Caught Between Two – Desiring to See Beyond

This coming Sunday marks the fifth Sunday of our Great 100 Day Retreat and Festival on our way to a new Pentecost. And the text is familiar to many – a father with two sons and the younger one asking for and squandering his inheritance. Then he returns to his parent who extends more than mercy while his older brother is seemingly resentful of his father’s generosity and compassion.

Two pieces change our reflection from the usual. Through the Quadratos lens – we understand that this parable is one about our maturing in service. Second – since it is placed deep within our communal retreat – we also know it is intended to serve a reflection and examination of “us” – and our willingness to be servants to each other and all.

Think of the text as an “opera” where each character speaks to a part of us – individually and together. Who in you and amongst us acts the wise, compassionate and generous parent? Who acts like a total free and impulsive spirit? Who acts rule bound and burdened by responsibility? What is the tenor of your “discussion” between free spirit and rule bound?

This parable deepens us in the Transfiguration text that opened our Great 100 Days. Here we have the younger and older on either side of the Christ. We might consider how we each and collectively need to keep our eyes and heart on the Christ’s compassion and generosity. Otherwise we fall into a trap that moves us away from Love – impulsive living only for today – or becoming rule bound expecting an overburdened sense of responsibility to be rewarded.

How has this opera played in your heart, your marriage, your family and of course your spiritual community?

Thoughts, sharings, reflections – yes, no and maybe are welcome here.

Line from our communal prayer for this week: “…and to thirst for Truth beyond what we believe.”

For those in sermon/homily prep – recall that each of these Sunday texts refer to the Sunday text in Cycle A. This Sunday in Cycle A is about inner blindness and the Legal Ones (Pharisee) who do not thirst to see beyond their own belief system.

Pruning Enlightenment (John 15:1-8, 5th Sunday of Easter)

My yard calls me outside every weekend with its tangle of lush, wild growth. It’s spring, just as it’s spring in the joy of the fifty-day Festival of Easter. Does that mean it’s time to spring into action? Not yet. It’s time to BE – to be embedded in the great miracle and mystery of the oneness we share in the living vine of Christ and to allow God to do the necessary tending of the body we are together. The I AM is expressed in the well-pruned we are of the one body.

Contrary to how ‘enlightenment’ is  often seen in modern American culture – an achievement signaling arrival at the pinnacle – this  new dawning of light simply signals another season of growth. Awakening to our essential unity and gifting for the work of God in the world does not mean we are ready to enact it. The old ways of seeing and being still lie close at hand, something like the phantom limbs in the body  memory of an amputee.  It takes times for the new reality to penetrate our life together. Without that time, we run the risk of pouring the new energy and perception into old forms that serve the small self.

Rather than being purified into enlightenment, our enlightenment needs purification. In the same way a living grapevine needs pruning over and over again throughout its productive life, so does our common life. That’s the wisdom of the great, repeating cycle of Quadratos. The annual practice of praying Lent as our communal story opens into Easter, awakening and reawakening us to the essential unity we already are. In the words of Thomas Merton, “We are already one.  But we imagine that we are not.  And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we already are.” (The Asian Journal).

The practices of the journey plant us in the soil of ongoing life in which we touch and retouch that deep truth. To bear fruit out of this truth, we need a master gardener who knows well the art of pruning. Growth is to be disciplined (the same root as the word disciple) rather than being left to its own natural state. Not all shoots are equal; the question is which ones will bear the most fruit and the fruit of highest quality in a particular environment. Why? The new life given is not merely for our own building up but is fuel for eventual service in a hungry world. First, our enlightenment needs pruning.

Rather like steps 6 and 7 step of the 12 step process, the work of pruning is God’s work, not ours. It is the nature of our personal and communal life that we are unable to assess what has ultimate value. The annoying shoot we would lop off may be what is most needed for the eventual health and productivity of the Body in a changing world. Following honest self examination and confession of how it is with us (something like the work of the annual Lenten retreat), the 6th step says simply “Were entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character.” This is followed by step 7, “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.” Our part is to allow ourselves to be acted upon by BEING ready and then asking God for the necessary pruning.

Our primary work in this season of Easter joy is to abide, a word that appears eight times in four verses. Throughout the Festival season, we are to dwell in the Gift we have received, trusting the pruning of the Spirit to reveal what in us is gift and what needs to be let go or refined. Trust is key; there is no need for hyper-vigilance. The pruning is not a radical rooting out as much as attentiveness to creative purpose: “You have already been cleansed [pruned] by the word [Logos] that I have spoken to you.” The Logos is a living word that creates afresh with us for good beyond what we can now see. What we can ‘do’ in the meantime is to abide in our essential and newly reclaimed unity. Definitions of the word abide (μένω or menō in Greek) all resonate with the need to remain, to tarry, to continue to be. Most especially in this season we are to remain as one, not to become another or different oneness.” (Strong’s G3306)

What a charge! In this season, brothers and sisters in the One Body, let us stay, tarry, remain, BE who we already are, trusting the loving hand of the Gardener to shape us together toward a greater fruitfulness than we can now imagine.

How will we know his voice? John 10:11-18

With the image of the Good Shepherd, Jesus asserts his connection with his disciples which nothing can sever. Unlike the hired hand who has no investment in or true concern for those in her care, Jesus makes the ultimate sacrifice for his friends. He gives up his life so that they may live. He willingly handed himself over so that we could finally know God’s unconditional love.

As we rest in John’s garden during the Easter season, we are being asked to receive this love, to bask in the Son’s glorious fullness. For it is only as we know this love  that we may become unconditional love for others.

In the garden we cultivate the solitude that will let us recognize the “still, small voice” when we hear it.

Two men were walking along a crowded sidewalk in a downtown business area. Suddenly one exclaimed, “listen to the lovely sound of that cricket.” But the other could not hear. He asked his companion how he could detect the sound of a cricket amidst the din of people and traffic. The first man, who was a zoologist, had trained himself to listen to the voices of nature. But he didn’t explain. He simply took a coin out of his pocket and dropped it to the sidewalk, whereupon a dozen people began to look about them. “We hear,” he said,” what we listen for.” As we listen for and hear God’s voice, we will find ourselves being shaped in ways that we would not necessarily have chosen for ourselves. We will find ourselves becoming who God intends for us to be and thus becoming more fully ourselves.

Who are we listening for in the silence of John’s garden?

Now the Festival – Celebrate Our Gifts

It’s that time of year, Springime and the Festival that follows weeks of retreat and our 72 Hours of rejoicing. Yet for many this is also a time to get away and relax. Sun and warmth are returning. The garden blooms (Northern Hemisphere). And the long intense reflections of the retreat (lent) are behind. To add to our daydreaming, the gospel texts in this Festival Season (Eastertide) are largely poetic and mystical. This week’s text from Luke is a lone exception. So using the Quadratos lens – how are we to understand our spiritual life in this Festival Season and through this Sunday’s text?

Let’s remember that through Quadratos we are noting a pattern of grace undergirds our lives. If our weeks of retreat and the 72 Hours of rejoicing have been true – then what naturally follows is a moment where we name and affirm our gifts and giftedness. This week’s text asks us to look at ourselves as Jesus. And to use what Jesus does as a way to see and understand our gifts – individually and collectively.

In the retreat (Lent) we reflected on that within and amongst us that is broken, hurt and separated. Now in the Festival season, we look at what in us is gift and gift offered to others. To see these more clearly – we need to reflect on how Jesus ministers – and how we are like ministers in our daily life. To see the Festival texts as a mirror to how we act as Jesus is a large change for us. And in part this new focus is what I mean by looking at the text as it informs the season rather than the text’s meaning in the scripture. As I continue to raise up for clergy. Through Quadratos, we preach the text as the meaning it has in this Season and its spiritual practice. This is far different than preaching the message of the text as it appears in the scripture.

With a Quadratos focus – let us consider the passage for this coming Sunday. How might we see our giftedness in what Jesus does, says and how he acts? The core piece here is that Jesus stands amidst confusion and fear – perhaps even disbelief and anxiety and offers “shalom.” Recall that we are understanding shalom as a greeting that says: We welcome your wrestling and if held in respect – see wrestling as the fertile soil of wider harmony with each other and with the One Breath of All – our God.

Another piece of this text – the resurrected Jesus is “ordinary.” He has hands and feet and is hungry. This is an important lesson for we who perhaps touched some form of exaltation at Easter. Our work now is to see that “exalted joy” as a grace that lives in the lowly ordinary and humdrum work of life.

When we read Luke’s text of Jesus showing his hands and feet – we need to remember that this text is composed at least ten years before the text of John. We too easily confuse Jesus showing hands and feet to mean the physical scars left from his cruxifixion. In context of this passage – there is nothing here to say that. What we see here is Jesus affirming ordinary bodily life including hunger. Those with him probably knew his hands and his feet. They were body parts well observed. So the focus here is on the usual and the bodily – not necessarily the “marks” which are only pointed out in John.

Now some two weeks from our great rituals of rejoicing – has our Alleluia turned stale from our return to everyday ordinary life. This text asks us to look beneath the veneer of the ordinary to see the glorious. It also asks us to reflect on how we are Jesus. Where are the places of fear and confusion and anxiety – that we are called to calmly step into and speak “shalom”? The peace that we are to bring is not a peace of another time or day – but rather that we can be well in the very midst of our wrestlings.

As we chant in The 72 Hours of Easter – over and over – “Jesus is Risen. Death is No More.” Yes, in the midst of contentious days in spiritual traditions, in Christianity, in great political strife and confusion – we sing, “Shalom” to every wrestling. It is not the wrestling that removes us from the Harmony of our God – but it is our anxiety and confusion over the wrestling. How may you be Jesus this week in the midst of startle, fright, terror and doubt? In the way you bring Shalom to such – this is your gift. Celebrate it – celebrate us!

Luke 24:36b-48 (NRSV translation)
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish,and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

“Why are you standing there looking up into the sky?” [Acts 1:11]

[This week’s readings are posted below.]

One disadvantage to focusing on a short reading each week is that we can lose sight of the larger story as it unfolds.  I am indebted this week to one of my mentors, Dr. Aaron Milavec, for pointing out that in this scene in the locked room, Jesus seemingly overlooks his having been abandoned by the Twelve.  They, of course are too ashamed to bring it up.  “But,” Milavec continues, “nothing has changed.  Jesus recalls his mission and their mission. [Jn.20:21]  The one and the other both override failure.  He believes in them!  And that is enough….”

Yet as we read the story as it continues in Acts, the disciples response to Jesus’ ascension is to “stand there looking up at the skies.” [Acts 1:11]  Sixteenth-century painter Hans Suess von Kulmbach (The Ascension of Christ)  provides a fitting—and you may find humorous—visual metaphor for the hazard posed also by Thomas’ persistent doubting [Jn.20:27]  Thomas has missed the meeting.  He is still stuck in his unbelief.  Jesus challenges him, “Stop persisting in your doubting. Believe!”  (One might be tempted to add, “Believe! –There’s work to be done!”)

“As our Abba God has sent me, so I am sending you” is a clear call to action—particularly with the disciples having been given the Holy Spirit to go forth with and within them.  Belief is only a first step, not the ultimate arrival point.

Action without belief can be pointless, directionless.  But belief without action is deadly, particularly for the church today.  Note, however, that this is not a polarity. Belief is braided together with action. Both are essential to the task at hand.  “…So I am sending you” means taking up the work of Jesus himself.  And it is not just an individual calling.  Now the community is to stand in the place of Jesus, continuing his work.  (John 17 speaks eloquently of how we, like Jesus, are now no longer of the world, but sent into it, to serve the same continuing purpose.)

Our first reading today [Acts 4:32-37] tells of the new church sharing all resources in common, being of one mind and one heart.  Some believers, for example, sell their property and give the proceeds to the whole body, so that the basic needs of all the believers are met. This is truly belief put into action!


John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of the first day of the week [the same day when Mary Magdalene had brought news of Jesus’ resurrection to the other deciples] the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Temple authorities.  Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”   20 He then showed them his hands and side, the marks of crucifixion. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw him.

21 Jesus said again, “Peace be with you! As our Abba God has sent me,  so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus–‘the twin’), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen Jesus!”

But he said to them, “Unless I put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand in his side wound, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the locked room again, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, examine my hands. Put your hand into my side.    Don’t persist in your unbelief!  Believe.”

28Thomas responded to him, “My Savior and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “You have become a believer because you have seen me; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples  which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written to help you believe[or continue to believe] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Only Begotten, so that by believing you may have life in his name.

Acts 4:32-37

32 All the believers were of one mind and one heart. None of them claimed that any of their possessions was their own; instead they shared everything they had. 33  The apostles continued to testify with great power to the resurrection of the Jesus Christ, and God’s grace was powerfully at work in them all. 34 No one among them was needy.  From time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the proceeds, 35 and put the money at the apostles’ feet.  It was then distributed to anyone who had need.  36 There was a certain Levite from Cyprus named Joseph–the apostles had given him the name Barnabas, meaning ‘encourager.’  37 He sold a farm that he owned and made a donation, presenting the money to the apostles.