A wise man of another faith tradition once told me to hold life and things like a precious teacup. Do not put it on a shelf worried to use it - or break it. Use it daily: love it. Then if one day it happens to fall and shatter you will have enjoyed it completely.
It is actually a story about impermanence. In Christianity that is not a common term, but instead we speak about inheriting the eternal Kingdom vs the World; about Spiritual things and temporal things; or about Spirit vs Flesh; About grass that withers and Treasures in Heaven.
Jesus teaches us the story of the “rich fool” to help us see how ridiculous it is for us to store up possessions. They are impermanent. They are earthly. They are susceptible to moths and rust.
But he also tells this story in quite an interesting fashion: The man has this awkward internal dialogue with his self. He doesn’t look to God or the community for answers. Instead he is completely self-reliant for inspiration, advice, and comfort. He also doesn’t look to make his life rich towards others. He isn’t thinking about the community, and he seems to be confusing his eternal soul with his temporal self.
The suffering of our temporal self is the topic of the Letter to the Colossians in which Paul reminds us to “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” These are manifestations of suffering. “But now you must get rid of all such things-- anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. To paraphrase Jesus, it is not what goes in the mouth but what comes out that profanes us.
And Returning to the teacup metaphor: In the chapter of Luke just leading up to this one, Jesus says,“Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” The passions are what hurt us when we are attached to outcomes and things: When we prioritize stuff over the “stuff of life” (Living)! Luke 12 actually has a theme about letting go; not worrying about what we will wear and what we will eat. He says 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[b]?
The World offers us so much candy. Like kids in a candy store we walk through life obsessed with things we can’t have. Or once we've gained them, then we worry incessantly about them: how to store them, insure them etc. We suffer when we are attached to things that disappear, break, wear out, what is temporal. And we fight over them.
Jesus is asking us to be “rich toward God.” So what does that mean to you? If God is Love, then to be rich toward God, always means to be rich toward one another and God’s Creation: The Living. Jesus models a life of celebration, living fully: of turning water into wine, of deep conversations with disciples and friends, engaging in theological arguments with those he disagreed with - all usually over meals. How do you wish to be like Jesus?
One of my friends is discerning to become a religious. She is taking her first vows in the order of St. Margaret in the RC church. One of my classmates at GTS and fellow priest (ordained with me) has also been an Episcopal nun for twenty-five years. They have a particular call to Poverty. That is how they feel called to be “rich in God.” They are uninhibited by collecting things - And there is massive freedom in it!They can give to the community without the burden of things - and all of the emotions and worry that go along with having "stuff."
You and I do not need to give up marriage and belongings, but it is interesting to get into the mindset that there is freedom in letting go. There is freedom from grasping, clinging, storing up, and worrying!
Jesus even said this about himself: When he was in the garden after rising from the tomb, he said to Mary Magdalene “Don’t cling to me.”
He also told the disciples, “I must leave you so the Holy Spirit can come.” In letting go there is freedom to LOVE even greater in the moment.
In letting go as Paul says, “you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”
We may not have to give everything away, but remember to practice attention and love to what is living. That is being rich toward God. Love people fully while you have them, so that you are assured - and they are that you’ve appreciated them. That is being rich toward God.
Use your gifts while you have them. Don’t hide your light under a bushel!
That is being Rich toward God
So when the grass withers and the Tea Cup Breaks…You have enjoyed it thoroughly, lovingly, richly!
Jesus said, “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you…”
The disciples ask Jesus, how do we pray?! Teach us!
The solution Jesus provides is to be persistent in our quest for the Spiritual Life and to Trust. If it was just a matter of listing off the things we want or don’t want it wouldn’t be necessary to teach prayer or to practice it. We are not talking about praying for material things, but about spiritual things. Jesus pairs this with a teaching that shows the expansive love of God. He compares God to a very loving parent who is responsive. As Fr. Mike said last week, “God is so expansive. God offers so much more in generosity and Love than we can imagine.”
In our story about the child’s request, we are told:
God will not hold back if you ask, and God will not give you something harmful on purpose.* Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t say if your child asks you for an egg you will give an egg. He says, “You will not give a scorpion. You know how to give good gifts.”
But we may not always recognize the gifts of the Spirit if we have pre-conceived ideas of what they are. The Gospel today is a lot about prayer and about trust. Have you ever heard the story of the
fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.”
The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.”
So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.”
The stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.”
To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”
Good Gifts, right?!
But the man was in fact expecting something else.
How often we project an image, an idea, a scenario that is…just that: a projection?
And we do not trust.
The disciples are asking Jesus how to pray for a couple of reasons: It is a turning point in the Gospel because the disciples are being told they will not always have Jesus with them. They’ve been told a few times now. So In this prayer he is giving them a loving and consoling image; reassuring they can trust God when he is no longer with them.
This community in Luke was part of the Greco-Roman World and the Christian Community that had grown up there had separated from Judaism. They were becoming an independent cult without the protection of the long standing Jewish community in the area. Just outside of Palestine in somewhat urban areas, they were more at risk from the Roman authorities. To the Lucan ears, Jesus was asking them to TRUST the father in such uncertain times.
As the teaching goes on he lets us know just how loving this father is by comparing him to us saying: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
I have a particular objection to the translation here that Jesus called his disciples evil. The word in Greek used here for Evil is also translated as Slothful. Something tells me that this is a much clearer interpretation of the message Jesus is conveying particularly because his parable is about a guy who is sleeping and doesn’t want to get up to help his friend.
While we can’t really relate to being Evil. We can easily relate to being lazy at times. Sometimes our inner values are not always at the forefront of our activity. We know we love our families and friends more than anything. Of course I would do anything for you….“But you want me to get out of bed and do what for you…now?!” We do it, but our very initial instinctual response is to ourselves and our own comfort. Jesus give us a pretty basic example.
But you can see how that dynamic might play out in much greater patterns in our lives. It takes some discipline at first to recognize what our spiritual priorities are. Then it takes practice to really being attuned and attentive to them; to making our priority be our first instinct!
"Knock and the door shall be open to you. Search and you shall find."
So what does the Lord’s Prayer have to do with this saying? Why might Jesus pair these teachings?
For the early Christians, and for those who practice the daily office, the Lord’s Prayer is said three times a day. And we recite it at every service. We are persistent. Jesus is teaching that Prayer is what sustains us.
Second: I think it’s very important that we are asking collectively.
We do not say:
Give me this day my daily bread
Forgive me my trespasses
We are praying as a people.
And we are not praying:
my kingdom come my will be done…
St. Gregory of Nyssa a Bishop in the mid 300s speaks specifically to this collective. He relates the Lord’s Prayer to the world’s need. For us to have our daily bread means that for me to have my daily bread means for everyone to be receiving it too. He tells us the Lord’s prayer is about the healing of relations.
And this is easy to see if we look at it line by line:
The Kingdom of Peace
Nourishment for all
Forgiveness of self and others.
Jesus is reminding the disciples they are a community: “a community which faces an unknown future in which their task is to build up and hold the Christian community together. Jesus’s assures that the heavenly Father will generously give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks. Prayer created and sustained the community in early 1st century Palestine at its origins…and it created and sustained community in the late 1st century gentile world”(1) in which Luke is writing. And Prayer is what continues to sustain us today in our own uncertain World.
What is the future of our Christian Community going to look like for one another and bettering this World? Do we have expectations? Will we recognize the good gifts?
On the Global level: This summer is the Lambeth Conference which occurs every ten years where members of the Anglican Communion come together to pray and make decisions about the future of our Church. There are 185 million of us in 165 countries.
On the National Level, we just finished General Convention that occurs every three years to make resolutions and decisions about the Episcopal Church.
On the Diocesan level this fall we will be electing a New Bishop.
And on a personal level we will be making decisions about the future of St. Paul’s.
This year is a great reminder of how expansive our lives in God are… and how connected we are across the Globe. Our church leaders have asked us for our prayers. Jesus gave us our instructions. And we are persistent in so many languages. Next time you say the Lord’s prayer imagine the chorus of trust ringing out of the mouths and hearts of millions.
1. Moira Izatt (http://www.shizuoka-eiwa.ac.jp/media/kiyou11-03.pdf) July 23, 2022
Our reading from the Old Testament may sound very harsh to us. Amos is prophesying the destruction of Israel with pretty tough language!
He begins by attributing God as saying:
“See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel”
I imagine most of you are familiar with plumb lines. In construction they help us be sure our vertical construction is “right." Amos conveys that God is going to make things “right” among the people. It is appropriate to use a construction metaphor, as he’s talking about building the kingdom of God. But all of the destruction that follows rather than construction is a shock to the system.
Amos prophesied at a time when King Jeraboam and Israel were experiencing massive prosperity. It was at least a forty year reign. They were living lavishly but had lost their ethical compass (or you could say plumb line) as a nation. They were not taking care of the needy. They were taking advantage of others.
Earlier, in Amos 2:6-8 he recites:
They sell honorable people for silver
and poor people for a pair of sandals.
7 They trample helpless people in the dust
and shove the oppressed out of the way.
Both father and son sleep with the same woman,
corrupting my holy name.
8 At their religious festivals,
they lounge in clothing their debtors put up as security.
In the house of their gods,*
they drink wine bought with unjust fines.
Amos is speaking to that community, that audience.
Amos is concerned with social justice - and he connects it with the righteousness of God (God’s judgment of the people). God is offended. (Rightly so.)
The story is aptly paired with the parable of the Good Samaritan in which Jesus also connects the quality of our interpersonal relationships with the ability to inherit eternal life. The lawyer asks Jesus this question: How do we inherit eternal life?
In Jesus’ usual form he answers a question with a question: What does scripture tell us? Of course the lawyer knows Jewish law: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus is satisfied. But the lawyer is not. Instead he asks Jesus “who is my neighbor?”
So Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan: When a man is attacked, robbed, and left for dead along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, it is a Samaritan traveler (and none of the other local citizens) who comes to his rescue. The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that Life in the Kingdom of God requires mercy. We learn what Jesus means by "loving your neighbor as yourself.” To love your neighbor is not only to feel mercy and compassion for others, but show mercy and compassion through our actions.
The pivotal point of the story is that the merciful neighbor is one the audience doesn’t anticipate. The Jewish lawyer and audience don’t expect a Samaritan to be the hero of the story. The Samaritan and Jewish communities lived alongside one another with much enmity. The parable is not just about extending kindness, but about extending the scope of our community.
Jesus was helping the lawyer identify that Samaritans were also Israelites. It is a story about expansive identity…
What is your identity?
The Newspapers and media are constantly telling us we are a divided nation. And the state of our leading nations doesn’t look too different from the time of Amos. This is why the scriptures speak to us through time. We are struggling with the same human impulses that people did thousands of years ago. How can there be so much for some - and so little for others with disregard? And the question remains: Are we children of God? Or are we primarily US citizens, Liberals, Conservatives, Republicans or Democrats; White, Hispanic, Black, Christian?
What is your deepest identity?
What is the call we have to identify with one another?
Jesus saw the whole human race as part of one body. This is the piece that Jesus was so good at drawing upon. Unlike Amos and many other prophets that prophesy destruction and pain, Jesus looks deep into our humanity and draws out the best of us. He does not say, “and now you shall suffer.” Instead he says “and now, to really be human, to really be fully human, you shall be merciful. That is your identity.”
When we listen to the news and hear such painful reports around the world, the pain and compassion that stirs in us is part of that true identity. We cry, “Mercy.”
Last week Jackie Allerton shared with me a very sweet story that Safira’s favorite new song is the Sanctus: This three year old doesn’t sing it perfectly. But she tries: Holy Holy Holy Lord. God of Power and Might. Heaven and Earth are full of your Glory. Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest.
To be a Good Samaritan is to be one that comes in the name of the Lord…… And more than our good deeds as citizens: It is about expanding the circle of our identity wider. (Little Safira is absorbing this)
The restoration of Israel has become a metaphor for the restoration of the World. When Christians study the Bible, Israel means us. We are all of us in every nation the chosen people: the beloved children of God.
When we expand our sense of community, our solutions for society’s ills will expand because they must.
In society right now a very conservative fundamentalist Christian community is growing. They do not believe in the separation of Church and State. While we may agree with them that our lives in God form our deepest identity, we find ourselves in disagreement over tenets of the faith. Do you ever feel, like “if they would just listen” they would understand us? Do you ever feel like the Fundamentalist Christians give Christianity a bad name? Perhaps they think they hold the Truth with a big T? Do you think dialogue would help?
Even closer to us than fundamentalists are Black Episcopalians. They are trying to open up dialogue with us and most of us aren’t really participating. If we won’t enter into dialogue even with other Episcopalians - what are we truly saying about our identity? I know many of us believe we are not racist; that it is a non-issue because our Presiding Bishop is Black. He is saying it is an issue. Part of our body is saying it is an issue. And we are suffering. Do we think it doesn’t really impact us like the Pharisee and the levite? Can we really just ignore the suffering set in front of us?
We do not have power as individuals to change all of the suffering in the world, but we do have power to open our hearts to those we previously thought were different from ourselves. To see our shared belovedness. There is a power in a collective community that at its foundation is love and redemption. (And we might not yet completely understand it…like Safira’s Holy Holy Holy)…but, it is there deep in our hearts.
We also have the power to stay in difficult conversations and listen whether it is with our crazy uncle, a neighbor, or someone in our faith community. It’s about expanding our hearts. In doing so, we know God better. And knowing God is what it means to gain eternal life.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
To summarize Jesus: Rejoice! You are conduits for the healing power of God.
The readings today are all about the healing power of God, and the healing power that flows through us - and the greater joy in that reality. They also speak to us of pride and how that interferes with our joy. All three of our readings today act as their own parables for this greater lesson: “let go and let God.”
In the Gospel of Luke and in the book of Acts, joy is a consistent and vital part of the expression of Christian spirituality. There is freedom in this joy. We do not need to be so troubled that things happen exactly the way we personally expect. There is freedom in letting go of our personal pride and desire for control.
In the Old Testament lesson from Kings today we see Naaman’s pride turn to anger because of expectation. His young servant offers him a simpler solution. How often have we created a more complicated and difficult situation because of our pride - only to discover there was an easier way that could’ve caused less damage. We don’t need to project our own ideas about how something should be done. When we do so, we may miss the opportunity right in front of us; to be present to the gifts in the moment. Naaman is awakened by a servant who acts as that conduit of healing and allows him to receive God’s greater healing.
In the New Testament reading some of the earliest Christians were pressuring the Galatians to be circumcised. How often does our pride get in the way of offering a healing and inclusive response to another. We want others to look like us, or (in our worst moments) even have suffered like us before we think they deserve the grace of God. Paul reminds us that we don’t need to pressure others to fit into our mold of what it looks like to be a child of God. Focus and take pride in your own works. “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” How much more freedom we’ll have than wasting our God-given energy on trying to control how others show up. Instead offer the healing welcome to those who have heard the word.
Finally in the Gospel Jesus reminds us, do not miss the mark by believing that the grace and healing of God is your personal power to yield, but rather know you have the gift to be a part of God’s powerful healing work in the world.
All of these passages point to a greater message of joy: a saving joy, a healing joy in letting go of our pride. We suffer when we desire things to always go our way. Others also suffer when we desire things to always go our way. There is Freedom in letting go and a joy in that freedom! The Gospel of Luke has a primary thread of Joy running through it. Yet, why do we not notice it? Why are so many teachings heard as a tough shot across the bow rather than as a window into God’s greater perspective? …A window to our own freedom?
In the Gospel Jesus sends seventy followers out ahead of him to spread the news that the power of God is a healing power. They are successful everywhere they go in sharing the good news through healing: curing the sick and casting out demons. The seventy returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.” So He told them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
The disciples express joy that even the demons were subject to them under the name of Jesus. Jesus responds by transferring their joy from a pride of victory - to the joy of their salvation. But this is far from a stern teaching. Jesus is elated!
One problem I have with our selection from the Gospel today is that it is cut short. It doesn’t include the next two lines (which I not only love) but the Church seems to fail to convey: Jesus jumps for joy!
The end of our reading of Luke 10:20 reads:
Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Directly following is: 21At that time Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and declared, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was well-pleasing in Your sight.”
The word that is used here for Jesus’ rejoicing is different from the other forms of joy the disciples express. (In the Greek) It is literally “jumped for joy.” It is a wild and exultant joy, not simply gladness. And Jesus reminds the disciples to be awake to the real source of their joy. We are rejoicing (not because we have the power to heal, but because we are conduits for the healing power of God).
The second part of his message is that in their healing work they are ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. They were told,
Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Jesus is reminding the disciples that their Joy in the present (their excitement about successfully healing so many) is connected to their bond in an everlasting relationship with God. “Jesus is also jumping for joy over all of the new believers who know that they are loved for all eternity... (David Garland).
So the Gospel message we are receiving is that through the power of healing, the reign of God is here - and it has come close to all nations who received it.
Our ability to act as healing conduits for others makes us gateways to the joy of the Heavenly Kingdom. Contemplatives suggest the gateway to Heaven is everywhere! It is available if we are awake and act. We are indeed - and in all nations available to be that healing presence for one another. If we get out of our own prideful way, the grace of God will flow more freely. And how liberating.
On this fourth of July weekend we are reminded of our responsibilities. “Letting go and letting God” is not being complacent. We still need to raise children and grandchildren, vote, have peaceful and informed discussions, make difficult decisions and challenging compromises. We strive to discern and develop sound opinions. We hope to offer wise and thoughtful advice. We pray to be a safe and healing presence to others.
While always remembering:
We are beloved by God within a greater story of redemption and joy.
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20,21
In the Gospel this week, Jesus has “set his face toward Jerusalem.” He is sending messengers ahead of him to prepare the way. Yet one Samaritan community refuses to receive him. The disciples are quick to want to bring violence upon them: John and James want to set the town ablaze!
Their reaction is striking. Even the closest of disciples are susceptible to their own reactive and violent tendencies when others do not accept them/nor their message. This passage is a helpful reminder for us. Our defensive and destructive habits are difficult to break even as we journey in faith.
-At this point in their journey the twelve have already been spreading the good news and curing diseases.
-They have already been told “if someone does not receive you, shake the dust off your feet.”
-They have already fed the 5000.
-They have already heard the Beatitudes.
In the Gospel of Luke, Peace is emphasized as coming through the Spirit and it is also associated with God’s Glory. Peace and Glory. From the very beginning of the Gospel we hear: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
While we understand that Love is an action, We often don’t consider Peace as an action. Many understand the definition of Peace as lack of violence - or the absence of war.
How do you understand Peace? It is not simply doing nothing. It’s an activity. Sometimes it is choosing to do nothing which is not indifference. Peace has intention behind it. Peace needs to be created.
Jesus’ message is about just that. Peace is used fourteen times in Luke. He is building bridges between those who do not get along. The parable of the Good Samaritan comes from this Gospel.
When the disciples respond reactively to the Samaritan community, Jesus rebukes them. The passage says they simply continue on their way to the next village. Jesus does not have to stop to consider his response. He keeps moving forward. In fact, he has to turn to John and James in his reprimand, suggesting he is in continual motion. He has set his face forward.
Not only have the disciples missed the mark. They seem particularly dense at times (not unlike us). They are called to Jesus’ message (the greater message of God) but get misdirected by their own predispositions.
Do you Remember the Beatitudes: What he says about out enemies?
But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.
Remember what he says about Judgment and Forgiveness?
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38Give, and it will be given to you.
1Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? 42How can you say, ‘Brother,c let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while you yourself fail to see the beam in your own eye?
Finally he ends with: Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I say? 47I will show you what he is like who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them: 48He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid his foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the torrent crashed against that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.
This is what comes from finding peace within ourselves. People will mistreat us. People will judge and condemn us. People will disagree with us. But if we have a good foundation it will not completely shake us.
As Author and Franciscan Brother, Richard Rohr, states:
“Many of us think we are converted to Christ, but without the conversion of our emotional reactions, we remain much like everyone else…
He goes on to say:
…The next time you are offended, consider it a “teachable moment.” Ask yourself what part of you is actually upset. It’s normally the smaller or ego self [which isn’t your converted self]. If we can move back to the big picture of who we are in God, our True Self, we’ll find that what upset us usually doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in objective reality! But we can waste a whole day (or longer) feeding that hurt until it seems to have a life of its own and, in fact, “possesses” us. At that point, it becomes what Eckhart Tolle rightly calls our “pain-body.”
Predispositions that hurt us and “take on a life of their own” were known to the desert mothers and fathers as “the passions.” Paul refers to them as things “of the flesh” the things that contribute to the pain body: “enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, adultery…It is a list of things that literally cause the “pain body.”
That is what Paul means when he says you will not inherit the Kingdom of God. It is not an arbitrary list that makes someone a bad person therefore we will be punished. It is a list of things that we are prone to - and that have the potential to cause pain to ourselves in a cascading domino effect… then there is no peace for ourselves or others - or for the Kingdom of God.
But if we all (literally all) were to spend time becoming awake to the passions that dominate us personally; that create such reactive emotions; we would start to uncover our true foundation.
The Gospel today is also a reminder that Jesus is not just "on the way" but Jesus "is the way.”
As we journey in our own spiritual development with him we learn to shake the dust off of our feet.
We learn to let slights slough off of us, we learn to forgive, we stop holding up a target for insults (real or imagined). We strive to keep our Spirits alive, healthy and moving forward toward a Peaceable Kingdom.
After this incident (or non incident with the Samaritans) in the Gospel there is a distinct separate piece. Our passage transitions into a portion that includes three statements from Jesus about what is necessary to follow the way. Essentially, they all boil down to one thing: your willingness is required immediately. We are moving in a direction and we cannot rest from it.
What’s interesting about this trio of statements is that they sound harsh and like an impossible feat. Yet, in the very next passage Jesus has commissioned 72 of his followers to go out and heal. (And they do.)
He tells them: 5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.”
From here on out we hear the gift of Peace is ours.
Jesus’ final words before his ascension is that he is offering us the promise from the Father. We will be clothed with the power from on high. We are to be clothed in Peace. This is our inheritance: The Gift of Peace.
There is a lot of turmoil and division in our society right now. Not simply divisions among those who are different from ourselves. We are facing divisions among community members, friends, and family. War, vaccines, the recent Supreme Court decisions… We are facing into these important issues in what feels like a never ending stream of exhaustion.
And as followers of Christ, we have one questions to ask ourselves. Am I going to be drawn into something reactive that is destructive… or am I going to keep moving forward building an environment of peace?
I’ll end with Paul’s words:
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control….If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
In the Gospel this week Jesus heals a disruptive Demoniac in the Gentile area of Garasenes. Jesus has been healing others in many ways throughout the Gospel of Luke who respond with joy and thanksgiving. However when Jesus heals this “demoniac” by casting out the legion of demons into a local herd of swine, the townspeople respond with fear. When they see him clothed and with a clear mind sitting at the feet of Jesus; They ask Jesus to leave. The healed man asks Jesus if he can accompany him on the way, but Jesus instead tells the man to stay at home and share his experience with others: To tell them “all that God has done” for him.
It is not just a story about the Gospel, the Good News, being spread to the Gentile World, but it is also an allegory. There are so many symbolic things going on in this story. Historians tell us Garasenes is either a fictional town - or a misspelling of what could be a couple of different options. (Perhaps it is all of our towns.)
The legion of demons is a direct reference to the Roman military. A legion would be three to six thousand soldiers. We are reminded of the Roman occupation of the area. Jesus’ ability to so easily cast them into a herd of swine expresses the knowledge of God’s reign. God holds the power the authority and the glory, not the Romans. The Legion may also represent thousands of ways in which we may delude ourselves, confuse ourselves, and participate in compulsive distractions from the true path, which is the way of peace.
It is very much a societal allegory. Jesus had a way of integrating the personal and the universal for us. When the demonic man is seized by fits he is chained and bound by the townspeople. When they see him clothed and in his right mind, they are afraid. How curious…
Often we respond with fear to a power greater than ourselves, even when it involves healing. Believing in a power greater than ourselves is difficult. We want to hold onto the agency we have developed over a lifetime. We’ve been trained to believe we should be able to solve all problems through our own initiative. We hold on tight to the patterns of our own thinking and doing, even when we know like St. Paul, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” It is difficult. We pray to God for guidance, but accepting that guidance may involve change or adaptation.
The healed man has a lot of work ahead of him too. Sharing his experience, as Jesus has asked him to do, will not be easy. Will his community accept him? What will they have to accept about themselves in order to do so?
We often resist the healing or transformation of others (especially in our own family) because we are so accustomed to the role that they play in our life-pattern, even if it is a disruptive role. Accepting that there is a power greater than ourselves dedicated to repair, restoration and healing (the kind of power that Jesus offers) usually means "getting out of our own way.”
It means surrendering to a universal love that we know is available. We can’t totally understand, but through trust and being truly open to the experience of another, we may discover a healing that has not just occurred in them - but will help be transformative for ourselves.
But beyond the very personal interpretation that we may recognize as a family systems issue… there is a more universal issue at play in the Gospel story. It involves the cliff and the swine! What is going on with the swine, and why are they driven over the cliff?!
Earlier in Luke, the townspeople of Nazareth wanted to throw Jesus over a cliff when he asked them to take a good look at themselves: when he reminded them that Elijah had helped the other: the non-Jews. It was Blasphemy in their view. And to be thrown over the cliff by an angry mob was a form of execution. Yet in the Gospel today, these townspeople had never sought to execute the man who was possessed by demons. Instead he was used as a scapegoat.
Such an allegorical reading of the text helps us understand why the townspeople do not rejoice to find the man healed. His possession represents all of the dark pieces hidden in the very subconscious of the people. This man loses his mind ever so often within the confines of this oppressive state. Yet, rather than recognize the violence in their culture, the townspeople use him as their scapegoat.
As many of you know, on Thursday evening this week there was a shooting at an Episcopal Church in Alabama: St. Stevens in Vestavia Hills just outside of Birmingham. Twenty-five people were in attendance at a potluck supper. We don’t know the details of why, but a lone shooter was able to shoot and kill three people before he was restrained by a member of the church.
We pray for the people of St. Stevens, for their friends and families, and for their community. We pray within the Body of Christ for our sisters and brothers, and we pray for a World free of violence.
These shootings have become prevalent. The madness of these shooters, whether it be in Alabama, Texas, New York, Florida, Connecticut, Colorado and everywhere else in our country - are signs. They are asking us to face ourselves… asking us to consider, that as inconceivable as it is, these demonic forces are not completely divorced from the rest of us. Like the Demoniac in the Gospel, the message is clear: When we delude ourselves, when our actions are not in sync with our values, we will start to unravel:
-When our leaders say, “Do as I say, not as I do”…
-When we buy and sell weapons in the name of Peace.
-When we model violence in so many of our forums, yet aver we are about peace and liberty and equality for all -
it will, and it has manifested itself in depression, addiction, mental illness, and violence.
It is inconceivable on the one hand to feel connected to the gun violence in our midst, as inconceivable as it is for the towns people to feel connected to the Demoniac. Like the Demoniac, the sins of our community are partly to blame for the sins of such possessed individuals.
Haul him out constrained and shackled - So much easier than looking at the mechanisms of society.
Seeing him seated, clothed and in his right mind?
That requires a powerful healing and requires the community to face themselves.
This is why Jesus asks him to stay: so the community can begin the healing work at home. St. Paul said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Healing begins at the local level. We know that. Over the last three and a half months I have been reminded daily that the people of this parish find support and healing in one another even as you are binding your own wounds. That is the definition of Christian.
Jesus wants the victim to help convert his community. It is part of a long tradition of the “wounded healer.” It’s part of your story and part of every Christian’s story because it is part of the resurrection story.
The Demoniac’s healing foreshadows Jesus’s role in conquering sin and death. And the sins of the community go over the cliff.
Jesus overturns the scapegoat mechanism in rising from the dead.
Jesus gives us the Very God who identifies with the marginalized and the victim, who confronts violence in all of its forms.
As Christins we not only stand as a healing place where "hate has no home here. " We stand as a healing reminder to one another and the community that no violence of any kind has a home here.
God, Bless us with you wisdom!
and God Bless this country.
Last week we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the World. Pentecost is recognized as the birthday of the Church, as this Gift of Peace, Wisdom, and Truth is discerned, at one time by many nations. It was the gift we have been waiting for…as Jesus promised. On this day we were given an awareness of God’s fullness as the Holy Trinity.
This full dynamic movement of the Godhead is recognized this Sunday; these three aspects working at all times in The Trinity.
There is a famous icon of the Trinity by Russian 5th Century Iconographer Andrei Rublev. It has three seated angels around a table: each representing a person of the Trinity pointing with one hand toward the sacred elements in the middle, as they gaze toward one another around the circle. On the front edge of the table as you are looking in, is a square box that has been somewhat of a mystery. On it there is a bit of ancient residual glue.
Some historians have come to believe that a mirror was originally glued in this space, making the viewer the participant who joins this circle…
We as participants in the Body of Christ are meant to be a part of this dynamic relationship.
In the third and fourth centuries the theology that was adopted by the Councils of Church says that God is a interconnection of relations (a perichoresis, Greek and (circumincession, Latin): a cleaving of identities, a weaving circle dance. There is an outpouring and receiving among the three persons who receive their self and then hand it over to another in a self emptying act of love, and again to the third. “It makes God more of a verb than a noun” (Richard Rohr).
We have a role in this “divine dance” as participants in the Body of Christ: It is an outpouring of love, an emptying of self, and being filled back up again in an affirmation of our identity.
We do this sacramentally in the Eucharist in order to symbolize that activity working in our lives. We empty ourselves in praise through worship; we fill up with the loving spirit of God at communion; and take it out into the World.
A perfect circle
We do this in our lives in service to one another and in service to the needy. That’s why so many know that volunteering your time is fulfilling. We come to know that If you want to feel better - go help someone else. There is this dynamic giving and receiving as it happens in community.
This is why humans are so special.
Psalm 8 rejoices saying, What is it about us?!… with the moon and the stars and all that “you have set in their courses [that] you would set us just below angels?”…blessed with so many gifts and abilities and the responsibility to take care of others: “Mastery over your [own] works?”!
This one precious human life is so special, because we have the ability to grow in Spirit, Wisdom and Truth and to share that with others.
The writer of Proverbs says Wisdom (another name for the Holy Spirit) has delighted in us from the very beginning, saying:
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth...
Before the mountains had been shaped...
when he assigned to the sea its limit...
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race."
Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
Wisdom is neither simply intuitive perception nor is it simply skilled rationalization. Wisdom is both of these developed through participation in the World in all of its joy, and chaos, tragedy and suffering…
Paul speaks of suffering in Romans. It is not about going out and looking for suffering, but how our faith transforms us in our suffering. A life of faith is one that asks us to look deeper into the meaning of the world around us. It asks for our participation, not a “take it or leave it.” Faith does not ask us to check our minds at the door. Faith is activity of the Holy Spirit imbued with wisdom that includes facing into the messiness of life’s challenges, pain and chaos. When we do this we are transformed.
In a time when we are feeling morally compromised by war, anxious about economic inflation, dispirited about politics, and fearful about illness and death…
What is our part in the community of God? What is our part in the dance?
Our participation can be creating communities of trust.
St. Paul’s is one such place.
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
Think about that: When we understand something the voice of wisdom is clearer, louder, when more of us rise to its resonance!
Where to do this? Proverbs suggests
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out!
Let us find ways to be the portal, the door, an entryway, a safe harbor to others in our community.
Jesus said, “All that the father has is mine. He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
This is the dynamic giving of the Trinity: The dance that we have been made participates in.
As the Body of Christ we are one with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; One God, one indwelling that brings peace, comfort and understanding.
Let us declare it to one another and to Pleasant Valley through our activity; through our acknowledgement that the very nature of God is Love. And Love is always an action.
This week Craig reminded me of an article, The Pressure to Modernize, in which linguist and author Helena Norburg-Hodge tells the story of her experience in Ladakh, “Little Tibet,” in India.
When Hodge first visited, she found a place rich in culture and pride. She describes people who did not know poverty. People worked together. People of all ages gathered to tell their story, through music and theatre, and dance. It was a regular part of community…
Until 1975 when tourism began: modernization, technology and Western money streamed in, and began to erode the self esteem of the Ladakhis. They began to feel insecure and impoverished in comparison. Their culture shifted on many levels. It eroded the spiritual power of their stories - even changed their understanding of their own history. Within eight years they no longer gathered to dance and sing and celebrate in the same way. They felt inadequate against the famous musicians and actors they had been introduced to.
Have you ever heard of Joseph Campbell? He was a professor who specialized in comparative religion and mythology. He wrote several books… But one particularly called The Power of Myth I discovered through a Bill Moyers series on the radio when I was just out of high school. I was fascinated! The power of archetypes, the hero’s journey, and how myths reveal spiritual experience.
The thing about myths is that they engage our imaginations, especially children. Myths are a powerful way to tell stories. They inflate imagery, create archetypal characters, enlarge the scope of things to provide a narrative that helps us share or remember deeper truths. They often teach about a cultures’ values and mores (while not speaking about particular factual events.)
We are accustomed to Jesus’ parables, but sometimes we fail to stop and think about the purpose of the other stories in the Bible, that are also parables or myths used to describe the way things are…
And not simply the way things are, but in the Bible it is a way of explaining how things are especially through a covenant lens…
We are covenant people which is what Judaism brought to the World - and what Christianity is built upon: Before Judaism and during the formation of Judaism in this area there were many Gods being worshipped…
Judaism brought us Relationship with one God; a mutual relationship - give and take… not simply being at the whim of various Gods…but with promises made to one another.
In our first story this morning… This is early, early early (obviously) Genesis. It is about the created order of things and very much incorporates early Myths found throughout Mesopotamia and the Middle East - drawing them into this covenant lens…
Mythological in nature and yet with truths to be mined… As Jesus would say, “like the pearl of great price”….
Not just to describe who God is… but to help us define who we are.
So, we consider: In the beginning
every one spoke one language! And then out of our hubris (which isn’t too hard too imagine) we decided we could build a tower all the way to Heaven. (A hierarchy of course: the narrative puts God up there at the top.) Yet, we thought we could become as powerful as God.
So the story goes…that God confused our language, so we couldn’t understand one another… and then scatters us across the face of the earth.
Two things, yes: A way to tell our children a story about how we have so many different cultures and languages, while also instilling a lesson about power (that as a covenant people, we believe, that it is God who has “the kingdom, the power, and the glory” - and not one of us).
In our second reading: When the day of Pentecost had come, there is a gathering in Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks (otherwise known as the Feast of Harvest. Shavout. It occurs seven weeks after Passover (about 50 days). Pentecost means 50, so the Greeks named this festival Pentecost.
Like at Passover, there were people from many nations gathered in Jerusalem. It is one of the three times the people are appointed to gather in Jerusalem…and the peoples have come from all over (many nations as the passage describes).
Suddenly a great wind or breath moves over the disciples with flames that look like tongues and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and the ability to preach the Gospel in every language. People wonder how this could be?! That they understand!
Pentecost in Christianity represents the day the Holy Spirit was revealed to all people…our advocate and guide who Jesus had promised will come.
It is contrasted with the tower of babel to show that this scattering of nations has been healed by the peace of the Holy Spirit lighting upon us with a united understanding of the heart: the advocate who provides wisdom, advocacy and consolation.
But the Tower of Babel remains a potent myth and a cautionary tale for our world today.
I often refer to the internet as “the tower of babel”. The internet has created a global network with an ability to communicate vast amounts of information over a fast distance in a short period of time.
We have a tool very much like the tower. Rather than being a forum for global diversity and the exchange of ideas and coming to understanding and solutions, it is supporting so many social media forums where we have become politically polarized.
And in our hubris we are responding to our anxiety, insecurity and fear, with censorship and a cancel culture. Some voices have been given the authority to say what voices and what conversations are legitimate, what ideas and what people are safe.
It is becoming a tower for a limited few with the hubris to decide what voices matter. Scholars, artists, clergy, doctors, reporters have had entire catalogues, interviews, decades of work erased overnight.
Ideological and political narratives seek to conform rather than unite us in thought and spirit.
The Holy Spirit is about unification, the ability to understand one another, but not because we have become homogenized: But in union to communicate lovingly in our diversity. A spiritual life is supposed to help us commune better with the knowledge and love of God.
As I said earlier: Not just to describe who God is… but to help us define who we are.
The Holy Spirit, the giver of life, guides us not only in our journey with God but in our pilgrimage with one another.
Today we celebrate the Coming of the Spirit. Hold strong to our narrative. We gather each week to tell our story, to sing or read psalms, to read aloud from ancient manuscripts, to celebrate a memorial supper, to remember and to praise God so that we know ourselves.
We are not that unlike the people of Ladakh.
The World would offer us a tower: a hubris that seeks to erode our identity, create doubt and insecurity.
But The Holy Spirit is to comfort us in our anxiety, provide advocacy through our insecurity, and peace in our fear.
Jesus promised, the Giver of Life "will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."
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.
This is part of a long prayer from Jesus; an intercessory prayer from Jesus to God on behalf of the disciples.
It occurs just after the last supper and before his arrest. In John, there are added several chapters here: teachings Jesus gives to the disciples about the indwelling of God. Abiding in God…and about the Spirit/advocate who is to come who will prove the destructive forces of the World are wrong.
Through this prayer Jesus gives us the shape of eternal life; for his prayer is for his disciples, for us, and through the notion that the love of God and the Spirit of one-ness transcends time; it encompasses the now, the future and this one-ness-in-love which has been since before the foundation of the world.
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Scholar Meda Stamper reflects, “eternal life will be an extension of the love of God stretching back before the foundation of the world, forward to us, and beyond us to the communion of the saints - and to those who may be able to experience God’s love through us.
And so the Easter season culminates where the Gospel began: with Jesus making God known so that the world may know that …we have a place in the creative love of God.”
And here we are with the culmination of the Easter season with two horrific mass shootings…pain that feels unbearable. Since January there have been more than 200 mass shootings (that means shootings involving at least four persons).
On Friday I watched the press conference from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Col. Steven McCraw, his face contorted in anguish as he read through the events of the day. Finally he cried. I’d say most of us have cried or felt sick to our stomach over these shootings.
We wonder where the love of God in us and through us is manifested?
Corinthians 12 was the first thing that came to mind:
“For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so, the body is not made up of one part but of many …If one part suffers, every part suffers with it..”
Our pain and anguish is God’s love manifest through us. How else could we feel such pain for people we do not know and haven’t met? We suffer because we have been blessed by God with the capacity to love deeply.
Let us pray for the people of Buffalo and “Youvaalde.” When we pray for them by name, we resist them becoming statistics:
Jose Flores, Jr., 10
Uziyah Garcia, 8
Amerie Jo Garza, 10
Xavier James Lopez, 10
Annabelle Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10
Rojelio Torres, 10
Eliahna “Ellie” Torres, 10
Jacklyn Cazares, 10
Jailah Nicole Silguero, 11
Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, 10
Ellie Garcia, 9
Alithia Ramirez, 10
Layla Salazar, 10
Makenna Lee Elrod, 10
Miranda Mathis, 11
Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio, 10
Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10
Nevaeh Bravo, 10
Tess Marie Mata, 10
Eva Mireles, 44 (4th grade teacher)
Irma Garcia, 49 (4th grade teacher)
(The shooter was Salvador Ramos, 18.)
Roberta A. Drury, 32
Margus D. Morrison, 52
Andre Mackniel, 53
Aaron Salter, 55
Geraldine Talley, 62
Celestine Chaney, 65
Heyward Patterson, 67
Katherine Massey, 72
Pearl Young, 77
Ruth Whitfield, 86
Their earthly lives were taken violently - and too soon. But we must hold onto the knowledge that they continue in the communion of Saints and in the Body of Christ.
When we take communion we are given (as Paul states) the ONE Spirit to drink and eat. Through our Eucharist we sacramentally express that we are eternally connected to those that have come before us.
We come to the table to physically commune with Jesus, one another, and all the saints in a meal of remembrance.
On this Memorial Day weekend we also recognize and remember our military men and women who during their earthly lives made great sacrifices to protect our country.
We pray for all those who continue to be faced with the cost of war.
In this sad time, the world’s global level of Violence is pervasive. The United States is now always at War. It is perpetual. It is difficult to find movies, TV shows, or video games that don’t glorify violence. We are becoming inured to it. The violence in society is a mirror of the media we consume and how we solve problems on the World stage.
The end to violence through Jesus’ way is to deny the World and to consume love instead.
There is much debate as to whether violence begins at the individual level - or is a reflection of the culture. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
What we do know is that in the face of the World’s destructive power, Jesus taught us to pray. In that we do have some agency.
Violence can mutate at the microlevel with hurt, and pain and resentments. It is so necessary to understand those states as violent forces trying to work their way into our lives and families. It is important to recognize our negative and resentful feelings as poison.
Prayer is the antidote.
It may not feel like it is. That’s why prayer is referred to as a practice.
Silent prayer (as Jesus has taught us) is to go into our inner room. The practice of silent prayer helps us to see what our minds and hearts are grappling with. It is that opportunity to understand more deeply how we react and the chain reactions of our resentments that spin us into anger and ultimately forms of violence against others close to us, through unkind words and deeds.
Cutting these thoughts and turning to God when we feel them arise can become a practice that saves not only ourselves from suffering, but changes how we respond to others and may break a chain of suffering.
Jesus said Abide in me. To Abide in God is to bear witness. When we abide in God, we bear loving witness to ourselves and to others. It is how we stay awake to the small blessings of this life, and how we stay awake to pain - and to the pain of the World. As people of God we’ve been training, developing prayer practices to help us be Christlike: to cultivate love and joy, to stay awake - to identify with the suffering - not the destructive forces of the World.
Prayer is communal. Even when we silently pray we are doing so as part of the Body of Christ where we all are made one.
In today’s Gospel
Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then
[He prayed for us]
I think we all could use some intercessory prayer from Jesus!
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…”
The pain we feel today is there because God is in us.
And like Jesus, through our suffering, we pray as the one body for all the Saints through that eternal life: forward to those who may feel the power of love through us.
We pray stretching back for our lost loved ones; to the present for the people of Uvaalde, for the people of Buffalo, for the people of Ukraine, and Russia, for Yemen and Afghanistan.
And beyond us: we pray for all those we do not know and cannot name whose lives are bound up in our own through the creative love of God.
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.
The symbolism of Water and the Spirit is paramount in John. In the first chapter Jesus is baptized and we learn that Jesus baptizes uniquely with the gift of the Holy Spirit. He offers living water; Springs that lead to everlasting life; and we will never be thirsty again.
Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus will say,
“…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
The Gospel of John is a bit different than the others, we name the “Synoptic Gospels.” From Syn Optic: seeing all together; Matthew Mark and Luke are in synch. They share the same lens and share many of the same passages and teachings through Jesus’ parables.
The Gospel of John is set apart. The Gospel is thought to have been written considerably later, around the turn of the 1st to 2nd Century). And it is full of stories that don’t exist in the other gospels, but are often very intimate and detailed interactions with particular individuals.
Earlier in the Gospel Jesus meets the woman at the well. She is a Samaritan drawing water from the well of Jacob. Samaritans worshipped a variety of Gods including Yahweh, but not solely. And there is a lot of enmity between Jews and Samaritans. So Jesus startles her by asking for a drink. In this discourse (which is one of the longest conversations he has in the Bible) he tells her
“if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…
Everyone who drinks of this water [the well water] will be thirsty again…the water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
The end of this story has her entire town converted - and the message they receive is that the true worship of God from now on will be through the Spirit and in truth.
So today we find ourselves in this short Gospel passage with a man who has been languishing by a healing pool of water. From our previous story with the Samaritan Woman we may already be wondering about this pool of water and its symbolism.
He has been there for thirty-eight years along with a multitude of other ill and paralyzed individuals. Our reading says many, but the word in Greek is actually a very great number. And I believe this is important because Jesus sees him in this great crowd. Not only does he see him, but he knows him. He knows he’s been there a long time. Jesus knows him, yet the man does not know Jesus.
He has waited so very close to what he believes would be a source of healing, yet with no ability nor assistance over all of these years to reach what it is he seeks. Jesus suddenly speaks to him and heals him.
Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” He answers him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
Jesus’ question: “Do you want to be made well?”… could just as easily be: What are you seeking here? “What are you seeking in this pool of water?”
This healing pool could be a metaphor for so many ideas and obstacles to our journey with God. This man is stuck. The World tells us that competition is the only way to move ahead. He has been looking for the balm of life in the wrong place.
What obstacles hinder us from seeking the The Spirit of Truth? Many of us here spent time away from Christian community. Once we become re-immersed in we can look back and more easily see what those great distractions were.
And sometimes the distractions from God are illness, real and debilitating and not simply a metaphor. “Bad things happen to good people” - and in our distress we can turn to other comforts, even delusions, for many years before we are able to begin walking a path toward physical, emotional and spiritual healing. That is real.
In our story, Jesus tells him to pick up his mat and walk. This is a healing that is infused with the metaphor for walking one’s path toward God. I do not see this man’s answer as simply an ungrateful complaint, rather: the reality of what we come up against in life: real illness, real desperation and real yearning.
Jesus’ question can be taken at face value: not as a challenge, but rather a compassionate and loving response to someone he sees sitting in front of him suffering. Someone who is stuck.
Sometimes it takes another to see us for who we are: to ask us directly what it is that we really want and need. When someone meets us in this way, it moves us to look inside: to probe our very own depths. That is the beginning of spiritual awakening. It is what Jesus offers to this man, to the Samaritan Woman, and to so many others.
“Spiritual awakening is not about knowing more, but about knowing more deeply” …Episcopal Priest and author Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “as we enter the path of [spiritual] transformation, the most valuable thing we have working in our favor is our yearning.”
Our yearning helps open the door to wonder. And our prayer life becomes our teacher and comforter. As Jesus said, "the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you."
This man did not know God, yet he responds, he moves. He has been seen and he begins to walk… in a new way.To be made well is to be made whole, to uncover our authentic selves, where life springs like a font.
The Question Jesus asks,
“Do you want to be made well?”
inspires us to ask ourselves:
Who am I? …
What are you seeking?
What are you yearning for?
And Where are you looking?
May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations. (Psalm 67)