw him, she broke away from her tormenters and threw herself at Artaban’s feet and cried out, “Have pity on me! My father is dead and I am seized for his debts to be sold as a slave. Save me from worse than death!”

Artaban was deeply conflicted but eventually resigned to what felt to him like yet another failure. He gave the young girl his pearl and said, “This is your ransom, daughter! It is the last of my treasures which I kept for the King.” And at that moment, there was a terrible earthquake, which is attested to in Matthew’s Gospel (in Matthew 27:51) During this earthquake, a heavy tile fell from a roof and struck Artaban hard on the head, knocking him down. As the young girl comforted him and held him in her arms, Artaban finally saw Jesus, who appeared to him in glorious light, and said to him the same words he says Matthew 25:35 “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me.” And then the words of Matthew 25:40 “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” Van Dyke writes that, after hearing these words, “a calm radiance of wonder and joy lighted the pale face of Artaban like the first ray of dawn on a snowy mountain peak. A long breath of relief exhaled gently from his lips. His journey was ended. His treasures were accepted. The Other Wise Man had found the King” (86).

I share this story because it is appropriate for us now as we prepare to pack meals for the hungry and poor through our Stop Hunger Now event in a few weeks. But I also share the story to show how it was by engaging an outside perspective and tradition that Henry van Dyke was able to have a deeper understanding and encounter with Christ. He was able to see how Christ reveals himself to us even through our disappointments, frustrations and apparent failures.

So during this Epiphany season, I invite us to remain open to outside perspectives of Christ, to ask others who Jesus is to them, to allow ourselves to be transformed by new epiphanies. Jesus is indeed our Rabbi, our Redeemer, Savior, King, and Lord and also so much more than that. I know I will spend the rest of my life and perhaps afterlife growing in knowledge of and love for Jesus, this fascinating person who remains magnetic to all who are interested in spirituality, who brought Buddhists and Chinese herbalists here for Christmas, and who seeks to reveal himself to us in new and surprising ways throughout this season. So I look forward to having more epiphanies with you, about who Jesus is to you, to me and to many more of our wise visitors from the East. Amen.

[1] Caspar being a king and astrologer from India, Melchior from Persia and Balthazar from Arabia. Henry van Dyke had the important epiphany that astrology ought not be too quickly dismissed as utter nonsense. Although many astrologers and horoscope writers are indeed full of malarkey, it is important to acknowledge the fact that there is biblical evidence that people have encountered Christ through the study of astrology. The Magi encountered Christ through their study of the stars. And Jesus himself said, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars” (Luke 21:25). So next time your astrology friend asks you your astrological sign or talks to you about the movements of planets and stars, don’t dismiss it entirely; be open to a new epiphany. You yourself may have a new encounter with Christ, just like the Magi.

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Be Refreshed by the Word Made Flesh

Readings for Christmas Day:

Isaiah 52:7-10

Psalm 98

John 1:1-14

This sermon was preached at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in San Rafael CA on December 25, 2016.

Merry Christmas! Not only is today the first day of the twelve days of Christmas, it is also as the first day of Hanukkah. And tomorrow is the first day of Kwanzaa. And the day after that (Dec 27) is the Feast Day of St. John the Evangelist, who is traditionally considered the author of the Fourth Gospel, including the poetic prologue we just heard.[1] Those who have birthdays around Christmas time can perhaps sympathize with St. John, whose special day of the year is often overshadowed by Christmas and sometimes forgotten completely. But as a Johannine scholar, I invite us to contemplate and consider the invitations of St. John and his text on this feast day of the Incarnation, which is a central theme in John’s Gospel.

Some readers and scholars have described the portrayal of Jesus in John as Gnostic and Docetic, meaning that they think he is a pure Spirit that only appears to have a physical body. One German scholar Ernst Käsemann described John’s Jesus as a detached “god who seems to glide across the face of the earth,”[2] almost like a ghost. However, after studying John in depth for several years, I personally began to see how much the Gospel actually affirms the flesh. Although I wasn’t looking for it, I kept noticing how much John’s Jesus seems to take great delight in earthly pleasures. He inaugurates his ministry by miraculously bringing more wine to a wedding in which the guests are already sufficiently drunk (2:10). He offends his listeners with a very bodily and fleshy description of the bread of life (6:60-61). It is only in John that he makes mud out of dirt and saliva to heal a blind man (9:6). He receives a very expensive foot anointing from a female friend (12:1-8). And he himself strips down to almost nothing as he washes his disciples’ feet (13:1-11). There is much more as well.

John’s Jesus is a human who enjoys and celebrates the flesh, understanding and using sensuality as a vehicle for divine self-expression. One of my favorite Anglican commentators on John is the former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, who said “The Word made flesh” is the most important phrase in all of Christianity.[3] He also said, “Christianity is the most materialistic of all great religions….  [‘materialistic’ not in the economic sense but ‘materialistic’ in its affirmation of matter] Based as it is on the Incarnation, [Christianity] regards matter as destined to be the vehicle and instrument of spirit, and spirit as fully actual so far as it controls and directs matter.”[4] God loves physical matter. He made it, he became it and he wants us to experience him through it.

Spiritual author Alexander Shaia also observes these “elements of earthiness and sensuality” in John and believes that the Gospel invites its readers to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the matter that is all around us and the matter that is us. He says the Gospel invites us to notice the “buzzing of the bees and the rustling of the wind through the leaves…[to] become aware of the remarkable artistry in the veining of every leaf and bird feather…[to] sense the musculature beneath our own thin skin that miraculously holds us at 98.6 degrees in both snow and blistering sun…[to] wiggle our toes and stretch our arms and enjoy the sun or perhaps the taste of a raindrop on our tongue. This,” he says, “is God’s gift of sensuality awakening—becoming more sensitive and appreciative.”[5]

On this Christmas day as we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation (the Word made flesh), John and his Gospel invite us to receive this gift of sensuality awakening, to practice appreciation of our bodies and to experience our flesh (and the earth!) as sacred vessels for divine life and expression.

What would receiving this gift of sensuality awakening look like for you today? Would it involve exercising more and eating less, as many of us try to do in the New Year, with our ambitious resolutions? Or would it involve perhaps exercising less and eating more, (and enjoying the decadence of holiday treats)? Maybe drinking less wine this New Year or maybe drinking more wine? As the poet Mary Oliver says, “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”[6] How will you let the soft animal of your body love what it loves this Christmas and this New Year and thereby experience the divine life pulsing through your flesh?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus invites his disciples and the readers to “Abide in me” and “Rest in me” (15:4, 7). One way that I plan to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves this Christmas is by resting, especially since my flesh has been fighting off a cold. St. John himself embodies this resting and abiding in Christ as he reclines next to Jesus during their last night together. Traditionally identified as the “Beloved Disciple” or the “Disciple whom Jesus loved” in the Fourth Gospel, St. John rests upon Jesus’ breasts and, according to the Celtic Christians, he was listening to the heartbeat of God.[7] How will you listen to heartbeat of God in your own flesh this Christmas day and season? How will you rest and abide in the incarnate Word?

The 18th century German poet and philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) wrote a poem about St. John, when the saint was supposedly living in solitude in his old age; a poem that exemplifies St. John’s resting and abiding in Christ. The poem reads:

Do you want to strive long,

Don’t strive all the time!

Otherwise, your faint soul will fail

Alternate rest and work so that the work

May be faithful to you and quicken your soul.

 

Saint John, now in old age,

Lived at Ephesus and rested

After and between the stresses of his office.

So he played with a tame partridge

To which he daily gave food and drink,

Which slept in his bosom. He stroked

Its feathers occasionally, spoke to it,

And it listened to him, chirped thanks to him cheerfully.

 

Once a stranger stepped out of the forest

Bloody of countenance. Over his shoulder

Hung his quiver, on his arm hung

The unstrung bow. For a long time he wanted

To see this holy man, and he saw him—

Playing with a partridge. Greatly surprised

He stood before him, called finally, exasperated:

“Blessed John! Having come far

To see a saintly man, I see

A man who fritters away the time.”

 

And the old man answered him in this way, gently:

“Kind stranger, why is it that your bow

Hangs there unstrung?” “Unstrung,” he answered,

“Because it serves if I now stretch it

Purposefully. Can the string of the bow

Always be stretched, so that it never relaxes?”

John answered, “Can the string of life

Always be stretched, so that it never relaxes?”[8]

St. John and his Gospel have been stretching me for years; however, this Christmas morning, the Gospel of the Incarnation invites me and us to relax, to abide in Christ, to rest and to be refreshed by the Word made flesh. And I pray we may all find ways this Christmas to slow down and listen to the heartbeat of God in our holy flesh as we let the soft animals of our bodies love what they love. Amen.

 

[1] For a detailed analysis of this tradition and its skeptics, see R. Alan Culpepper, John Son of Zebedee: The Life of a Legend (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2000).

[2] Ernst Käsemann, The Testament of Jesus: A Study of the Gospel of John in the Light of Chapter 17 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), 9. Although C.H. Dodd also calls the Johannine Jesus “a stranger to the world” in Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, p. 261, John Ashton says that Käsemann’s famous phrase “conveys fairly accurately the impression that an unbiased reader would get from a first reading of the Gospel.” John Ashton, Understanding the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 72.

[3] “[Christianity’s] own most central saying is: ‘The Word was made flesh,’ where the last term was, no doubt, chosen because if its specially materialistic associations” from Nature, Man and God: Gifford Lectures, Lecture XIX: ‘The Sacramental Universe” (London: Macmillan), p. 478 as cited in Christ In All Things: William Temple and His Writings, ed. Stephen Spencer (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2015), 130.

[4] William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel (London: Macmillan, 1945), xx-xxi. Also in Lecture XIX of the Gifford Lectures, he says, “[Christianity] is the most avowedly materialist of all the great religions” as cited in Christ In All Things: William Temple and His Writings, ed. Stephen Spencer (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2015), 130.

[5] Alexander John Shaia, Heart and Mind: The Four-Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation (Preston Australia: Mosaic Press, 2013), 218.

[6] From Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” from Mary Oliver, Wild Geese: Selected Poems (Northumberland UK: Bloodaxe Books, 2004)

[7] See J. Philip Newell, Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality (Mahwah NJ: Paulist Press, 1997). Also see Bede, Ecclesiastical History 3.25 in which “the blessed evangelist John” is described as “worthy to recline on the breast of the Lord.”

[8] Johann Gottfried Herder, Herder’s Werke, BDK (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1969), 1:54-55. My translation of Culpepper’s translation in Culpepper, John Son of Zebedee: Life of a Legend, 260. Culpepper explains, “The story of the partridge can be traced back to the fourth or fifth century, and was attached to the Acts of John by the eleventh century.” Culpepper, John Son of Zebedee, 260.

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Advent with Black Elk: Jesus (and) the Wanekia

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Chapters 21 and 22: The Messiah and Visions of the Other World

In these chapters, Black Elk describes the Messiah or Wanekia whom he heard about among the Paiute. The Paiute are indigenous peoples of California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Arizona. The Wanekia in Black Elk Speaks was named Wovoka or Jack Wilson and was of the Norther Paiute in Nevada. According to Black Elk, there was news that “yonder in the west…there was a sacred man among Paiutes who had talked to the Great Spirit in a vision, and the Great Spirit had told him how to save the Indian peoples and make the Wasichus disappear and bring back all the bison and the people who were dead and how there would be a new earth” (145).

Initially, Black Elk did not jump on the Wanekia band wagon. He said, “I did not yet believe […]  I thought maybe it was only the despair that made people believe, just as a man who is starving may dream of plenty of everything good to eat” (145).

Wanekia means the “One Who Makes Live” and Black Elk later calls him “the son of the Great Spirit” (146). The Wasichus called him Jack Wilson, but his Paiute name was Wovoka, which means “wood cutter,” which I find especially fascinating since the Great Wanekia of Western culture was also a wood cutter (a carpenter), who likely said, “Split a piece of wood, and I am there.” (Gospel of Thomas Saying 77b).

Wovoka the Wanekia spoke of another world coming just as Jesus the Wanekia spoke of the kingdom of God and the olam haba (the world that is to come).

Black Elk says, “I heard many wonderful things about the Wanekia that these men had seen and heard, and they were good men. He could make animals talk…” (147).

I don’t know of any accounts in which Jesus the Wanekia makes animals talk; however, I am reminded of an Islamic account of Jesus told by Malik Deenar (d. 748 CE): One day, while Jesus was out walking with his disciples, they passed by the carcass of a dog. “Whew!” exclaimed the disciples. “What a stench!” Jesus then paused to remark upon the shining whiteness of the creature’s teeth. As the account goes, Jesus then proceeded to chastise his disciples, telling them not to speak ill of the poor dog and declaring, “Say nothing about God’s creatures except that which is in praise.”

I always appreciate stories like this about Jesus from outside faith traditions. They help me to see and appreciate my own tradition and understanding of Christ in a new light. For this reason, my curiosity is also piqued when I read of Black Elk’s vision of a man with “wounds in the palm of his hands”

Black Elk describes his vision when he says, “Against the tree there was a man standing with arms held wide in front of him. I looked hard at him, and I could not tell what people he came from. He was not a Wasichu and he was not an Indian. His hair was long and hanging loose, and on the left side of his head he wore an eagle feather. His body was strong and good to see, and it was painted red. I tried to recognize him, but I could not make him out. He was a very fine-looking man. While I was staring hard at him, his body began to change and became very beautiful with all colors of light, and around him there was light. He spoke like singing: ‘My life is such that all earthly beings and growing things belong to me. Your father, the Great Spirit, has said this. You too must say this.’ Then he went out like a light in a wind.” (153 – 154).

DeMallie explains that much of this was edited and altered by Neihardt. The original transcript reads: “As I looked at him, his body began to transform. His body changed into all colors and it was very beautiful. All around him there was light. Then he disappeared all at once. It seemed as though there were wounds in the palms of his hands […] It seems to me on thinking it over that I have seen the son of the Great Spirit himself” (Sixth Grandfather, 263, 266).

 

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Advent and Christmas with Black Elk: Remembering Holy Innocents at Wounded Knee

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Chapters 23, 24 and 25: Bad Trouble Coming, the Butchering at Wounded Knee and the End of the Dream

In these final chapters, Black Elk describes the Battle at Wounded Knee, which was really more of a massacre and “butchering” than it was a battle. Armed US troops shot and killed about 150 men, women and children, many of whom were fleeing. The US troops feared that the Lakota were preparing for war by performing the Ghost Dance so they killed Sitting Bull and subsequently attacked the Lakota. These chapters read almost like the Book of Lamentations, describing the starvation of children and the apparent death of a nation.

Black Elk says, “I saw a little baby trying to suck its mother, but she was bloody and dead” (162) and “It was one long grave of butchered women and children and babies, who had never done any harm and were only trying to run away” (164).

I am reminded of Jeremiah’s poetic words in Lamentations 4 when he laments,

“How the precious children of Zion, once worth their weight in gold, are now considered as pots of clay, the work of a potter’s hands! Even jackals offer their breasts to nurse their young, but my people have become heartless like ostriches in the desert. Because of thirst the infant’s tongue sticks to the roof of its mouth; the children beg for bread, but no one gives it to them. Those who once ate delicacies are destitute in the streets. Those brought up in royal purple now lie on ash heaps…Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as a stick. Those killed by the sword are better off than those who died of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack of food from the field. With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed.” (Lam 4:2-10).

In Jewish tradition, the book of Lamentations is read on the Ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av), a day that commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples. The massacre at Wounded Knee took place on the 29th of December in 1890. About 126 years ago.

As my personal reflections on Black Elk Speaks draw to a close, I feel deeply saddened by this tragic reality, this massacre of innocents, on which the book concludes. During these seasons of Advent and Christmas, Black Elk’s laments remind me of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, observed in the Western churches on December 28th and in the Eastern churches on December 29th. I intend to remember this massacre of holy innocents at the butchering of Wounded Knee, each year I remember our Christian Feast of Holy Innocents.

I am deeply saddened and yet I am also offered tiny feathers of hope as I read about Black Elk’s description of some of the Christians who provided help and who risked their own safety in the process. He says, “There were many of our children in the Mission, and the sisters [nuns] and priests were taking care of them. I heard there were sisters and priests right in the battle helping wounded people and praying” (167). DeMallie adds that the transcript reads: “The priests and sisters were all over there [at Drexel Mission] praying” (Sixth Grandfather, 278). Fathers Craft and John Jutz, S.J., missionaries at Pine Ridge, were present at the battle; the five Franciscan sisters at the mission were not, but all cared for the wounded and refugees from Wounded Knee. (See Mooney, The Ghost-Dance Religion, 872-874).

I cannot claim to be in the same category as any of these Christians mentioned in Black Elk Speaks. Likewise, none of these Christians can claim to be in the same category as any of the threatened and massacred Lakota people. However, I do feel honored to have played a tiny role in praying and standing in solidarity with the Lakota people, who have been threatened and violently abused today by armed troops of DAPL; and I feel honored that, by doing so, I became part of a Christian tradition of loving self-sacrifice that goes back a hundred years, all the way back to the Massacre of Wounded Knee.

At the same time, when it comes to the holy innocents of the massacre Wounded Knee, I cannot distance myself from the violence of the perpetrators as easily as I can with the violence of King Herod and his henchmen. In many ways, I  likely enjoy benefits today as a result of the massacre of these holy innocents a hundred years ago; and I bear some of the guilt. The Spirit invites me to recognize my culpability and then to stand on the side of the vulnerable, which is where the Spirit always dwells.

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Advent with Black Elk: Making Room for Others in the Mansion of Our Hearts

Chapters 19 and 20: Across the Big Water and the Spirit Journey

In these two chapters, Black Elk talks about his experience travelling to Chicago, New York and London with Buffalo’s Wild West show. My reflections on this confluence of a Lakota medicine man with major cities of Western culture will take the form of a homily that I preached last Sunday at my church, which is itself a confluence of Western culture (the Episcopal Church and the McNears) and Miwok culture.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A):

Isaiah 7:10-16

Psalm 80

Matthew 1:18-25

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself. Amen.

Earlier this week, I sat down with John Westmoreland to learn about the history of this sacred spot of land where we are now gathered. He explained that several major histories converge at this very site: the history of the Miwok, the legacy of the McNear family, the story of the Episcopal Church, as well as the rich history of prayer Labyrinths. Each history, in its own way, helped give birth to this church, this community, this gathering, indeed this very moment.

In the early 20th century, Erskine Baker McNear (or “EB” McNear), son of John Augustus McNear, decided to make his home in Marin, after the 1906 earthquake destroyed his previous house in San Francisco. So he purchased the brickyard (which is now the longest operating brickyard in the US) and then started construction on his mansion on top of this hill behind us, using his own bricks. He whacked the top off of the mound and, in the process, exposed many clam shells and skeletons. Scholars soon recognized that this hill was actually a burial mound and midden for the Marin Digger Indians, who later came to be known as the Miwok. And Miwok scholar Betty Goerke considers this to be the most sacred Miwok site; and the land we are on now was likely a campground, where redwood kotchas were constructed, sweat lodges were made, and religious rituals were performed, perhaps at the very same site as our altar.

After EB McNear completed his mansion, which included his very own creamery in the basement, the mansion became known to the many children, relatives and friends of the McNears not as the McNear Mansion but rather as “Papa’s House.” After EB and his wife died, however, the property was sold to Stegge Development who tried to make sure the mansion was preserved by selling it, in turn, to Bishop Karl Morgan Block of the Episcopal Diocese of California. In 1957, the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer was born and began meeting in the McNear Mansion or “Papa’s House.” The mansion was big enough to provide a regular meeting space for Sunday worship, a vicarage for the priest, office space for Ohlhoff Recovery Programs, a daycare center, and much more. I don’t think the basement creamery was still in function, but that would have been pretty fun to have an Episcopal Church milk, butter and ice cream business as part of our history.

I do love the fact that a mansion is part of this church’s history. I love that not because of the wealth and status associated with mansions, but because of the spaciousness and openness and magnanimousness associated with mansions. The Collect and the readings this morning make me especially appreciative of this part of Redeemer’s history. In our Collect, we pray that Christ may find in us “a mansion prepared for himself.” And the reading from Isaiah describes a woman who offers her own body as a mansion for the One who will be called “Immanuel” – God with us. And the Gospel is about a man who is initially inclined to dismiss his disgraced fiancée, but then comes to welcome and embrace her as a bearer of the divine. The Gospel is an invitation for us to extend our welcome to those whom we might initially want to dismiss and to see them as bearers of the divine. The Gospel invites us to make room for others in the mansions of our hearts for it is by doing so that we are making mansions in our hearts for Christ.

Whenever I’m asked what initially attracted me to the Episcopal Church, I can usually the answer the question with one word, and that is “openness.” The Episcopal Church is deeply rooted in Christ and traditional understandings of Christ but also remains passionately open to other faith traditions and understandings that other Christian denominations would dismiss. The Episcopal Church remains open to seeing God in the other, in those outside of our tradition and traditional understandings. Many compare the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in general to a big tent that can hold many different peoples, perspectives and practices. I would also compare the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion to a mansion with many rooms. Jesus himself uses that imagery in the Gospel of John when he describes his Father’s house (“Papa’s House”) as a mansion with many rooms. The Anglican mansion has many rooms indeed: some rooms for Evangelical Anglicans, some for Anglo-Catholics, some for Pentecostal Anglicans (or Anglocostals), some for Anglo-Baptists, some for Episcobujews (like myself), and some for other outliers.

When Carol Ann and I travelled to Standing Rock ND, we met a wonderful variety of clergy, representing Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hare Krishna and much more. The largest religious communion represented, however, was the Anglican Communion, made up primarily of Episcopalians. But also under the umbrella of the Anglican Communion were members of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of North America as well as Celtic Druids and even one woman who identified as a Dove Oracle Priestess (who also happened to be an Episcopalian from Fargo.). Only in the Episcopal Church! It is in our Anglican DNA to remain open to the other, to embrace those whom we might initially be inclined to dismiss and see them as radical bearers of the divine just as Joseph came to see Mary, whom he initially wanted to dismiss. And it is in the DNA of this church (which used to meet in a many-roomed mansion) to make room for others in the mansion of our hearts, to welcome people wherever they are on their spiritual journey because we believe that God is at work in them, giving birth to something profoundly beautiful.

So may we continue to remain open, especially when it is hard, and make room for those whom we might want to dismiss, trusting that God is teaching us and revealing himself to us through them. As we prepare our parish profile together, may we make room for God’s teachings and self-revelation in the histories of the Miwok, the McNears, the Labyrinths and more. By doing this, we follow Joseph who made room in the mansion of his heart for Mary and we allow ourselves to be surprised and transformed by the Christ who continues to come among us, in many different ways, seeking to abide forever in the mansions of our hearts. Amen.

 

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