Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bodies? in worship?

In polite conversation there are some things we are not supposed to talk about (ask:  sex, money, religion, politics)  In the church it seems we're not allowed to talk about any of those; PLUS we're not supposed to talk about bodies.....that's private, personal, etc.

Our Nehemiah reading is from a time when God's people had come back to their homeland following the Exile....they had spend years trying to rebuild their city, the city walls especially, and eventually   rebuilding the temple.  And like all major faith projects, this one came with lots of conflict!  They argued about the vision, they argued about what God would want, they argued about who was in and who was out.  Hmmm.

What had happened is they'd lost touch with God's word in scripture.  Some of them had spend years without access to their Bible.  
Can you imagine what that might be like?
For some of you that might be no big deal, you're not big on the Bible anyway; for others you can't imagine being without scripture to draw on.....like people listening to Ezra, we suddenly realise that God actually can speak to us through ancient texts as well as modern preachers!  The Bible really is a treasure—for many, as we sang, wonderful words of life!!

Remember these people had no libraries, no Ipads, no radio or TV.....no way to access what their faith history had to offer. And unlike us, their attention span was much longer...they could stand all day listening to Ezra read from the bible.

They stood, listening with their ears, watching with their eyes, lifting their hands, then responding with tears, bowed heads, and repeated Amens....
And here we sit, passive, unmoving, barely engaging our bodies in this thing called worship.

Instead of engaging, we multitask....we sing a hymn and make a shopping list in our heads...
our mouths do one thing, our mind another

And not just in worship:
We talk on the phone, while typing on the computer....our ears listen to one thing while our fingers do something else

we compartmentalize our bodies, never really fully attentive to this moment now.

What does your body do
when your ears hear something....?
when your mouth sings a hymn?
when your heart  breaks?
when your mind is guilty?​
These ancestors in our faith engaged ALL of themselves in this worship experience.  And I wonder, do I?  Do you?  Do we let tears of hurt or guilt flow
do we let our arms raise in offering or praise?
Do we let our bodies sway or our feet tap like our children  still do?  What happened to us, when we “grew up”?
When are we ever integrated?

How we feel, affects how we move.  How we move, reveals how we feel. Eg. Crossed arms vs. open hands, coming to communion to 'receive' or 'take'
Our bodies reveal who we think WE are.
Today we are talking about bodies, real live human, ordinary, sexual bodies....in worship.  Tut tut!

But we're not just talking about our bodies here:
Our Nehemiah reading talks about using our WHOLE selves in worship, then I Corinthians talks about our whole selves as part or a LARGER body....God's body here on earth.

Paul says WE are the body of God on earth, the only  body God has...the only feet God has, the only brain god has the only hands or heart or kidney or bladder or knees God has on earth.....
We need to play our part in that body...with our bodies and as the body....we need each other; to paraphrase Barney: I need you, you need me...
I just spent 24 hrs with 9 teens and 5 other adults at our 8th grade confirmation retreat at Camp Asbury.   The Corinthian reading about being part of the body  was central to our time together

During noon time prayer, Mark read the Corinthian text aloud while we listened, and here's what struck me (from The Message)
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is...
We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life....
“Who God is”; we're always thinking about who WE are, but as part of the body we're really about who God is.
what is your body part?  What role do you play to ensure that God's love and light shines in the world you  live in?

Is it the God within who sets your feet to tapping, or your hands to open, or your tears to flow?  Or are we still “calling our own shots”?

How does YOUR body show who God is?  In worship?  At home?   At school?   At work?

May our bodies reflect who God is, here, now,  and beyond these walls …


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

On Being One-Chris Jewell

“Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit” 1 Corinthians 12:4
During the 1990’s the sports world was fascinated by the Chicago Bulls. They were fun to watch—truly beautiful. Michael Jordan was, right from the start, great—a real artist—but the Bulls couldn’t win a championship until other gifted players and a new vision came to town. After coach Phil Jackson arrived, the way they played together was a revelation. To their opponents they were a five headed monster. To their fans they were a paradigm of athletic intelligence and beauty. In 1995-96 they offered, to sports fans, something like a religious experience. Rodman to Pippen to Harper to Longley to Jordan--five members making one body. Denis Rodman was a huge ego that was limited offensively but had a real gift for rebounding. Scottie Pippen was a gifted athlete, a decent shooter—and a great defender. Ron Harper was a shadow of his former self due to a knee injury but still played great defense. And Luke Longley was at best an average player—but he exhibited the basketball intelligence of a guy that had been very well coached. And Michael Jordan was of course the greatest player in the world—with an ego to match.  As you can tell, when each individual talent is considered separately, you get a disjointed jumble of separate things. It took a coach with a real vision to transform a heap of talented individuals into a whole. Their coach, Phil Jackson, practiced Zen meditation, and took a holistic approach to coaching— and it showed. He could see the beautiful, graceful, flowing singular team beyond the five disjointed and oversized egos. The One beyond the many. This is what made a Phil Jackson led team different from others—most NBA teams were—and still are five oversized egos simply playing together—Phil Jackson led teams were deflated egos and individual talents morphing together and forming ONE UNIT. This is different than simply playing together. People will play together, will come together naturally—we are and we will remain, despite cell phones, I pads, and computers, social creatures. But it takes special training to turn five players or 205 people into ONE UNIT WITH A SINGLE PURPOSE. Jackson trained his players—and the apostle Paul, as we can see from his letters, trained his players. When he was coaching Phil Jackson was a mystic and a social architect. Paul, when he was “coaching”, was a mystic and a social architect—as was Jesus. Both Paul and Jesus resembled great coaches far more than they resembled modern preachers. This is probably because training for life in the spirit has much more in common with the training of the body than it does the mind. In fact spiritual training requires physical training. I’m sure this is why Paul used metaphors from athletic events. In 1 Corinthians we hear, “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? So run in such a way that you win it”. Spiritual training and athletic training are both about combining philosophy with exercises, exercises that can then bring about a mutation in the Whole person.
There has long been a central prayer in Jewish liturgy declaring God is One, Echad. One. This oneness of God goes back thousands of years in Judaism. Paul was of course a Jew, and there is considerable evidence in his letters that he considered the divine—in all its different forms, God, Spirit, Christ—to be the undivided wholeness within and beyond all individual things. We can call this the TAO of Paul. Phil Jackson and Paul were both teaching that there is a singular, whole, restless, creative flow that we can follow within any one individual’s life. THERE IS ONE energy that we are all grounded in. This is not something we share; so much as it is something that shares us. We, as individuals don’t share the team, the team shares us—we as individuals don’t share the spirit—the spirit shares us.
Phil Jackson famously said, “Good teams become great ones when members trust each other enough to surrender the “me” for the We.” All throughout Paul’s letters there is evidence that he was always trying to redirect his listeners to the ONE ultimate reality beyond the diverse world of people and things. “Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit”, “and there are varieties of services but the same Lord”, and there are varieties of activities but it is the same God who activates them in everyone”. Our text today is often interpreted as if Paul was a 21st century individualist—preaching the idolatry of self, of difference. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul is always looking beyond the many toward the ONE, in other words, he is always toward God or the divine Spirit. If we read 1 Corinthians 12 closely we see that this is embedded within a larger section of text in which Paul is trying to draw our attention to the undifferentiated whole that he sees everywhere. This is much like the Zen influenced Jackson redirecting individual players to the ONE TEAM rather than focusing on the needs of five separate players. Paul writes of the body of Christ—not the bodies of Christ—ONENESS. In Galatians we read “There is no more Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for you are all One in Christ Jesus”—ONENESS. In our text today we heard, “Now there are varieties of gifts but the same spirit”. It is universally agreed that Paul’s “Christ-mysticism” forms the center of his religion and consequently of his theology. We know it is the world’s mystics—whether Zen Buddhist coaches or first century Jewish evangelists—who participate in meditative training that can facilitate an experience of ONENESS, wholeness, or GOD.  For centuries they have been coaching us, and training us to experience the ONE within, the undifferentiated wholeness beyond the many—NO MATTER how talented or gifted we are as individuals. Phil Jackson trained the most gifted basketball player of all time to surrender his ego for the good of the team. Paul asks us to see beyond our own individual talents and experience the ONE SPIRIT—I know that will be good for our team. AMEN. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

named and claimed

Isaiah 43, psalm 29 and Luke 3 lectionary texts

Do not be afraid. I love you
Do not be afraid. I am with you.
Words spoken to an ancient people....
Recurring phrases to hold on to when we pass through metaphoric waters and DO in fact feel overwhelmed...when life's fires of pain or anguish DO threaten to burn up all oru faith....when the violent and flashing thunderstorm of our psalm shakes our very being....the voice of God is in it
Do not be afraid. I am with you

All three of our texts today are about God's voice speaking:
in Isaiah it's in comfort for the grieving, courage for the fearful
in psalm 29 it's a voice of awesome power known and experienced almost viscerally in nature
and in Luke's story it's a naming and claiming voice
You are my child, I love you, you've given me pleasure, or you delighted me
Interestingly I learned that “I am well pleased” is actually a past tense phrase. Today, Jesus would be considered a young man at 30, but by the time Jesus is baptised, he's an old man by the standards of his day....he had already lived almost all the life he had before he heard this voice; he had only about three years left to live.
So baptism isn't just for babies and children; this is a story that has meaning for all of us, whether we're in the autumn of life or its youth or prime.

You see, this isn't just a long-ago story about God's voice speaking; this is also a text about OUR identity as human beings: loved, named, claimed, children of the God who is still speaking.

It is an awesome thing to be named and identified by a certain name. When I was back in Scotland last November, someone actually said to me, Oh you're that Margaret, you're Jimmy Scott's daughter! That used to happen to me all the time as a child too.
But today's society in general is much more anonymous—many of us don't know our neighbours' names, we just watch their comings and goings in cars in and out of automatic garage doors

Who are you? Who am I? Named Margaret, claimed as wife, mother, pastor--all those identities that lay claim to me...but child of God, beloved, giving delight to the God of the cosmos?

We hear a lot these days about identity theft...well, I think we have allowed our culture to take away our identity as God's beloved. One reason I think it happens is that our lives are so filled with noise, we can't hear God's voice, any more than we can really hear the sound of that trickling water. Luke is the only gospel writer who sets this voice and spirit experience in prayer -- “as he came out of the water and was praying”. How well do we listen for God? How often are you quiet enough?

it's time to take back our stolen ID...to recover our identity as those who take Christ's name and take on God's claim on our lives.

That's what our baptism means. Whether we are sprinkled or dunked, as children or adults, in this moment heaven opens and comes down to earth: what was dualistic and separate meet, and nothing is ever the same again, not for Jesus then, nor for us now.
we become immersed in God's alternative reality—not the one where heaven is out there somewhere as a distant destination, but a new reality where divine influence is infused into earth, into ordinary, daily life.

Jesus undergoes the baptism of John the Baptizer with all those other people – and whatever that baptism really meant in those days, it was something countercultural...it threatened the political powers of the day, and Herod threw John in prison and eventually had him beheaded.

Is our baptism threatening to the culture of the day? If not, why not? Could it be that we have softened baptism into a rite of passage in a safe, social institution called church, and forgotten our baptism? Forgotten that it's a public message of solidarity with God's voice, a statement that our identity is in Christ's name and mission?

Back when I was a child and someone identified me as Jimmy or Annie Scott's daughter, it wasn't just about my name so they could place me. It was about who and what I was expected to be, how I was expected to behave. Is not the same true of Christ's people today?

There has to be a connection between what happens here, and what happens there (outside these walls)

The connection between an hour or so on Sunday and the other 167 hours of the week is this: water....baptism...your baptism
Every time you use water, even just wash your hands, remember who you are and who you're called to be

there are basins of water in front 
If you would reclaim your identity as God's beloved, and publicly state your intent to live out your baptism 168 hours a week, I invite you to come and receive water on your open hands. Those giving the water will say
 you are God's beloved son or daughter,
and you may respond,
named and claimed to live it out.

Come. Come to the waters where heaven and earth meet and entwine
Come to be named and claimed to live it out.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

epiphany and the Grateful Dead

 Chris Jewell's sermon from 1/6/13
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road”
“Sometimes the lights all shinin’ on me, sometimes I can barely see, lately it occurs to me what a long strange trip it’s been”
That line from the Grateful Dead describes the human spiritual journey pretty well—all the elements are there, light, blindness, mystery. I like to imagine the Magi singing this as they ride through the desert in the middle of the night.
These days it can often seem as if we are out in the middle of a spiritual desert. Where is the depth?—everywhere we turn we encounter the crisis of meaning. Why? Why is there so much of this? Why all the bad news…mass shootings…children hooked on prescription drugs…Washington gangsters…Wall St. gangsters…the blind leading the blind…all this scheming and resisting…we have placed a crown on that part of ourselves that craves power and position. We bow down before our king. In King Herod we can recognize that part of the human psyche which resists love in the name of power and control; that which fears going beyond the known, which is our own self-centered pattern. Herod is the human being fearful of losing what he or she has, Herod is the past, Herod is self-indulgence, and he is that which wants material security and power. Herod is the ego that just won’t let go of what it possesses…

The Magi come from far and wide; they are those that will seriously look toward and into truth, those that will follow a star, they are paying attention, they are answering the call—they are journeying toward an encounter with the divine. In them we can recognize the distant call of every human being to an encounter with the divine.  I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on costly grace. He writes, “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a person must knock”. This call to follow is costly because it costs someone their life, their current way of life—like all calls from the divine it asks us to let go. And it is grace because it asks us to follow the Christ.  It is costly grace that we find in the story of the Magi—the old way is closed off for them—they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod—so they have to go down a different road—they are forever changed.
A few days ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine who went through major changes last year—he went on a real journey—he now says he realizes that it all began when he started really paying attention to his life—and it cost him dearly.  I recalled that at the time you could see he was off balance, that the ground of his personality seemed to be shifting—and just like in an earthquake, there was a building coming down. He was in an unhealthy marriage, and he drank too much. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he had obviously lost weight.  He said he had, at one time, given all, or at least most of him-self to the marriage and there was a side of himself that wanted to hold on to it. And it wasn’t just his marriage-- he would sit at his desk at work and realize he was going to die having spent too much of his life in a job that he hated all so he could have—have--have—possess—possess—possess—but he didn’t know if he had the guts to quit. He was conflicted, and he was scared. Not long before this He had thought his career and marriage were fine—all he wanted so to speak. But he was realizing that there was something else stirring deep down, calling on him to look, to pay attention— he didn’t know who he was anymore---he just felt anxious, angry, and depressed all the time. If he didn’t let go—he would never answer the call—he would never follow the star. He found himself reading books on religion--Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity. He even signed up for a meditation workshop at the Zen Center.  He quit smoking and drinking, and started working out. He began having experiences—seeing more clearly--what he described as light bursting through the blinds—and he slowly began surrendering, releasing--letting go. He and his wife separated, and he quit his job for a much lower paying one—so he could have time to go back to school. When I saw him a few days ago he seemed different—happy, more at peace than I had ever seen him. God’s grace comes in the midst of our lives—often in the middle of the darkest hour—the wholeness discovered under the break-up, the birth in the death, the treasure hidden in the field, the divine child born at midnight, the light bursting through the blinds.
 In our epistle lesson this morning, we hear of an epiphany, of a grace that is costly and that demands surrender. The author reminds us of the dramatic change Paul went through due to his experience of Christ. And the non-Jewish audience that the letter is addressed to is undergoing a radical transformation of their social and personal identities. The theme of letting go is all over the letter—Paul surrendering his old self, and the community letting go of their former ways. Most significantly, through the grace of God and all of this letting go the human community is reunited with the divine in the love of Christ.
When we look at just about any of the great stories in the bible we see they are about the development, the growth, of love—the divine’s love for us—“for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son”—in these lines we find a great truth—that love is the drive that overcomes estrangement
In Matthew the Magi represent all of us—all of humanity having an encounter with the Incarnated God—this is a love story—because it is a reunion of the previously separated. And just like in all the best love stories, that which seeks to divide lover from beloved, must be overcome, transcended, transformed. When I was 30 my sister had her first child—and my first niece. At the time I was going through a lot of changes—I knew I had been living a very self-centered life---I was looking to change but I was still fearfully, tightly, holding on to old ways. I found myself sitting in libraries reading books on theology, mysticism, Shakespeare, in short I was searching for something, what that was I didn’t know. In late November 1999 and I drove through a snowstorm into Rochester to see my sister and my niece. I walked up to a glass case and stared down at this tiny, mysteriously beautiful face that I somehow felt I had seen before—and something changed—the world became bigger—more alive—because I was a part of it in a way I hadn’t been before. There was a mysterious dimension of experience shining through her. Epiphanies are like that, they catch you off guard, throw you off balance. You can’t plan for them—but you have to be open to them, you have to be able to receive them. And I have come to realize, they always call on you to change. I’m not sure I was aware of it at the time, but I went home a different person—I went home a different way—the old way having been closed off to me, the guy that I had been was gone—lost—transformed. Something changed that day, and it cost me something—my old life and it’s easy answers. Shining through her face was Grace—an infusion of love, a shot of love poured into the world… if we follow the star, if we pay attention, if we let go, this long strange trip of ours will have those moments when we realize it’s the face of the Christ child we’ve been staring into all along. Are you willing to go down a different road? Let It Be So.