Channeling God -Advent 2b

Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

I love words. That is why I write. Words have so many layers. They come from other words, they dance, they cascade, they evoke. Words are wonderful.
Language is such a living thing. It emerges from our primordial past. Like our genes, words carry codes that we have forgotten or were never aware of. Words carry their own grammatic history within themselves. It is an alpha-helix called etymology.
Examining the etymology of a word like etymology is a fascinating exercise. You might want to try it right now. Open Google and type etymology of etymology.
Now click the first link Google serves. You should get…
late 14c., ethimolegia “facts of the origin and development of a word,” from O.Fr. et(h)imologie (14c., Mod.Fr. étymologie), from L. etymologia, from Gk. etymologia, properly “study of the true sense (of a word),” from etymon “true sense” (neut. of etymos “true, real, actual,” related to eteos “true”) + -logia “study of, a speaking of” (see -logy). In classical times, of meanings; later, of histories. Latinized by Cicero as veriloquium. As a branch of linguistic science, from 1640s. Related: Etymological; etymologically.

Now I don’t know about you but that excites me.

Dictionaries are like microscopes. They let us examine words. They place the word on a slide and shine a light from underneath and suddenly we see a wonderland in the word. If you are able to crossover between languages it becomes even more fun.
Words are like families too. They have genealogies.
If you begin to track English words eymologically (hey that’s the word that ended the search we just did!) you will discover that most English words are descended from Latin, Greek, French and perhaps some Germanic Saxon as a catalyst.
When I began to play with the words in this Gospel for the Second Sunday in Advent I notice that Isaiah’s quoted prophecy has for the word of the Lord, “I am sending ” the Greek word appostello. Now you don’t have to be a Greek pundit to know that appostelo is the word from which we trace our word Apostle. Apostles are thos who are sent. They are emissaries. So in the Gospel the writer of Mark quotes Isaiah as saying “God is sending,…” Sending whom?

Well here is the next bit of microscope word fun. The word for messenger that we English readers see in the text is the Greek word angelon. Again you can see that it’s the word we derive “angel” from. So angels are messengers. In fact one could say they are “messengers who are sent” or apostolic angels.

These apostolic angels are to prepare the way of the Lord in the Wilderness
Another translation could be “equip a channel in the eremetic desert for God to pass along”

Now it is when playing like this with the words of a passage, that one is able to come to some interesting insights.
We who know this story well, know that it refers to the work of John the Baptist. He is the divinely appointed and sent one who prepares the way for Jesus.
But if the apostolically sent messenger angel is the one who equips a channel for God.(Please excuse the redundancy but I needed to hold the concepts in parallel) Then we are all potential John the Baptisers.

We are all sent to prepare channels for God.
Is it too much of a leap to suggest that the Christ follower is the one who is divinely charged to channel God in a bleak world?
Maybe our New Age friends have something worth considering on this score?

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!

Why am I so needy?

Luke 12:22-31

He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, 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, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

An indigent Indian poet with the musical name of Simanta Chattergee, once said to Robert Johnson, ‎”If I began thinking about needs, I would sink to the bottom of the world. If I don’t think, I get what I need

Fauna Sunday in the season of creation, is an invitation to invert our arrogant assumed dominance of the created order and to contemplate the inherent wisdom of the creation which witnesses to the provision of God far more than we, who claim to be the crown of that creation, do.

The following is an excerpt from a CNN report dated May 10, 2010 (

CNN) — The world’s eco-systems are at risk of “rapid degradation and collapse” according to a new United Nations report. The third Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3) published by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) warns that unless “swift, radical and creative action” is taken “massive further loss is increasingly likely.” Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the CBD said in a statement: “The news is not good. We continue to lose biodiversity at a rate never before seen in history.” The U.N. warns several eco-systems including the Amazon rainforest, freshwater lakes and rivers and coral reefs are approaching a “tipping point” which, if reached, may see them never recover.

Whilst some of the extinctions can perhaps be viewed as part of the ongoing process of evolution and the natural selection process which sees the survival of the fittest, nevertheless, we cannot exonerate ourselves from being a conscious participant in the extinctions. It is important for us to note that for the first time in the history of the planet, apart from God’s role in things, evolution and extinction are being affected by a species which is aware of what we are doing, whilst we are doing it!

Some of the major human threats to species are well known but at the risk of redundancy, let me list them once again:

  • Unsustainable hunting
  • Trophy hunting of large predators
  • Introduction of exotic species
  • Habitat destruction

I am not so sure that Jesus’ prayer from the cross is applicable in this case. Remember as Jesus was being crucified, he prayed,” Father forgive them they don’t know what they are doing“? I think we know exactly what we are doing but we have made a critical error of judgement. We have failed to discern our role in the vast drama of this complex and beautiful planetary play. By a cunning sleight of hand, our dominant egos have tricked us to believe that everything exists to fulfil our needs and not the other way around.

Jesus grasped it in the gospel reading for this second Sunday in the season of creation. And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

  • The nations of the world” as Jesus refers to them. Seem to be those who have not grasped the secret of God’s reign, or as someone called it, “the God first principle”.
  • Your Father knows that you need them” begs the question as to whether I like all the other created species can place my dependence on God to provide what is needed. (Am I the only one, or do you also hear a thousand arguments arise as you read this? I wonder whose voice those arguments are using? My parents, teachers, financial advisors all baulk at this concept.)
  • “Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” There was a time when “seeking first the kingdom of God” meant I had to go into the world and get everyone to think and act like Christians do. I no longer believe that. I believe that Christianity as it is commonly practiced is a far from Jesus as the Pharisees were. No, striving for the Father’s kingdom has come to mean for me a radical reconsideration of what it means to form my life around following Jesus.

In that process I have had to confront my culture and all that it has indoctrinated me to believe.

That process has, in turn, taught me that striving for the Kingdom of the Father is a lifelong search for the places where nurturing and not destruction is taking place. My search for nurturing rather than destructive teachings has taken me outside of my own religion into a global community of concerned people who are together and individually searching for ways to heal and not to hurt.

For example I have learned from a maverick Japanese farmer called Masanobu Fukuoka, who wrote, The One-Straw Revolution that:

To the extent that people separate themselves
from nature, they spin out further and further from the centre. At the same time, a centripetal effect asserts itself and the desire to return to nature arises. But if people merely become caught up in reacting, moving to the left or to the right, depending on conditions, the result is only more activity. The non moving point of origin, which lies outside the realm of relativity, is passed over, unnoticed.

I believe that even “returning-to-nature” and anti-pollution activities, no matter how commendable, are not moving toward a genuine solution if they are carried out solely in reaction to the over development of the present age. Nature does not change, although the way of viewing, nature invariably changes from age to age. No matter the age, natural farming exists forever as the wellspring of agriculture.

This wise man also said:

To disrupt nature and then to abandon her is harmful and irresponsible.

So I have learnt that ravens and lilies have a wisdom, which Jesus understood and which when grasped is liberating for the troubled human soul.

My maternal grandmother had a simple plaque that used to hang in her kitchen. It read:

Said a sparrow to another,

“I would really like to know,

Why all these human beings

Rush and scurry so?”

Said the other little sparrow

“It seems pretty clear to me

They don’t have a heavenly Father

Such as cares for you and me.”

The secret seems to be that when I trust God first in all things, as ravens and lilies do, I then don’t have to worry about discerning need from greed.

The words of that indigent Indian poet have is so well, ‎”If I began thinking about needs, I would sink to the bottom of the world. If I don’t think, I get what I need

Heralding the reign of the Healing King

Luke 10:1-12,17-20

The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.
‘Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house.
‘Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’
The seventy-two came back rejoicing. ‘Lord,’ they said ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name.’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’

Having just returned from a wonderful week of leave that included a World Cup soccer game and fantastic shows at the Grahamstown National Festival of the Arts, I am a feeling just the slightest patina of rust on the homiletic tools, so let me simply highlight the phrases that grab my attention for reflection in the Gospel this week.

Seventy Two Others
I am not an expert on numerology, so I will not pretend to know the significance of the number seventy-two except to note that it is a number six times larger than the original band of apostles.  If this passage indeed teaches Jesus’ priorities for ministry as I believe it does, I as a ministerwould do well to remember that ministry should constantly be including more and more people in the work of the Kingdom.  How else will people know that the Kingdom of God is very near to them if there are not representatives of the King, touching their lives?

Ahead of him, to towns and places he was to visit.
Don’t you find it interesting that Jesus sends these “others” to the places he has yet to go? So often I find the church only wants to send “ordinary” men and women to places where Jesus has already been, (or where the professionals have been.)
I grew up in a church culture where the expert preacher or evangelist would come to the town first and lead the “revival”. Then, and only then, ordinary members would be left to do the “follow up”.  Jesus seemed to operate differently. He is the follow up after the ordinary people have gone to others and brought healing and spoken of the immanent and close kingdom.

Eat what is before you.
I wonder what happened to teaching this ministry principle in Seminary. As I look around at the culture of entitlement of so many modern ministers I begin to wonder if they have come to serve or to be served?  So few seem happy these days to “eat what is before them” rather the value seems to be, “criticise what is before you and demand something different and more expensive”!

Cure those who are sick
How different were the days when healing was a spiritual process, and healers were the spiritual leaders of a community. Our society has made the physical body engineers, the doctors, the sole custodians of the healing arts.  A few years ago I was praying with a patient behind drawn curtains in a hospital ward when the attending physician arrived and interrupted my prayer with, “Please stand aside and wait outside, I have work to do here
What is most damming in my memory of this event is that I didn’t argue or protest. Like a lamb before the wolf I aquiesced and left the ward. Was I following Jesus there?

I wonder how long it will still be before we realise the bankrupcy of trying to heal the body without reference to the dis-ease of soul that makes health break down in the first place. True wholeness comes from integration of the whole person into the whole of life as an extension of our whole God.

And say the “Kingdom of God is very near to you.”
It is when we come to the complete understanding of union with God as integration and non-duality of being at all levels of this human existence that we will begin to experience the reality described as the kingdom or reign of God.

Healing is our primary task as the enrolled and registered servants of heaven’s health.