Seeds of Light -Lent 5B

John 12:20-36
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

It’s all a little confusing.

  • Seeds falling into the dark earth, germinate and break through the soil to the light and air as new plants.
  • God speaks, and most the people who hear it explain it away as thunder.
  • The eternal Messiah turns out to be the mere mortal Son of Man, who is going to die.
  • He speaks of gathering gloom but nevertheless encourages his followers to keep moving forward while there is enough light to see the way.

It is quite confusing. Something like those Zen Koans that defy logical thinking and pause the rational mind just long enough for truth and realization to break through.

Yet when I drop all the expectations I am continually projecting onto God, when I abandon what Thomas Keating calls, “my programs for happiness”, I realise that Jesus is speaking quite plainly about plain things.

Death and life are a natural cycle through which the propogation of species occurs. There is no place for selfishness in the natural order. Little seeds packed with genetic coding cannot hold out for their own devised destiny or reward, but in the surrender of their very identity and existence they become the origin of new and verdant life. The caterpillar spins its own tomb and emerges as another being fecund with eggs to propagate life. The master dies and the disciples are thrust into being conduits of the truth he taught.

And yes, sometimes I mistake God’s voice for thunder and vice versa. That’s all right. God will speak again just as surely as cumulus nimbus forms on a summer afternoon. Just maybe, lightning will strike twice.

If my messiah were not the mere mortal, son of man he would not be able to relate to my existence, my fears and my horror about my own death. This mortal Jesus, may not be the one who delivers the political liberation expected by Israel, nor does he perform according to my whimsical prayer demands. But I will tell you what he does in his own mortal life: he sets me free by showing how to be completely human and as that human how to open completely to the divine.

It is a husk breaking, skin shedding, thunderous and dim mystery, I’ll tell you.
Sometimes all my Greek philosophy and general sophistry is of little use.  It doesn’t get me to meet Jesus.

But when I close my eyes and still my mind from all its reasoning and overthinking, I notice that I can see dimly in the dark. Just enough light to take another step closer to his divine heart.
He who hides from all my argumentation, is the very one who shines a torch in the dark labyrinth of my prayer.

Breathe Forest Breathe!!! Season of Creation 1

Genesis 2

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Psalm 1

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;
 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

John 3:1-17

3Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I remember an old sports chant from my school days. It went:

“We shall, we shall, we shall not be moved; we shall, we shall, we shall not be moved.
 Just like a tree that stands by the water side, we shall not be moved”

Despite growing up in the church and going to Sunday school it was only years later that I discovered that the lines come from Psalm 1 that we have just read.
Jeremiah that great prophet of Israel picked up the image in Jeremiah 17 when he wrote:

5Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. 6They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. 9The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse— who can understand it? 10I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

It would be a sheer nonsense to assume that the ancients knew the vital role that trees play in the ecology of the planet. They could not have known that rain forests produce forty percent of the planet’s oxygen. That did not keep them from appreciating that in a tree they were seeing something magnificent and mysterious. That is why the tree becomes the archetypal image of the creation, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That image of the tree remains throughout scripture. Jesus himself is the one who is lifted up on the tree. The cross becomes the tree of life in the mystical insights of the early Christians. The tree is there right at the end of the book of Revelation in chapter 22:

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.”

It has fallen to us who know the role of forests and trees in the life of our planet to deepen the image of the tree of life by realising the profound link between the tree, the forest and the breath of life. Every tree that breathes assists us to rehabilitate our messy carbon footprints.
Every tree is thus a tree of life.
I have only recently been blessed to encounter a deep insight from that great Franciscan teacher Richard Rohr. He tells of attending a lecture by Jewish Rabbi who is also a physicist. The Rabbi was speaking about the name of God:

“You know, you Christians, never really understood the meaning of the commandment to not take the name of God in vain, you seem to think that it means you shouldn’t say ‘God Damn you’. It isn’t very nice to say and I hope you don’t say it to anyone, but it doesn’t even come close to the meaning of the commandment. Vannas, or emptiness, to speak in vain, to speak with emptiness, is in fact to speak the name at all.” When you use the name God, don’t use it, don’t speak it, because you think you will know what you are talking about and you don’t. It’s always mystery. It’s always beyond, beyond, beyond, and any box you build will be too small of a box. Wow. Now I knew, and I’m sure you’ve been told, but we don’t know for how many centuries this was strictly followed. But we do know for a certain amount of time it was followed and that is, we never spoke with our lips the sacred name Yahweh and it was during that period that the word elohim and adoni because the sacred name was never to be spoken.

Then he went on and he said if any of you studied Hebrew, you know this is true, but when you write Hebrew, all you write are the consonants and what it means to be an educated Jew, is that your eye automatically fills in the appropriate vowels and there are four consonants in the sacred name Yahweh, and he said, “Did you know that those consonants if correctly pronounced do not allow you to close your lips or use your tongue”. In fact the reason the name could not be spoken is it could only be breathed, in fact the sacred name Yahweh was an attempt to imitate and replicate the sound of inhalation and exhalation. TheRabbi then breathed in and out about 30 times in this crowd of PhDs! But at the end of it I heard sobbing in the room, that people got it. God is as available as the breath, the air, the wind and the words are the same in many languages. Ironically, paradoxically, truthfully, was there some intuition here? The one thing you have done since you came out of your mother’s body is take in that breath and put it out, and you are doing it now. It’s the only constant, along with the beating of the heart. The beating of the heart starts even before. Breathing is uniquely the phenomenon of this world and of course that moment comes, and we’ll all be there one day, and we’ll take in that breath for the last time. This could change your life, it can certainly change your prayer life. Because now you know that prayer is not something so much you do it’s something that’s done to you. You allow it. You say yes to it. You bring it to consciousness. You bring it to awareness. You awaken to the mystery and the miracle that is happening around you, within you and through you, all the time.”

The breathing forests, the breathing land, the breathing wilderness, the breathing rivers, all living creatures are praying the name of their Creator.
I don’t know about you, but knowing this takes my breath away!

Obfuscating Observances

John 9:1-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

There is just no substitute for experience.  When you have been blind and now you see, you are able like John Newton to write about the Amazing Grace of God, in ways that you could never have learned from a Theological textbook.

The man born blind knew that.  He didn’t know much about Sabbath observance, original sin or the validity of Rabbi Jesus’ credentials to heal.  What he did know however, was that he “once was blind” but now could see.

Perhaps the most destructive dynamic in organised religion (any organised religion) lies in its propensity to compulsively control and condition people’s experience of the Divine.

I suppose I am a little pre-disposed to be critical of this obfuscating observance, as I experienced it first hand as a young boy.

All of sixteen years old I was attending a church youth camp.  On the first night, not the pumped up “Gospel-Campfire-give-your-life-to-Jesus” second night; I was all alone on the banks of the Vaal river when I had an experience of connectedness to the whole universe that changed my life forever.  It was what mystics have all experienced and what Rudolf Otto called a numinous experience. I knew I had connected with SOMETHING or SOMEONE, it didn’t seem to matter.  I knew I belonged, and that I was going to be all right.

The next morning I had to tell someone, so I told our bungalow leader who called the pastor, and he then proceeded to pour my expansive, unmediated, numinous encounter into the mould of his conservative, narrow evangelical worldview.  He explained that I had been saved, called and commissioned by God.  All that in one.  All I had to do was pray the sinners prayer and confess (with my mouth) Jesus as Lord and I would be “in the Kingdom”.  I did, and I suppose I was… or maybe I never was not?

As I look back on that transforming time I realise that if the first person I met on that morning after my direct experience had been a Rabbi, a Mullah, a Bhikkhu, a Shaman, or even Richard Dawkins, each would have wanted to obfuscate my experience through the lens of their particular religious (Yes Dawkins is a rabidly religious Atheist) observance.  It is the way of herd religion.

In hindsight I realise it was all perfect for then.  We all have to begin at the literal level, move through the herd conformity and perhaps be birthed into Universality and Transcendence.  I hold no disappointment to the Pastor for pouring my Universal experience into his parochial mould. He was doing his best, and I needed that at the time.

Similarly, I enjoy the complete lack of guile I see from the man born blind.  The Pharisees are in a panic to discredit Jesus, to obfuscate the miraculous event by declaring it invalid on religious and doctrinal grounds.  The once blind man, couldn’t care less.  My favourite lines from this narrative are the words of the healed man, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

There is just no substitute for experience.  In fact, truth be told, experience is all we really have.  All doctrine, tradition and dogma, are merely mechanism whereby humans try to replicate, mediate, validate and control the experiences of others.

Not only is this bad religion.  It is the worst kind of blindness that is seemingly incurable even by  Jesus.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

Oh I see…  Look!
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