Saturday, May 27, 2017


So that they may be One, as we are One
As we noted on Thursday evening, the Sunday Lectionary assumes most people miss the Feast of the Ascension, so “Voila!” We get Luke’s version in the book of The Acts of the Apostles chapter 1. Though we miss the intro: In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles whom he had chosen.”

And it turns out that Theophilus translates roughly, “God Lover,” or “God’s Beloved.” You are God’s Beloved. We live in God and God lives in us. But I get ahead of myself.

As they watch Jesus return to Love from whence he came, two men in white robes ask the pivotal question: Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. Jesus is leaving and he is coming. Which means that although they saw him leave, he is still here. Life with Jesus is often a paradox.

Enter the so-called High Priestly Prayer in the seventeenth chapter of John – arguably the most mystical of all the gospels. Jesus is praying. Approximately 1200 years later, Eckhart von Hochheim, known as Meister, or Master, Eckhart wrote about prayer: If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. Jesus is thanking God for giving us to him. “They used to be yours, and you gave them to me.”

Jesus also says it is time for him to be “glorified.” Glorification in this case refers to the revelation of God’s Love in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. By glorifying God, Jesus makes visible the presence of God through, as the two men in white (who are they?) “all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven.”

What the two men in white seem to be saying, as cool as it is to see him ascend to the God of Love, it’s time to get to work on all that he taught you- feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the prisoners, welcome the strangers, clothe the naked – meet the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people – and all creature, and all creation.

And the bonus is that those God has given him have been given eternal life, which it turns out is not a future in heaven or immortality, but rather a life shaped in the image of God as revealed in Jesus – here and now. As Meister Eckhart also said, “The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake.” Quit standing around looking up into the heavens and get to work!

Despite all the rhetoric about Pentecost being the birthday of the Church, I have always thought that distinction belongs to the Ascension. He has to leave so that we can get to work doing all he did and taught, “and greater things than these you will do.”

And he prays for our protection as we are that manifestation of Jesus that continues on in the world. The world does not always welcome the Jesus in us, but that only brings us closer to Jesus who is the life and light of the world. Another paradox. As Meister Eckhart reminds us, “Truly, it is in darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us.”
The Light is so near to us, he prays that we may be One as he and the Father are One. This recalls the beginning of the fourth gospel that tells us that Jesus, the Word, the logos, was with God in the beginning, and is God, and that all that was created came through Jesus, the Word. I suspect Eckhart was deeply immersed in the Gospel of John for he also says, “Every creature is a word of God.”

This means us as well as the fish in the sea. Another mystic who lived a half century before Eckhart was another German, Mechtild of Magdeburg. She writes:
A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of its making,
Gold doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
Must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?

That is, life is not about beliefs or doctrines or creeds or liturgies. It is not a discipline or a practice. It is the most intimate experience of being alive, like breathing itself. Breath, the difference between life and death. At age twelve Mechtild had a spiritual experience in which she saw “all things in God, and God in all things.”

The importance of the Christian mystical tradition is its insistence that we must treat one another, every creature, every thing the way God is in Jesus and Jesus is in God. He prays, “so that they may be one, as we are one.”

He who is coming is always here. As the most recent Nobel Laureate of Literature writes:
Many try to stop me, shake me up in my mind
Say, “Prove to me that He is Lord, show me a sign”
What kind of sign they need when it all come from within
When what’s lost has been found, what’s to come has already been?
            -Bob Dylan, Pressing On

He ascends, yet all the while he is here. It all comes from within. And it is all around all the time in all things. He prays that we might be one as he and the Father are one. What’s lost has been found, what’s to come has already been. This is eternal life: knowing God and knowing Jesus, who are one and that same. We are one and the same. Eternal life is here and now.

“The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me,” writes Eckhart.

All because we see the Son rising, and listen to the men in white, and come to know God as God knows us.  It’s time to stop standing around and tell others the good news, for later he prays for on behalf of those who come to believe because of our word. He is the word, and through his word we come to know that we too are the word. We live in God and God lives in us. We are one, as God and Jesus are one. Do we get that? Thank you!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

He Returns To Love

Ascension Day
It is the Ascension of Jesus in the first chapter of Acts. He who came from Love returns to Love. A crowd of followers stand and watch. “Why do you stand looking into heaven?” ask two men dressed in white robes. Who are these guys?

Are these the same two men dressed in dazzling white clothes in the tomb? The same two who said, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”

Like the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when Butch and the Kid are trying to outrun the Pinkerton Agents, holed up behind a rock, looking back at the cloud of dust that was the Agents and Butch says, “Who are those guys?”

And why do we look up into the heavens? Humans have been doing this forever – and ever. Looking for some way out of here. As the Nobel Laureate put it:
There must be some kind of way outta here
Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion
I can't get no relief

That’s what makes the Gospel of Jesus Christ so unique: it is not about escape. It’s about waiting patiently upon the Lord to deliver, right here, right now. Well, not exactly right now. As he is ascending the people ask when? When will we be delivered? Jesus says, “It’s not for you to know the times or periods set by the Father. But you will receive Power from the Holy Spirit and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the Earth!”

First, we notice that the Luke 24 account of his ascension actually precedes Acts, and that Luke and Acts are Volumes 1&2 of Luke’s full account to Theophilus – literally “God Lover”, or “Friend of God”, or “Beloved by God.” God’s Beloved. That is, you and me.

Next, we note that Luke has Ascension occur on Easter Sunday, Acts has it forty days later.

Evidently Luke/Acts is not reporting “history” the way we usually understand it.

Luke has the Ascension end Gospel and the time of Jesus.

Acts has the Ascension start the time of the Church: a time to Witness – to the ends of the Earth.

In Luke, all the action moves from the world to Jerusalem.
In Acts, all the action moves out from Jerusalem to the world.

In Luke – Jesus says, “Wait in the city for all God’s Spirit and Glory to break in – wait for further instructions!” Stay here until further notice.

In Acts two men in white ask:What are you standing around for? What are you looking for? Get moving, get going, moving on and out! The Time of Witnessing begins with his departure. It is time for Action, Mission, and witnessing. Not Standing around, watching and waiting.

In the past I have done a balloon release at the end of the Ascension service. It’s fun to stand there and watch them float away. But, it’s a bad idea since it causes ecological problems for other creatures. And it’s a Bad symbol because we end up standing around looking up like the disciples instead of getting on with it!

The very last words of scripture are, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come!” Yet, in the most real sense he never left. We live within this paradox. He is coming, and he is here when we know where to look.

See the Son Rising
See the Son Rising
See the Son Rising
He is here

He is here in the city
He is here in the streets
He is here in our singing
He is here in the people that we meet

Alleluia Alleluia he is here
Alleluia Alleluia he is here

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Come and Listen

Come and Listen
Come and listen, all you who fear God,
And I will tell you what he has done for me!-Psalm 66
We pray that his promises exceed all that we can desire – and we may as well admit it: we desire an awful lot! Can we separate out what we need from what we want when naming our desires?

Meanwhile the psalmist opines, Our God is in the heavens – he does as he pleases! You don’t have to like it, you don’t get to vote on it. What a God! Their gods are made of human hands and live in shrines made by human hands. Their gods are made of silver and gold - religion cast as money! They have feet but they cannot walk; they have eyes but they cannot see; they have ears but they cannot hear; they have mouths but they cannot speak; they cannot even make a sound with their throat! And any god that cannot clear its throat will never get you out of exile.

Meanwhile, how much misogyny and racism and drug addiction and nativism and religious bigotry and debt and alcoholism and misinformation and alternative facts and wars on people and wars on drugs and wars on wars does a society have to have before it admits it is living in exile?

Then he says, “I’m in you, and you’re in me, and He is We, and We are all together,
Coo coo ca choo!”

And he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And what are his commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. Love one another as I have loved you. And love your neighbor as yourself!

And how has he loved us? With all his heart, all his mind and all his strength, not considering his equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the life of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit. And he promises to send us an Advocate – the breath of truth, the true breath. He gives us breath, the true breath. Breath – that mysterious air that distinguishes life from death.

He leaves us not alone. This Advocate, this True Breath, is given, as life is given, as all is given, as all is gift! The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is therein! Jesus promises to blow breath into those who keep his commandments. Just as God blew breath into the first man and woman in the Garden.

This breath is the true breath that brings Jesus to life after death on the cross. This is resurrection breath. Giving us this breath gives us a portion of God’s essence, the breath, wind and spirit that blew over the face of the waters in creation becomes our very essence. True breath gives new life, reborn life, resurrection life. Real life beyond life with the idols of silver and gold – religion cast as money. True Breath to resurrect those living in exile, to resurrect our dry bones.

Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me, for us, for all. “I’m in you, and you’re in me, and He is We, and We are all together, Coo coo ca choo!”
Jesus’ last gift was the Paraclete or Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, or the True Breath – what we casually now call the Holy Spirit. Later in John’s Gospel, on the evening of resurrection, he literally breathes this Spirit of Truth on the disciples.

A colleague pointed out the other day that in Greek culture, which had heavily influenced Israel before the Romans came along, the Advocate was someone in a courtroom separate from your lawyer and separate from the judge. This parakletos was an independent intercessor who could interrupt the proceedings at any time on your, on our, behalf. As Jesus earlier says to Nicodemus, this spirit comes from we know not where and takes us we know not where, where we have never imagined going.

Our colleague went on to say, Here’s how it all sets up. We are to love one another as he loves us. He knows that one day God the Father will be our judge on all of this love, Jesus will be our lawyer, and the Spirit shall be our parakletos, or intervening Advocate. It looks as if the odds are stacked in our favor! And this parakletos is the True Breath or Breath of Truth, the very Breath he breathes on us, is the very breath that gives us life, and not just life, but eternal life.

All three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in this narrative from the fourteenth chapter of John, appearing together for the first time. He concludes this portion, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” Words meant to both comfort us and challenge us. They challenge us to remember just who we are and whose we are.

“Then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars!”

“We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year-old carbon, caught in the devil’s bargain. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

Master Eckhart once said: Man’s best chance of finding God is looking in the place where he left him. Where did we leave him? That’s where we’ll find him. Or, maybe the True Breath, the Spirit of Truth, will find us first! 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

If it's not about Love, it's not about God!

If it’s not about Love, it’s not about God!
Chapters 13-17 of John describe the Last Supper. It is, therefore, the night before Jesus will be executed by the Empire. In chapter 13 Jesus washes the disciples’ feet as a sign of the kind of life they are to continue to live after he is gone. He has come from God and is returning to God. He comes from Love and returns to Love. And in these chapters, he is assuring them that the Life of Love – love of God and love of neighbor – they have experienced walking with him these three years together will continue. “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:33-35) We come from love, we return to love and love is all around.

Peter, of course, wants to follow him home, to the dwelling place of God’s eternal love for all persons and all of creation. You cannot follow me now, says Jesus. I need you to remain in the world but not of the world. I need you. I need you to walk in the way of Torah, in the way of God’s Word, in my way, the way of Love for one another and all others. Don’t you remember, Peter: You are to Love God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength. AND, Love your neighbor as I Love you, as God my Father Loves me. After all, you know where I am going. Then comes chapter 14, a source of endless trouble and misunderstanding. Thomas, the one who insisted on seeing the Risen Lord himself, the one who upon seeing him proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”, that Thomas, says, “Lord, we do not know the way, we do not know the road, we do not know the path.”

To which Jesus says, “Sure you do, Thomas. I Am. I Am the path, I Am the truth, I Am Life – the Life that is the Light of the World!” The path, the road that leads to truth and life would have reminded his Jewish audience of halakha, “the way one walks.” Richard Swanson likens this to the Lakota people who talk about “walking in the sacred manner,” that is, the way that human beings were created to live. Halakah means walking in the ordinances, the commandments, the way, the path, the road of Torah living, which this Jesus summarizes as “loving God and loving neighbor.” It is nothing less than The Way of God. If it is not about Love it is not about God! [Richard Swanson, Provoking the Gospel of John, p.315]

It is not about some exclusive road to walk in the sacred manner. It is about the particular way in which the community of Jesus is called to walk. There are no claims to superiority, exclusivity or any other kind of special place in God’s universe. It is all about what we are to be doing when after tomorrow he is dead and hanging on a Roman cross. Love those neighbors.

When asked, “Who is our neighbor?” Jesus, a real shrewdie replies with a story. A person is attacked on the road and left for dead. A priest walks by, a Levite walks by, a lawyer walks by, but a Samaritan stops and provides health care and healing for the person. Three Israelis walk by and a Palestinian stops to help the person. Hillary Clinton lies beaten on the side of the road and the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee walks by, a Democratic Senator walks by, and then Donald Trump comes along and says, “I will enact an affordable care act to take care of you and all others in need!” Which one is the neighbor he asks? You get the picture, yes?

The disciples have been walking on this road, following him, he who is the human face of God, for three years. Yet, now Philip, the one, you recall, to whom some Greeks came and asked, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus!” – now this same Philip asks Jesus, “Hashem, show us the Father.” Jesus must have sighed, a long, exhausted and frustrated sigh. How many times must I go over this, Philip. I AM in the Father, Elohim, YHWH, the one who said, “Light!” and there was light and life and love. You have been with me all this time, you have seen the works: the blind receive vision, those who are broken we bind up, those who are hungry we feed, those who are thirsty receive drink, those who have sinned are forgiven, those who are strangers are welcomed, refugees are given safe haven, prisoners are visited and comforted. If you cannot trust me, if you cannot trust the Father, trust in the works themselves. Because if you do trust in the works themselves, you will do the works that I do, and the one who trusts in the works and is faithful toward me will do greater works than these! And why? How? Because I AM going to the father. I Am returning to the dwelling place of the Father’s eternal Love. Because I am leaving you, you, all of you, every one of you and all of you together will do greater works than these!

He is not leaving them, he does not leave us, alone and helpless in this world of deep darkness. The Way they have walked with him continues in them, in us, in all who trust in the works themselves. His departure does not signal an end to the Way in which they have lived with him, but rather a beginning of continuing to live this Way, which is none other than that Way that Loves God and Loves Neighbor – all neighbors, most especially those beyond the community of God’s eternal Love. Because if it is not about Love – a love that accepts and welcomes and cares for all persons and all creation – then it is not about God!

The Word, the logos, must be weary of trying to explain this to them, to us, to the world. The logos in Jewish texts often is Torah – the commandments, the Way of God. And the logos in this text is Jesus. So, if the logos is Torah and Jesus, then the whole sense of being faithful and trusting of Jesus begins to make sense. Christians tend to read this as evidence that they alone have real access to God and God’s Love. Yet, Jews like Jesus and Paul speak freely of Torah as the path to God on which even non-observant gentiles and even atheists may already be walking as well. Torah is as basic as gravity. How can you supersede gravity? So, think of Jesus as the gravity that draws people and all things to God and God’s Torah and a life of halakha.

This world Jesus speaks of is God’s world. It is not a Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or any other kind of world. He has come from Love and returns to Love so that we might be the Love that is all around all the time everywhere for everyone. Those who can understand this and trust it in any way possible will continue the works, “and greater works than these will you do!”

It is no wonder so many Christians try to focus exclusively on being the Way rather than taking on the responsibility to do “greater works than these.” Jesus is not asking simply for belief or faith. He wants action. He wants works of Love. Anyone can say he or she believes or has faith. But, says Jesus, if you truly wish to be with me and in me you will continue the works themselves, and greater works than these. No doubt he is still waiting for Thomas, Philip and all of us to get it. How weary he must be of saying this. How patient he is just waiting for us to get with the program, the movement, The Jesus Movement, the Way of Torah, the way of halakha, the Way of God’s eternal Love! I can hear him sighing right now. Can you? When will we walk upon this Earth in the Sacred Manner? This is what he is still asking. What will we do?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Good Shepherds and Bad

Good Shepherds and Bad
It is astonishing, really, that so much is done in politics, business and policy in the name of Christianity, or even worse in the name of Jesus. Whether it is healthcare, immigration, foreign policy, abortion, or state-sanctioned violence whether it be warfare or the death sentence, leadership in this nation too often hides behind the Bible to justify actions that are quite simply un-biblical.

In my branch of the Christian franchise, The Episcopal Church (TEC) we pray that when we hear the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, that we “may know him who calls us by name, and follow where he leads,” without any thorough examination of what it really means to know the God of the Bible and where this God leads us – or at least tries. What we are left with is the evidence of actions on behalf of those who coopt the name and will of God which quite rightly leaves many to choose atheism as a rational alternative to what we see and hear every day in the news and in our own lives.

“To know” in Biblical Hebrew is rendered roughly “yada.” In context it is used to describe the intimate relationship between the first man and first woman (Genesis 4: 1, 17, 25) resulting in sons, one of whom, Abel, is himself a shepherd. In Proverbs 12: 10 to know connotes a quality of mercy and compassion for the needs of others, all others and all creatures. And in Jeremiah 22: 15-16, talking about King Josiah’s good shepherd qualities, “yada” connotes doing justice and righteousness; specifically judging the cause of the poor and needy. “Is not this to know me, says the Lord” [YWHW, the God of the Exodus, the one who hears the plight of slaves in the Empire and leads their escape to freedom].

The prophet Ezekiel gets on a roll when this same Lord commands the prophet to “prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them – to you shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak; you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured; you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So, they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and scattered they became food for all the wild animals.” [Ezekiel 34]

In calling the bad leadership to task the qualities of good shepherds is outlined along the same contours of just what it means to know (yada) and follow the Lord. It is worth observing that Israel in this context is a placeholder for just what tribal, cultural and national leadership is meant to look like. That is, this is a Biblical view of what good shepherds are all about. This is not about “theocracy” or the establishment of religion. But it is an honest view of what the Bible, or Judeo-Christian tradition, considers good shepherd leadership to look like, which in the end is not specifically religious but rather a compassionate way of looking at how we are meant to care for one another, for all other people, all other creatures, and the environment itself – for without a healthy and well cared for environment there will be no life at all.

And if this looks at all challenging, one need only look at the New Testament’s description of what early Christian community looked like in the generation after Jesus: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” [Acts 2:44] “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and not one claimed ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds ow what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” [Acts 4:32-36] This is what life with good shepherds looks like. This is how the early church lived and survived tremendous persecution at the hands of the Empire.

The tragedy for the church came about in 313CE when by fiat of the Emperor Constantine the church became the Empire and adopted all the trappings and behaviors of the Empire. One might say the church allowed itself to be coopted and tenured by the Empire. As such, the church for hundreds of years abandoned the qualities of good shepherd leadership and became just another bureaucratic functionary for the machinations of Empire. Sanctioning such barbarism as The Crusades, The Inquisition and numerous other tragedies, the church as such abandoned its rooting in the Biblical qualities of good shepherd leadership. If Abel was the first good shepherd in the Biblical story, the church after 313 more closely resembled his brother Cain.

This leaves much for us to ponder as we listen to talk that claims to represent Christian leadership. Do those who make such claims hold fast the views of good shepherds all the way back to the likes of Abel through John’s portrayal of Jesus as “the good shepherd”, and descriptions of the early church in the book of Acts? [John 10:11ff] Or, despite repeated and ongoing attempts to reform the post-Constantine church, are those making such claims clinging to the church of Cain, Empire and unfettered power sustained by a culture characterized by Walter Brueggemann as “therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism – committed to notions of self-invention in the pursuit of self-sufficiency”? [Brueggemann, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 2012) p. 4]

As Moses puts it before God’s people before they dare enter into the land of promise, “…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and hold fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days…” [Deuteronomy 30: 19-20a] Length of days depends on our knowing the God who is the Good Shepherd, not the church or any other temporal representative. Length of days means hearing his voice and following in his way. From beginning to end the Bible is steadfast and unwavering as to what good shepherd leadership consists of and really is: merciful, just, compassionate, with concerns for those who are most vulnerable and in need. We will know it when we see it. Until then, all the rest is idle chatter.