We Pray for What we Need: Easter 7

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17

A few thoughts on Jesus Prayer for Unity

Someone said that we pray for what we need. Jesus prayer here recorded in the Gospel of John is a prayer to heal a divided church. It is the prayer of the heart of Jesus that we may all be one even as Jesus and God are one. Jesus leaves us with this prayer for all time, in the midst of all conflict and dissension, in times when all is at peace and in times when there is violence.

A divided church is an abomination to the world outside the various communities to which we are a part. And yet we are often divided  over our interpretations of the words of Jesus, our emphasis of law over mercy, inclusion or exclusion, grace over works or where we sit in church. Still the 11 o’clock hour is the most segregated hour in North America, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us. Let’s face it we are broken, divided and in the least, an embarrassment to the Jesus who prayed for us to be one.

And yet, in over forty years of ministry, I have found myself enlivened and informed by Ecumenical and Interfaith gatherings. Sure there are embarrassing moments, we make many missteps, yet to see the shining faces of our brothers and sisters across race, class, ethnicity, and religious preference worshipping our various ideas of the One Infinite and Omnipresent God, is a thing of real and rare beauty.

 

Frank Cloherty

Early on in my ministry, Tess, my wife, received a call from the neighboring Roman Catholic priest.  “He wants to get together to discuss the recent Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogues,” she told me. “Wow” I said, “This is the first time a Roman Catholic Priest has called me.” I returned the call.

Frank Cloherty is a Diocesan priest and served, at the time in a neighboring parish a stones throw or two away. Frank already had in his possession a curriculum for the dialogues and so we set a date for our two congregations to meet and begin the discussions. Not only were the materials informative and historically fair to us Anglicans, it was a joy to sit with Frank and members of his congregation along with representatives from our small Episcopal parish and start to know each other.

Frank and I became best buddies. Ten years my senior, we took monthly trips into the mountains of New Hampshire. Before our ascent we’d place a six pack of beer in a cool mountain stream at the base of the trail. It was our way to celebrate our hard and exhilarating trek up and over Lafayette, Moosilauke, Cannon and many others.

He was also from my original home town, the place I was now living with my pregnant wife, and daughter. His sister-in –law Winnie Cloherty was instrumental in the struggle to keep the extension for I-95 from slicing through our part of the city. She and others paved the way to what is now a green belt with high- speed transit to and from the inner city to the southern suburbs.

When our son Christopher was born with Down Syndrome, Frank came and   celebrated at the church with Mark and Elizabeth Dyer,* while my wife and I, exhausted and still in shock, watched in a daze as our friends came to support us in the first days of our new life with our son.

It was not for our lack of trying that the dialogues didn’t bring about church unity. It was 1978 and women had recently been ordained into the Episcopal priesthood and Anglicans worldwide were just beginning to face the consequences of our more “progressive’ attitudes to a vast array of social issues. Nevertheless, Frank and I remained friends and so did some members of those two congregations.

And I remember Frank’s love of this section from the Gospel of John. For him and for others of us it was a kind of creed, an almost mystical way of holding the idea of the Church as One and all of us together as One. It is still the prayer of Jesus for the Church and for all of us whether we are appreciative or aware of it or not.

*Mark and Elizabeth Dyer were at the time pastoral assistants to the Bishop of Massachusetts. Elizabeth was ordained later and Mark was received from the Roman Catholic church and later became Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem (PA)

 

 

Ascension Day

Ascension Day: 

On the Mount of Olives, there is a walled field surrounded by people and Olive trees. In the middle of the field is a tower that Christians erected long ago to honor the sight where the Christ was ascended and to which we expect he will sooner or later return. A stone slab in the center of the tower is the spot where the Christ’s foot last touched the earth. The Christians built the tower without a roof. Later the Muslims came and covered the tower. Whether the roof was to impede Christ’s return or to protect the stonework, I don’t know.

What I do suspect is that Christ will, as Christ usually does, find a way in, roof or not. Doesn’t seem to me he needs to return through that tower. He’s been breaking through the locked doors of our lives, anywhere and anytime, for a long while now.

 

The Unbounded Man: For the 6th Sunday of Easter

“…the Father is greater than I.’’ John’s Gospel:14: 23-29

Student: “Where can I find God?”

Rabbi: “You will find god where you let god in.” 

Whew! Am I relieved.  Jesus is saying the Father is greater than He is because He is human, embodied. He is the same flesh, blood, tissue and brain as we are. He is subject to time, physical and emotional needs, culture, religion, politics, human relationships, all that which contributes to making a human a part of his or her world. As long as He lives in a human body He is a bound man or woman. We are like Him, constrained by the very fact of our biological existence.. 

And while our fathers and our generation has “slipped the surly bonds of earth …and put out (our) hands and touched the face of God,”* the journey outward to the heavens has also always been an inner one.

What makes Jesus different from many of us is that he has found the way to “let God In”. He has found the place where there is little or no separation between time and eternity, the particular and the infinite, his own being; the sad and happy soul who is God’s beloved Child and God.

In the fifty days of Easter, Jesus is no longer bounded by time or his body. He keeps on showing up to the disciples and even now he seems to keep on showing up with those of us who trust Him. He becomes the door through which we can look into the face of God and to not be blinded by the light.

God can “get in” in a billion ways. God is wise and imaginative beyond our comprehension. It is helpful for me to be able to see God through Jesus. He focuses the abundant and ever-expanding idea of God in a particular person. God permits himself to be grounded for this short span of time so we might witness what God has in mind for a perfect human being. Would any of us still believe unless we had witnessed that perfected reflection of Jesus in so many of those who follow in his steps: the self-giving ones, the compassionate, those who walk humbly with God and who desire justice much tempered with mercy?

In Boston and in Newtown, wherever there is need, we are drawn like bees to blossoms by those who give of themselves out of compassion. In such ways we give God entry and are enticed to live with more and more skillful compassion.

 

*Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth Of sun-split clouds-and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace, Where never the lark, nor even eagle flew – And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod The high, untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee (1922-1941) A Canadian Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain

The 19 year old Canadian captured the spirit of the age in his Ode to flight. Blessings on him and all who fly into space and into the heart of God.

 

Conversations with Jesus, Real and Imagined

In John’s Gospel, John 10; 22-30, Jesus dialogues with the Pharisees about his identity. This is in part a continuation of that dialogue.

The Pharisees were vigilant about exposing pretenders and religious fanatics.If there was a school to which Jesus belonged, it was that of the Pharisees. They were the reformers who wanted a more prophetic image of God. They argued with the Temple authorities over how best to serve and honor a God of mercy, justice and compassion.

The Pharisees are the ancestors of the Rabbinic School that moved out from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple and to this day continue Judaism in the Synagogue and through family gatherings.

By the time of John’s gospel, the Temple has been destroyed and both Jews and the early followers of Jesus were trying to find ways to survive in the midst of an often oppressive Roman Empire.

The Pharisees often get a bad rap in the Gospels and especially in the Gospel of John …

We in the Church are certainly descendants of the Pharisees through both Jesus and Paul. As Pharisees we ask questions. We want to know if Jesus is the Messiah, or not. The people in John’s account don’t what to know if Jesus is the Messiah. They’ve already made up their minds. He isn’t.

How are we ever to come to a faith that will carry us through the times we have lived through in our lives, in this last week? How can we believe that there is a Shepherd, who already knows us and protects us? These are questions the rabbis, priests and people of faith have struggled with all our lives and for thousands of years before we were born.

So rather than give a long and painful theological dissertation on these issues, I had what I call my conversations with Jesus: real or imagined that I’d like to risk sharing with you. Let there be no question of my sanity. I give you part of a recent conversation with Jesus that I have the temerity to report.

Me. “Who are you anyway, Jesus?”

Jesus:  “That’s the big question. Who do you say that I am?”

Me.  “So you answer a question by asking another question? Always turning the tables. Great. How can I answer you? I know that I think I love you. I grew up with stories about you. I’ve placed your life over my life like a window. I look through your life, your birth, your temptation, baptism, call, the organizing of a community, your suffering death and resurrection, your wonderful and complicated relationships with the members of your inner circle, with women, with your mother. Your father, I’m not kidding. It’s been my way of looking into my own being, to see my life through yours.

Jesus: “So whose life are you living?”

Me: “Another question. When are you going to give me an answer? Yes it’s my life. At least now it is. It’s not always been mine. I spent many years living someone else’s idea of what my life should be. Good call. Now I think I’ve got it straight.

Who do you say that I am?  I don’t know? Were you there in Boston, were you with those who died, the ones who lost limbs? I have so many questions. Will you give me an answer?

Jesus: “Was I there for you when you were alone and pain? In sorrow and discouragement.”

Yes.

Jesus: “Then, yes I was with them. I held them in my arms; I took them to me and gave them what comfort I could. I sent medical personnel. Do you think they get their love for healing because it’s a good job and pays well? They do it out of love, from a desire of the heart to bring relief to those who suffer. That day I sent a whole word of compassion to those who suffered and I continue to send healing to those who are left with scars.

What of evil?

Each of us has the capacity for evil when we turn away from our relationships with each other, when we start to see others as its and them. Then we refuse to see my face in the face of the other.

Look, Bob, I’ve known you before you were in your mother’s womb, I call you by name. Sometimes you just don’t listen, you are hard of hearing, and stubborn. Sometimes when you do listen you are a symphony, a flight of robins, the wailing of Rachel for her lost children.

Me: I was speechless.

Finally I replied. What do you want of me?

Jesus: “Tell those beautiful folks in Randolph what we talked about. Tell them that when they are discouraged or in pain to read the psalm you read today, you know Psalm 23: the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need. …

Tell them that it’s not important what you believe in your head as much as it is to have a relationship with me. Time to sit and be still and know that I have known you since before you were born and that you are my beloved child……

And tell them to love one another as I love them. Because this way the world will know that you are my disciples. Love one another….

And don’t be so hard on those Pharisees; we have plenty of the best and the worst of them in the church. My big dispute with the Pharisees was over their spiritual pride. But I was, and still am a Jew and so are they. Treat them with love and respect.

By the way, Jesus said, did I tell you the one about the Rabbi who was having trouble in his synagogue…Yeah I said, “.Even then you were arguing”.

Then I laughed and Jesus did too.

And then I knew.

 

Conversations with Jesus, Real and Imagined. Easter 4

In John’s Gospel, John 10; 22-30, Jesus dialogues with the Pharisees about his identity. This is in part a continuation of that dialogue.

The Pharisees were vigilant about exposing pretenders and religious fanatics. If there was a school to which Jesus belonged, it was that of the Pharisees. They were the reformers who worked and witnessed for a return to the more prophetic images of God. The Pharisees, as was Jesus, disputed the Temple authorities over how best to serve and honor a God of mercy, justice and compassion. The Pharisees are the ancestors of the Rabbinic School that moved out from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple and continues Judaism in the Synagogue and family gatherings. By the time of John’s gospel, the Temple has been destroyed and both Jews and the early followers of the Jesus way were each trying to find ways to survive in the midst of an often oppressive Roman Empire. The Pharisees often get a bad rap in the Gospels and especially in the Gospel of John …

We in the Church are certainly descendants of the Pharisees through both Jesus and Paul. As Pharisees we ask questions. We want to know if Jesus is the Messiah, or not.

I don’t only know Jesus through the Gospels, but through prayer and meditations which often take the form of conversations, real or imagined. “What would Jesus say?” is a part of my prayer. Here’s part of a recent conversation that I have the temerity to report.

The conversation:

Me. “Who are you anyway, Jesus?”

Jesus: “That’s the big question. Who do you say that I am?”

Me. “So you answer a question by asking another? I love you because you show me the human heart of the compassionate God. I see the God in and through and around you that moves over the whole creation like the first breath. And still lives as a human willing to live life fully into life through death into new life. I see the God in you who is willing to hang in there with us in all the joy and trial of living.”

Jesus. “It is enough. If you were to believe in the beauty of the flight of a Chickadee, it would be enough, for in such believing it would lead you into seeing the holy in all things.”

Me. “Can I believe then that you and the Father/Mother are one?”

Jesus. “ I’m glad you put it that way. The feminine is left out of much of Christianity. What’s so hard to believe about that? Sure we are. While I was with you on earth I was limited in my ability to discern of the great heart and mind of the Creator. That was the price and joy of being human. Yet, I was able to participate in God’s vision for creation through giving myself permission to BE in God’s presence. Now I’m taken up into the heart of God’s spaciousness. We are of the same substance; all of us on the earthly planet contain the substance of the holy. We are one with God, as much as we desire and take time to be with God and practice that love with our neighbors. While I was with you, part of my journey was to be fully human while holding fast to my connection with my Abba. That’s why I gave the prayer: Abba, Father, in heaven…” So that when you sought to be in God’s presence you could say this prayer and be there.“

Me. “Are you God?”

Jesus. “God is in and through and around me. God has breathed God’s breath into my being. In that sense I am God. I am in God as one who has been blessed with power to heal, to open the eyes of the blind, release the captive and to announce the jubilee year. In fact I am a good Pharisee.”

Me “What can I do?”

Jesus. “Besides to love one another, tell those who know me that I am a Jew, that I was born and died a Jew. It is out of the desert and out of bondage that I continue to walk with my people. They are still my chosen people. As for the Pharisees the church you have created in my name is at times the embodiment of what is best and also what was worst in us. In fact, all human systems have the same perpetual dispute as to who is in and who is out, over what the by-laws are, what rituals will be performed, the place of the Divine. What system of law they will incorporate and how it will be interpreted. Our arguments seem to be over the details, the fine print.”

Me. “What about the negative place of the Pharisees in the Gospels?”

Jesus. “That was and is still a family dispute. We love each other, but we can’t stop arguing. The main point of it all is this: ‘Little children Love one another as I have loved you. By this the world will know that you are my disciples.’ And take it easy on my family. I love them too.”

Then he looked at me, and told me a joke.

It was in the laughter…

I knew.

Love Me? Feed My Sheep.

3rd Sunday of Easter:
Do you love me? Do you Love me? Do you LOVE me? Then feed my sheep.
My grandmother brought flowers from the altar to the homebound. I was around seven years old and she brought me with her one dismal winter morning. We entered the apartment of an elderly woman bedridden with some illness which incapacitated her. The room had a dusty sheer curtain over one large window. In the middle of the room was a bed and table. The bedside table was littered with unwashed dishes and other litter which the woman was unable, because of her weakness, to remove. A sink was on the other side of the room filled to capacity with dishes. The floor was bare. With no space on the table for the flowers, my grandmother, proceeded to clear the table, found a container, placed the altar flowers on the table and then went to the sink and washed the dishes. I can’t remember what I was doing. Probably observing in stunned silence as I watched my tiny grandmother roll up her sleeves and go to work. After she finished she came back to the bed, sat there and held the woman’s hand.
An enduring model for ministry: Bring flowers, wash the dishes, and hold a dying woman’s hand. While you’re at it, fix a meal.

Margaret Mead, the renowned anthropologist, observed Christians behaving badly in New Guinea.
The various denominations came into the island and began competing with each other for the souls of the people. The natives of the Island observed that there was nothing attractive about the Jesus the churches claimed to follow.
When Roman Catholic nuns arrived, they established a hospital and a school to teach the people. It seems to me the Sisters had the right idea.
“Do you love me? Feed my lambs.” Jesus

2nd Easter, Can’t figure how to keep Jesus from Showing Up.

There’s nothing wrong with the doubtful mind. It makes distinctions, protects the ego, questions authority. It’s when I find my heart seizes up and closes down and stops letting the river flow; that I find I get into trouble. Each day,it seems, becomes a challenge to stay awake and open to wonder.

Here’s a quote from Raimon Panikkar that helps me: “I am one with the source insofar as I act as a source by making everything I have received flow again-just like Jesus.” photo (1)

Easter Sunday.

When Eddie Wiggin showed up, none of us knew he was coming. Eddie is the son of a parishioner who was, until the time of his death, a very active and beloved member of the congregation. Their son Eddie was born with Down syndrome and when he first was born he was sheltered, hidden from the congregation, until a former priest of the church said, “Bring him to church.” He learned to serve at the altar, skills that I was impressed he had’nt forgotten.

Eddie was pressed into service. The banner that his parents gave to the church was taken down and he carried it in procession. But he could not see in front of him so he had to be guided by Ed Hammond, an older man also with Down syndrome, into the church. The moment was priceless. The two could not see and so the last of the procession inched forward while the front of the procession had already arrived at the sanctuary. Up the aisle walked the young crucifer and torch bearers in front of the full choir, while Eddie, Ed, Jim Wilson, the associate priest, and I trailed along behind Eddie to the singing of Jesus Christ is Risen today.

It was a holy moment, one that I had not anticipated. I know there were some who were dismayed at the slow pace of our banner bearers. Certainly they had their points. I was terribly spontaneous sometimes and enlisting the inexperienced Ed into the procession was a stretch. And yet his father had recently died in the hospital while I stood beside him with the doctor, an orthodox Jew, as we shut off the life support and we each held a hand while his heartbeat slipped away, his stepmother in the emergency room bed only twenty feet away.

So when Eddie showed up, there was a rightness to have their son carry the banner that was given by them to the church. I walked entranced by the sheer poignancy of the event. The music continued until the two banner carriers reached the front of the church, and we clergy found out places.

We could have gone home. It was enough, another homely incursion of Jesus through the locked doors of our hearts, breaking in to show us that what we do now is filled with the life of those who have gone before and those who will come after.

And yet that day and so many times before and after, Jesus walked with us, slowly almost painfully coming with us up the aisle, walking with the two Eddies, two fragile ones with good souls, leading the clergy,

“So there are times when we are the church and times we are akin to those frightened disciples behind bolted doors. And it is to that church also, to which the risen Christ comes. The risen Christ comes and says “Peace be with you.” And tells them he is sending them out into the world to be his hands and feet, wounded and yet holy instruments of the living God. Then he breathes on them, giving them the Holy Spirit, bestowing on them the power to forgive sins.

Church is a gift from a God who refuses to leave us be. God comes to us. God’s presence makes the church. To the church who has nothing, Christ gives everything: Spirit, Mission, and Forgiveness. Church isn’t my hard work, your earnest effort, our long range planning. Church is a gift, a visitation, an intrusion of the living Christ standing among us.*

*The last paragraph is inspired by Tom Long..