Walking the Jordan River

Waters shall break forth in the wilderness…
Isaiah 35-10

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…
Psalm 46:1-12 

On either side of the river is the tree of life, with its twelve kinds of fruit,
and the leaves of the fruit are for the healing of the nations…
Revelation 22:1-5

Then Jesus came to the Jordan, to be baptized by John….
Matthew 3:13-17 

The Jordan River winds through the whole Bible, a sacred symbol for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  Jews remember that their ancestors crossed through the Jordan into the promised land.  Christians remember that Jesus came there to be baptized in its waters. And Muslims remember Muhammad, whose closest companions were buried there.

In today’s Gospel Jesus steps into the Jordan…. not just to be baptized in a symbolic action, but to be completely drenched in the river.

Are you ready to step into the waters, too?

Walking the river with Jesus

As a young boy, Jesus probably climbed into the mountains north of his home in Nazareth, perhaps even reaching the springs that feed the river near Mt. Hermon.

Cascades near Mt. Hermon

He would have seen farmers using the Jordan’s water to irrigate their farms…

The upper Jordan

He would have hiked around the Sea of Galilee, formed by the river over many centuries.

The Sea of Galilee

And as a grown man, after his baptism in the river, we know he climbed into the dry hills above the Jordan, to wrestle with his call to ministry.

The lower Jordan desert

Walking the river today

I invite you to walk the Jordan River with me this morning.  We could choose to hike along the Colorado River, sacred to the Native Americans who live along its banks, dammed by American engineers, and diverted to American farms before it reaches Mexican land.

Or we could walk along the Ganges as it rushes south through India and Bangladesh, or along the Nile as it winds through the nations of North Africa.

We could be walking almost any river on Earth, because every river has ecological, human, and spiritual value to the people who live nearby; but we’re walking the Jordan today because it already has spiritual value for us, and it is crying out for practical solutions to its many problems.

The Jordan from outer space

For a river with such mighty meaning, the Jordan River is very short – only 156 miles long.  It was once more than 75 feet wide, flanked by willow trees and poplars and filled with fish that could be eaten; but today, at its best the Jordan is less than 6 feet deep. It’s become more like a creek than a river.

The river flows through some of the most dangerous and disputed land on Earth.  Its sources begin in the mountains where the borders of Lebanon, Syria, and Israel meet.  Then, below the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan forms the border between Israel and two Arab nations.

But the crisis facing the river Jordan involves more than international politics.  Today environmentalists blame Israel, Jordan and Syria for crippling damage to the river and its ecosystem. 70% to 90% of the river’s waters are used for human purposes along the upper Jordan, and the remaining water comes from sewage and the contaminated agricultural run-off.

at Yardenit

Just below the Sea of Galilee, the modern pilgrim comes to Yardenit, where the Israelis have created a pool of clean water.  Every year more than 600,000 pilgrims come here, to step in the water, to be baptized, or to be re-baptized. If you only saw the Jordan here (as most Christian pilgrims do) you might think that the Jordan River is still robust and vibrant.

at Alumout

But just a few miles south of Yardenit, we come to the Alumot Dam, which diverts the fresh water into Israel’s national water carrier.  A small sewage treatment plant processes the rest, sending a thin stream of brownish-yellow sewage water back into the stream. As the river continues south, the sewage from thousands of Israelis living in the upper Jordan Valley; from thousands of Israeli settlers and Palestinians on the West Bank; and from a quarter-million Jordanians provides the Lower Jordan River with most of its water.

at the Island of Peace

A few miles south of Alumot, we come to the “Island of Peace”. To find an Island of Peace anywhere in the world is rare, but to find it in the Middle East is a miracle.  The land here is Jordanian, but it’s owned and farmed by an Israel kibbutz.  100 years ago, kibbutz leaders received permission from Jordan to build a hydroelectric power station, and the canals and dams built for the station created an island.  In spite of continuing conflict Israel ceded the area to Jordan 25 years ago, as part of the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace. Jordan agreed to lease it back so the Israeli farmers could continue to cultivate the land. The kibbutz on the Island of Peace continues to this day; international pilgrims still visit; and Friends of the Earth – Middle East hope (now called EcoPeace) hopes to create a “Jordan Peace Park”.

at Bethany beyond the Jordan

A few miles south of the “Island of Peace” we come to al-Maghtas – or “Bethany beyond the Jordan”. This is the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism – honored and visited for nearly 2,000 years of Christian history.   Today pilgrims walk down steps that led to a deck on the river’s edge, and – if they dare – can step into the Jordan’s waters.

Two years ago, EcoPeace led journalists on a tour of the river.  One of the journalists recorded,

“One look at the river and we understood why we came on the trip. It was pitiful.  The Jordan River, for all its fame, was a narrow  brownish stream that gurgled its way south.  On the opposite side, just a few meters away from us in Jordan, was a similar wooden deck where tourists came and went.

“One pilgrim put on a white cloth and calmly entered the water. The guide, who had been explaining how the river turned from gushing rapids into a fetid stream, stopped mid-sentence as we all watched in horror. “

Sometimes our convictions about spiritual truth the can blind us to material reality.

   at the Dead Sea

A few more miles, and we come to the Dead Sea. The Jordan always ended here; the waters have no outlet because the sea is so far below sea level. But today the Dead Sea is truly dying, shrinking by the day as its waters are drained away for human use.

The Jordan River is the latest victim of the Syrian civil war

More than 3 million refugees have fled Syria to date, and over half a million have settled in bone-dry and water-impoverished Jordan.   Environmental issues are understandably a very distant second to humanitarian concerns, but the rising numbers of refugees needing water have reduced the river’s flow to a trickle.

Za’atari refugee camp

One of the Jordan’s major tributaries, the Yarmouk River, flows southwest out of Syria and forms the border between Syria, Jordan and Israel.  Nearby is the Za’atari Refugee Camp, the second largest refugee camp in the world and now the fourth largest settlement in Jordan.

(To illustrate the impact that humans have on these rivers, note this: When refugees began to flee southern Syria, the amount of water flowing downstream to the Yarmouk water greatly increased – because the water is no longer being used by Syrian farms and towns.)

EcoPeace Middle East  

EcoPeace Middle East is an international organization active in environmental peacemaking. With 40 paid employees and hundreds of volunteers, EcoPeace publishes scientific and social research, spearheads national-level advocacy campaigns and engages in grassroots community development.

One of EcoPeace’s major goals is the rehabilitation of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.  Its Good Water Neighbors project engages residents of all ages, mayors and municipal representatives in 25 communities throughout all three countries in a united effort to rehabilitate the regions’ shared water resources.  Amazingly, considering the region’s problems, EcoPeace has made surprising headway in encouraging cooperation to save the river.

A study by EcoPeace scientists shows that the Jordan River could return to life with 400 million cubic meters of fresh water annually.  Where would the water come from?  Half would be returned by Israel, a quarter by Jordan, and the last quarter by Syria.  EcoPeace says those percentages are based on historically who has taken what.  “Historically, Israel has taken 46% of the flow. So it can at least return that much and because of its [strong] economic situation it can return more.”

Impossible?  The work EcoPeace has done with local councils and the media has created a public outcry which in turn has convinced the local authorities near the Sea of Galilee to finally build a sewage treatment plant, which will treat the waste and then use that water for other purposes.

A proposed Jordan River Peace Park is another source of hope to EcoPeace . Its leaders envision an island national park where Jordanians, Israelis, and Palestinians, who so seldom meet, might congregate and try to overcome their differences.

What are we going to do about water?

This has been another week when we’ve felt defeated by American politics, alarmed by world leaders threatening war, and overwhelmed by monster hurricanes and earthquakes.  Can we muster any energy to save earth’s waters?

Every worth-while task is daunting.  It doesn’t matter whether you want to save the salmon in the Columbia River or the Morro Bay Estuary, share water equitably from the Colorado or the San Joaquin delta.  It doesn’t matter whether your water issue starts with underground wells in Cambria or Paso Robles, or the with the cost of treating sewage in Los Osos.

But if Israelis and Jordanians can maintain an Island of Peace in a region of war, what could we do here?

I know that everyone here this morning is already personally doing something to care for the environment.  We’ve learned to recycle, take shorter showers, stop using Styrofoam cups and plastic bottles  – small personal actions that mount up when we do it together.  But how are we working together to pressure our local officials, our national leaders, to make better decisions about water?

If some brave Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians can cooperate to save the Jordan River, can’t we muster the patience to deal with our own neighbors, with our community service districts, with our county, state and national leaders?

How big a task is too big for us?  Let’s return to this morning’s psalm:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea.
though the mountains tremble at its tumult.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Psalm 46

As I see it, there are two ways to respond to what this psalm is saying.

We could hear it saying,  Don’t worry, leave it to God.
Or we could hear, God will give you strength to do the work before you. 

What do you hear?

Every worth-while task is daunting, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.


The Mud Creek Slide

Yesterday when Rob read this verse – the mountains toppled into the depths of the sea – he was reminded of the great slide on Highway One north of us – and the mind-boggling challenge of repairing it.

So Rob asked, should we wait for God to fix this – these mountains that have tumbled into the sea – or can God give us strength – the strength to decide to fix our infrastructure, to repair our roads and our dams, and then agree to pay taxes so the state of California can fix it?

Rob says that’s one thing he can do.

What’s  your  “one thing”?

Preached at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church, Los Osos
River Sunday: September 24, 2017

 

Wrestling with God


Jacob Wrestling with the Angel – Rembrandt
Genesis, chapters 25-50

Jacob wrestles with God

  • Jacob’s story: Jacob’s story takes up 25 chapters in Genesis.  (It’s a family saga, and it’s also a Biblical soap opera.)
  • Today’s reading: Jacob is still traveling, and preparing to meet his brother Esau again; even after many years, he’s still afraid of what Esau may do to him and his family. (Whatever Esau chooses to do, Jacob knows he deserves it.)
  • Wrestling with fear: Jacob doesn’t sleep, but wrestles all night with the unknown future that waits in the morning.  (But there’s Someone else there along with the dangers – Someone who won’t let him go.)
  • Wrestling with God: It turns out Jacob is meeting God again; first it was the dream of a ladder joining heaven and earth (Genesis 28); now, it’s a God who won’t let him go (Genesis 32).

We all wrestle with God

  • I believe every human being wrestles with God, whether they believe in God or not.  There is Something – or Someone – who calls us, accompanies us on our way through life, Someone or Something who won’t let us go.
  • Andy’s story: For many years, as he struggled with mental illness, our son Andy was haunted by the kind of Christianity that pictures God as judgmental and even eternally condemning.  After he died, his last journal was sent to us, and we found notes he’d written while listening to a radio sermon about Jacob.
  • God never lets us go: There were pages of notes from this sermon that captivated Andy, but the bottom line was this:  Jacob was a ‘schemer’– and so was Andy – but God loves them anyway, and will never let them go.
  • Face to face with God:  In listening to this sermon, Andy had come face to face with the loving God of Jesus.

Finding the Face of God in the Bible 

  • Each of our lessons today reminds us of a time when someone came face to face with God.
  • Jacob wrestled with God in the desert, and learned that God was with him every step of the way. (God left his mark on Jacob, a wound he would carry for the rest of his life.)   Genesis 32
  • Moses wrestled not just with God, but with the people of Israel – Jacob’s descendants. (God gave Moses the Commandments, and afterwards his face shone with the intensity of the encounter.)  Exodus 34
  • Jesus wrestled with God’s call (not just with the devil!) in the desert;and for the rest of his life he followed the direction God had given him.  (On the mountain, the disciples came face to face with God’s presence.)   Luke 9
  • Paul never met Jesus in the flesh, but he met him on the road to Damascus: in a blinding light, Paul came to understood he was moving in the wrong direction.    Years later, Paul would write, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.”  Acts 9; 1 Corinthians 13
  • This is the God of redeeming love that Andy finally met again at the end of his life – seen through Jacob’s story, read in the light of Jesus.

Our culture wrestles with Jesus – or at least wrestles with ideas about Jesus 

  • Some ask, “Did Jesus really exist?”
  • Others ask, “Was Jesus really the Son of God?
  • Some say, “You must believe in Jesus (my version of Jesus) to gain eternal life.”
  • Others say, “Jesus a great teacher, but his lessons were meant for a simpler world.”
  • Many Christians believe Jesus is still a window into the nature of God.
  • I believe that the God of Jesus Christ is a God of unending love and compassion.

What do you see when you wrestle with Jesus?

 Preached at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church, Los Osos
August 6, 2017

 

 

Surely the Lord is in this place

by Rob and Donna Ross – July 23, 2017


O Lord, hear our  prayer….

Donna:

This Sunday and next, Jesus tells parables about seeds (see Matthew 13:1-32).   In these parables, some seeds land on barren pathways; some seeds are thrown among rocks and brambles; other seeds crowded out by weeds. And some seeds fall into good soil, becoming great trees strong enough to support the growing kingdom of God.

This Sunday and next, the lessons begin with Jacob’s story (see Genesis 25:19-33:17).  We can hear Jacob’s saga as one of Jesus’ “good seeds”.  His story has it all – the barren land, the rocks and brambles,  and plenty of wicked weeds.  But Jacob  – in spite of himself – also turned out to be “good soil”  where the promises of God can start growing into the kingdom.

The saga begins by telling us that Jacob and his brother Esau were twins, and were in conflict even in their mother’s womb.  (Esau was born first, but Jacob came out holding onto his brother’s heel.)  Things got no better as they grew up.  As grown men, they continued to compete, and when their father was dying Jacob even connived to steal the blessing that was meant for his brother Esau.

Then, wisely, Jacob ran away from home and fled into the desert.

Don’t glorify that desert in your imagination.  Jacob’s desert was as desolate as the Mojave, as barren as the vast wastes of Nevada – the last places you would expect to find God’s comfort and promise for the future.  (And don’t glorify Jacob, either.  He was a rascal.  But this rascal’s story shows us that whatever our faults, God loves us and stays with us, and God’s promises to us will bear fruit, if only we – like Jacob – learn to listen and love.)


Genesis 28:10-17, in St. John’s illuminated Bible

Jacob came to a certain place and stayed there for the night,
and he dreamed there was a ladder set up on the earth,
the top of it reaching to heaven.
The angels of God were ascending and descending on it…


Jacob’s Dream, by Marc Chagall

And in the dream the Lord stood beside Jacob and said,
“Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…”
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said,
“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it…” 

For at least 3,000 years, Jacob’s story has been a favorite.  As adults we’ve seen his story in great art, and as little children many of us learned all the verses of “Jacob’s Ladder”.

Jacob’s story is a favorite because it reminds us that God meets us in many places… and some of those places are very ordinary.  Like so many people, whether wandering in strange lands or close to home, Jacob found the presence of the Living God in an unexpected place, in a place where he wasn’t even looking.  And so Jacob said,

Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it…

 
In the crowd at the Paris airport

Rob:

Last month I went on a pilgrimage to holy places in France.  One was Taize, a modern pilgrimage site, where thousands of young people come each week to spend seven days.

 
Paris traffic

My pilgrimage really began with a taxi ride from the Paris airport.  I was badly jet-lagged, but struck up a conversation with the driver, who had emigrated from Mauritius 20 years ago. My French is pretty minimal, and his English was only slightly better,  but we managed.    As we approached downtown Paris, the traffic slowed to a crawl… I noticed a sad man holding a piece of cardboard  saying that he was a Syrian refugee.


Refugee beggar

Promptly, my driver rolled down the window and gave him some coins.  At the end of our ride together, I told him that I was moved by his generosity and gave him much more than the usual tip — suggesting that perhaps he could give some of it to other refugees. He responded with a broad smile and a hearty handshake.

Clearly, my pilgrimage was not just to churches.

Three days later, our group of 16 pilgrims, led by three Presbyterian pastors and a Roman Catholic priest, climbed into two vans and headed south for Vezelay, which has been a pilgrimage site since the 11th century.

The next morning, we were led into the chapter room of the basilica for a deeply moving service in which we were formally commissioned and given medallions which we would wear for the next two weeks.

After three days based in Vezelay, our next stop was Taize…where each week thousands of pilgrims, mostly young, come through the gate to spend a few days.

 
Pilgrims arriving at Taize

Several times each day, people gather with the brothers in their large worship space….
to sing Taize chants, to listen to Scripture, and to pray.  But Taize’s method  is much more than music and prayer.


Pilgrims at worship

When young people come to Taize, they gather for prayer three times each day, singing chants and praying with the brothers, yes…

…but they also gather every day for Bible Study/Reconciliation.  The young pilgrims are assigned to groups where not everyone speaks the same language.  Perhaps you speak French, and also some English and German.  Others speak German, and just a little Polish.  (Some are American, and speak only English.)  To talk with each other, they have to listen hard, they learn to translate for each other, and they have to struggle to share their own thoughts and beliefs.  Through these daily conversations they are not only speaking their own truths, but learning to listen to each other…. that is, learning the languages the others speak.


Sharing groups

Donna:

Years ago, when we were in Oberlin, we began an evening Taize prayer service.  Many college students came to the service, where they learned and loved the Taize chants.  Eventually, two of those students decided to go to Taize to experience it for themselves.

Several weeks later, in the complete darkness of midnight, we heard people singing on the sidewalk below our bedroom window.  The student pilgrims were back, singing “Jubilate Deo!” in a joyful round.

The next day, the pilgrims told us more of what Taize is really all about.  Both were the children of divorce, and neither had been in contact with their fathers for years.  But while at Taize, in the midst of the sharing circles, struggling to communicate with others who didn’t speak their language, singing and praying in worship, both decided to try to contact their fathers, and try again.  Over the next year, that contact happened for both of them, and the family began to talk to each other again.

And so we learned that Taize is not just singing, but a Way:

A way of singing, a way of praying, and a way of reconciliation.     


Saturday vigil

Rob:

Most who come to Taize spend a week there, from Sunday afternoon through noon the following Sunday.

Worship for each week follows the pattern of Holy Week, leading up to Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  Our pilgrimage was planned so that we could worship at Taize  each of these three days.

On Friday, our first day, most of our group huddled together next to the wall, yearning to be fully a part of this worship experience, but reluctant to sit on the floor in the midst of hundreds of youngsters.

On Saturday we split up and moved towards the center. Part of the Holy Saturday worship is having a candle you are holding lit by a neighbor, and then passing the light on.  I noticed that several people behind me did not have candles. Beginning to feel confident about this place, I went to get them some. Having found that the candle bin was empty, I gave them mine. A tiny gesture, but meaningful to me.

Brother Roger, the founder of Taize, wrote:

The heart of worship at Taize, as at Taize-style worship around the world, is meditative singing.  Songs so simple that they are easily memorized.  Short songs, repeated many times, so that the singer can enter a meditative state.  Songs in many languages, so that all will be included.  And in the middle of the songs, silence.


Brothers and Muslim refugees

After worship on Sunday, our group met with Brother John, one of three American members of the Taize community.  He told two stories that showed how Taize continues to develop new modes of reconciliation.

Brother John’s first story was about the Muslims coming to France from the Middle East. Like religious communities in many countries, Taize began by housing several refugee families on their grounds. Slowly, the numbers grew.

Then, in November of last year, the French government called:  They were closing a refugee camp at Calais, on the English Channel, and would Taize be a reception center for unaccompanied minors?  Taize did and, as with their earlier refugee residents, helped them integrate into French society.

Then the brothers began to study Islam to better understand their new neighbors, and created a three-day program to enable Christians and Muslims to pray together and work on reconciliation. This has been warmly received by the French Muslim community, and will continue.


Ferguson, Missouri

Brother John’s second story was about St. Louis, Missouri, from which he had just returned after spending several months there. Following the violence in Ferguson in the summer of 2014,  the local archbishop had asked the brothers to come to St. Louis, to help with reconciliation between the black and white communities.


St. Louis Pilgrimage of Trust

Modeled on Taize’s usual process, in St. Louis there was much singing, talking and praying in small groups. But the reconciliation process involved much more; as in Taize itself, the citizens of the St. Louis area had to learn each other’s languages.  (Not only did blacks and whites have to work with each other,  but Catholics had to learn how to listen to Protestants, and vice versa.)  And to more fully express the hopes and dreams of the black community, Gospel music was added to the usual Taize chants.

(Did you know that “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder”  is an African-American spiritual, and that the very last verse says, “Do you want your freedom”?  Growing up white, we thought we knew every verse of “Jacob’s Ladder”, but we never heard that last verse.)

In Jacob’s dream, the Lord told him,     

You shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north
and to the south; and all the families of the earth
will be blessed in you
and in your offspring… 

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said,

Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it…

And he said,

How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God,
and this is the gate of heaven.

And so Taize has become one of God’s many gates to heaven,
and a potential blessing for all the families of the earth.

We truly believe that all around the world, we can learn to do the same, because…
wherever there is charity, and love…God is there….

 

The Dance of Trinity

Today’s Scriptures all point to the Trinity, even though the word itself isn’t in the Bible.

Genesis 1:1-2:4    Six centuries before Jesus was born, an unknown poet-priest imagined God at the beginning of time: hovering over the void, creating life out of chaos.  Sun, moon, and stars are born; the earth is formed, with its mountains and seas; plants spring up, animals begin to roam the earth, and human beings are created.   When we read this particular verse (Genesis 1:26), we hear God saying that we are made in the divine image – but we often fail to notice that God is speaking in the plural voice: Let us make humankind in our image.  Here, in the first chapter of the Bible, is the God of Trinity.

1 Corinthians 12:1-13:13  In the first century, St. Paul used a powerful metaphor to describe the church – he called it the body of Christ, where each member of the body contributes to the life of the whole.  But there’s another metaphor in this passage, a metaphor which may be even more helpful to us as we try to understand the Trinity: Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries, but the same Lord; and there are different energies, but the same God, operating in everything.  The Greek word Paul used was energeia  (which is the root for our own word “energy”).  Paul can use the metaphor of the body, and speak of the divine energy that flows through it, because the Corinthians are already experiencing the energy of God’s Spirit moving through them.  This passage ends with its most famous sentence and its major point:  Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)   The word for this energeia, in every language, is Love; and the Christian word for the energeia of Love is Trinity. 

The early church:  By the fourth century, Eastern theologians had found another metaphor to describe how God’s energy works: perichoresis  (a word we can loosely translate as “circling around”, and the root for our own word, “choreography”).   If you ever saw the movie, “Zorba the Greek”, you’ve seen a perichoresis because modern Greeks still use the same word for their ancient folk dance.  In perichoresis the dancers join hands and move in a circle, stepping faster and faster as the music speeds up –  until, watching from the sidelines, by-standers can no longer see individual dancers, only the moving energy of the whole circle.  Searching for a metaphor to describe God’s nature and activity, the Eastern theologians looked at perichoresis and said, “That’s what the Trinity is like.”

The Trinity is a harmonious set of relationships bound together by the energy of love.  But the Trinity is not consumed by its own life and relationships; Trinity moves in the world, and acts on the world, sharing its energy with the world.  So look again – within this relationship of love within the embrace of Creator, Spirit and Jesus –  there is more room.  There is space for everyone, even for a whole cosmos. No one needs to be on the sidelines of the Trinity – all are invited to join the dance.

There’s room for all of us here….

Everyone who has ever loved someone knows this dance of love.  Whenever we love, whoever we love – whether a baby, a parent; a beloved friend, a spouse; a neighbor or co-worker – we are connecting deeply with that person.  We share our life’s energy with them; we dance alongside them.   And often, when we love, our love becomes so deep and so full that it spills over into the lives of our families and friends, and they dance along with us.   Whenever we truly love, we invite new people into the dance.  That’s perichoresis, and that’s how the Trinity works.

Come join the dance!

There’s an Episcopal Church in San Francisco that feels in many ways like a Greek church, and it has a Greek name – Sr. Gregory of Nyssa.

St. Gregory’s is never empty.  Around its upper walls of St. Gregory’s there is a parade of saints, each participating in the never-ending dance.  These saints come from every century of the church.
 http://www.saintgregorys.org/saints-by-name.html

On Sundays at St. Gregory’s we find the congregation, today’s dancing saints, circling the altar as they worship. These saints come from every part of San Francisco, and beyond.
 http://www.saintgregorys.org/

On Fridays at St. Gregory’s we find members of the congregation again, now circling the altar to distribute food to the neighborhood.

  http://www.saintgregorys.org/videos.html

What a powerful demonstration of God’s love for all – and what a powerful metaphor for the God of Trinity!

But you don’t have to go to San Francisco to join this dance. The dancing God of Trinity is found wherever there are communities of people joined together in the dance of love, moving together, using the energy of love for peace, harmony, and justice.

The dancing God of Trinity leads us to pour out our love for each other, just as the Creator, Son and Spirit share their mutual love.   When the God of Trinity leads us in the dance, every member of the community has equal worth and equal place. No one is left out, and others are always invited in.

If God is a dancing community, so is St. Benedict’s, Los Osos!  The dancing God of Trinity –  joyful, dynamic, interactive, sharing, loving, serving –   provides the model for our own dance.   Every Sunday we come together to practice perichoresis.  When Sunday’s music comes to an end, we are sent forth to dance in the world –  to bring healing and hope to others, and to invite others to join the dance.

So once again, as we do every Sunday, let’s join the dance of Trinity:

Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun –
the interweaving of the Three: Creator, Spirit, Son.
The universe of space and time did not arise by chance,
but as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.

Come, see the face of Trinity, new-born in Bethlehem;
then bloodied by a crown of thorns outside Jerusalem.
The dance of Trinity is meant for human flesh and bone;
when fear confines the dance in death, God rolls away the stone.

Come, speak aloud of Trinity, as wind and tongues of flame
set people free at Pentecost to tell the Savior’s name.
We know the yoke of sin and death, our necks have worn it smooth;
go tell the world of weight and woe that we are free to move!

Within the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun,
we sing the praises of the Three: Creator, Spirit, Son.
Let voices rise and interweave, by love and hope set free,
to shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity.

Text: Richard Leach, 2001  Music: Kingsfold

To hear the music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQ55zGuti04

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

     

Walking the Way of the Spirit


The road through Death Valley

The First Sunday in Lent – March 5, 2017

Last Sunday, we stood on the mountain of the Transfiguration, looking ahead to the light of Easter.  This Sunday, we are standing with Jesus in the desert, looking ahead to Pentecost…

But why Pentecost?  It’s still three months away!  

On Pentecost we’ll remember how the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ disciples. There they were, gathered in the upper room, waiting as Jesus had told them to do.  But they felt abandoned and they were afraid.  They were afraid that Jesus was never coming back.  But suddenly the Spirit came upon each of them –  reassuring them that Jesus was still with them, and giving them courage for the future. (see Acts 2:1-4)

Did you think that they remembered Pentecost because it was such an exciting spiritual experience?  I don’t think so –  they remembered it because they knew that Jesus, the man they had known so well, was now present through the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has Jesus’ personality, which points constantly to a compassionate and loving God.  (In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is even called “the Spirit of Jesus”. See Acts 16:7)  

That Spirit would now work through the disciples, by pointing the way forward.  Even today, the same Spirit who pulled Jesus into the desert, who filled the disciples with courage,  is pulling us into the future.

The God of Relationship

The God of Relationship, the God of compassion is also the God of Becoming, the God of dynamic change, who is calling us to become  co-creators of the future.

Can we  – you and I – really help create the future?   On Maundy Thursday we’ll remember the Last Supper, when Jesus began to tell his disciples about the coming Spirit. And he said to the disciples (who didn’t believe it any more than we can believe it about ourselves), “Because of the Spirit, you will do greater things than I…”  (see John 14:12)

How the magnet works:

In his book, The God of Becoming and Relationship, Rabbi Bradley Artson tries to explain how prayer works.  He remembers when he was a very little boy, playing in the field behind his house.  He’d take his magnet out in his pocket, sit down on the ground and begin to run his magnet through the dirt.  All the bits of iron, that were resting in the soil, unseen by human eyes, began to cling to the magnet.  The magnet took on a “tail” of filings, each of which was being oriented internally to the pull of the magnet.

For Rabbi Artson, this is what happens whenever we pray: God is pulling us forward, the Spirit is shaping us internally, and we are being pointed towards God.  Process Theology calls this pull the “lure” –  God calling us forward, into acts of love, compassion, and justice.

Lures in the desert:

Fish swimming in a river look up and see food floating above them.  But not all the “lures” above them are actually healthy food.  Some of the “lures” have been cast there by fishermen, hoping to catch their own dinner.

The Spirit “lured” Jesus into the desert.  We might even say, as Mark’s Gospel tells us, that the Spirit “drove” – or even propelled – Jesus.  That’s the same Spirit that came to the disciples on Pentecost!  (See Mark 1:12). 

But there were other “lures”.  the Tempter also “lured” Jesus in the desert, with offers of bread to satisfy his hunger, political power over the world, and spiritual power that would draw all eyes to him.

How did Jesus resist the Tempter?  His life had already been shaped by the faith passed on to him by his parents, by his village synagogue, and by his reading of Scripture.  Notice how Jesus responds to each of the Tempter’s offerings: he quotes Scripture:

We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Do not put the Lord your God to the test. (Deuteronomy 6:16)

Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God. (Deuteronomy 6:13)

Now, in addition to his faith and his Scriptures, Jesus is also being guided by the Spirit, who takes him to the desert to show him the direction God has for him.

With faith, Scripture, Spirit, Jesus knew the direction towards God – and he knew when he was being “lured” in the wrong direction.

There are lures all around us:  We are called forward by God, and we are also tempted –  how will we know which “lure” to choose?   We need the ”magnet” – to be lured, pulled, and shaped by the Spirit

So many choices, so many “lures”

Do you know about the “lures”on your smart phone?  First, make sure that your screen – with all its attractive “apps” –  is on; and make sure that your sound is off!

Then look at all those choices before you:

  • You could play Solitaire…
  • You could look at Facebook…
  • You could text a friend…
  • You could surf the net…
  • You could turn on your timer to see how long this sermon is going to last….
  • Or, tomorrow morning around 5 a.m., you could use your cell phone to send out your latest “tweet” – so all the world will be talking about you, and glory and honor will abound for you all day long.

Did you know you have a compass on your phone?

  • Find your compass…
  • Now find “North”….
  • Now imagine that “North” points you to Jesus…
  • Now imagine that this “app” will lead you through Lent and all the way to Pentecost.

There are “lures” all around us

Last night I was explaining this wonderful sermon illustration to my husband Rob, who was looking at me with that look I’ve known for more than 60 years – which says, “You’re off base, but I’m too polite to say so.”

But humoring me, Rob looked at his compass – and suddenly he found that his “North” wasn’t pointing in exactly the same direction as my “North.”  Now he was interested –  depending on where he was standing in the room, “North” was swinging back and forth.

What was going on?

Whenever Rob came near something metal the compass wavered.  And when he came near the iron étagère, his compass really started swinging…. And he finally told me, “Well, cell phone compasses are notoriously unreliable!”

Rob’s right – a cell phone compass is not the most reliable way to find “North”, and we couldn’t use a cell phone compass in a desert where there’s no service.

Fortunately, we don’t need modern technology to walk the Way of Jesus – we only need what Jesus had:

  • the scriptures,
  • a faith community,
  • and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

 

Walking the Road of Lent

A Pathway into the Presence of God
The Sunday of the Transfiguration: February 26, 2017

Today we find ourselves on the Mount of the Transfiguration, looking at Jesus standing in the blazing light of God.

From this mountain, from this light, Jesus will walk all the way to Jerusalem, where the cross awaits him.  Beyond that cross another blazing light, the light of Easter, waits for Jesus – and for us.

But to get to that light, to get to Easter, we’ll have to walk the same road Jesus walks.

On Sundays, the road of Lent will bring us stories of disciples – not the familiar disciples like Peter, James and John,  but others who met Jesus along his way: a man born blind, a Samaritan woman, Nicodemus the teacher, Martha and Mary of Bethany.  The Gospels tell us that each of them, when they met Jesus, asked the same question we ask when we meet Jesus for the first time:

“Who is this man Jesus, and do I want to follow him?”

On weekdays, the road of Lent can lead us into a world shaped by different values – the values lived and taught by Jesus.  These steps were originally outlined by St. Benedict in the 6th century, and adapted by Sr. Joan Chittister in the 20th century.  Following these steps brings the answer to another question Christians always ask:

“How can I learn to live like Jesus?”

Over the centuries, St. Benedict’s steps have been a pathway into the Presence of God for millions of Christians.  Even today, as we practice each new step, we will feel the Spirit of God gradually re-shaping our lives, and eventually leading us to our own Easters.


On to Step 1:
Contemplation through Prayer

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 1


Contemplation through Prayer

St. Benedict teaches: prayer is a state of mind.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches *

Prayer is putting on of the mind of Christ, so that we can learn to see the world as God sees the world.

Prayer is more than reciting private prayers, more than participating in community prayer, more than asking God for things – even the good things we hope for ourselves and others.

Benedictine prayer is not designed to change God’s mind.  Prayer is meant to change us – to open us to the in-breaking of the Spirit in our lives, to stretch us beyond our own agendas to take on the compassionate heart of Christ.

Prayer is not only for consolation and courage, it is for challenge as well, helping us recognize that since life is infused with the Divine, we are capable being stretched –  with God’s help.

What simple practice has helped you “put on the mind of Christ” ?

What new practice may help you go further ?


On to step 2:
Contemplation through Lectio…

 

 *   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

 

 

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 2

   Contemplation through Lectio

St. Benedict teaches: Scripture forms us in the mind of Christ.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches: *

Lectio  (the reflective reading of a sacred text) gives us a pathway into Scripture, and regular lectio teaches us how to see the world through God’s eyes.

In lectio, we can meet…

  • the boy Samuel (see 1 Samuel 3) and realize that God has been calling us, too…
  • the girl Mary (see Luke 1) and realize that we, too, can find the courage to say ‘yes’ to God..
  • the first disciples (see John 1), and find that we, too, want to know ‘where Jesus lives’.

Read a passage slowly, silently or aloud (Benedict himself would have read it aloud).  Take a few minutes for silent reflection, and identify the words or phrases that draw your attention.

Read the passage slowly a second time, and listen to the text again.  Ask yourself, “How does this story speak to my life today?”

Read the passage a third time, and once again listen to the story.  Then ask yourself, “What do I believe God wants me to be…or do? Is God inviting me to change in any way?”

Conclude with prayer (not a prayer of words, but a time of remaining open to the Spirit who has spoken to you through the Scripture).   Make a record of the thoughts, images, and insights that came in your time of prayer.

Our society is anxious and restless, fearful and angry – but we can learn to be contemplative.  In the midst of chaos, if we build the Jesus-life in our own souls, if the Scripture is in our hearts, if we are faithful to lectio, we can see where God is: everywhere.

 

If you keep a lectio journal – and review your notes from time to time –
you will being to see where the Spirit of God is leading you.


On to Step 3:
Community…

 

 

 *   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

 

 

Walking the road of Lent – Step 3

  Community

St. Benedict teaches:  life in community keeps us on the path.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches: *

Our society is profoundly individualistic – but we can learn to live in community.  Community is the place where we can work together to create a just a gentle world.

Life in a spiritual community calls us to walk with each other, hold each other up, and bear with each other. In community, we encourage each other on our common journey.

In community, we learn to step back to make room for the needs and gifts of others.  Life in community means that others will see our weaknesses, but also welcome our gifts.

In  community, we can discover the effect of a spoiled ozone layer on everyone else – and then work to save others as well as ourselves. In  community, we can see the evils of sexism, with its unnatural limitations on both women and men – and then work to move the community toward genuine equality. In community we see the lie of over-zealous  patriotism – and then can work to make our own nation more kind.

Community is always the place where we can work together to create a just and gentle world.

What is your true spiritual community?

 What does your community give you?  What do you give to it?


On to step 4:
Humility…

 

*   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 4

   Humility

St. Benedict teaches: life in community requires humility. 

Sister Joan Chittister teaches: *

Our society ranks people by the power they hold – but we can learn to live by the Gospel.

The Gospel tells us that arrogance is destructive of the human spirit.  Humility calls us to let God be God in our personal lives, and so to take our proper place among all the creatures of the earth.

Humility says that we must all learn

  • to listen and to hear…
  • to negotiate rather than to force…
  • to trust rather than to terrorize…

Where do we practice humility?

  • in our faith communities…
  • in our neighborhoods…
  • in our nations..
  • in the world around us, with all its creatures…

 

What practice could help you get away from “me” –

so you could open yourself more fully to others?


On to step 5:
Mindfulness….

 

 

*   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).