Jesus the Janitor? John 6:24-35 – Ordinary 18B

John 6:24-35

So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

So why do people come to Jesus?

One wag has said with relation to personal change, that some people change because they see the light and others because they feel the heat!

Perhaps the crowd that followed Jesus had neither motivation.  Jesus suggests that they were looking for security.

In modern times we would call it food security.  Jesus had fed them without their effort and struggle and that seemed to be something worth repeating.   It was probably worth patenting!

There is a hint of indignation in their enquiry when they eventually find Jesus after a long search.  “When did you come here?”   It is as if they expect Jesus to account to them for his movements.

It is about the same as the modern day dilemma faced by NGO’s and Aid agencies.  The agency begins with a vision and mission.  The vision is grasped by others and funding is made available by donors and patrons.  These donors demand accountability and soon the NGO is hobbled to desks writing reports to justify their expenditure of the donations, to the extent that they find it difficult to do the work that was their mission to begin with!  What is even more frustrating is that the donors have every right to demand good governance and fiduciary compliance. “When did you come here?”  “Account for yourself!”

Jesus, as always, cuts to the quick of the crowd’s  motivations. “You don’t want me, you want what I can do for you.  That is your mistake.You are materialist, utilitarian and pragmatic (all concepts that don’t exist yet, but when preachers speak about this in 2012, they will)” (All of this dialogue I found in an obscure Gnostic Gospel according to The Listening Hermit)*Joke

Despite my spurious and speculative dialogue, isn’t that the problem we have with Jesus and miracles?

The crowd may not have been “materialist, utilitarian and pragmatic”, but we moderns certainly are.  Remember Bill Hybels best seller titled, “Making life work”?

That what we want from our religion.  It must make the life we know and want, work.

When Jesus sees this in us however,  he gets into a boat and sails away.

For Jesus it seems, the Kingdom of God isn’t mere materiality, utilitarian ethics and pragmatic problem solving.  It is a transcending and transforming domain where God is paramount.

In this domain if you have trust in the mere mortal incarnation named Jesus, then your human suffering of hunger or thirst, poverty or humiliation, is merely the context for the deepening of that trust and the loosening of your addiction and dependence on the quick-fix, crowd-pleasing, sensational show, that so much religious activity devolves to.

Demands for signs and miracles are the marks of immature trust.  To provide them on demand is an iniquitous error on the Church’s part.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I want to fix the world and it’s suffering as much as the next person.

Jesus however seems determined to fix humanity first.

Ballast from Bethany-AscensionB

Luke 24:44-53

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. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

The feast of the Ascension brings to a close the forty day season of Easter, which itself is a climax to the forty day preparatory period of Lent. The purpose of the Ascension is to mark the transition of Jesus from Incarnate God back to the original Cosmic Omnipresnt Being. At least that is the theological perspective.

But there is something missing in all of this, for in my lifetime I have seen a steady decline, not merely in the observance of the Ascension feast, but also in the significance of this event in moderna day experience of our salvation history.
In part I suppose this due to the fact that “ascension” works better in a flat earth cosmology where there is only one direction one can ascend in. Knowing we live on a sphere, and then discovering the vast insignificance of that sphere in the Universe makes the ascension almost impossible for twenty-first century minds to process on any cognitive level.

Besides this, asking “Where did he go?” is at once a locational as well as a dimensional conundrum and to go from here to geo-physical explanation becomes a flight of fanciful sophistry.

Simply from these few sentences you can see that it is easy to ascend into such etheric speculation as to begin to feel just a tad trippy. That is why I come to the Ascension looking for an anchor and some ballast. If I, as a global, galactic human am to understand this feast at all I will have to angle into its significance in a way that is relevant to my context.

Let’s see…
The ascension is at its heart the conclusion of the Incarnation. How does one grasp that then without feeling utterly bereft of all the gift and consolation that Emmanuel brought us at the Christ Mass? As I scoured the passage for some sign I noticed that Luke is very specific in telling his readers,”he led them out as far as Bethany”.

Why did he lead them out as far as Bethany?
Bethany is the place of consolation, community and care for Jesus. The home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, was his refuge and at the same time the prototypical church community.

If Jerusalem is the city that “stones the prophets” and which refuses to be “gathered like chicks under the wings” of Jesus; then Bethany is the place where prophets recover and where clucking, caring community is to be found. Jesus, in taking the disciples as far as Bethany, points to where his incarnation will continue after the ascension. Yes, he does tell them to go and wait in Jerusalem for the gift from on high, but they are to go as the Bethany house community, caring for and supporting each other.

Pentecost may mark the birth of the empowered church, but the Ascension marks the gathering of that grieving, wounded and wondering group preparing, through pain, for inspiration.

Here in Bethany,where Lazarus walked out of a tomb that had been sealed for four days, these women and men are experiencing the very human realities of separation, loneliness and agst that we know from our own experience are the portals through which Spirit can blow.

Hosanna! Save us from Self-Interest! Palm Sunday-B

Mark 11:1-11
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

For many years, as a preacher, I have been captive to the insight that the fickle crowd who cried Hosanna at the Triumphal entry would have largely made up the crowd who cried for Jesus Crucifixion only days later. I have harped on their fickleness.
Whilst I still hold to that insight as valid, I have had my captivating lockup sprung open by considering the etymology of that interjection “Hosanna“. Reflecting on that one word, I am beginning to realise that the culturally captive crowds of Jerusalem would have almost no other way of seeing the man on the hiterto unridden colt than as the expected Saviour come to rescue them from their perceived enemies and according to their preconceived expectations.

The key lies, as I have said, in the word Hosanna which originally comes from Psalm 118:25 “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!”.
By the time of Jesus this Psalm verse had found its way into common parlance as a greeting and blessing. When one looks into the Greek version of the Old Testament the Septuagint, the word for Hosanna in Ps 118:25 is translated σῶσον δή (soson dei) which, if you don’t have Greek, means “save us”. I suppose it would be close to the Irish common usage, “God help us“, said willy nilly in conversation.
There is an interesting sidelight here. In Lent 5b last week we read of Jesus asking in John 12:27, “And what should I say—‘Father, save (SOSON) me from this hour’?”
Isn’t that strange the one thing Jesus said he wouldn’t ask of God, “Save me from this hour” is the very thing that the crowd requires of Jesus in their Hosanna-“Save us now!”?

Staying with the John passage of last week, Jesus declines to ask God to save him, he rather requests the Father to glorify his name. At face value it would seem that the Jerusalem fan parade is glorifying God’s name but they are not really. They are simply demanding their own liberation. “Save us now!

The paradox of Jesus’ life is that the glorification of God’s name is found  in the ignonimity and humiliation of the accursed one who is nailed up on a tree. It is from there that the salvation called for in the Hosanna arises.  However, this salvation is now completely redefined by the poured out life on the cross.

Which brings me to that Jerusalem flash mob and their, “God help us! God save us!”

Isn’t that the most primal prayer ever prayed?

As I write and muse, I realise that the only thing that would change in my prayer in 2012 from the prayer of the crowd is that I usually pray, “God save ME!” My Western consciousness doesn’t care much for the tribe or clan. That aside, the prayer is the same. It is the most basic form of prayer. It is an expression of self interest.

We who know this story so well, know that when the expected terms and conditions of that salvation did not materialize , the crowd turned viciously on the colt rider and had him done away with. I am not convinced we would have done any different. Except that we would probably sue Jesus first, and expose him in the tabloids as a fraud for good measure!

The question that remains for me though, is whether the crowd could have done any differently? It seems that as enculturated self interested human beings (are there any other kind?), they were only doing what it is our nature to do, they wanted to survive.
The horror of Holy Week for me is that I realise again and again that were I in that time, as I am now in mine, nothing would change. Self interest always wins.

Yet the real miracle we see in this whole Holy-Horrific week that lies before us from Palm Sunday to Easter, is how the Divine parent uses the most destructive forces of human nature, namely scapegoating and violence; as the very process of redemption.

My “Hosanna”,and my “Crucify him” screamed from the visceral core of my being, and screamed with absolutely no real understanding of what I am asking for, becomes the miraculous vocabulary with which God teaches me the meaning of unconditional love, mercy and salvation.
The cross becomes the confrontation with my self interest.
So into the horrors we go…

When I have gaped and groaned long enough at the feet of the Crucified one this Easter, I pray I will arise with a transposed cry in my heart.
Perhaps this year God will change me enough to cry out “God save them“, and “Crucify me!”

Do you suppose  those words will glorify God’s name?

Hooking up with Jesus

(I only have cell phone connectivity here on retreat so this comes from my Blackberry with minimal formatting)

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

I wonder why Jesus has such a preference for fishermen?
From what we can tell a third of the disciples he called, four out of the twelve, were from that profession. There may have been more because not all the professions of the disciples are mentioned.

Was there something in the skill set of fishermen that made for good disciples?
The patience?
The need to observe the depths? Being able to be in tune with the elements?
Living here in Port Alfred, at the mouth of the Kowie river there are all sorts of fishing adages. “When the wind blows East, the fish bite least. When the wind blows West, the fish bite best”
I wonder what the sayings around Galilee were?
Fishermen needto be able to face disappointment. Far more than hunters, they can come home day after day with nothing.

I will never know what it was that Jesus saw in fishermen, but John tells us that the metaphor of fishing became a metaphor Jesus used to describe the vocation of disciples, “I will teach you to fish for people”
Those of us who grew up in Evangelical churches will have had the song,
“I will make you fishers of men, (sic)
fishers of men,
fishers of men.
I will make you fishers of men,
fishers of men,
fishers of men.
If you follow me…
drummed into us from our Sunday School days.

When I think of how I as a child saw this fishing for people practiced I am not sure that the church really understood what the metaphor intended.
Most of the evangelistic fishing for people I witnessed growing up, seemed more like throwing a stick of dynamite into the lake and collecting the fish that were killed in the blast and floated to the surface.
The visiting evangelist, the tent meeting, the revival meetings were like whalers or trawlers that intended to haul in as many souls as possible.

I never saw the patience, the contemplation, the consideration that really good fishermen and fisherwomen apply to their craft.

If I could meet up with my childhood “fishers of people”, those who seemed obsessed solely with “decisions for Christ” I would want to ask some questions.

I would want to ask about sustainability of their fishing methods. Watching the ongoing evangelical movements of today it seems that their methods have become as unsustainable and inappropriate as a whaler in Antarctic waters. Nobody wants to see (or hear it any more). The violence, the shouting, the imperialistic harpooning is just brutal and barbaric. I don’t think Jesus had this in mind.

Here in Port Alfred most if not all sport fishermen practice “catch and release”. Fish are caught, weighed and then returned to the ocean or river as soon as possible and so, respect for the species and the stocks is maintained. I wonder if the church is quite ready to approach “fishing for people” in this way?

How ready are we to encouter people, share our truth and then instead of manipulating, cajoling and trapping them, allow them the freedom to re-enter the waters of life and make up their own minds about the truth we have shared?

Something about fishermen appealed to Jesus. I would like to think those early disiples were stoics as well as strategists, patient and not merely plunderers.

I wonder if we can discover the insight Jesus had to examine their craft closely and come to undertsand why he wanted us to become “fishers of people” with them?

Were those camel riders “Wise Guys”?

(I am captivated by and participating in the beauty of Port Alfred in this Christ Mass week and so too lazy to write a full Blog)

Here is my micro sketch of my sermon for Epiphany this Sunday.

I have been contemplating how the Magi contrast with the rash of arrogant religious Wise Guys out there at present. You know the people who have words from God for everyone and who have it all packaged and sealed.  Real Wise Guys…..Ugh!

Seems to me the Magi were very different from the Christian Taliban.

  1. They read and studied widely beyond their own culture.
  2. They were prepared to go on a journey to discover truth.
  3. They were discerning, and saw through Herod’s power play.
  4. They were not too arrogant to bow the knee before mystery when they found it.

I wanna be like them.

And you?

Who put the “i” in Surprise? – Advent 1b

Mark 13:24-37

“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

There can be no doubt that the gospel is full of surprises.
There is the surprise of finding the Divine domain. It is a surprise treasure buried in a field that the pilgrim trips over and then goes and sells everything to possess. It is a pearl of great price that a merchant finds in a market and then gives all he has to own it. It is the surprising (not so much for us bur certainly for Bronze age people) action of the yeast that makes a batch of bread dough rise, that makes the seed grow silently, that can take an immeasurably minute mustard seed and grow it into a large bush in which birds can nest. The Kingdom of God is a surprise. Gerard Hughes was correct when he entitled his book, “God of Surprises”

There another kind of surprise in the gospels. It is less organic and natural. It is also somewhat sinister.

It is the surprise of the returning Master, Lord, Landowner, King, Son of Man. It has an energy akin to a police swoop or a special forces raid. It is the thief that breaks in when you least expect it. It is a way of presenting Jesus that modern New Testament scholarship recognises probably did come as the core of what Jesus atually taught and may in fact be the longings and projections of a later, suffering and apocalytically hopeful early church.

As a preacher I have to be something of an octopus. Gone are the days when I could listen to Karl Barth and have the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other as I preached. As a pastor now, I have to have the eBible open on one desktop with Textweek in a parallel window, Google reader open on another, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TED all waiting. I have to be up to speed on the emails and text messages coming in about pastoral needs, The Spreadsheet relflecting the church financials needs to be up to date and I still have to download the MP3’s for worship and get the PowerPoint for the sermon done.

I can truly say that I am ready, or at least my Tablet, Broadband and Mobile are. The question is will I really be surprised?
There is so little that surprises us today doesn’t it? Hubble and CERN, Google and the Genome, Jasmine revolutions, Tsunamis, quakes and tremors it’s all quite pas sé. To coin a phrase, we have “seen” there and done that. So I am not sure that a little apocalyptic action as described in today’s gospel will actually get our adrenalin pumping.

It is however this imperviousness to be surprised that is our achilles heel. For just when it seems that we have it all sorted on the outside and the world materiel is managed and measured, the inner world of dark depression and ennui infect our innards and leave us in what Ken Wilber has named Flatland.
It is then that we are ready for the Divine Domain’s real encounter.
It is not an extravaganza. It is quite boringly simple.
It doesn’t need any equipment created by that wonderful Jobs man and that has an “i” in front of it.
In fact as Martin Buber pointed out it is not the “i” in iGadget it is the “Thou” in O.M.G. that makes for a relationship of WOW and wonder.

It is is with the eye of the heart that we can rediscover the surprise of the divine domain which the mystics have always been able to glimpse even though they may not fully have grasped what they saw.

So excuse me if I don’t get all fear fired up with Apocalyptic fervour, I happen to have seen the Son of Man coming in the clouds when I watched the sunrise this morning.
Oh b.t.w. I was really , and not virtually there.

Are you ready to risk? Ordinary 33a

Matthew 25:14-30

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

When working in the Gospels it is always a chalenge to know where to begin reading and where to end. The versification of the modern format of the Gospels is not helpful as some of the chapter breaks are arbitary and cut across teachings much the same way the cartogrophers pens carved across the map of Africa separating whole cultures, tribes and collective histories in the quest for Imperial lands.
We know from extant manuscripts that the written form of the gospels was very dense and even unpuntuated, let alone unversified!

Coming to these end times teachings of Jesus it is difficult to know when to begin reading before the passage to be preached from the lectionary. I find it helpful when trying to find the entry point into passages, to look for action passages, which are often the transition and comencement points.
Jesus moves to another place, Jesus enters the synagogue, Jesus crosses the lake, that kind of transition.

To find the access point for this teaching in today’s gospel, one has to backup to Matthew 24:3 As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things 8 happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
The reply of Jesus to that request takes the form of the following teachings:

  • The Persecution of the Disciples
  • The Abomination of Desolation
  • The Arrival of the Son of Man
  • The Parable of the Fig Tree

Underpinning the teachings is the theme,”Be Ready!”
Under this sub section of being ready there are then three parables, namely:

  1. The Faithful and Wise slave who takes care of the staff of the household whilst the Master is away,
  2. The Ten Virgins, five of whom keep themselves properly resourced for the return of the Master,
  3. and finally the Parable of the talents which is the focus for this week’s preaching.

The story is a simple narrative of a landowner who is going away and entrusts his property to his servants in differing proportions, five, two and one.
The unit of measure being termed talent is unfortunate, as it has come to be associated with skills. A talent in fact refered to a sheckel, which was the largest unit of weight in Biblical times but which scholars have not been able to find equivalency for in our modern measuring system.
The best we can do here is to say that the master divided his property into eight parts, five to the one servant, two to another and one to the last. Scripture then also goes on to comment, “According to their ability”
In the later accounting the five talents have been applied to yield another five; similarly the two talents are now four and both enteprising servants are given access to the Master’s joy. The fearful conservative slave who for fear of the Master’s harsh business methods, does nothing with his resource
is punished by losing that resource and also as a final humiloiation is excluded from the “joy of the master”

Now, if you have grown up in the church as I did, you will have heard any number of teachings on this parable, most of which will have been exhortations for you and I as individuals to use our God given talents as skilfully as we can and to achieve, achieve, achieve. After all that is the basis of the Protestant Work ethic!
There is just one problem with that approach. The individual was really not the key component of Biblical, Bronze Age culture. The group was.
Now if we consider that the church is the servant entrusted with the Divine Domain whilst Christ is visibly absent, I behoves the church to be expanding that Divine Domain’s resources through skillful engagement and even entrepreneurial action. Yet when I consider the activities of many church communities I see them acting, not in the inclusive expansive and expanding spirit of the skilfull stewards in this parable, I see rather fear based, suspicious and conserve-reactive (Conservative) laagers. It is even evident in our architecture.
The pictute at the head of this post, is of one of the newest Methodist Churches to be built in Johannesburg. Whilst I am architecturally astute enough to “read” the architect’s intention to embody the African theme, what they have unwittingly created is a fort!
Here is a British block house built by the Colonial forces in South Africa during the AngloBoer war.

A picture paints a thousand words, so let me be brief to close.
I am sadly persuaded that should the church have to give account right now,we would have to accept that the one portion we have so fearfully protected in our fear based, block house forts we call our denominations and our doctrines; would probably be taken away from us and we would lose the joy of the master.
Hey, come to think of it, that’s already happening!

Start walking by standing still


Matthew 14:22-33
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Finally Jesus gets the rest and retreat he came to this shore of the lake to find. That is before he was accosted by the needy crowd on whom he had compassion and who he fed with the five loaves and two fish.  At last evening has come.  He has sent the disciples off to the other side of the Lake, perhaps back to the place that they left when Jesus had heard the John the Baptiser had been beheaded? En route, one of the notorious squalls on Lake Gennesaret blows up and the disiples are in fear of their lives.

Jesus having finished his prayers round  three am in the morning, comes to the disciples walking over the sea. Matthew tells us, “…when the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified...”. It is interesting for me that the word that the Greek uses for terrified is tarasso which referes to water that is agitated. One could say that the disciples seeing Jesus walking on the agitated sea become agitated themselves, because they think it is a ghost (Greek = phantasma).

Notice the sequence, Jesus does nothing about the outer storm and agitation of the sea, but rather, addresses the agitation of the disciples’ minds. “Take heart” or “take courage” he says. The same word he uses in John 16:33, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!

Peter then wants to put this courage to the test, hops overe the side at the invitation of Jesus, strides out over the waves, but the moment he allows his fear of the outer agitation to once again get inside him and agitate his mind, he sinks!  Jesus responds, “You of small trust, why did were you uncertain?
Jesus leads them both to the boat and only then does the outer storm abate.

Now I am not sure of the physics of this event. I can’t explain the science of walking on water or of calming storms at sea, for I have experienced neither. What I have experienced and can speak of is the psychology and spirituality of this event.

As one who has been drawn to and has practiced contemplative prayer, silence and meditation in various forms as something of a perpetual beginner; I do know just how fluid and fickle the human mind is. The Sea of Galillee as a metaphor for the mind is so very appropriate.   Just like that inland lake, my inner stae of mind and being can be beatifically calm one moment and cyclonically agitated in the next nano second. I have also learnt, with great difficulty, that the state of my inner being determines how I am able to deal with, manage and cope with, the outer squalls of life.

A great eastern teacher Ajahn Chah titled a booklet on meditation, “A still forest pool” . In the eastern traditions they speak of meditation bearing the fruit of “tranquility and insight” in that order. There can therefore be no insight if tranquility has not been established. It is a process the Psalmist describes as, “Be still, and know…” Peter discovered that for himself.  As his agitated mind flooded his body with fear and he sank into the deep agitation of the sea.   Jesus, as always, gives the contrast. He has just come from a night of prayer and communion with his Abba and so is able to literally rise above the outer conditions confronting him, “walking over the sea“.

Peter the seafaring fisherman has to learn to navigate the inner ocean of his fears, before he will be able to be the “fisher for people” he was called to be.  Jesus the rabbi will teach him practically: in storms, in sleepy gardens of Gethsemane, at fearsome firesides in moments of denial, and one day in the not too distant future, back here on the shores of this very lake. “Peter do you realy love me more than everything?”

Walking on water is not the great achievement of this narrative. Having a still and trusting mind is the real miracle.

High Noon at Jacob’s Well

John 4:5-42

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered 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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

In the scorching midday sun at Jacob’s well it was a “High Noon” confrontation with as much drama as the 1952 Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly classic.  Unlike the movie, this vignette of Jesus’ life is not a violent confrontation between good and evil, it is rather a conflict of exclusivist, sexist and racist cultures, that is every bit as engaging as Carl Foreman’s screen play.

The theme song from “High Noon” , “Do Not Forsake Me O My Darling” could well have been the anthem of the Samaritan woman whom Jesus discerned had been married five times before.  She had loved and lost enough to have earned a reputation which made the women of the village shun her from their communal water drawing circle at dawn and dusk, when the day was cool.  Only mad dogs and shunned Samaritans go out in the midday sun.

Jesus the Jewish Rabbi, was out of his comfort zone too. In speaking to the woman he was breaking a whole scroll of religious and traditional taboos.  John only references this by “ Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans”.  An understatement if ever there was one!  A product of Post- exilic puritanical xenophobia, the Jewish religion of Jesus day, had become extremely exclusive.  Women bore the brunt of the exclusion  (See Ezra 10)

In a verbal shoot-out under the scorching sun, the Samaritan woman ducks and weaves like a good defensive gunslinger.  In keeping with the all too human way we defend ourselves from shame and blame, this shunned and failed woman goes on the attack. She fires from the hip with a hail of historical, theological, and sociological arguments in an attempt to hook Jesus into a messy cat fight and thereby mask the deep pain of her life that is exposed to his gaze and the blazing sunlight.

Jesus will not be drawn.  Rather than attack or defend, Jesus simply holds her in a space where he acknowledges who she is and then declares who he is despite her ritual and religious “unworthiness” for such an epiphany.

Isn’t that all any of us need for our healing? A space,unbearably hot as it might be, where we can allow ourselves to acknowledge who we are, and in that moment be graced by a Saviour who does not turn away from our shame and failure, but who floods our failed lives with his quenching living water.

Watching this sun drenched scene, I notice how the woman leaves the redundant water jar.  She didn’t ever draw Jacob’s water did she? But then she wasn’t thirsty anymore was she?

I also notice how she goes back to the very people of her village, who have judged and jostled her, and owns who she is in front of them, because despite her failures Jesus’ thirst quenching encounter has validated her as a human being.

There is something very “Resurrection morning” about the way this Samaritan woman leaves the deep gaping well, ( a symbol of her deep and dark wounding?) Like the women leave the empty tomb, she goes back to the city to proclaim having possibly seen the Messiah.  Perhaps though her message is different.  Could she not be calling out, “I have risen from the dead!”?

I suppose this event from Jesus’ life is different from the Western High Noon.  This Middle-Eastern High Noon has life pouring from the desert sands, where most Westerns end with blood seeping into the sand.  Is that because the “victim” is no longer the failed human woman, but the inclusive Jewish rabbi, who allows his blood to be spilt to end the shaming, and blaming as he gets caught in the Cross-fire?

Good Friday is just weeks away, time to saddle up and move on out.

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Transcending our terrors – Epiphany 8A

Matthew 6:24-34

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

It was Robert Johnson, that great explorer of the inner realms of the mind, who wrote, “In the Dark Night of the Soul, it is always three a.m.!”  If midnight is known as the witching hour, then three a.m. must sure be the worrying hour?

I lie awake and my mind seems like one of those old tractor feed printers spewing out reams and reams of thoughts onto the floor of my mind.  Every page filled with lines of data from the screaming print head, Zzzzzt, Zzzzzt, Zzzzzt.

In the worrying hour with the pile of messy thoughts littering my mind, I run endless, “What if?” scenarios. “I will say, she will say, he will say, then this, then that”. A proliferation of scripted chaos that never happens but which keeps me awake and sweating nonetheless.

Mark Twain understood this when he said, “I have spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened”

Jesus is putting his finger right on the problem when he says, “No one  can serve two masters”

What the non-dual teachers like Eckhart Tolle and others have discovered in the past decade was already clearly spelled out by Jesus.  You can only live in one moment and one reality at a time.  Yes, of course we are able to multi-task. That is what living in the cyber world demands, all the more reason to clearly distinguish between multi-tasking and divided thinking.  Jesus is clear, we can only live in one reality at a time.  To try and straddle multi-realities is the way to insanity.

The choice is simple. Either God is in charge,  (The King is really the king of the kingdom) or God is not in charge and we are we are merely flotsam on a tsunamic sea of chaos.

For all the good our pre-frontal lobe in the brain does by giving us awareness and consciousness, at another level it requires careful management as to where we allow our consciousness to settle.  The narrative of Peter walking on the storm comes to mind.  As long as Peter is conscious of Jesus calling him to come, Peter is able to tread on the chaos and walk on water. The moment, however, that he shifts his awareness from Jesus to the waves beneath his feet, he begins to drown.

I wish I could tell you that this is simply a matter of choosing where to look in every moment. It is not that simple.  I can be confidently wave walking in one moment and drowning the next.  I may not  even realise the tipping point when fear overwhelms my focus and the consciousness of chaos overwhelms my confidence in God.

I have however discovered an angle which might help.

It revolves around reminding myself of my origins.  Materialism, with its high priests constantly incant that we are mere accidents of the “selfish gene” and the best we can do is accumulate wealth and power so as to better preserve our genetic progeny above the hordes of losers.

That is not what Jesus taught.  If I follow Jesus carefully and caringly I discover a power that transcends my will to power and is even able to transform my genetic selfishness.  It is called compassion.  The ability to feel with another and to live and act so as to bless the lives of those around me.  That transcendence and transformation is the fruit of recognizing  that I am not a lone survivor on a sea of chaos.  Rather, I am a child of a heavenly parent who heads a family in which every other being; human, animal, plant, and rock are my siblings and supporters. Sparrows and Lilies are my encouragement to celebrate our unity,to conserve our habitat, and to worry not about my individual survival, but rather about the blessing and benefit of the whole family.  It is an instant cure to neurotic nights of terror regarding my individual survival.

Jesus said it far better than I can, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you

Allow me to translate and contextually update:

Strive after God’s reign and God’s integrated life and everything you need will appear

It’s only way to power off your three a.m. panic printer. Zzzzt, Zzzzt, Zzzzt……zzzzzzzzzzzzz….. Sleep well!