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.

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.

To Pierce So As To Live (Luke 2:22-40*)

An unlikely and sparse ‘family’ – Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna – assembles for the dedication of the new baby to God’s purpose early in Luke’s account. In common is a devout Jewish faith that opens them to mysterious promptings of the Spirit. They are two men, two women; two old, two young; two strangers, two intimates; two acting in obedience to the law of Moses, two moved by the Spirit; all 4 together blessing a singular young life to God.  Four, four, four, four, one.  It’s like a drumbeat that runs beneath the narrative revealing the many opposites held together in the unlikely community of Luke’s audience: a new family cast out of the old forms that brought them here, yet participant in the revelation of something immense that God is doing.

This kind of immensity is not cozy, but apocalyptic at both personal and social levels. The word revelation  (literally apocalypsis) occurs twice in this passage. While the simple meaning is to uncover what has been hidden, the effect of that uncovering shakes both inner and outer structures.

The apocalypse is first glimpsed in Simeon’s announcement that the long-promised salvation  of God  is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The ‘consolation of Israel’ for which Simeon has been waiting and praying as a Jewish man breaks open into a wider ‘we’ that includes Gentiles. It’s not a sullying of God’s chosen people, but a reflection of their radiance. It’s both beautiful and shattering in the way only Grace can be. The new wholeness and integration totally disrupts the old forms. While old Simeon wants simply to ‘depart in peace,’ those left to wrangle this new Way into being have a difficult work ahead of them.

So comes the word to the child’s Jewish mother, both Mary the individual mother of this particular child Jesus, and the ‘Jewish Mother’ of tradition through whose blood the people of the covenant have been defined to this point:

Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  (Luke 2:34-35)

This is the gift of God? It is.

The inner thoughts [literally dialogismos or the interior dialogue in which we ‘reckon up the reasons’ and come to conclusions] are the mental models that have preserved our life to bring us to this point of radical letting go. Can it be the nature of God to supply the meaning structures needed for growth and then to ask us to move beyond them for transformation?  Ask the caterpillar in the cocoon.

Yet, everything in us personally and socially screams, “No!” and the battle is joined. Jesus the Christ is “to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” What a job description! The struggle itself is the mechanism of grace that allows the deep work of the Holy to create a new thing with us and among us.

This Way is both costly and saving. What if this ‘piercing of the soul’ is to life, the way a living sperm pierces the integrity of an egg for creation of something new and greater than the sum of its parts? The old structures necessarily give way to allow the new life to bring its gift.

Perhaps in the dawning of the 8th day of creation that coincides with the turning of the civil year in the west, we can ask to have the inner thoughts of our hearts revealed for the purposes of Grace in our world today, and for the grace needed to allow the piercing of our souls toward new life. Now that’s a resolution!

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* This passage is one of the alternate readings for Christmas 1/ New Year’s Day in the year of Mark. Both second and fourth movements reveal aspects of the cost of the conscious journey.

And on the 8th Day … Happy New Year

January 1 was chosen to be New Year’s Day because it is the 8th day after December 25th. Recall that when January 1 was selected – December 25th was the Winter Solstice as well as Christmas Day. The symbol of the 8th Day had significance for Celt, Jew and Christian.

Celts: 8th Day post Winter Solstice – at the 8th Day it is evident to the naked eye that light grows and the Sun is in fact re-born.

Judaism: (from http://www.torahview.com/bris/html/8th_day.html )
The Importance of the Eighth Day for Circumcision
Almost without exception, the bris must be done on eighth day of the baby’s life. What is the significance of the eighth day? The world was created in seven days. Beyond the physical world – beyond seven days – is the eighth day, which represents the metaphysical, the spiritual. Since bris symbolizes taking the physical and elevatiing it to serve G-d, bris is done on the eighth day, a day that represents a level beyond physicality. Similarly, another explanation is that the number eight is composed of seven and one. Seven represents the world, which was created in seven days. One represents the one G-d who created this world. Eight, therefore symbolizes G-d’s absolute sovereignty over His world, and our service to Him. It is befitting then that the bris milah a commandment which reminds us that life’s purpose is to use the physical gifts that G-d gave us to serve Him, is performed on the eighth day. The number eight appears in many places in Judaism. Hannukah is a celebration of the Jewish Peoples victory over the Greeks, a nation whose ultimate goal was to extinguish spirituality. It is no wonder that the oil in the Menorah miraculously burned for eight days, since the number eight represents spirituality. Other examples of significant eights include the eight special garments the kohen gadol (High Priest) wore when serving in the Temple and the eight strands of the four corners attached to the corners of the Tallis (prayer shawl). Or Hachaim suggests another reason as to why the bris is on the eighth day. This assures that the baby has lived through one Shabbos (Sabbath). Once the baby has experienced the elevation from the secular weekday to the holiness of Shabbos, he is ready for the elevation of his physical body, the Bris.

Christianity: Sunday became known as the 8th Day. Judaism organizes its week in seven days with Shabbat (Seventh/Saturday) as the final day. Christians add to the seven days with one more. Since Jesus rose on a Sunday – this day is considered as Alpha and Omega. Sunday is the eighth day of the concluding week and the first day of the new week. In Christ, each Sunday is a not just a dedication to God, but an experience of resurrection – ourselves and the world being created anew. So on the 8th day after the Sun’s re-birth in the Northern Hemisphere (Winter Solstice), on the 8th Day of our lives being dedication to G-D, on the 8th Day of celebrating God’s incarnation, and on the 8th Day of all being created anew – we again mark an intent to live for G-d and Spirit. We rededicate ourselves as individuals and communities to live as resurrected people. We rededicate our selves to live in wider perspective and attitude than small minded ego desire and wants. We rededicate this day and this year to live as God’s very son and daughter – and as God’s people.

(Quadratos suggests this Lukan text (see below) for New Year’s day as the text addresses speaks the 8th Day. Note that Luke gives the 8th Day at Jesus’ circumcision and Transfiguration. He also notes the day of resurrection as the “first day of the week.” Luke’s text is a basis for Christians seeing Sunday – the day of resurrection – as an experience of Omega and Alpha – end and beginning.)

As the Western world prepares to enter its civil new year – reflect on what ways you would like to rededicate yourself to live from the perspective of Spirit. What intention will you make to not just receive the “news” as reported by media, friends, family etc – but to hear it from a deeper place? How will you choose to ponder life’s issues?

And as someone walking the Journey of Quadratos, consider an intent to spend more time each week pondering an issue, problem or conflict as an experience of one of the four spiritual paths – rather than being caught in our cultural view that issues are to be resolved and then move on.

New Year’s Day Gospel: Luke 2:15-21
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Whose Story? Luke 2:1-20

The wall calendar hanging in our parish office sports monthly cartoons relating to the church season. These cartoons, drawn by The Rev. Jay Sidebotham, offer a perspective that’s frequently tongue-in-cheek and always grounded in the realities of institutional church life. The December drawing shows a child sitting on Santa’s lap, saying “All I want for Christmas is a deeper understanding of the historicity of the infancy narratives in the synoptic gospels.” The thought-bubble over Santa’s head says “Let me guess—preacher’s kid.”

Our desire to pin down history—to figure out and hold onto exactly what happened—is perhaps most obvious in the stories we create about the key events of our lives. We encapsulate the critical moments of our lives into narratives that help us bear our sorrow, prolong our joy and find direction for the way forward. We bring the same process to the mysteries of our faith. As we approach Christmas, we’re surrounded by tales and events that blend Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels with local custom. Our Christmas narrative is a patchwork story that includes a star and a mother and a father and a donkey and an innkeeper and a baby and a manger and wise men and shepherds and sheep and goats and cows and horses and camels and singing and—frequently—a birthday cake.

We make a story that holds something for everyone, but the larger history that holds Luke’s narrative usually fades from our awareness. We forget that Luke’s gospel is seated in the brutal reign of Caesar Augustus. The wondering shepherds and cutely-costumed sheep of our pageants blur the reality of those who were outcasts. The lowly manger we celebrate in songs and tidy tableaus obscures the physical and spiritual poverty that colonial oppression brings to those outside the power structure. We sing of the holy night, but we forget how deep the darkness was in the land.

The story we create blurs the reality of the incarnation of the Christ who was and is and always will be, but the four chapters of the Gospel remind us of the presence of the Christ throughout the cycle of our lives. As the sun sets and we enter Christmas, Matthew’s genealogy reminds us of the radiance that’s always present, even in the darkest and most unsettling times. In the deepest night, when suffering surrounds us and the dawn seems far away, the angels announce hope to those who have forgotten how to hope. In the early hours, the outcast shepherds are drawn back into community as they welcome the birth of light. In the fullness of day, John’s prologue announces the radiance that is fully manifest in the light of day, leading us forward in God’s grace.

Each of the gospel stories, with their very different perspectives, have one thing in common: they each speak of the unexpected and unimaginable in a way that allows us humans a window into the inconceivable concept of God’s love—the very breath of God!—made fully present to us in the form of a human being. Each of these stories allows us a glimpse into the mystery of the incarnation. Each of these stories gives us a vision of the holy coming into the world in such a way that each of us can live into the story and make it our own.

May the radiance of the Christ be born again in each of us. May our stories help us carry the light of Christ into the world.