Cure of Souls

Unbounded Love As Resistance: Standing against Sin and Evil, Part 2

Part 1: Love command as interpretive framework for the Sermon on the Mount

Part 2  Love command as Standing against Sin and Evil

A careful reading of Matthew’s version of Jesus saying reveals a humanizing act both for the one being struck and for the one striking the other. one that counters the received interpretation from the powerful and the privileged to the marginalized and oppressed, that Jesus means we must merely accept abuse.

If a right-handed person strikes one on the right cheek, that person has back handed the other.  The back handed strike isn’t what takes place between equals or between people simply engaged in a struggle or fist fight. This is an insult, an assertion of superiority over an inferior.  Thus, Jesus’ instruction to turn the left cheek is to demand to be struck as an equal, or at least to prevent the insult from being repeated.  It is symbolically in one’s body saying to the other I’m your equal, I do not accept your terms. I will not strike back but if you wish to strike me again you must punch me like you would your equal.  This is love of enemy, seeing the enemy as human, like you, and insisting that your enemy also recognize your humanity. Thus when the Elder King confronts the police officer for calling him boy one, the Elder King was turning the other cheek. Any refusal of the dehumanizing by the elder king (or any African-American) was acting on Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek and was a fulfillment of the command to love one’s enemies.

We may then take a moment to reflect on what nonresistance to evil then really means. Clearly it isn’t acquiescing or acceptance of dehumanization and oppression.  It might mean in the least not taking actions against enemies or oppressors that mimic the dehumanizing and othering tactics of the oppressor.  Non-resistance of evil is choosing to in the face of evil act from the stand point of radical love.  Love of enemies is resistance that refuses to dehumanize even the human that acts towards others in the most dehumanizing fashion. Non-resistance of evil says I will not only treat you the oppressor as human and with love but in that love I demand that you treat me and all people as equally human deserving of the very same dignity and good things that you the enemy and oppressor demand for yourself and those like you.

Taking this point of view of Jesus Christ and of Jesus’ teaching, should lead us to ask the question about any action in the face of oppression: does it invite the oppressor to both see the oppressed as equal human beings and does it humanize the oppressor and the oppressed?

In a paradoxical moment of great extremity Dietrich Bonhoeffer admitted that there are instances, such as his moment in opposition to Hitler, when the demand that the enemy see the other as human means a willingness to in a singular instance violate Jesus love command, eg. assassinate Hitler so that the love command might be kept. In other words under the extreme situation of Nazi Germany and the genocide of the Jews meant that insisting on the humanity of all and refusing the extermination of ones neighbors fellow human beings came in conflict with the command of love of enemy. Bonhoeffer recognized that in such extremities it might be impossible to maintain the unity of Jesus’ teaching of demanding humanity for all including the evil person. one may be required by Jesus love ethic to fail in loving one’s enemy. Bonhoeffer could not escape the connecting Jesus makes in the sermon on the mount between hate and murder, thus assassination of Hitler (even the attempt of it) lead him for the sake of Christ and the demand of love to violate Jesus love command in the name of love. Bonhoeffer admitted that his participation in the assassination plot was a failure of the demands of love and  Gospel for the sake of love and the Gospel. Bonhoeffer accepted this guilt and through himself upon the grace of God.

Love of enemy, turning the other cheek and non-resistance of evil are to serve radical love and radical humanization of all people including, to jar the oppressor out of their inhumanity. This radical love can lead us in extremity to a contradiction that catches us in the human inability to uphold Jesus radical love ethic, at which moment we embrace our flawed humanity and throw ourselves upon the love and grace of God.  Such is the resistance of the disciple of Jesus Christ, member of the church the body of Christ. Many interpretation of the sermon on the mount which to preserve the church the members of Christ’s body from the possible contradictions that taking this teaching seriously may lead one into.  Many interpretations treat Jesus’ teaching as a means to avoid Sin.  Yet what the Christian monastics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rosa Parks Martin Luther King Jr and Sr, and many others show us is that the life of the Church isn’t the avoidance of Sin but the direct conformation of sin which will expose our human limits and our complicity with Sin.  This radical confrontation is undertaken in the name of Christ and by the power of the cross so that Sin , injustice a d oppression may be driven out of our minds, hearts and of all creation. These are acts of exorcism, a life of exorcism dependent upon the work of God in Jesus Christ: Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension.

The Veil Over the Holy Nativity

The icon of the Holy Nativity has something that eludes us.  I return, again and again, to its contemplation because it is a rich image but also because it challenges me. I don’t see it completely. The meaning eludes us, there is a veil over the icon.

One layer of this veil is the familiar imagery of Christmas, which smooth’s out the edges, softens the light, ignores the presence of death that lurks in Holy Nativity.  Most images seek to honor this moment through abstraction of the material and fleshly reality the holy nativity inhabits. There is a veil (The “veil” is an allusion to Saint Paul’s usage in 2 Corinthians 3:12-14 ) over this icon and the reality the icon invites us to enter. Because of this veil we are unable to enter Christmas, we turn away from the crack in the world it created.

We look at this icon and we see only a dogmatic claim. VIRGIN BIRTH, screams out at us. Isolated, without context, we hear “Just accept and believe that Mary conceived without intercourse with Joseph.” What is at root of this dogmatism disconnected from a lived and material existence? Why might we only see in this image a dogmatic assertion? Why the fascination with and the rejection of the miraculous? More importantly why do we think the miracle is the point? (side note, it’s not!)

Asking the question of whether a Christian need to believe in the Virgin Birth as Nicholas Kristof does in his interview with Timothy Keller, misses the point. Timothy Keller’s answer that the virgin birth is integral to the Christian thought system, reinforces the veil over the icon of the Holy Nativity (though I agree with his point that the doctrine has meaning). What is this veil? Why the retreat into abstraction and systematic theology and the integrity of belief systems and organizations?  This is so far from the material and physical reality of a virgin birth. Why do we retreat from the holy nativity’s visceral moment? Keller, later in the interview, when talking about the Resurrection, will tell Kristof that these beliefs about Jesus were an offense to the Greek philosophers who couldn’t abide a God bound up in the messiness of the material and fleshly, and yet Keller answers with that same attitude of distance from the messy material world. What Keller presents is a tidy precise sterile world with discrete doctrines that ensure the precise relationships, and the protocol for dealing with God. If doctrine and belief is all you see in the Holy Nativity, then you aren’t seeing.

I think I’ve identified the veil and turning away from this sight. The eyes are veiled for both the one who professes to believe and the one who is skeptical or has abandoned belief. (for my purposes here, I make the distinction between faith and belief. Belief is assent to propositions, faith is about trust and relationship that can be expressed in propositions but whose referent isn’t those propositions.) From what are we shielding our eyes, as we rush to take these  postures.? From what do we veil ourselves, what can’t we bear to look upon in the icon?

Our turning away has been happening for a very long time. All I give at this moment is a quick sketch of this retreat and veiling. I will make some rapid connections of disconnect and retreat. Trump and his Christian supporters have more in common with those who don’t appear in this icon; the client King Herod (see, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s
use of this trope in his Open Letter to King Herod at Red Letter Christians
) and the other religious leaders who know the Torah (the Bible, if you will) and who in differing ways collaborate with the occupation of Judea and Galilee. White Christianity isn’t found in this icon. The “we” if you find this icon unintelligible, is a Christianity of Empire, in service to Babylon the Great (Revelation 17 and 18). The most recent iteration of Babylon is that which inherited the White supremacist system of European colonialism. This sketch of course isn’t convincing (for the case and argument for this sketch one must read Willie James Jennings, James Cone, Harry H. Singleton III, and others).

I will add to this historical sketch a tableau, a “pastoral image”*, if you will: Christmas on the plantations in the “new world”, slaves and their masters at Christmas. In the celebration of Christmas, the White Christian slave holders would allow slaves a moment of reprieve from their harsh conditions. Some of the conditions of their enslavement were lifted, surveillance was lessened, work load lightened. Some slaves, tasting of this Christmas liberty, grabbed hold of it and fled to freedom. Some managed to gain their liberty at Christmas. There were also slave rebellions at Christmas. (see Christmas and the Resistance to Slavery in the Americas in AAIHS)

This is the veil, the reason of our retreat: White Christians instinctively loosening their grip of oppression, but not understanding that the Holy Nativity stood in opposition to them. The White Christian is nowhere to be found in the icon of the holy nativity. The religious collaborators do not make an appearance in this film. We’ve attempted to make the holy nativity a pastoral image of innocence that White Christianity can’t claim for itself, but must insist upon.

We are some distance from the above tableaux of Christmas on the plantations. Yet, it still reverberates. Babylon and its religious (often devoutly so) collaborators, who can answer the questions when those seeking truth come, and ask “Where is the messiah to be born,” and knowing the scriptures can give the correct answer. Even so, white Christians never come into the Holy Nativity.

Where are we, (by “we” I mean both those who seek to come out of Whiteness (Babylon) and those upon whom Babylon has fed and who cry out “how long” (Revelation 6:9-11)- people of color, who currently cry out “Black lives matter”).

In this icon. At this moment, I think most of us are at the bottom of the icon with Saint Joseph and the midwives. We are either caught in a moment of indecision, uncertain what to make of it all, without answers, full of doubts. We ask with Saint Joseph, has any of this been true, the apparition of angels, the message they delivered. Or we are with the midwives handling the holy as they’ve done year in year out, perhaps not fully aware of who they are handling, and washing, swaddling, protecting through their resistance, (recall the midwives, Shiphorah and Puah in Exodus 1)

The veil hasn’t been lifted, we can’t yet see the center of this icon. Even so, we are drawn into this holy nativity, we are here. We who sit with Saint Joseph this is a very melancholy Christmas. There is much to ponder, and the lies of Satan, and the lure of Babylon must be resisted. We who sit with saint Joseph need to pay attention to the resistance and the strength of the midwives. Yes, we must ponder and reflect, but we must also be drawn into the activity of the midwives who know Christ in the flesh ( 1 John 4:2), who handle and wash and protect and guard God in this vulnerable moment of newness and liberation. But many of us are frozen in Saint Joseph’s melancholy, the veil still hangs over our eyes and we have yet to remove the veil and gaze upon  the light emitting from this icon..

*by using “pastoral image” I’m intentionally referencing Billie Holliday’s reported explanation of the term as used in “Strange Fruit.”


Listening for the Mind of Christ in Time of Crisis: Do not be afraid, Part 3

12 Meanwhile, when many thousands of the crowd had gathered so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing is secret that will not be made known. So then whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms will be proclaimed from the housetops.

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do. But I will warn you whom you should fear: Fear the one who, after the killing, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. In fact, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows.   Gospel of Luke 12:1-7 (NRSV)

Fear is powerful and at times needed. Fear alerts us to danger and prepares our bodies for confronting that danger, either by fighting or fleeing.  Jesus though calls us to not fear those who would have the power to end our life, “…do not be afraid of those who kill the body”. Why might Jesus tell us not to fear such a threat as someone who has the power, opportunity, and means to kill us?

I suggest part of the reason Jesus encourages us to not live in fear even of those who can kill us, can be found in reflection upon the tenor of the GOP national convention in July.  That whole week the GOP and Donald Trump wanted us to be afraid, to be very afraid. We were told to Fear the terrorists, fear the refugees who might be terrorist, fear immigrants and the list of what to fear continued on. One may argue that there’s no need to fear these things. The terrorists aren’t refugees Yet there are those who aren’t controlled by any legitimate government nor represent a nation who seek to harm the U.S. and its standing in the world. There is a real danger, though, not an immediate danger to most of us residing in the U.S. One may even want to counter that it is more realistic to be afraid of a random person carrying a legal firearm than an Islamic Terrorist (who actually kill more Muslims than Americans).  Whether or not what the GOP and Trump wish us to fear is based in any actual potential threat, the effect is still the same: the focus on who or what is feared, a focus that doesn’t allow us pay attention to much else, let alone seeking to find other possible responses than fight or flight. Fear works at its best in instances of immediate threat, in which we can immediately respond in either standing to fight or in getting away. Then the fear and adrenaline can dissipate once the threat is dealt with. But to fear that there are people in the world who may harm or even kill when that threat isn’t imminent keeps us from seeing the larger picture. Fear about generic and non-immediate threats allows us to be manipulated by fear mongering and we begin to fail to make a distinction between actual imminent threat, possible future threat, and plausible but unrealistic threat. We saw this mix of real and unrealistic fear in the GOP convention in July.

Yet, Jesus’s remarks aren’t only set against this jumble of undiscerning fear mongering. For Jesus, the reason not to fear isn’t that the fear is misplaced, but that it is generic and not immediate. When we live in fear even if of a legitimate but not immediate threats our focus is still on the fear and the feared. Jesus, says do not be afraid of some future possibility that there are people in the world who can harm you.

In order to demonstrate this, Jesus goes on to say that if one must be afraid of a possible future bodily threat, then be afraid of God. Jesus isn’t counseling actually fearing God, but if one is going to fear a potential real future threat, God serves as good as anything else to fear, after all, God is much more threatening, and then at least your focus would be on the source of ultimate meaning and of all life. Jesus is pointing us to an awareness and a way of being beyond fight or flight of our fear response.

What is Jesus doing here? I suggest that the reason Jesus says to not be afraid of even legitimate possible future threat is that we know God the creator of the universe who knows us intimately and lovingly knows odd details about us (the numbers of the strands of hair we have on our heads). We are intimately known by and sacred to our creator. So if we are going to fear a legitimate but future potential threat then we should fear God, but if you know God, when you come to know God, you are aware that God is a ridiculous thing to fear. For the members of Christ’s Body, we know something further about this God who knows intimate details about ourselves that we can’t know about ourselves; this one not only cares for us but is joined with us in our humanity and suffers with us. In Jesus of Nazareth God went to the extremities of life even death.  This one who cares and upholds our life also knows what it is to suffer, to be oppressed and abused and knows what it is to die, Jesus of Nazareth the Christ.  This is the God we know and love.

Now this doesn’t tell us what to do in the place of actual imminent threat. But it can and has led many to face and submit to violent death without fear. Yet, it has also led others to flee in the case imminent danger, until it was no longer time to flee the threat. To not be afraid doesn’t mean to be passive and do nothing in the face of a threat. But, it is to be put in the place of discerning beyond fight or flight. It allows us to be critical of all calls to fear something by the powerful (including the call of the Clinton campaign for us to fear a Trump presidency.).

So be not afraid, and oppose the powerful, but do not fear them. Don’t focus your attention on such potential threats.  Focus on God and the transformative work of God’s coming kingdom in the world through Jesus Christ.

Part two can be found here and part 1 here

Listening to the Mind of Christ In Time of Crisis: Nothing is Hidden that will not be revealed, Part 2

12 Meanwhile, when many thousands of the crowd had gathered so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing is secret that will not be made known. So then whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms will be proclaimed from the housetops.

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do. But I will warn you whom you should fear: Fear the one who, after the killing, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. In fact, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows.   Gospel of Luke 12:1-7 (NRSV)

“Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed.”

This Gospel text came to mind as the succeeding revelations that followed the WikiLeaks DNC e-mail leak, that lead to Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s stepping down as DNC Chair, which revealed the likelihood of Russian Intelligence as the source of the e-mails, and giving a possible glimpse into Russian attempts to influence the current election and possible ties between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.  In this one instance we had a cascading set of revelations of things done in secret (that even people would have rather been kept under wraps). I wondered is there something hopeful in these things coming to light? Depending on your political slant or loyalty one may spin those revelations one way or another, but that isn’t the same as something hopeful being found in the unveiling of secrets.  I wondered, and still am asking is Jesus here talking about a sign of the Kingdom of God?  In contrast to the hypocrisy that acts like yeast hidden in dough, unseen except in its eventual effects. Does the truth of the transforming work of the reign of God in the world simply expose what is hidden?

DNC e-mails and Russian covert operations aren’t the only thing being brought into the open this election, overt White-supremacy and racism has come into the open in the wake of Trumps campaign and rhetoric. Trump’s campaign and rhetoric has made overt white-supremacist feel they can more publicly display their opinions and attitudes. While dangerous and frightening I think this bringing out into the open what we as a culture and society had effectively kept out of sight.  What is hopeful in this is the possibility to also then recognize and bring to light the covert and social acceptable white-supremacy and racism

Overt and Covert White Suppremacy

Above image found in a the Salt Collective Facebook Page post August 8th 2016 p

Part of Socially acceptable white supremacy and racism, is being exposed as in the arena of policing and lethal force use against people of color. Exposure in and of itself doesn’t solve things, it can even worsen situations.  Such is the case of people feeling free to come out in the light and overtly show their White-Supremacy KKK affiliation, etc., creates a less safe environment for POC. The exposure of the DNC e-mails and Russia’s involvement has ratcheted up anti-Russian sentiment and rhetoric and accusations of collaboration and infiltration eerily and frightening analogous to Cold War Anti-Russian and Communist rhetoric and accusation.  Things being brought into the open in and themselves isn’t’ necessarily hopeful.

While things coming to light and into the open that were once hid away and in secret are often frightening and carry danger, there’s also the hope that once exposed change can happen. When overt white supremacy is hidden away it is possibly more difficult to see more covert-white supremacy. When certain things are kept under wraps and hid in a corner where there is no light there’s the possibility for yeast like hypocrisy to invade and lulled into a false sense of security and sense of progress

Due to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s,  overt and some forms of covert white supremacy were through Federal intervention, legislation and legal decisions brought to an end. Along with the ending of de jure white supremacy overt expressions of white supremacy where rightly marginalized and relegated to the privacy of one’s own secretly held opinions. Since overt white supremacy was now taboo and no longer supported by law gave the impression to many of us that white supremacy is merely a matter of attitude and hate, that could be addressed by individualistic transformation, ignoring the way that the de jure elimination of overt White Supremacy didn’t address or change the more covert and structural aspects of White supremacy woven into the very fabric of our nations consciousness, history and legal and political and economic realities. With the ascendancy of Trump giving people permission to express their overt White supremacist has exposed along with the Black Lives Matter movement, the lie that White supremacy is just in the past and simply has to do with personal hate of another person or fear of a group of people.

There is an opportunity in this moment, especially for White members of the body of Christ, to fully acknowledge the depth and breadth of white supremacy in American institutions (including our denominational institutions) and turn aside not only from the overt white supremacy but all forms of it. As these things come to light we can truly repent and let our POC siblings in Christ to tell us how we should respond, and taking their cue rather than attempting to justify ourselves and our attempts to reform the White systems of government, and white religious institutions.  When things are exposed hypocrisy comes to light and there is the opportunity to repent.  Then change, healing injury, and mending what is broken can begin What is hidden away only fester and remain unacknowledged and unchangeable.  This is the hope of Christ’s word’s what you speak in secret will be shouted from the rooftops.  This is often painful, even frightening and far from safe, but it offers the opportunity for true repentance and radical transformational change of the Beloved Community God sent in motion in the life death resurrection and ascension of Christ.

Next week Part three, “Be not afraid.

And if you missed last week here’s the link to part one An Hypocrisy that is like Yeast

Having Nothing to Show: Spirituality without Accounts

Jesus said to the twelve, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”    Mathew 10:7-16

“Freely you have received, freely give.”
I was mulling over this aphorism of Jesus’ from Matthew’s Gospel a couple of days before the Feast of St. Barnabas. Then I found myself at a Mass on that feast and heard the full context of those words. “You received without payment, give without Payment.” The gift economy of this aphorism depends upon the hospitality of others, for others to receive and act within this gift economy. This is not easy; we can easily decide that this only applied to the Apostles during Jesus’ earthly ministry. I’ve lived as though this applies to me as a member of Christ, and a minister of word and sacrament. But now I’m wrestling with having taken Jesus’ words to heart. At times this part of the Gospel asks too much.

In a world where we are told we get only what we earn or take, saying we begin with something not earned, something which can’t be purchased, runs counter to our experience molded by concepts of earnings and profit.

There are costs to following these words. I’m at the end of my rope, uncertain how to evaluate how I’ve spent my life. I have given freely, convinced that I had been given something beyond payment and accounting. Yet, to give without payment is also to not earn. To give freely is to not accumulate: wealth, followers, supporters, congregations, fans. To freely give is to give without strings. The cost is this; giving freely looks a great deal like failure.

I have doubts. Have I given anything at all? This is the problem of being without accounts, of not keeping a ledger. There’s no means to call in debts, because there is no indebtedness. There’s no means to say look how much I have given, because to give freely is to give without account. Is this not complete foolishness? A voice in me accuses: “Did you not set out on this path knowing you could not succeed so, you kept no accounts so then you could avoid facing your own failure.”

“Freely you have received, freely give.”

A part of me says, the cost is too high in a world of ledgers, earnings, accounts, and debt, financial, emotional, psychological and social. I may freely give but others demand an account. I freely give but I still want to accumulate, receive payment for my efforts. I still want my earnings.

I still want to say I will succeed. I want recognition. I want wealth to eventually accumulate to me. Yet, I gave without demand for payment, and so there are no returns.

What this tells me is I’ve yet fully converted. I’ve yet to comprehend and ingest these words “You received without payment, Give without payment.” I’ve yet to learn the love of God Father Son and Holy Spirit, who gives without account, who reaps without sowing, who has wealth without accumulation, who loves without end or return.

When all is given freely there is no return for there was no investment. There’s invitation without RSVP, so that the guests that show up weren’t those invited.

Jesus says all this throughout the Gospels. Through the incarnation and the Cross, God removes the accounts and the ledgers, or proves to us there’s never been a ledger, or accounts, the reality remains that God isn’t keeping accounts. In Christ Jesus, God comes to us and says you have no debt, there are no accounts, no ledgers, only gift. Live accordingly. This is the life of faith, this is the way of the Cross, this is what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. Even so, we create again and again out of the gift, other economies. We bind people and wealth to ourselves in return for what we give. We accumulate people, money, property, debts (financial and social) to ourselves.

Or we do like I have done, give freely while attempting to reserve the right to demand a return on investment, and then become despondent realizing there is no ledger, no accounting, no measure.

Have I succeeded in ministry, and in life? have I failed? I have no idea. I can make no judgment.
What I can say is that I have lived with the conviction that I did freely receive what is beyond accounting. In my life and ministry I’ve sought to freely give. And at this moment all I can say is that my desires and my longings are divided and conflicted. I’ve held back, I’ve kept a ledger so that I could give an account, call in debts, account my earnings and my profits. Yet, now when I open that ledger the pages are blank, I have nothing to show.

What I received I received without account or credit, and I heard the call and gave accordingly. Thus there was nothing to record, nor proof to give, yet I held on to the ledger all the same.
Now I feel the need to keep accounts, and there’s nothing to show.

Is this failure or success I don’t know? There’s no measure. And I’m at a loss.

The Joy of Transformation

Texts for contemplation: Matthew 3:1-17; Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-21; John 1:19-34; John 2:1-11

Although we have left behind the celebration of Christmas, liturgically we are still basking in the light of God manifest in human flesh.   This is also the time of Carnival and Mardi Gras.

We tend not to give much thought to this period between Christmas and Ash Wednesday.  We may stop briefly to hear God’s call to the Beloved and speak of God’s love. Yet, We wait to hear the call to repentance till we enter the somber self-reflective desert landscape of Lent.

Epiphany iconWe first hear John the Baptist cry of metanoia, repentance, as we prepare for the joy of Christmas, and we encounter the fiery prophet John the forerunner again as we celebrate the Baptism of Christ at Epiphany.

We are in a moment of enlightenment, of ecstasy or celebration.  The joy of Christmas hasn’t come to an end, not yet.  From Epiphany to Ash Wednesday we continue in that joy through deepened understanding and enlightenment.

God the Father speaks to the Son Jesus of Nazareth as the Spirit confirms and presents this speech, “this is my beloved in whom I’m well pleased.”  These words are spoken to a human being.

The gift given to all through God’s words to Jesus of Nazareth in that moment of the Baptism is something we have to prepare to receive.  John the Baptist proclamation and call to repent calls us to prepare ourselves for the joy of transformation.

In this moment in which God as trinity and God as incarnate in the human Jesus of Nazareth is revealed we also can see God’s love for all humanity and all creation.  In Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God the Son, all humanity and all creation is taken up into that address.  In Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son in human flesh, all humanity is the beloved in whom God is well pleased.  At the Baptism the individual Jesus of Nazareth isn’t the only one addressed, nor is this address addressed to all humanity without the mediation of Jesus of Nazareth.

How do we receive this amazing address and how do we find ourselves able to receive this love?  In some sense Johns preaching and call to repentance, or change of mind, way of thinking, addresses two very human responses to God saying you are my beloved: either we say Well yes of course or no that can’t ever be.  Both actually keep God at bay and at arm’s length.  One with a presumption of relationship the other a refusal of relationship based on an enlarged sense of shame and unworthiness.  Both underlie much pain and are the result of hurt we inflict upon each other as human beings.

This moment of revelation enlighten and manifestation should shake us.  God’s love is intense, it seeks our transformation into who we truly are, beloved of God.

We all have barriers to hearing God’s address to us in and through Jesus of Nazareth.  We must be prepared to receive God in human flesh; we need to prepare ourselves to receive the gift of being beloved of God in Jesus of Nazareth. We prepare to receive this gift in celebration and in joy, not in self-denial and sorrow (these are coming).

Liturgically, it is significant that we hear the call to repentance and God’s address to us as beloved, in a time of celebration and not first in the desert landscape of Lent.

If we are unaware of this season after epiphany and its joy, ecstasy and continued celebration of the incarnation, we may have a primarily negative view of repentance.

There is a place for the being cut to the quick by our human failings and the asceticism of Lent.  However, for us to have the means to thoroughly examine ourselves in Lenten discipline we must also know the joy of being called to repent because we are loved.

The first sign the Jesus performs according the Gospel of John is turning water into wine at the wedding wedding_cana_bulletinat Cana.  In the Gospel of John this follows directly upon Jesus baptism.  Jesus ministry and the reason his disciples and others first believe in him is because of this unnecessary and celebratory act.  Jesus attends a celebration of life and through turning water into wine not only allows the celebration to continue but does so with fine wine, some of the best the steward of the feast has ever tasted.

In this moment between Christmas and Ash Wednesday we are called to be opened to God’s justice and righteousness through celebration, in light.  We celebrate and in that celebration are called to repentance, to the change of mind and heart.  We tur to God not in shame, but the joy of God’s embrace of humanity and all creation in the person Jesus of Nazareth.

Weaving One’s life with Christ’s: review of Sight in a Sandstorm

Sight in Sandstorm is a book difficult to categorize: part devotional, part creative retelling of the four Gospels, part historical Jesus scholarship and part devotional.  Ann Temkin creatively weaves her own story into the Gospel and Gospels.  Her story telling  both engages the reader and is informed by Historical Jesus scholarship and intimate knowledge of the Scriptures and Gospels.

Each chapter is the weaving of the authors story with stories Jesus, retelling (Mid-rash on) of the Gospel stories.  In her retelling she seeks to give the reader some insight into the possible internal life and experience of those Jesus encountered, both those he healed and his disciples.  Mary Magdalene and Peter get the most treatment.  This allows us the reader to see how there’s a conversation between the author’s life and the Gospels and stories of Jesus.

My only critique is that the metaphor of sight in a Sandstorm never seemed to fit with the account (not that I understood what this metaphor is supposed to convey either, though it is connected with her experience of hiking in the desert).  However, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is seeking to know how the Gospels and the life of Jesus can inform one’s life of faith.  It is the book is an excellent example of what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ that is intertwined with one’s daily life.  In a time when for many faith is mere assent to certain propositions or theories about God, Temkin shows how the life of Jesus and the four Gospels can be intertwined into our lives such that Jesus Christ truly lives in our midst.

Ann Temkin‘s website

Sight in the Sandstorm on Amazon

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

God Forever Physical: Mystery of the Feast of the Ascension of Christ

Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, into heaven.  As this feast is on a Thursday, it is at times transferred to the 7th Sunday of Easter or passed over altogether. This feast may also seem superfluous, or merely a marking of one last event in the Gospel of Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles.  Many of us pass this feast by and don’t give it much thought, I know I did this for much of my Christian life even after seminary.

Part of a reason to pass it over is that given our current cosmology it seems a little embarrassing. Space is up not heaven.  The spatial ascension, which would have confirmed some ancient (not all mind you) cosmologies, and would be all this was about if all we have on this day is a description of Christ going from earth to heaven. The crude (and false) interpretation of this feast is that we celebrate how Jesus got back to heaven.  This isn’t what this is all about as a careful reading of say the Gospel of John shows.  Jesus Christ wasn’t walking around for 40 days waiting to return to heaven, he was already there.

Then what is this all about?  If Jesus Christ didn’t need the conveyance of clouds and slowly lifting up into the air to get to heaven then what is this spectacle all about?  Well first we should recognize that yes this is spectacle!  None of the descriptions of Jesus’ ascension are necessary, rather they are all symbolic, visual cues and clues to the meaning of the incarnation, Christ’s death and Resurrection.  Without this symbol of ascension and its spectacle, that transfixed the Apostles and disciples gaze, we miss a very important point, if Jesus just one day disappeared in a poof, like his appearances to the disciples or his disappearance with the two disciples in Emmaus, then we loose an important assertion about Jesus’ and thus God’s physicality after the incarnation.

The physicality of the spectacle is important.  Jesus of Nazareth is a real and physical human being.  Granted something extraordinary is happening with this physical body of the Christ, but after the Resurrection Jesus’ body does strange things and has strange properties (walks through doors and walls, has wounds that can still be touched but aren’t’ a problem for the body) but it is still physical Jesus eats food, touches people, breaks bread.  The spectacle of the ascension tells us that  Jesus Christ as a body is in heaven with God.  To go up, is symbolic, one ascends to a throne, heaven is the throne of God.  Up represents transcendence, divinity as beyond the physical plane.  Yet in this beyond there is now and forever a physical body.

In short: the Ascension of Christ through spectacle and symbol tell us that the incarnation is a permanent reality.  God in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, is permanently human, with the wounds of the Cross, and forever united with creation and the physical universe.  God and matter are forever united. This is the ultimate meaning of the Gospel, and our salvation, it is the means by which all is made whole and the world is transformed. Now, forever, God is part of creation and the universe, in and through the body Jesus of Nazareth.  We can be united with God because God has united God’s self to us in our humanity and in our physicality.

Mystagogy of Easter: Vine and Branches

If you are like me raised in Sunday School the Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Easter may be very familiar to you: I am the vine you are the branches. This familiarity shouldn’t render impotent this rich and deeply mystical analogical reflection.

Part of what this analogy convey’s is our dependence upon Christ.  Yet, this isn’t the focus that Christ gives to the metaphor of vine and branches. Rather Jesus clarifies his metaphor with the injunction to abide in him. “Abide in me as I Abide in you.”   Here is the intimacy of a deep and mystical relationship. Dependence is to speak of need, abide speaks of desire and rest.

Christ in interpreting his own metaphor of vine and branches pushes the metaphor to an absurdist level. a branch of the vine doesn’t make a choice of whether or not to abide in the vine. It is the vine the grows the branches.

If we abide in Christ like a branch abides in a vine then we will have the same life and love flowing through us that is in Chirst, we will have the love of God available to us.  This abiding is for us and for ourselves.  This abiding empowers us to present Christ and the life of God to others, as God the spirit leads us.  In this way we are transformed and the world is transformed.

are you living in the life of God through participation in Christ.

Now it is true that certain things are contrary to participation in the life of God, but some things that we have thought exclude one form life, like the being a eunuch for the people of Israel isn’t.

God is love, love and hate in the member of Christ can’t coincide.  Love of God and love of other human beings are intimately linked. We know this, but I think more often see the failure to love in others, than in ourselves