Tuesday, June 25, 2013

transformative experience-Chris Jewell

I recently heard a great quote from an enlightened author named Paul Smith, “Christianity started in Palestine as an experience, it moved to Greece and became a philosophy, it moved to Italy and became an institution, it moved into the rest of Europe and became a culture, it moved to America and became a business”. While history is never that simple, that statement gets right at a fact, the institutional church long ago moved away from the spiritual experience of the first century Jews it reveres and even worships. And that is a problem—why? So what, why should we care? We should care because those experiences are transformative—and healing.
The late scholar of Jewish studies Alan Segal wrote the following in his landmark book, Paul the Convert, “To comprehend Paul’s experience, we must inquire into the secret and imperfectly understood Jewish mysticism of the first century”. I, as I’m sure you can tell by now, agree wholeheartedly. Scholarship and a great deal of common sense tell me so. Marks of the early and often strange Jewish mysticism are simply all over Paul’s letters. And whenever we read any of those letters we must always remember this: every bit of Paul’s theology is informed by his own transformative spiritual experience. Our text today is no different. If we don’t remember that Paul was radically changed by what we call today a non-ordinary state of consciousness, we simply cannot understand what is going on for Paul—or for that matter in early Christianity period. By the way—just a related side note here. This week, while preparing my final sermon, I had a chance to reflect on the state of the church in our contemporary culture. These days we hear a lot about a decline in the number of people attending church but  I don’t believe the current obsession with numbers in the church is doing it any good—you know—the constant cry of oh no they’re all leaving—because Christianity is not primarily about numbers and money. Christianity is about the transformation, not the money, not the good time or entertainment, of human beings. If people want to be entertained they can go to a movie or an amusement park—now, if they have a desire to transform, to renew their minds, as Paul says, they can follow Christ by taking up a transformative practice. And one thing the institutional church would do well to remember—Discipleship does not depend on church attendance, money given, or committees sat on, never has, never will, period. In spite of all that, I will say this—if the church wants to attract people they should think about something—the church is losing its influence, especially among younger people,—that is simply true. In the modern West Institutional Christianity started to decline at the very same time that the number of people interested in transformative spiritual practices like meditation and yoga started to increase. In recent decades many people left the church because they were fed up with all the moralizing and spiritual starvation. Just ask all the baby-boomers that became Buddhists. These two trends, the decline of church attendance, especially among younger age groups, and the increase in the numbers of people practicing ancient techniques like meditation and yoga, along with many, many other things, tells me the church needs to open up, look beyond its walls for some advice—because, when it comes to spiritual growth and development, there’s something new going on out there—and a lot of it is very good, in fact it might even remind one of the early church. A fun, and loving communal experience is great—we all like and need that—but without practices specifically designed to target the deepest levels of the human psyche, the kind of transformation Paul and Jesus experienced--simply will not happen—a good and comforting time might be had—but not rebirth, not the feeling that Paul is describing in Galatians when he says, I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me”—it was Paul’s revelation or apocalypse of Christ that told him that the ultimate “I” or subjectivity is Christ.
So, to go back to the brilliant insight of Alan Segal, how does looking into the mysticism of Paul’s day help us when we read a text like Galatians? First, we need to understand the word I just mentioned, Apokalypsis—Paul uses this all important word at the very beginning of the letter. “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a an apokalypsis of Jesus Christ”. First century Jews used this misunderstood word when discussing their non-ordinary states of consciousness, their visions, their trances, their journeys to heaven. As we go through this morning’s text we should keep that in mind.
In verse 23 Paul says that before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. Put simply, these words clearly reflect Paul’s own spiritual experience—the apostle’s own non-ordinary state of consciousness. As I said, ancient Jews developed and practiced a meditative technique that was designed to induce visions and trances. It was in such a state that Paul’s life-changing conversion is likely to have happened. These experiences often bring with them a sense that one’s ego has been transcended, that one is no longer estranged from God or the ultimate reality—and this heals the fundamental human wound. It is, needless to say, a powerful and moving experience. Think again of Paul’s words, by likening the law to a disciplinarian, he is saying that it is like a slave charged with keeping his master’s son out of trouble—so one is being dealt with by a mediator—not directly by one’s Father. Under the thumb of legalistic religions we are like a child estranged from his or her parent. That was the situation under the law—estrangement—the works of the law could not bring justification, could not reunite divine parent and child. It took Paul’s non-ordinary state of consciousness to justify him, to reconcile him to God. There is of course in Paul’s metaphor a developmental implication. Before his conversion experience Paul was like a child that needed a disciplinarian—now he has outgrown that stage. Literally hundreds of studies have shown the developmental benefits of non-ordinary states—simply put they have been shown to accelerate one’s growth through moral stages of development—the bottom line is these ancient practices and experiences work—and the modern west is increasingly acknowledging this, in fact many therapists and psychiatrists are now prescribing meditation. Paul’s experience changed him and led him into a new relationship with the lawand his old religion—aren’t we, like Paul, called to have a new perspective on our old religion?—there’s the dangerous part—the powers that be in your old religion, no matter what it is, may not like the change a transformative experience brings about in you—Paul was, and in fact remains, a very dangerous man. Institutional religion always views mystics with suspicion—for once you have direct experience with the divine you don’t need the meditators, so mystical experience is often feared and mistrusted by those who represent the institution. Remember, Paul and Jesus both got themselves in hot water with the good religious people of their day.  After such a direct experience one simply finds the mediator unnecessary because, as Paul says in verse 26, one is reunited with God as a child of God. This reflects Paul’s mystical or spiritual experience and his radically different view of the law afterward. During such an experience Paul and other ancient Jews believed they were being transformed from regular human beings into children of God that were similar to angels—in other words they became like heavenly beings with knowledge of the heavenly places. Contemporary people who experience these states often report feeling like they have been reunited with God, nature and the deepest regions of their own psyches—in short they feel radically changed by these experiences. In verse 27 Paul says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”. According to a standard Jewish myth operative in Paul’s day, the first human being, Adam, was said to have been the radiant image of God, and he and Eve were thought to have worn garments of light that were then lost as a consequence of the Fall. In Genesis 3:21 we hear that after their sin, God made garments of skins, for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. Some Jews in the first century, Paul included, believed that this lost radiant image could, to some degree, be restored prior to death. This myth is behind verse 27, a statement about Baptism and being clothed with Christ—being clothed with Christ meant healing the deep wound of the Fall. Paul’s own conversion had, for him, begun to reverse what had happened as a consequence of original sin; in short it had saved him—and was saving him. Several studies show that non-ordinary states of consciousness often heal our deepest psychic wounds—and healing means salvation.
 “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”. I recently heard a sad statement—Sunday morning is still the most segregated time in America. A major characteristic of the spiritual experiences I have been speaking of is the sense that the old or separate self has been overcome—that one is connected—and somehow identified with All things, All people, that superficial differences are not ultimate—are not to be feared—The rabid political correctness of our day is not born out of those differences being overcome or relativized—it is often born out of those differences being feared and suppressed.  Modern Christians would be well served if they were encouraged to have experiences in which they feel, not intellectually know or agree with, that we are all one, that we are all part of this incredible God that shares us. Now that would save---save us all from feeling we are estranged, that we are unloved, or disconnected. We all read about, see, and feel the terrible consequences of this fragmentation everyday—people who overcome that feeling or heal that wound are transformed, they are truly justified. Real justice depends on real justification, not political thinkers and their schemes—Jesus and Paul are still trying to tell us that—real justice comes about through experience—an ultimate WE experience in which one feels reunited with God and neighbor— the kind of ultimate “WE” experience Jesus and Paul had. The ultimate “WE” is the church—the mystical body of Christ. There is no building or religion big enough to contain it—in order to be it we must go beyond all walls—the walls of our buildings, and most especially the walls of our old selves. The ultimate “WE” is not a philosophy, it is not an institution, it is not a culture, it doesn’t depend on what you wear, or what you believe, nobody owns it. The ultimate “WE” is a feeling, it is an experience. It saves us—it justifies us—it loves us. Amen.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

It's not my father's world - Andy Lotze

It was UMM Sunday!  Here's Andy's sermon:
It is not my father’s world
The world has changed drastically since I was a kid.  My father, a chemical engineer worked 3 jobs to put food on our table and clothing on our bodies.  Coming from a family of six children, and being 5th in line I had to eat quickly in order to get a chance at a second helping.  Amy, now you understand why I eat so fast; SURVIVAL! 
During my early childhood, I spent tons of time with my mom, playing backgammon, watching baseball, cooking, just doing all kinds of things together.   I didn’t get to spend a much time with my father.  He was always busy earning a living to support our family.  He worked a full-time job during the day, after dinner he went to work at a brickyard.  Some mornings would even drop off newspaper bundles to delivery people.  The song “Cat’s in the cradle” by Harry Chapin rang very true regarding my relationship with my Dad.
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon little boy blue
and the man in the moon "When you coming home, dad?"
"I don't know when but, we'll get together then, son,
you know we'll have a good time then"

This song reminds me that there are choices in life that we make, and if we don’t think about the consequences of these choices, we might end up regretting how we live our few short years on this planet.  It’s all about time. 
A summer after my freshmen year in college, I was given the opportunity to grow closer to my father.  I was offered a job at his company.  He would wake me up with a cup of tea and we’d play cribbage while we ate breakfast.  We would ride to work together, and share lunch playing pool.  Recently, I have begun playing pool at lunch again, often thinking of Dad.  Back then was a  summer that I hold dear.  I was able to develop a closer relationship with Dad. 
I watched as he walked the halls at work, greeting each person with a smile and a first name.  Such a simple gesture; yet so powerful! Knowing people’s names is important!  It establishes a feeling of worth, of belonging.  As a Cub Scout leader I worked very hard at knowing each scout’s name so that they knew I cared about them.  This simple act brought each scout closer to the group and gave them a sense of purpose; acknowledgement and belonging.
Knowing someone’s name is the first step in developing relationships.  Do you know everyone sitting in your pew?  Take a minute now to greet those around you, finding out names if you don’t know them.
After college, I made sure that I kept in touch with Mom and Dad, calling on a regular basis, and going in for occasional visits.  After my mom passed away, I frequently went in to see Dad and spend more time with him, giving my sister Hilary, his primary caregiver a breather.  We watched so many movies together, talking about the plots and enjoying a diet coke! I had broken the cats in the cradle syndrome!!!
Growing up, my family attended church every week.  We were good church goers.  As soon as the service was over though, we were gone.  I wasn’t aware of any relationships being created or nurtured in that place.  It felt like homogenized worship, no feelings allowed.   I attended Sunday School; I read the bible; but I really didn’t understand or know God.  There wasn’t any relationship there, but this was the way of my father’s world.
I visited a Methodist Church for the first time in 1981, visiting Amy’s home church.  Wow, it felt warm, inviting, like a huge blended family.  I was astounded at the difference with the church that I grew up in!  People stayed after church to talk and get to know each other better, have coffee and pastries.  What a great place to be.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t part of my father’s church world.
Amy and I were married in July 1983 and moved into Fairport in 1985.  After getting settled in, we began looking for a church, visiting FUMC.  We received a welcome phone call the next week from Lori Lorraine.  She spent over an hour talking to me about “her church” and getting to know all about us.  Since then, our families have ultimately intertwined into one.  Their daughters are ours, and our sons are theirs, a wonderfully amazing friendship. 
My family has benefitted from the wonderful Youth Group here at FUMC, shepherded by Pam and Mark Renfro. We spent a great deal of time on bike trips, Sacandaga adventures, Reach workcamp , 30 hour famine sleepovers and numerous youth group meetings.   As I look at our group of friends that we spend time with outside of these walls, I find that they are the same people that we have developed relationships with inside these walls!
Reflecting back, I’m overjoyed that Amy and I were committed to being active parts of our son’s lives. Because of that, Cat’s in the cradle does not hold the same meaning for our kids as it did me.
In the Genesis reading, that Rick read, God appointed us to be stewards of our environment and the creatures that inhabit the land, the sky and seas, this includes all of God’s children.  We are not meant to be solitary individuals, we are meant to be families and communities. This requires investment of time and energy.
Technology has made the world smaller, even though the population has more than doubled since 1960.  Facebook has allowed friendships to be sustained and others to end abruptly.  The use of technology is an enabler, but what does it enable?  Amy and I operate our IPADS in the same room, and I will sometimes text her just to see if she is still awake J  Instant information from around the globe has miniaturized the feeling of the planet, bringing Kamina, China and the city of Rochester much closer to us!  However, we must not allow Facebook, twitter or texting, our online relationships to overshadow the importance of physical real world relationships.
Do you ever think about the relationships you create and nurture as a stewardship opportunity?  I can work on that next week… This attitude reminds me of another song, a Beatles song:  If you want it, here it is Come and get it, but you better hurry 'cause it's going fast.  Stopping to smell the roses, and invest some time in relationships often allows the hectic pace of life to slow a little.  By participating in outreach and other ministries here at church as an individual and as a family, allows us to do God’s will, while at the same time developing friendships and better relationships.
We are given time, talents and treasures by God.  Of the three, Time is the only one that once gone, cannot be renewed, cannot be recaptured.  It is the most precious of our gifts.  Two weeks ago, David Durham spoke about the rich man that wanted to know what he had to do to have eternal life, Jesus said, sell everything, give to the poor and follow me.  Was it the wealth that he didn’t want to leave, or was it the commitment of time that was too much?  God wants the same from us that we want from our parents and our children, an investment of our time.
The opportunities are here, but are you stuck living “Cat’s in the cradle”, still not realizing the impacts of your choices?  What are you missing by not trying?
With all of the technological advances, we still have issues here on mother earth. We find that this tiny complex world we live in, that if it was condensed down to a village of 100, you would find the village comprised of:
·        50 would be male, 50 would be female.
·        61 Asians, 13 Africans, 12 Europeans, 9 Latin Americans and 5 from the USA and Canada.
·        33 Christian, 67 non-Christian,
·        16 would not be able to read or write
·        50 would be malnourished and 1 dying of starvation
·        33 would not have access to safe water supply
·        8 people would have access to the internet
So, if technology alone cannot resolve the world’s problems, what can?  Relationships, tolerance and being open to challenging the status quo!  Having a positive attitude that we can make a difference is infectious to others around us.  Mother Teresa once said “If you can’t feed 100 people, feed just one.” Participating in outreach here, even a little, can start an avalanche of wonderful experiences for you, what are you waiting for?
If we are to be the body of Christ in this community of faith, in this country and in this world, all parts must learn to work together.  We need active participation!  We need to grow healthy, loving, nurturing relationships so that when the path becomes difficult, we have a support network that sustains us.  It is marvelous to see how we help each other here, with meals, transportation and most wonderfully, our time.  We are called to be God’s presence on this rock called earth.  This is not my father’s world, but to make this our Creator’s world we must be willing to step forward out of our comfort zones and stop the cycle of Cat’s in the cradle.

-Andy Lotze, June 16, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

10:30's transitions and transformations

Rich texts.  Lots of stuff.  But what struck me most in the gospel story is its physicality….especially the physicality of Jesus…so I want to just walk through the story and see what comes to us, as we imagine ourselves there…..and I want us to imagine ourselves as Jesus, for we have come to be known as the church which has come to be known as the body of Christ (Christ has no hands but ours…etc)
Jesus’ whole being, body, mind, spirit, and in a group, is on a journey
We, Jesus here now, the body of Christ, are likewise on a journey that involves our whole being, and we’re in a group, not travelling alone
…on edge of city, place of transition, not in, not out,
We, Jesus here now, the body of Christ, are likewise called to be present to the moment, whether we are on the edges of the city, at work, or on vacation, be present wherever we are. And not only just present, but
Jesus’ eyes saw her—not just the procession and the noise and overall commotion, but he centered in on the most important core of the situation…the widow.  He puts himself firmly in the biblical tradition of compassion and justice (our psalm an example of that tradition) by noticing the social situation in front of him.
We, Jesus here now, the body of Christ, are likewise called to have our eyes open, to not just show up but to pay attention to what really matters
Jesus’ mind and heart had compassion on her—widow, personal desperation leading to social destitution
We, Jesus here now, the body of Christ, are likewise called to allow ourselves to feel the pain of others deep in our own being = compassion/suffering with
Jesus’ mouth spoke to her
We, Jesus here now, the body of Christ, are likewise called beyond feelings to speech, to speak a word of comfort or consolation, to speak encouragement or hope, to address the injustices that allow destitution
Jesus’ feet moved forward
We, Jesus here now, the body of Christ, are likewise called beyond feelings and speech into action.  Don’t just stand there, don’t just stand there and mouth words, but do something
Jesus’ hands touched the bier, the coffin say other translations….defilement for him; not only hands dirty but put him in a situation where he confronted the religious rules – an action that would have social consequences for him
We, Jesus here now, the body of Christ, are likewise called to get our hands dirty, to risk some social consequences
Jesus’ mouth spoke again, this time to the dead body….but it’s not referred to as a dead body, Jesus calls him, Young man---he has an identity, a personality; he is still a child of God.  Get up!
We, Jesus here now, the body of Christ, are likewise called to acknowledge the personhood of all, including ourselves, who are in dead places,socially, physically or spiritually.  And to speak a word of belief in them, that they can indeed, get up, arise, our of that place. 
I’ve done a lot of funerals and this has never happened at one of them, but at every one of them I hear the voice of God raising them up to new life beyond this one, and I hear the voice of God calling to each of us there to rise up to new life in this one. 
Jesus’ hands (presumably since it means handed over) gave him to his mother
We, Jesus here now, the body of Christ, are likewise called to do whatever it takes to restore relationships, one on one, or as a society.  That restoration comes in many forms….maybe with a healing, maybe with renewed faith or livelihood or status, maybe as with Paul, changed behavior.   And that restoration takes different actions to accomplish…perhaps repentance and forgiveness, perhaps political and social action, perhaps simple change of attitude and heart towards another.
Whatever it may be, the point remains.  An encounter with Jesus in the midst of our travels – whether to Damascus or to a cemetery—demands of us an answer to this question…..Are we the Body of Christ?

transitions and transformations 9am

Transitions and transformations 060913
Luke 7:11-17  Galatians 1:11-24
9am—deep rich texts and no time, how like our lives!
Point in gospel is that Jesus speaks, and life emerges where there was death
IE transformation happens
·        For the man—physically dead, transformed by the voice of Jesus into life
·        As it did for Paul in the Galatians text—a long reading with plenty in it but one main point for today: the persecutor turned proclaimer
·        But also for the mother—social death and destitution transformed into restoration of status, new life
What’s dead in us that needs new life?
What sadness  needs to be transformed? 
What prejudice against another makes you a Saul-like persecutor at least in your mind?
 Jesus says, arise!  Get up and get on with whole and healthy living!
Sure, we’ll die again, we’ll fall back time and again into old ways, but get up and let the compassion of Jesus give you life, whole and beautiful while you have the opportunity.
And all these transformations didn’t stop there….they had wider implications….they led to people glorifying God.
Even Jesus’ actions point to something bigger than he.
Do ours?
Do our lives point others to God? 
Think about all these children and youth, stepping up a grade, transitioning between one place and another….think of the most vulnerable people in our society….think of those who are dying…..will they know the compassion and life-giving care of God through you, through me, through us?
Arise!  Get up!  Live!  And let the word get around that God is at work in and through this place and our lives.