Saturday, August 22, 2015

Thomas Merton and Teilhard de Chardin

ON JUNE 27, 1949, THOMAS MERTON WROTE in his journal about going into the woods behind his monastery: "...both in the wood and especially on my way back, crossing an open hillock, all that I had tasted in solitude seemed to have a luminously intelligible connection with the Mass. It seemed to be a function or an expression of that morning's offertory...I wonder if my eyes have been momentarily opened...Could I end up as something of a hermit-priest, of a priest of the woods or the deserts or the hills, devoted to a Mass of pure adoration that would put all nature on my paten in the morning and praise God more explicitly with the birds?" (Entering the Silence, p. 331)
    ON AUGUST 6, 1923, PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN, while on a scientific expedition in the Ordos Desert, wrote this: "Since once again, Lord-though not this time in the forests of the Aisne but in the steppes of Asia- I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world."  (Hymn of the Universe, p. 19) 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

"Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man..."

"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" wondered the audience for Jesus' long discourse on the "Bread of Life" in John 6. A better question might have been, "Why?" Why such crude and confusing language?  Indeed, it confused its original audience, and the church ever since has put great energy into explaining what the words really mean. Some of the explanations (such as the R.C. Doctrine of Transubstantiation) are cleverly devised, and might succeed in making the gospel language less offensive, at least to devotees of Aristotelian metaphysics.

But maybe it is supposed to be confusing.
Maybe its supposed to be offensive and gross.
Maybe it is supposed to be like the cross: hideous and repulsive, yet translated paradoxically into a symbol of hope.
Maybe it is supposed to be like the whole notion of "God incarnate", the notion of "God-ness" inhabiting human flesh with all its inconveniences, orifices, and vents.
Maybe its supposed to be an invitation into a reality inaccessible to ordinary language, a place under the radar, behind the scenes, and over the top, where eucharistic babble over crackers and wine continues to draw men and women to Christian altars, even after 2000 years of confusion.

Even if we balk at the idea of eating the flesh of the Son of Man, God is less fastidious when it comes to eating us. It seems apparent to me that God "...eats us, swallows us whole as we pose as hunters, crouched in our flimsy deer-blinds, clutching our useless weapons and peering intently into the all consuming wildness all around us."


Monday, August 10, 2015

From an old Palm Sunday Sermon...

Has your world been changed by Jesus? Have you?

Would it change your world, or you, to have God enter into a profound solidarity with your greatest fear and most painful vulnerability?

What if God were somehow to become embedded in the flesh of your world, so that your life and the divine life somehow intersect and become one?

Would it change you or your world to be loved infinitely and completely, from the inside out, by one who knows you better than you know yourself?

Would it change you or your world to be loved like a child, like a friend, like a spouse, by the Creator of the Universe?

Would it change you or your world to be loved like a prodigal son or a beloved disciple, like the way Jesus loved Lazarus and Martha and Mary and his other friends?

Would it change your world to be loved, both from heaven and from the cross, to be loved from both the future and the past, and from both sides of the gate of death?

Jesus has changed me and my world, and is not finished yet.
Jesus has changed my world from a flat place to a deep one, from an utterly secular place full of problems to a sacred place haunted by mysteries.

Jesus changed my world to a place where power, domination, cruelty and wealth can never have the last word, but rather a world in which self-giving love is the beginning and end of every story worth telling. 

The Palm Sunday procession is not as aimless as it appears. It is a procession to the center of the universe, the heart of the cosmos.
As Jesus rides a donkey into the center of Jerusalem, he is bringing God into the center of our being.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

THIS PASSAGE USES A FORM COMMON IN the letters of Paul and other New Testament writings: a “catalogue” of vices and virtues. The list of desirable behaviors for Christians is not much different from similar lists found in Jewish and pagan writings. We don’t need Jesus to know that “thieves must give up stealing.” “Be kind to one another” would be considered good advice by all the world religions.
WHAT IS DIFFERENT occurs in the closing verses, where the writer calls us to a radical forgiveness for which there is no Jewish or pagan precedent. “…forgive…one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
IT IS ALSO UNIQUE IN THE BIBLE for this author to say “be imitators of God.” Christ is to be the role model, the template, and the standard which is to inform all our ethical decision-making. This carries us far beyond prudential ethics, cost/benefit analysis, or any sort of quantifiable moral calculus. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us,” calls for a transformation in human nature, and can only be accomplished by God’s grace.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE CLOSING SENTENCE suggests that St. Paul may have been quoting a commonly used hymn used in Christian worship. It summarizes the work of Christ in salvation, who “gives himself up for us.” The language here is that of sacrifice as carried out by the Jewish priesthood in the temple before its destruction in 70 B.C.E. . Instead of animal and other sacrifices, Christians are to offer their own lives in union with Christ, which, to translate literally, will smell good to God.
NOTES FROM THE ANCHOR BIBLE: EPHESIANS 4-6, by Markus Barth (1974) pp.550-557   

Friday, August 7, 2015

Commentary on Readings for Sunday, August 9, 2015 Proper 14

FIRST READING: from 2nd Samuel

You tube “When David Heard” Tewksbury Abbey Schola Cantorum

THE TRAGIC STORY OF DAVID AND HIS SON ABSOLOM eclipses the political/historical drama of David’s triumph over a nearly-successful rebellion. IN THE BIBLE, the personal and commonplace reveal God’s presence more than the “big picture” events that interest historians and politicians.

THE GOSPEL: continuing the extensive “Bread of Life” commentary found in the 6th Chapter of the Gospel of JOHN.
Jesus said to the people, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven."
NOTES ARE FROM “CROSSMARKS”, on-line exegetical notes by The Rev. Brian Stoffregan.
1)      Who are "the Jews" in John? There are three different ways that Culpepper (Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel) suggests that John uses "the Jews". A) They can be the Jewish people in general. B) They can be Judeans. C) They can be authorities hostile toward Jesus [p. 126].
Who are they in our text? There seems to be a shift with v. 41.
a)       "the crowd" (ochlos -- vv. 2, 5, 22, 24).
b)      Now they are called "the Jews." They "were complaining" (gogguzo) in v. 41, which escalates into "were disputing" in v. 52 (machomai is more often translated "quarreling" or "fighting" [Ac 7:26; 2Ti 2:24; Ja 4:2].
c)      With both these verbs, the fighting is among "the Jews." They are not complaining or quarreling with Jesus or the disciples, but among themselves. It is likely that this presents the situation at the time of John. The Jews were divided over Jesus. My guess is that "the Jews" in these verses refers to the Jewish people in general -- some who believed in Jesus and some who didn't …
NOTE- IN THE PALM SUNDAY AND GOOD FRIDAYT READINGS,  "the Jews" refers to the RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES, who happened to be Jews. Ruthless prejudices developed as a result of this unfortunate ambiguity. How could the gospels be “anti-semitic”, when Jesus and all his disciples were Jewish? A bitter irony…
2)      "The Jews" and gogguzo connects this scene with the Jews who "complained" in the wilderness …. During the wilderness travels, God provided the people with manna in the wilderness (Ex 16:1-36; Num 11:7-9; John 6:31, 49), yet the people complained about it (Num 11:1-6), so that God would not allow any of the complainers into the Promised Land (Num 14:26-30). There is a whole lot of complaining after Jesus has fed this crowd (John 6:41, 43, 61), and some (even disciples) will not (cannot?) listen to his words of eternal life (and thus enter the "promised land"?).

3)      No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me would draw them" (v. 44a).
What does it mean to be "drawn" to Jesus? This word, elkuo, is used five times in John. The other verses are below.
  • 12:32 -- And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
  • 18:10 -- Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus.
  • 21:6 -- He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.
  • 21:11 -- So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Can we speak of being “drawn” to Christ? “Hauled?” Do we feel like “fish being lured” into a relationship with an unseen reality?

4)      “…whoever believes has eternal life.”

·         Four times "having eternal life" is mentioned (vv. 40, 47, 54, 68). In every case, the verb (echo = to have) is in the present tense! Eternal life is a present possession.
·         Eternal life comes through
·         (1) seeing and believing in Jesus (vv. 40, 47)
(2) eating Jesus' flesh and drinking his blood (v. 54)
(3) (by implication) listening to Jesus' words (v. 68)

5)      THE “BREAD OF LIFE” sequence is reflective of the early church’s Eucharistic practice. For them, the weekly gathering for the Eucharistic meal was a renewal of their connection to the Risen Jesus, and a real participation in the eternal life of God.

6)      “The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world.”
Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy

You tube “When David Heard” Tewksbury Abbey Schola Cant