Saturday, May 25, 2019


Visions. Where there is no vision the people perish. [Proverbs 29:18 KJV] I once had a vison while singing a communion hymn in the front row of the chancel choir stall at Grace Episcopal Church, Providence, RI. As we sang people came to and from the altar to receive the body and blood of Christ. All I saw were people’s shoes: some shiny, some well-worn, some new, some old, some with the heels worn off to the side, some scuffed. All going to and from the Altar of the Lord coming from all over the city and the state. Returning to the world of mission outside the doors of the church. Then I saw all the people of two thousand years and all those feet, all those shoes, sandals and dusty feet coming to and from the Altar of God and the Lamb. And I want to be with them all. I want to know them. I want to serve them. A tear falls from my eyes. And then I am singing again in the front row of the chancel choir stall. Visions

Paul has a vision in which a man in Macedonia cries out, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” [Acts 16:9-15] Psalm 67 presents a vision in which all nations and all peoples bless the Lord and allow the Lord to guide them. John of Patmos has a vision of a New Jerusalem in which God’s presence is light and life and healing for all nations and so secure that the gates of the city “will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there!” [Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5] And in the fifth chapter of John Jesus seemingly has a vision as he comes upon a man at a pool in Jerusalem who has been sitting there for 38 years and asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”

Paul goes to Macedonia, meets a business woman named Lydia down by the river, proclaims the Good News of Jesus and she and her entire family seek to be baptized. She becomes the first identified European convert to Christianity.

Traditional Jews recite Psalm 67 at the end of Shabbat, echoing the promise made to Father Abraham and Mother Sarah that through them God wishes to bless all the families and peoples of the Earth.

As Jerusalem and the Temple lie in ruins as a result of the brutality of the Roman Empire, John of Patmos has a vision of tremendous power and security of a New Jerusalem that will have no Temple and no closed Gates into the city because the eternal presence of God and the Lamb will provide endless light, safety and healing for all nations, all peoples, who are all welcome to come and go as they please!

Sensing the man by the pool needs to be released from his endless vigil of waiting for something to happen, Jesus simply says, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” And he does. That day was a Sabbath.

Visions are not mere dreams. Not some figment of our imagination. Visions are powerful messages from the unconscious or subconscious depths of our minds. When we pay attention to such visions as recorded throughout the Biblical narratives, and our own, things happen.

As Howard Thurman, African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, visionary and civil rights leader, understands the Bible from beginning to end is that all that there is, seen and unseen, comes from God’s vision of “a good creation of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky. " A vision, suggests that other African-American visionary Verna Dozier, that we have rejected by each of us going our own way.

Each person, each nation, each religion, each tribe seem to all be going their own way rather than going together. One reason would be that we ignore the visions that have been handed down to us and the visions that people like Howard Thurman and Verna Dozier continue to offer up for our consideration.

Paul took great risks and went to great lengths to travel to Macedonia all to convert one woman and her family. No good deed, however, goes unpunished! Paul and his companions, while still in Macedonia, run across a slave girl possessed by a demon. She would tell everyone that Paul and his friends were “slaves of the Most High God.” This became an annoyance to Paul so he cast out the demon. Her owners seeing her in her right mind had Paul and the other arrested since the owners could see that now “their hope of making money was gone.” The owners had made her a commodity. God in Christ through Paul had made her a person. Paul and his companions were placed in jail. While singing songs and praying in jail, however, an earthquake shook the prison open. The jailer was about to fall on his sword thinking all prisoners had escaped, but Paul says, “Don’t worry, we are all here!” Eventually the magistrates free Paul and his companions. For the visions of God shall not be denied.

“Help us!” cries the man from Macedonia. Paul responds. Cries of “Help us” come to us from all over the world and all over our country. Who hears these cries as a vision from God? Who responds to the very people God wants us to help? Or, are we hindered by not being able to answer the question Jesus puts to then man sitting by the pool for 38 years waiting for something to happen? “Do you want to be well?” Do we?

We must need healing if we cannot respond or even hear the cries of God’s people. John of Patmos sees a tree with healing leaves in the midst of the New Jerusalem – healing for the nations of the world. What if? What if our policies were meant for healing the nations of the world? Might the rarely United States once again become a beacon of light for the world, shining in every corner of the world every moment of the day, the endless day of light emanating from the Lamb at the center of the City of Peace – City of Shalom, Jeru-Salem.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

Help us we cried and God and Paul and Jesus and Lydia all responded. The man who never asked for help got up and walked. The gates are never shut. We shall drink from the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the lamb. I see water, I see trees with leaves that heal, I see a man who walks, I see open gates with people coming and going. Freely. All those feet. All those shoes. All those people from all over. Now. And forever. When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?

Shabbat ends. “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth…May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.” We recite Psalm 67 once again. Perhaps one Shabbat we will see and embrace the vision of the Psalmist. And like Paul, respond. And like the man, stand up and walk.  

Saturday, May 18, 2019

A New Reality!

We come from Love, We Return to Love, and Love is All Around.

Julian of Norwich, so-named because she lived in a hut on the outside wall of the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, heard Jesus say to her in a vision, “All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well.” One needs to repeat this over and over in any and all circumstances to even begin to hear what she is saying. All shall be well.

Meanwhile, every day one opens one’s news feed or Facebook account, the paper or TV News, it becomes perfectly obvious that all things are not well. Jean Vanier died last week, the founder of L’Arche communities for persons with disabilities to live in a house with others of us who might be considered “the abled population.” But are we? Is it possible that we who consider ourselves able and well are in fact, in Vanier’s words, weak, vulnerable and broken?

We pray, “Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life…” Do we “truly know” the God whom we invoke both in prayer and in argument? What Julian of Norwich and Jean Vanier both know is that often we have things backwards. Vanier began the L’Arche communities with the notion of healing the disabled residents. What he discovered, much to his surprise, is that it would be they who would lead him toward a life of transformation and healing. For in attending to them day and night his own weaknesses, vulnerability and brokenness were revealed.

In his book, We Need Each Other: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together [Paraclete Press, 2018], he draws upon the story of Jesus in the Gospels, and most especially in John. For it is in John that God, the Word, is Jesus. And that this Word, this Jesus becomes flesh to dwell among us. That is, God humbles God’s self to become vulnerable, weak and broken flesh and blood like all of us. “We however,” he continues, “are afraid of the vulnerability of Jesus, so we reject him, perpetuating division, and avoiding communion of hearts. The message Jesus gives us is that he has come to give us a new reality: that we can accept ourselves as we are in our brokenness. And when this happens, it is possible to accept each other, and the walls can come down.” [p 35]

One dimension of how we might come to “truly know God” is to listen to the words from Revelation chapter 21, “"See, I am making all things new." A new reality, which we reject. We reject it because we either do not want to “truly know God,” or because we are tenured to the current reality. We may as well face it: we do not want to change. Even if it means perpetuating all things not being well – including ourselves.

In John’s version of the Last Supper, Jesus speaks of Love. To demonstrate what he means, he strips down to become even more vulnerable, gets on his knees in a position of weakness, and washes feet. He says to follow him means to do likewise – especially the part of letting ourselves be vulnerable, weak and recognize our brokenness, which part is overshadowed by the washing of feet.

Earlier in John Jesus sits down near a well where we learn he is alone with a Samaritan woman. This in itself was taboo in their culture: being alone with a woman not your wife, and as the story makes clear, Samaritans and Jews did not exactly like one another. Further, we learn later that she has had a long string of broken marriages, and the man with whom she currently lives is not her husband. Vanier has described her as the most broken character in the New Testament.

Yet, the first thing Jesus does is to reveal his weakness and his need when he asks her for a drink of water. In so doing he acknowledges to this broken woman of Samaria that he too has needs, he too is weak and vulnerable, and most importantly, despite her brokenness, there is something she can do for him. He grants her personhood! This may be the most important scene in all of John!

Vanier learned from those in his L’Arche home that they could help him break down his feelings of superiority and importance and projecting “well being and abilities.” He learns that God has brought them together so that being with them they will begin to heal him of so much that passes for “life” and “success” in today’s world. “However, I cannot say that I am healed,” he writes. “I can only say I am on the road to healing. I cannot say that I am transformed. I can only say that I am on the road to transformation.” [ibid] This he wrote near the end of his lifetime in L’Arche.

We work hard to preserve an old reality. It is a reality that has moved us and people around the world away from ours and their cultural life together to a world based on competition – a world in which there are only winners and losers. This competition leads to consumption, which leads to real or perceived scarcity, which leads to violence and demonizing or hating “the other” – those with whom you are competing. To have any chance of truly knowing God, to have any chance of following Jesus, to have any chance of sharing in his willingness to become weak, vulnerable and reveal our true brokenness and our need for a new reality, we need to stop building walls and begin building bridges.

“In a globalized reality we have to see what is happening and to see where the place of Jesus is, as the world moves from a society of culture to a society of competition. We must be wise, and we must be united in weakness – our own, and that of our sisters and brothers…I feel sad and wounded when I hear people say, ‘God cannot exist, because there is too much pain in the world,” as if it is God’s fault. We know that it is not God’s fault; it is the fault of all of us. If someone is hungry and the food available is not enough, we have to learn to share. We human beings have been given a beautiful responsibility: to build something new. We are invited to move from a closed culture to the realization that every person is important, that every person should have a place in the Church and in society. This is an invitation that has immense implications for all of us.” [44-45] And, I would add, implications for every creature and for the planet itself.

The Most Reverend Melissa Skelton summed it up this way last week at convention: God made all things, makes all things and shall make all things well. If only we will take the time to accept the invitation to know God, be with God and recognize God in others – all others – as we become a society in which All Participate, All Cooperate, and All are set on the road to Change, the road to Transformation, the road to Healing. This is what Jesus means by Love.

The French Jesuit Priest and Scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin believed that love is the very physical structure of the universe. Love is an energy that attracts all things and beings to one another, in a movement toward ever greater complexity and diversity – and yet ironically also toward unification at deeper levels. What keeps us from accepting such a New Reality?

Julian of Norwich wrote, “Know it well, love is its meaning. Who reveals this to you? Love. What does he reveal? Love. Why? For love. Remain in this and you will know more of the same.” All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Lamb Is The Shepherd

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” There is probably no more familiar verse from the Bible than this from The Twenty-third Psalm. Its gentle yet vigilant cadences are meant to still our agitated and fearful hearts when life seems to present nothing but trouble. The psalm is an invitation to be still, to allow ourselves to be guided by a trustworthy shepherd, to lie down beside still waters even when nothing but turgid and unsettled waters surround us on all sides. It is an invitation to sit down and let the Lord prepare a table so that we might share bread and wine with him. The same Lord who appears to frightened and disappointed disciples, prepares a meal on the shore and invites us all to, “Come and have breakfast.” This shepherd invites us to dwell in his house forever – a household filled with goodness and mercy. Who could turn down such an invitation?

And yet, we see Jesus in the 10th chapter of John, the Good Shepherd chapter, surrounded by those who cannot bring themselves to sit down beside still waters; who cannot allow themselves to sit down and eat with Jesus; who hold themselves back from entering into “the house of the Lord forever.” We tend to sneer at them. The Church has spent centuries mocking them and even persecuting them and all those who do not accept the invitation. Rather than reaching out to them with mercy, goodness and compassion. Rather than reaching out with the kind of love and care he so freely bestows on all who cross his path.

Then there is the paradox of it all. He whom John introduces as The Logos, The Word, which Word was with God and is God before all else came to be. Which Word became flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood. Which Word says in Chapter 10 of John, “The Father and I are One.” The same Word who invites all persons, not some, not many, not most, but ALL PERSONS, to become One with him and the Father. This same Word in the First Chapter of John is pointed to by that other John who washes all who come to him in the waters of Repentance. John who declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” [John 1:29]

The same Lamb who yet another John sees in a vision at the Throne of God as all living creatures sing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” And then an elder who is in the midst of all this glory proclaims: 
  “…They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." [Revelation 7:9-17]

Which brings us full circle back to the Twenty-third Psalm where we lie down beside still waters to have our souls revived. Notice, however, that the Lamb at the center of the throne of God is our Shepherd. The Good Shepherd is a Lamb. As I sit in Christ Church, Rock Spring Parish every Sunday, to my left and above me is a stained-glass window of Jesus the Good Shepherd holding a Lamb in his arms, Shepherd’s Crook by his side. I stare at it in stillness and in wonder that there before us are two images of Jesus, the Word, the Christ, all in one – for it is Jesus holding The Christ who is the Lamb at the center of the throne of God.

The Lamb is the Shepherd. The Good Shepherd is the Lamb. He came to live among his sheep as one of us. We who are the “sheep of his pasture.” The pasture is his. The sheep are his. We are his.

St. Paul calls us, one and all, to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18] One way to pray without ceasing is to repeat The Jesus Prayer as a kind of mantra. A mantra is just a prayer
that is repeated over some over to draw oneself into the stillness to which the Good Shepherd means to guide us. In its classical form The Jesus Prayer says, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have Mercy on Me, a Sinner.”

As I gaze upon the Good Shepherd who is the Lamb at the center of the throne holding one of his sheep, holding himself, the Lamb of God, I have felt a shift in how I pray The Jesus Prayer.

As I finish my workout each morning at the gym, I try to finish on the treadmill, walking backwards, which means I am facing a wall for five or ten minutes. And there are two scuff marks that make a cross on the wall about 10 inches up from the floor. As I tread backwards, I now repeat to myself, “Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, have Mercy on Us, your Beloved.” It has slowly evolved this way, and here’s why I think it has.

“Son of God” seems to connote a kind of rarified, divine being quite apart from us sheep who tread this earth day in and day out. Whereas “Lamb of God” speaks of person who comes to us as one of us, the sheep of God’s pasture. It's his pasture, not ours. He is one of us.

I say “have Mercy on Us” because Jesus the Lamb of God is about gathering a community of people around his table – a community of individuals, but individuals who become a part of a larger gathering  and movement of those who allow themselves to be guided by their Good Shepherd to lie down beside still waters and have our souls revived. It’s not about me, it is about us, all of us, every single one of us, and every living creature with whom we share this fragile island home we call Earth.

I say, “Your Beloved,” because as I look at that window in Rock Spring Parish, at the top there is a dove like the one that descended on Jesus at his baptism by John. The Holy Spirit lands on him as a voice says, “You are my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The Word who becomes one of us, a sheep of God’s pasture like one of us, is God’s Beloved. And this Beloved of God spends his life, death and resurrected life to spread the news that we too are God’s Beloved. We are to become God’s Beloved Community. We resist this, and indeed to resist the Love of God is to Sin. Which means we are among those depicted resisting Jesus in Chapter 10. But at the end of the day we need to claim our belovedness so as to break down our resistance to accepting God’s Love and in so doing dwell in His house of Mercy and Goodness forever and ever.

Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, have Mercy on Us, Your Beloved.

We pray not only for ourselves, but for all people everywhere, in this prayer I now pray without ceasing as I gaze upon a found-image of a cross on a wall, treading backwards. Sometimes we need to go backwards to find our way forward.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Come and Have Breakfast!

It’s been a tough week. First the synagogue shooting in Poway, CA. Then Yom HaShoah – a Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust. Then May 3, forever the anniversary of both Brenda Brewington and Mary-Marguerite Kohn being shot dead in our parish office in Ellicott City. Kind of makes the Constitutional Crisis in DC look absolutely puny in comparison.

It’s also the 36th anniversary of my final round of Canonical Exams in the Diocese of Rhode Island. On top of the General Ordination Exams, Psychological and Vocational Exams, three years of exams and finals, the Diocese of Rhode Island required an additional nine (9) Canonical Exams in areas like Theology, New Testament Greek, Old and New Testament, and so forth. After each semester of Seminary candidates for ordination would troop up to the Rhode Island Camp and Conference Center and take a few exams.

The final round for me was in April, 1983. One of the exams left was New Testament. You take a written exam and then an hour or so in a group with the examining chaplains fielding questions. I surmised, correctly as it turns out, that in New Testament orals we would be asked for our favorite New Testament Bible verse. I came prepared. When my turn came, I replied, “Come and have breakfast!” There was a pronounced silence, accompanied by some confused expressions, as if they were expecting something more like, “Come unto me, all you who are tired and heavy laden, and I will refresh you,” or, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that those who believe in him will have eternal life.” Clearly no one was expecting, “Come and have breakfast!”

One of the examining chaplains challenged me, saying, “And just where is that in the New Testament.” I am sure I smiled as I paused before saying, “In the 21st chapter of John, Jesus’s third resurrection appearance to his disciples after a long night of fishing.” I paused. There was more silence and quizzical looks. “And,” I continued, “it is the Gospel appointed for this coming Sunday, Year C, the Third Sunday of Easter Season.” Snap!

It had been a tough week or two after Jesus was crucified. The disciples were hiding. They might be next in line for Roman so-called “justice.” Finally, Peter can stand hiding no more and announces he is going fishing. Sounds good to six more disciples, and off they go. After all, a number of them were professional fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, sometimes called the Sea of Tiberias. They fish all night and catch no fish. At dawn the next morning a figure appears on the shore –only a hundred yards away we are told. The man on shore calls out, “You have no fish, have you?” Seems kind of cruel. “No,” they answer. “Cast the net on the other side,” says the stranger. That’s it. Sometimes you just need to change what you’re doing. Do we get that?

At this point we imagine some grumbling. We know how to fish. Our families have fished these waters for generations! Grudgingly they pull in the net and toss it over the other side. Suddenly, the net is filled to the breaking point. One hundred and fifty-three fish! Someone counted! A disciple Jesus loved says to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” Peter, who up till now has been naked while fishing, throws on some clothes, jumps in the water and swims ashore to see who it is. That seems an odd way to go about it.

When he gets there, and the rest show up with the boat and the fish, there is the stranger, sitting at a charcoal fire on the beach, some fish and bread on the fire. He calls out, “Bring some of your fish over here. Come and have breakfast!” No one dares to ask him who he is. They just know it’s the Lord. Kyrios in the Greek. Which in the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew scriptures is the word used to translate YHWH, the proper name of God that is not to be spoken. We’re not sure what YHWH means, but it is the God who is always there for the people Israel. One scholar suggests it means, “Oh, it’s Him again!” Seem right for this moment on the beach.

Now as much as I was intentionally meaning to shock and surprise the examining chaplains back in Rhode Island, I have always been struck by the fact that John remembers Jesus, the Word, the Logos, saying this on the beach. He is actually preparing what is really truly their last meal with him. Imagine working hard all night at whatever it is you do best. All night long, and yet nothing is accomplished. How does that feel? Then some stranger suggests you need to change what you are doing. How does that make you feel? But darned if the stranger isn’t right. The net is filled. It’s not a miracle. They simply do what he tells them to do. Sometimes we just need to change our whole approach. Start over. What’s he calling us to do?

He invites them over for breakfast. Nothing fancy. Nothing profound. Although it is profound that YHWH, Kyrios, the Lord wants to prepare a meal for us and invites us to sit down and join him. It’s all so every day. Common place. Anyone of us could and probably have at one time or another issued a similar invitation. He really just wants companionship – a word that literally means “with bread.” He wants us to join him in his mission of Divine Love for all people.

He fed 5,000 with a few loaves of bread. He said the bread is his body the night before he died. Now for his last meal with them, the really truly last meal with them, and it’s bread – and fish. When I told him about my exam answer, a friend, mentor and supporter of my life in seminary, The Reverend James Guinan, reflected on all this. “We often look in the wrong places for the Risen Lord. I believe He is present, most of all in the common place, the unexpected moments, the not-so-profound expressions, and which when seen are always a surprise!”

I can relate to a Jesus who takes the time to light a charcoal fire, cook up a few fish and some bread on the beach, and invite us all to “Come and have breakfast.” He’s not that complicated. After all, after breakfast he takes Peter aside to talk about “love” and “sheep.” Peter is just not getting it. Big surprise there! So, once again, Jesus boils it all down, this time to two simple words: “Follow me.” Tend my sheep, he says. Feed my sheep, he says. Follow me.

Sounds simple enough. Yet, from the looks of things, not many folks have given it much of a try. Following him, that is. Tending and feeding, that is. All the busy work of the Church and the nation tends to distract us from three simple messages here: Change what you’re doing; Come and have breakfast; Follow me. That’s it. In the midst of all the rest, mass shootings in churches, synagogues and mosques; reminders of the Holocaust; losing my two closest and faithful colleagues at St. Peter’s seven years ago this week; all the confusion and battling in D.C. Come and have breakfast are the words that bring me back to a place where I can begin again to follow him. To see him and to hear him. It’s as succinct a summary of the message of New Life in Christ that I know. Change what we’re doing. Come and have breakfast. Follow him. He is here to be seen and heard in the most surprising yet ordinary of circumstances.

He invites us, even now, to be his companions in The Way. Come. Come and have breakfast!