Sunday, April 26, 2015

good shepherds (Jewell)


In order to understand the theology in our passage from John this morning, we have to take a look at the very beginning of his gospel. Chapter 1 verses 10-13: 
He (Jesus) was in the world and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to those who are his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”

He was in the world and the world did not know him. With that in mind, I want us to go back, way back to first century Palestine and imagine Jesus—the man—the teacher—the revolutionary mystic who said and taught people things that would eventually get him killed.  The real guy who was Spirit-filled confronting the culture and power of his day so that he might Save people by reconciling them to God.

 In John 10:11 he says “I am the good shepherd”—it is Jesus that will care for them and us, that will lead us into salvation---how did this first century Palestinian that was about to die a criminal’s death shepherd the people? By fundamentally disturbing the status-quo—the status-quo out there and in here (point to head). He pointed out that business as usual gave them and us—the mess we find in the world—because, according to Jesus, business as usual is estrangement from God. Jesus is not shepherding us into comfortable, successful lives, he is not asking us to be well-adjusted to the world—because as we just heard, the world did not know him. Jesus is shepherding us out of the status-quo, out of our estranged state and into the kind of relationship with God that he had.
Humans, like sheep, move in groups, in flocks. Humans, like sheep, are dominated by unconscious instinctual needs. And, we both tend to play follow the leader rather easily. By disturbing the status-quo Jesus is trying to wake us up from this unconscious tendency to follow the flock. Think of the effects of this herd behavior---advertising rules our consumerist culture. New cars, new homes, the best schools that cost way too much—they appeal to our unconscious instinctual needs for security and power and we end up playing follow the leaders. We follow patterns that somebody else designed and laid down for us. And once we’re in those social, political, moral, or religious patterns we follow along. The good shepherd is trying to shake us out of those old patterns that the flock follows and into New Life in God. The Good shepherd is trying to lead us out of the world that is the old pattern. According to Jesus this requires a new birth. Remember, in the beginning of the gospel we heard that, if we receive him, we will be people that are born of God, not the flesh. The flesh is code for the old self—the conditioned self that follows the flock.
In the church we are all called to be good shepherds. There is a word from Buddhism that is useful here—that word is Bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is a person who has gotten a taste of liberation from the old self—gotten a taste of what Christians call freedom in Christ. And this person now dedicates his or her life to helping others wake up from the old self that follows the flock unconsciously. This happens organically, for once we get a taste of freedom, freedom in Christ, we want to share it with the world. It’s like addicts getting sober, they start telling others how God is working their life. If you find an oasis, you go back into the desert to help others…
Just as Jesus laid down his life for us—we are called to lay down our old life so that we might help others wake up. We are called to lay down our old self so that we might help others experience freedom in Christ, freedom from the self that blindly follows; freedom from the self that is unconsciously driven by our need for security within the flock.
We are called to be Bodhisattvas; we are all called to be good shepherds. Going out and trying to impose our ideas and our religion on people can end badly. We must face the fact—exclusively Christian language in a pluralistic world can be divisive. And, just as Jesus said, the church is about unity—not division. But, if we live changed lives—we change the world. If we are a light, we will shine in the darkness. Transformation, change, living a less self-centered life, these are true signs of a good shepherd—not religious imposition and manipulation.
Christians are not called to be popular. Jesus was not a mega-church leader---he was a mini-church leader that challenged people to wake up. Christians are called to be changed! If people say, hey, I noticed you’ve changed—you’re not the same—something is different with you—if we’re outside of the old pattern—if we’re no longer judging people according to our old pattern---if we’re no longer blindly following the flock, if we’re helping someone experience freedom, if we’re reconciling the world to God, then, we are good shepherds.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Reverence for creation

using alternative scriptures (selections from Gen 1, psalm 8, matt 5) there was no manuscript, just notes:

approaching Earth Day; we think of climate/environment as political issues but they are deep faith issues, co-opted, like many faith issues, for political purposes
Genesis text: humans are made in God's likeness, given responsibility (we've assumed 'dominion' means domination, AND we are provided for--interdependence
psalm 8: humans cooperate with God, co-creation, ongoing
matthew 5:  nature/creation as a source of learning lessons about God, self, relationship between us

with all the biblical mandates, why on earth do we destroy what gives life, what gives meaning?  yet we do

Canadian creed we use has had a line added a decade ago.  After "to celebrate God's presence", we add "t live with respect in Creation"

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

private ownership (Jewell)

(And the whole group of those who were in a state of faith were of one heart and soul, And no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common—think how radical that is for the modern church—just imagine that…
This morning we were given a peek at early church life…and it reflects some of the core teachings of both Jesus and Paul…

I can’t think of any teachings of Jesus and the early church that are more counter-cultural than those dealing with possessions—there are more than 30 of them and they hit us where we live—literally—they are really multi-level tales and teachings about the urge to possess and what that does to us. I may possess many conclusions, beliefs, and my neighbor may be rich and own a big house and fine things. Whether we possess things, or ideas,—all possession is essentially the same—it segregates. The early church, on the other hand, was not divided or segregated —they were one—they were integrated in their hearts and souls—in the deepest part of their being.
In order to understand this passage from Acts we have to understand possessiveness—we can’t just go with the old approach. The old approach is that Religions have said for thousands of years that possessiveness is bad, that it causes us trouble—and then they ask us to conform to that teaching—but that conformity only brings a conflict. I hear that I shouldn’t be possessive but I am anyway and maybe I feel bad about it or I just give lip service to my religion. Just look at the result of such an approach—our so called Christian culture is built on possessiveness—we not only possess, but we are encouraged to possess things, possess ideas, heck, we even possess people. We say that is my wife, my husband, my car, my race, my class, my friends, my religion, and the church is not immune--we even possess ministries. And we get very nasty when someone threatens to take away my possession---when someone threatens my control—be it a spouse, a car, an idea, or a ministry. When I take ownership over anything, that builds a division—this is mine---this is not yours. Possessiveness prevents us from loving. Possessiveness builds and reinforces the self. And let’s think about this—is the thing that possesses really different from the ideas, conclusions, things, people, that it possesses at any given time? We are the things, ideas, conclusions which we possess. In the words of Fight Club—the things you own end up owning you.
 The only way to deal with possessiveness is to understand it—why do we possess? Merely conforming to a pattern that says it is bad won’t do it. We each must understand why we do it.
I will tell you what I saw for myself: Possessiveness or attachment all stems from the same thing. Whether I was attached to or possessing my girlfriend, my car, my job, my ideas, my conclusions, these were all my treasures on earth and without those I didn’t know who I was, I was less than.
About ten years ago I was getting ready to drive out west. I didn’t know exactly how long I would be gone…while I was packing I stood in the center of my apartment and was disturbed—why do have all of this? I saw that I owned all of it due to a warped need for security—that the things I owned owned me. I said, I don’t need this. So I donated most of it. I live with much less now than I used to. I have one plate. I have three bowls—can’t mix your veggies and your fruit—evidence of a mental disorder born of affluence—I wonder if a starving man cares if his fruit touches his veggies. My studio apartment has very little in it—except for all those books and old leather jackets--they’re the next to go. I realized that, due to a subtle feeling of dependence, either emotional or economic, there was fear deep in many of my relationships. Where there is dependence there is usually fear. And fear leads to a subtle desire to control or possess. Many of my old relationships are also either gone or very different now. Something had changed—and that something was the result of practice and teaching. The more I was immersed in Spirit and guided by mentors the less ownership or possession meant to me. I did not will this change—it happened like anything else does—it was organic. And of course, this is ongoing—a work in progress. The most problematic possessions are the psychological ones…it is easier to let go of furniture and clothes than conclusions, beliefs, ideas. I still get stuck on my own way of doing things—I must practice letting go. Humans we have been killing each other forever for the ideas we possess, just look at the news—ideas we possess about religion and race are deadly. Why wouldn’t Jesus want us to get beyond them?
What we see in Acts is not an attempt to conform to a political vision like socialism—this is an organic outgrowth of life in the Spirit—it is an outgrowth of the reality experienced by people like Jesus and Paul. As I said, their teachings were full of phrases about our urge to possess.  Here are just a few:  Matt. 6, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth”, Luke 12, one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions, Matt. 19 The story of the rich young man., Luke 12, the parable of the rich fool. Jesus goes so far to say it is next to impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Jesus and Paul clearly challenged the material and psychological possessions of their cultures—they challenged beliefs, customs, laws, ideas. In fact it is safe to say that that is why they each died. Our passage today demands that we each look into our hearts and understand our own desire to possess.
Luke tells how the early church managed to live without private possessions. Those who were in a state of faith were one in heart and soul. This gives us the spiritual practice of the group. Each individual was in faith—this is code for the state of mind of each member of the body of Christ. And we clearly see Paul’s influence. We are saved by grace through being in a state of faith. When we are in faith grace is upon us—we live in Christ. We are the world, if we want to be beyond the lines our possessiveness draws—then we each must look deeply into our own hearts—examine ourselves as Paul says. Blindly going with the flow of the culture and the values it imposes is no longer an option. The church of Jesus Christ challenges the very foundation of such a culture—a culture that segregates. The church of Jesus Christ is not reform within the system it is a revolution from outside the pattern of society. When the world says hold on to what you’ve got—we say let go. Life in our culture of consumption is about addition, life in a culture of consumption is big, it is about look at me. Life in Christ is about subtraction.
This is what the early church did: it did not support the culture—it challenged it.
When we are in a state of faith--we are one--then God’s grace is upon us—and we live beyond the boundaries of our possessiveness. Just like the early church, the more we let go of that which we possess—or that which possesses us—the more we let go of our false selves—the more we let go of that which divides us from God and one another. Then we can better respond to all—to Life itself.
Our church has a practice in which we respond to our neighbors. We call this practice outreach. And I want to say a little bit about the criteria for gifts from outreach: we seek to participate in special projects or established ministries that express the compassion of Christ with priority given to:
Projects of ministries having a UMC affiliation
A local or ecumenical origin
Personal connection to our congregation
Projects that allow for “hands” on participation
We also want to balance our gifts among local, regional, and international projects
We have a policy of avoiding making gifts to individuals based on that individual’s needs

 (after listing these and saying, “why such an emphasis on possessions and the urge to possess”?) put in K’s stuff—for many of us relationship is grounded in some kind of dependence either emotional, psychological, or economic. And where there is dependence there is fear. This leads to this need to possess…we must possess our girlfriends our husbands, our conclusions, our ideas. Even many of our religious ideas, if we’re honest, are grounded in dependence—so we must possess those ideas to feel secure.)

(eventually get to them all being one heart and soul, by grace through faith—all those who were in a state of faith—that’s how they get beyond possessiveness they transcend self)

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Unfinished business

Unfinished business 040515
Mark 16:1-8
Well, that’s not what you expected, is it?   You probably came here this morning expecting something different, probably the Easter story as John’s gospel tells it, with angels, a garden, and Mary Magdalene having a close encounter of the divine kind. 
Mark’s version, the first written down some 30 plus years after Jesus, reads very differently!   It reads more like a dry report than the emotional story we’re used to hearing on Easter….no scene of the risen Jesus to answer our doubts and questions…instead, a cliff hanger of failure and fear…. Full of terror and amazement they fled; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  We don’t expect words like that on Easter!
Those women didn’t get what they expected either.  Expecting a closed tomb and a dead body to clean and anoint, what they got was an empty tomb and a divine messenger (young man in white was code for angel).   No wonder they were afraid.
Indeed, tales of the unexpected.  So unexpected in fact that others added a more satisfactory ending, and other gospels wrote about all manner of divine encounters after Jesus death…. St Paul, who wrote even before Mark, had some tales of Jesus sightings, tho no empty tomb or angels or gardens.  All that stuff got added later; but the first Easter story written down ends abruptly with fear.
And that makes it a story for today.  
·        These women were used to the natural flow of life and death, so anything that didn’t fit with their cultural understanding was to be feared.  Many of us too have a tendency to dismiss anything that doesn’t fit with our preconceived ideas.
·        This may have struck a vague chord of memory of what Jesus had told them, just as many of us have vague memories of what Jesus says but when we’re deep in a troubling time, we don’t remember…..and they may have been afraid of being wrong
·        Afraid of risking ridicule
·        Afraid of what others might think of them.
·        Afraid of the implications for their lives
So better to keep quiet.
 It strikes me that this unfinished easter story is a direct challenge to those who call ourselves Christians, or Jesus followers.  In a world where death and war and abuse are rife, we keep quiet except to bemoan the state of the world. Fear rules.
So if those women said nothing, how come we’re here? 
Because someone said something.
Altho these women didn’t have a Mary-in-the-garden encounter with the risen Jesus, their experience was still real, spiritual, vital, valid.  Not all spiritual experiences are alleluia mountaintop moments. They encountered a being that told them the unexpected news that Jesus is alive and at work in the world.   And told them “Do not be afraid”…..that’s no less a deep spiritual experience than something much more media popular. 
 I read this week “fear can be a stepping stone; it can point the path to justice as well as to hate”.   It’s what we do with our fear that counts.
the message of Jesus is that Life wins, not death….or it will IF we engage with it in life-giving ways….
just as someone finally did 2000 years ago.  The message of easter is that God isn’t done yet; God’s love and life continues to work against fear, and the resulting evil we see in our world.  The state of our world can be alarming and fear-mongering media doesn’t help….ISIS, Russia, Nigeria, racial unrest in the US and dysfunction in Washington all contribute to fear which leads to hate which leads to violence. 
Unless…..unless we heed the unexpected call to do something different with our fear….to trust that Life is more  powerful – to trust that God is indeed still at work.  There is still unfinished business for our souls, our churches, our daily lives.
This easter story in  Mark’s gospel isn’t about Jesus’ triumph of life over death, with all its lilies and trumpets and springtime images…..a story we can celebrate once a year and be done.
The resurrection isn’t some weird Christian dogma that is set in stone, pardon the pun.
No, as I read this week, “the resurrection isn’t a conclusion, it’s an invitation”  (David Lose, Working Preacher) 
I believe that the very unexpectedness of this story is what makes it so relevant today.  It’s an unfinished story. And that’s the point.  We’re not called to believe certain things about the resurrection.  We’re being set up to live resurrection lives and continue the story….(Lose)
Continue the story until  heavy stones of fear  are rolled away from our hearts and Jesus is set free to touch our well-guarded souls 
 Continue the story until we live out God’s dream of a world of justice and peace   
until we learn not to be silent, but to speak up and speak out where we see death and fear ruling…..
it’s an unfinished story….yours, and mine.

Friday, April 03, 2015


see Monday on instructions for lectio divina
 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ 

Alternative reflection question:  in what ways does the crucifixion of Jesus still happen today?

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Maundy Thursday meditation (C Jewell)

As we move through tonight’s meditation on the Gospel I invite you to reflect on the humility and love of the Christ during the periods of silence---

True love cannot exist, a true love for one’s neighbor cannot exist without the greatest commandment: “You shall Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”
Jesus “knew he came from God and that it was now time for him to return to God”. Though it all the Christ was completely, fully, grounded in God, which means he was completely, absolutely, free. This allowed him to love fully, this allowed him to be love because he was beyond self-centered attachments and judgement
True love cannot exist without deep humility

 Jesus takes the position of a slave when he bows to wash the feet of the disciples. He knows that where there is the search for power, for position, there is separatism. As long as each of us is concerned with our own position and power our culture will be the outcome of a process of segregation. Jesus is betrayed, is rejected—for he is outside of the pattern of society and so society regards him as a threat.
True love cannot exist where there is discrimination
He is humble—he is nothing. He washes all of the disciples’ feet, including Judas’--he loves all—he loves like a bird loves the sky or like the rain loves the dry earth—simply, without thought, without self
True love cannot exist where there is self-centeredness
The Christ calls us out of our old selves, he sends us out to love one another the way he loves us—with no possessiveness, without conditions, without a hidden motive, without a need for gratification.
True love cannot exist, a true love for one’s neighbor cannot exist, without the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”


See Monday for instructions on lection divina

 Jesus' disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?"   So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, "The Teacher asks, Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"  He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready.  Make preparations for us there."  So the disciples set out and went to the city and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

Alternative question for reflection:  those who carry water lead us to where Jesus wants to be.  How might this be a metaphor for the church, the congregation, your spiritual life?

Note:  the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke suggest the last supper was a Passover meal, but some contemporary scholars think it was an ordinary Jewish meal.