Monday, March 31, 2014

None so blind

None so blind….033014  John 9
The following are simply notes to use, depending on what comes up, from congregational conversation in small groups, using the notes to flesh out the thought…..this followed their hearing the text in many voices, and some of congregation wore blindfolds, as the blind man, some as the leaders.

“There’s none so blind as those who will not see”  - who’s blind, what’s my blindness?   Margie is legally blind and often has to point out how blind I am to the unique needs of being, for example, a non-driver, dependent on others, always having to ask for help….
The leaders in this story, the Pharisees and the Jewish elite, are meant to be visionaries, yet Jesus says, they’re the blind ones…all those fine upstanding church going, hymnsinging Christians who can’t see beyond the end of their noses….they never get their hands dirty like Jesus did…..but some do.   Some go to Reach and touch filthy homes and needy people…..some go to the shelters and pray with people they used to condemn…the victims we’re used to blaming.
Jesus dispenses reckless mercy, and we don’t like it.  I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps, why can’t they?  We still blame the victim today.  Henri Nouwen quote: as long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain full of judgments, opinions, evaluations and condemnations.  We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their ‘right’ place.
The Pharisees say, you’re not saying we’re blind are you?                                                                                            We’re all blind in some way….physically we don’t see what’s right in front of us…..pass someone who looks lost without stopping to help, pass quickly by the panhandler without noticing anything about him,
Mentally we don’t ‘see’ what all the fuss is about gender equality or sexuality issues, we don’t get why we have to change the order of worship or have new songs introduced
Emotionally we’re blind to the needs of our closest relationships, we don’t pay attention so we fail to notice when someone has withdrawn, or is depressed, or is in pain
Spiritually we don’t see Jesus who comes looking for us, stands knocking at the door of our soul to offer us Jesus-eyes.

Did you notice all the questions in the story?  Why was he born blind? Isn’t this the beggar? What did he do?  where is he? why do you need convincing?  Who is he? Do you believe?
Human need, Jesus says, is an opportunity to show God’s mercy.  When we see need, is that what we see?  Or does tradition and social privilege blind us?  (blame victim above)

It was Sabbath.    Deed before creed; compassion over rules

Here we have another encounter with Jesus….another teaching moment….another opportunity to go deeper in understanding self and God….another chance to have our eyes and hearts opened.  All the characters except the healed man are no different at the end of the story than they were at the beginning.   These kinds of moments are offered every week here at church and in everyday encounters as well---I can’t help but wonder if we leave those encounters as blind as when we came in.
I am hoping that we might hear past the outward appearance and surface questions to the truths deep in the heart of things.

End:  Jesus isn’t really the main character here.   We are. Whatever character you took on, Jesus engages us.  Did you hear that little phrase, when Jesus found him?   When he heard this guy had been thrown out of the best religious places, he evidently went looking for him.   What grace.   Think about that this week….do you need to be found?  Or does God call you to go looking… our eyes, Lord.   Amen.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A well-side conversation (THeva)

A Well side Conversation!
John 4.5-26

Dear Friends!
Grace and peace are already ours for we belong to the family of Jesus the Christ. I want to talk to you this morning about conversation, spiritual conversation and to be true to our text a well side-conversation. With all the modern technological gadgets such as the e-mail, the face book the twitter, the fax modems and texting are we getting closer to each other as humankind? Have these material devices freed us from our nervousness and anxieties? Are we free from depression and fatigue, fear and suspicion? Do we want to possess more than what we already have? With these questions I invite you now to the famous Jacob’s well. It was hundreds of years ago at this well side, love and romance began between Jacob and Rachel. We are told that she brought her father’s cattle to this well to offer water. Then we read in Genesis 29 that Jacob married the two sisters Rachel and Leah and they became the parents for the twelve tribes, the children of Israel. I am not going into how Leah struggled with Jacob in her marriage relationship. Not even about how Rachel was treated as the husband’s favorite wife. That is a different sermon in itself.
         I understand last Sunday you heard a sermon on a spiritual conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a male, a prominent person in the community, educated, a teacher of Israel and a member of the Sanhedrin. And the person at the well today is a female, nameless, Samaritan by birth means not from the main stream of society. She had very little education and faced a challenge in maintaining relationships. Perhaps she had an addiction for relationships. She was already married to five husbands. She opens up to Jesus that the sixth person in her life who was not yet her husband. Jesus appreciates her honesty.
        John 4 begins with the story of Jesus choosing to go to the Galilean region and continue ministry there. Because more people around the river Jordan were willing to follow Jesus than John. So they both parted ways with mutual consent. And now Jesus is getting to Galilee, but he could have gone there by a different route; it was shorter by crossing the east of river Jordan and to get to Galilee. Thomas Merton once said that everything happens in life is a connection and not a coincident. History tells that the Jews and the Samaritan hated each other based on the century old family feuds. They worshiped in two different places the Samaritans in Mt. Gerizim and the Jews in Jerusalem. They even used separate Torahs.
        It was a hot and humid noon, an unusual time for any woman to go to draw water. Most women in that neighborhood got to the well during the sunset hour and made that gathering somewhat like the United Methodist women’s circle meeting, without coffee and cookies. They engage in conversation; about husbands or the significant others, children and families learn the news both local and global, like the disappearance of the Malaysian jet with 239 people on board and about Ukraine, Crimea and Russia. Friends! The hot noon time may not be the best time for conversations and chit chats. Because this woman was hurt by the many gossips about her and wounded by the judgment of people on her character, she preferred to get to the well by herself quietly at noon. I have worked with families and in churches long enough to say that people often were made to feel by others that they are not good enough. Children are bullied in schools. People of other cultures and races are segregated in communities. The poor are discriminated against the well to do. Fifty years ago the poor came and sat in the back pews of our churches and now they don’t just come inside.
           “Give me a drink”? Jesus asked this woman. There is something unusual about a rabbi asking a woman of a questionable character for water. Now the disciples who went on a lunch break after the morning preaching session are back. They are wondering what was going on between the master and this woman. Are they having simple conversation or something deeper? Isn’t it true that in this vicinity our Patriarch Jacob fell in love with Rachel at first sight? They remembered their history.
        Friends! When two strangers meet for the first time and begin to relate to each other of their thirsts, the spiritual conversation begins. It is about listening to each other, hearing one another’s story, treating each other with dignity. Jesus the truly human had his physical thirst. And the woman was thirsting for some deep meaning in her life.  Her life has become insipid, and she was going through the day today motion without any passion in it. Jesus now tells this woman about the water he would offer, which will quench all the yearnings of every troubled person. Jesus said if anyone wants to worship God one does not have to climb mountains and offer sacrifices, just submit oneself to the truth and be absorbed by the Spirit. ”Give me that drink master “the woman asked. I do not want to feel thirsty again. ”Give me that drink master “so that I don’t have to come daily in the scotching sun here again at 12:00.
        This is a story of a woman John wrote in 45 verses in the 4th chapter of his gospel. A woman who was in the margin of a society is now brought back into the main stream. No wonder she now gets to her people and brags boldly “I have found the Messiah”. I have found a prophet who knows all about me. Through him I have regained my lost life. I have now found my true self, true love, a depth of acceptance, found the love of God, and the God of love as well.
        I want to close this message with a ”peanuts” comic strip. It is somewhat connected to my main message today. Linus is listening carefully as his sister Lucy boasts of her religious faith and her potential as an evangelist. She says to Linus, “Do you know that kid who sits behind me in school”? I convinced him that my religion is better than his religion. Linus asks “How did you do that”? Lucy replies “I hit him with my lunch box”.

Monday, March 17, 2014

where are you from?

Where are you from? 031614   John 3:1-17

Replay my hospitality lecture: my name is Margaret, I don’t think we’ve met….

Polite conversation in our class culture usually starts with some form of    
what’s your name?  where are you from?   What do you do? 
I often get ' I know from your accent that you’re not from here!'

Jesus might have asked this night time visitor….what's your name? Nicodemus
where are you from? from the pharisaic sect of Judaism…
what do you do?  sit on the board of the Sanhedrin

Now Nicodemus could do the same thing with Jesus without asking:
Your name is Jesus, you’ve come from God, we know you’re not from here because you do marvelous things that point us to God.

N often gets a bad rap, but I know him….I am him.  He comes from a pretty clear religious tradition, and has been around Jesus a while, but still doesn’t really understand, he’s still in the dark a bit.  A fellow pilgrim on the journey indeed.
So he comes to Jesus, and starts out with what he’s figured out.  It’s all clear, logical, left brain, legal scholar type stuff.   

And J recognizes a genuine seeker when he meets one, so immediately takes the conversation to a new level….from the sensible left brain into the spiritual, right brain, metaphoric imaginative place.
And he does it, as often is the case in the gospel of John, by a play on words that doesn’t work in English. The word after “born”  Anothen in Greek, can mean both anew and from above.  Nic takes it literally and stays with the ‘again’ meaning…..he’s still on one level and can’t see beyond it.  Sort  of like some of us who get stuck at the ‘are you born again’ question, rather than listening into Jesus’ answer, which leads us deeper into mystery and metaphor—to the more complex spiritual quest that wonders what ‘from above’ might mean.   

Jesus leads this seeker into “a realm of wisdom that is more complex, deep and rich” (Patricia Farris) than anything he’d known.
Nic is invited to be born anew--from above.  This would mean he’d need to throw off his dependence on all the “who he is, where he’s from and what he does” stuff.  And allow God’s spirit (another play on words for another sermon) to make something quite new of him…..not just changing his mind, or changing behaviors (tho both do happen) but something much more profound…it is to be newly birthed from God.  In contemporary spirituality language, to let go of the false self and live into the true self.  Nic’s problem, like some of us, is that he already has a “coherent, integrated sense of self.  He’s a Pharisee, an upright one, a leader of his people, Mr Rectitude” (Neuchterlein).   

 And that needs to be let go to let God blow the winds of new birth into him…to allow life from the other realm, ‘above’ in John, to bring life to and through him.

In spite of our assumptions, this new life isn’t about a one time ‘born again’ experience, though that does happen, but it’s an invitation into God’s love, to live the way of Jesus, to live as ones who are from God.

Many of us are much too familiar with John 3:16 – we have lost a sense of its amazement….God loves so much, that God comes, and becomes attached to the world.  The cosmic force of the universe is attached to us!   So we and God can become at-one in each other.  God didn’t come to die, or send Jesus to die, but to live in us! 

That is how we are born from above..anew…we are from, part of God.  It’s a gift, it’s a grace, it’s a mystery.  But it’s real.
My self introduction might more honestly be:  My name is Margaret; I am from God; I am learning to live the Love way.  And you’ll know that, not by my accent, but by watching me, like N watched Jesus.

Child once asked mother, where am I from?   Mother launched into the dreaded birds and bees speech.  After a pause, the child said, I meant am I from Rochester?   

So where are you from?  What might your honest self introduction be?   How can people tell you’re born anew, from above?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Theva's Wisdom from the Wilderness

                     Wisdom from the Wilderness!

                                   Matthew 4:1-11                                                                                                        

Dear Friends,
      As I look back on my boyhood days growing up in a Christian home, lent didn’t make much impact on my life. The days of lent were 40 dull and drab days. A list of items such as meat and sweets and a few other things were not included in our meals during lent.  That was a lesson for us on self-denial. I have however a different approach towards lent these days. It is always good to spend time on study and prayer and reflection and in lent I encourage us to do more. It is always good to get rid of my own stubbornness, anger, and envy and greed .And in lent I want to pay more attention to this exercise. It is always good to spend my energy in the acts of goodness and service and the acts of peace and justice, kindness and mercy. However in lent I want to plunge into these services more and more. Someone came up with a new abbreviation for lent: “LET US ELIMINATE NEGATIVE THINKING”. I want you to picture Jesus today in a meditative mode in the Judean wilderness. That is the picture you have in front of you in the power point. What happened to Jesus in the wilderness also happened to Prince Siddhartha but the location was different.  He left his father’s palace and all his luxury and went into the jungles of Benares in India for 6 years. After spending some time there in meditation and reflection he returned to the world as the Buddha, the enlightened person. He brought with him answers for all the ills of the world. What happened to Jesus in the wilderness also happened to Moses and Muhammad, Peter and Paul, Luther and Gandhi, Juliana of Norwich, Susanna Wesley, Susan B Anthony and Mother Teresa as well. Psychologist Carl Jung gives a different name for this wilderness experiences. And his term is INDIVIDUATION. Which simply means it is one’s search for the totality of oneself. It is an exploration into one’s own being. How does one become an integrated personality? How does one discover the divine in oneself? How does one become conscious of everything under the sun? Jung here coined another psychological term THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS, to describe these human explorations.
       Jesus visits the wilderness immediately after the highest, the peak and the summit experience of his baptism. After hearing the most distinct voice “THIS IS MY SON WHOM I LOVE AND WITH WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED”. After the affirmation of his father on his son ship, after seeing with his own naked eye the heavens being opened and the Holy Spirit descending in bodily form like a dove, he receives a  marching order” GO TO THAT LONELY WILDERNESS. The 30 year old Jesus had every right to ponder as to what the future had on his life. Perhaps he wanted to probe into the mind of God. Perhaps he wanted to strategize as to how to deal with a society, which was so stubborn and segregated, a society that separated the good from the bad, male from the female the pious from the sinful the clean from the unclean the priestly from the lay, the mundane from the sacred. Here is a word about this wilderness: it is a stretch of plain and empty land between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. The only sound probably we hear is the howling of the jackals. There is no one to talk to, no water, no food, the temperature freezes in the night and the scotching heat gets unbearable in the day. Being hungry and cold and left alone is almost like finding oneself in the company of devil. Do we need any more descriptions of what the devil does? The first attack by the devil on Jesus was at the point of his physical need. Food is the basic need of life.  Jesus was hungry and his forty-day fasting would have accentuated his hunger pangs. When you look at those rocks and stones in the desert they look exactly like the browned baked wheat bread or Italian or the Monk bread. So the devil asks, come on Jesus! Why don’t you turn this beautiful bread like rocks into real bread? I know you can do it. Why don’t you do it for the sake of the starving people of Judea, Samaria and Galilee? Perhaps Jesus had seen how the authorities of the Roman Empire who were giving away free bread to people in order to promote Caesar’s kingdom. He was not excited about this idea. He knew that the spiritual need of persons is as important as the physical needs. He knew it was not morally right to bribe people with false promises. Our politicians do this all the time. Raising the minimum wage promise, the promise of health care for all people, the promise of possibility of immigration to those from other lands come and work in our farms in inhuman conditions. How about the promise that no child be left behind? We then quickly cut down the number of teachers in the schools and the school nurses as well.ONE DOES NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS FROM THE LIPS OF GOD. There is a risk we take in any culture if our emphasis is only on THE MUNDANE: Technology alone, knowledge alone, stocks alone, military power alone, wealth alone, inventions alone, prolonging the last quarter of a person’s life alone, space exploration alone. We need to pay equal attention spirituality as well.
          The second temptation is about politics and power. All the kingdoms of the world and wealth and powers will be yours, if only you bow down and worship me. From the top of the mountain Jesus had a magnificent view of the Roman Empire. He saw countries like Assyria, Babylon, Persia the beautiful Mediterranean sea, the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Greece.  Here was a once in a life time offer to become the most powerful emperor of the world and Jesus turned it down. He said at a later time” what does it profit a person if he or she gain the whole world and lose their essence, their value and their character?
        And the third one is Jesus is now taken to the pinnacle of the temple, which is the highest point in the Holy City of Jerusalem. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. Your God will command his angels to protect you; they will not let your body to dash against any rocks. Can you use all your powers to dazzle the crowed? Take the spotlight. Show the world that you are a man of fame and then you can persuade people to accept your teachings. Jesus knew his scripture so well and he quoted again a Deuteronomy passage.” Do not put your God to test”. Jesus was not a person to fall for cheap publicity stunt. It was his faith in a God of absolute truth and holiness which moved the mountains, gave sight to the blind made the lame walk again. IIf Jesus the Son of God had to face temptations how can you and I be exempt from it? Remember the very last prayer of Jesus to us, Matt26: “Watch and pray that you will not fall into temptation”. The Spirit is willing but the body is weak. Temptations in life are inevitable. Life without temptation is inconceivable. Temptations remind us that there are limits to this universe. There are boundaries to life. Temptations remind us the devil does not like us.
Martin Luther said” you cannot prevent a bird flying over your head but you shouldn’t let it build a nest on your head”. In a few moments you will pray in unison the Lord’s Prayer. Think a little bit when you pray that line: lead us not, into temptation, but deliver us from the evil ones.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Ash Wednesday thoughts

(this meditation had to be 'winged' due to computer problems--thought those who were there might like to see what I should have said!)
The sages have a saying, that each of us should carry a piece of paper in each pocket, one which says, “I am dust, and to dust I shall return”, and the other, “For me the universe was made”.     If we keep those in balance, we will know our place in the universe, and become truly humble….something the world needs more of for sure.
People tend to think of Lent as somber, dull, sad, all about sin…..any or all of the above.  And while it is serious, it’s not heavy…..just the opposite.  It’s about getting rid of what’s heavy in our lives, our minds, or our souls.   Many of us also think that means giving something up.  And most of us have things we need to be unburdened from, addictive behaviours, negative thoughts, critical attitudes.  But it seems to me that the Benedictines have it right….sometimes the way to be rid of a burden is to add something counteractive to it….so we take on a ‘bona opera’(good work), usually a reading or a habit, during this season.  Instead of giving up negative thoughts, take on positive thoughts….instead of giving up critical attitudes, take on intentional affirmations.  Making our souls healthier can be a joy, not a burden!   For God has already loved and forgiven us, and simply waits for us to believe and live it!
Around church you’ll find signs with some suggestions (show list and paper for last one)—I encourage you to choose one, or something more personal to your spirit.    And let me – or someone you trust and love - know what your ‘bona opera’ will be so I can pray for you and encourage you on the journey.