The Reign of LIght

The Reign of Light

SLIDE 3:

X SOCK AND GLOVE TREE X REIGN OF CHRIST SUNDAY X THE PEOPLE WHO WALKED IN DARKNESS X A LIGHT SO BRIGHT X MENDING BROKEN FRAGMENTS X SPARKS HIDING WITHIN FRAGMENTS X FINDING LIGHT IN THE SHADOW 2 X I AM AWAKE X HOW LONG WOULD YOU HAVE TO WATCH X MINDFULNESS X INTENTIONALITY X SURPRISED BY GRACE X DOING THE SPIRITUAL WORK X IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD X CONSCIOUSNESS IS ENERGY SOCK AND GLOVE TREE

We have come to the last Sunday of the Church year.  This week we will change the altar clothes from green to blue, for next Sunday is the beginning of Advent, the beginning of a new Church Year.  As sort of a church New Year’s Party we will share communion together, decorate the Sock and Glove Tree and start getting ready for Christmas.

SLIDE 4:

REIGN OF CHRIST SUNDAY

Today is the end of the season known as Kingdomtide, and today is designated as Reign of Christ Sunday – appropriate as we transition into the season of preparation for the incarnation the coming of the Christ into the world.  Especially as we enter the darkest days of the year, we yearn for the return of the light, and we hope for that day when the light will shine forth in all human hearts –maybe especially our own.

SLIDE 5:

THE PEOPLE WHO WALKED IN DARKNESS HAVE SEEN A GREAT LIGHT

The gospel of John begins with a great hymn to the light:  “. . . in Christ was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  And John’s words were a riff on the great Messianic theme of the prophet Isaiah:  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who live in a land of deep darkness – on them has light shined.”

“But,” we might ask in protest, “where is the promised light in our world today?”  We grow weary of promises of some indefinite time in the future, and we long for some fulfillment of the promise here, in the present moment, in our lives right now.  Where is the reign of light?

SLIDE 6:

A LIGHT SO BRIGHT THE VESSELS BURST

Lawrence Kushner in the book we are studying Eyes Remade for Wonder, shares with us an ancient Hasidic story by Isaac Luria about the creation.

When first setting out to make the world, God planned to pour a Holy Light into everything in order to make it real.  God prepared vessels to contain the Holy Light.  But something went wrong.  The light was so bright that the vessels burst, shattering into millions of pieces like dishes dropped on the floor. . . .

SLIDE 7:

MENDING BROKEN FRAGMENTS

Our world is a mess because it is filled with broken fragments.  When people fight and hurt one another, they allow the world to remain shattered.  The same can be said of people who have pantries filled with food and let others starve.  According to Luria, we live in a cosmic heap of broken pieces, and God cannot repair it alone.

That is why God created us and gave us freedom of choice.  We are free to do whatever we please with our world.  We can allow things to remain broken, or, as Luria urged, we can try to repair the mess.

SLIDE 8:

SPARKS HIDING WITHIN FRAGMENTS

The Holy Light now is like sparks hiding within fragments of the creation:  a beautiful sunrise, a song of hope and faith, a wildly generous act of charity, food given to those who are hungry, clean water given to thirsty survivors in the Philippines – all moments full of awe and wonder containing sparks of the Holy Light.  Our task is to uncover and release the Holy Light that is all around us and within us.

SLIDE 9:

FINDING LIGHT IN THE SHADOW

It is the discovery and the release of the Holy sparks within us that is perhaps most challenging, for we are called upon to go down into ourselves bearing the light of faith to search out the Holiness that is within us.   Our spiritual challenge is that we find inside both light and dark, good and evil, and we cannot banish the dark without damaging the light.  For instance, the fight flight response that governs our fear and anger that so often get us into trouble, is intended for our survival.  The lust we struggle with is intended for our joy and the survival of our species.  The love we have for our families and friends is all caught up in our own self-interest.  Our fear of those who are different from us is part of a deeply ingrained survival mechanism.  Our creativity some of God’s most important gifts to us, too often have been sent away into the shadows of the unconscious, because we were bullied or shamed.  And so we must first embrace the shadow side of our personalities and come to understand how these long banished children were sent into exile and then welcome them home like prodigals.  We can celebrate their return with a party, music and dancing, releasing their energy for goodness.

SLIDE 10:

I AM AWAKE

So where do we begin on this journey of self-discovery this pilgrimage in search of the divine?  When the Buddha first began preaching people responded by asking, “Who do you think you are anyway?”  And the Buddha responded, “I am awake.”

The beginning of knowing about God is simply paying attention, being fully present where we are, now, or waking up.  We realize that we have been asleep.  We do not see what is happening all around us.  For most of us, most of the time the lights are on but nobody’s home.

SLIDE 11:

HOW LONG WOULD YOU HAVE TO WATCH?

We find what we seek.  And we seek who we are.  The story of Moses and the burning bush can give us some insight into waking up and paying attention.  Consider the process of combustion.  How long would you have to watch wood burn before you could know whether or not it was actually being consumed?  This then would mean that Moses would have had to closely watch the “amazing sight” for several minutes before he could possibly know there ever was a miracle to watch!  (The producers of television commercials, who have a lot invested in knowing the span of human visual attention, seem to agree that one minute is our outer limit.)

The “burning bush” was not a miracle.  It was a test.  God wanted to find out whether or not Moses could pay attention to something for more than a few minutes.  When Moses did, God spoke.  The trick is to pay attention to what is going on around us long enough to behold the miracle without falling asleep.  There is another world right here within this one, whenever we pay attention.

SLIDE 12:

MINDFULNESS

So how do we wake up and pay attention?  We begin with mindful meditation – try fifteen minutes a day at first.  And we shouldn’t become discouraged if our minds wander.  Be still and know that I am God.  And if we can pay attention to the stillness, we will begin to have glimpses of the light.  Our eyes will be remade to see the awe and wonder around us and within us.

SLIDE 13:

INTENTIONALITY

Intentionality is another important power we can bring to our spiritual practices.  Unless we have the appropriate intention when we approach worship, begin to pray, walk a labyrinth, make an appointment for counseling nothing will happen.  We will simply experience another “empty ritual.”  But when we come to worship, or sit down to pray, or walk a labyrinth or make a counseling appointment with intentionality, we suddenly become open to the life changing power of that event.

SLIDE 18:

SURPRISED BY GRACE

Oh sometimes grace catches us unaware.  The Holy Spirit shows up unexpectedly.  The scales fall from our eyes and we miraculously perceive a new reality.  Sometimes we are surprised by wonder.  But even when God’s grace intervenes in our lives, unless we can pay attention, focus our minds, open our hearts, follow up with intentionality God’s intervention in our lives is likely to fade and evaporate without actually transforming us.  We will have the memory of an exciting event, a flash of insight, but our lives will be unchanged.

SLIDE 14:

DOING THE SPIRITUAL WORK

God’s grace can help to give us a glimpse of the light, but then we have to do the spiritual work that frees the light within us and shapes the light around us.  But how can this be?  How can prayer or spiritual practices bring the broken pieces of our world together?

SLIDE 15:

IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD

The author of the Gospel of John tries to give us a hint in his prologue:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The Word was in the beginning; all things were made through the Word.”  What is a word other than thought, consciousness?  The creation was made by and is made of consciousness, energy, pulsating, conscious energy, light.  The reign of light begins for each one of us, when we turn and embrace the light.

SLIDE 16:

CONSCIOUSNESS IS ENERGY

And some people will respond to the light by saying this is all poetry and nonsense.  Just because we don’t believe it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  Words are energy.  Consciousness is energy.  Spiritual practices can connect us with the divine consciousness.  Unless we can transcend our attachment to the physical world, we will not be able to see the light.

So seek the Word.  Embrace the light.  For the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome the light.

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Infinite Possibilities

Infinite Possibilities

SLIDE 3:

A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH

The Hebrew prophets often had to deliver bad news.  They seldom died of old age.  Jeremiah was stoned to death, Isaiah was sawn in two, Micah was executed by King Jehoram, and Amos was tortured to death by the High Priest Amaziah.  Despite the burden of being the bearers of bad tidings, most of the prophets also had visions of better days ahead.  Their world was going to hell in a hand basket, but somewhere out there in the future there were good times coming.

Isaiah foresaw a new heaven and a new earth.  And in this time to come infant mortality will be all but unknown and no one will die a premature death.  Wars of conquest and economic exploitation will disappear.  Predators like the wolf and the lion will become vegetarians.  And all who seek the Lord will be blessed.  The new world of the prophets will be a time of infinite possibilities.  And while we haven’t arrived in Beulah Land yet, we might seem to be much closer than in the time of the prophets.  Many childhood diseases have been eradicated.  Infant mortality is much lower than two-thousand years ago.  While we do not enjoy perfect health, average life spans have risen far above the expectations of even one-hundred years ago.  In a little over 100 years life expectancy has nearly doubled.

SLIDE 4:

THE DAY OF THE LORD HAS NOT YET ARRIVED

The world does not enjoy perfect peace.  Armed struggle has not come to an end, and yet classic wars of conquest are no longer popular.  Saddam Hussein was the last national leader to try to invade another country with rather disastrous results for Iraq and himself.   The Day of the Lord has not yet arrived, but on a bright clear Fall morning, when I am feeling good, I want to believe that a new day of infinite possibilities may be dawning in the world.  We seem to have learned a lesson about invading other countries.  Terrorism is still a force to be reckoned with in the world, and the disparity in income distribution between rich and poor is widening.  So the Day of the Lord has not yet arrived, but I am still optimistic that a new day of infinite possibilities is growing closer.

SLIDE 5:

ENVY

Perhaps the key human factor with which we struggle as we seek that new day of infinite possibilities is envy.   Envy isn’t just the desire to have what other people have it is anger and resentment that other people seem to have something we do not possess.  In a recent Still Speaking Devotion Martin Copenhaver pointed out a phenomenon called “Facebook Envy.”  Who knew?

A new term has come into common parlance these days: Facebook Envy.  Researchers have found, and many people have experienced, that spending time on Facebook can make people more envious.  Viewing other peoples’ fabulous vacations, lovely children and great social lives can leave us feeling lonely, frustrated and angry.  It is a manifestation of the tendency we have to compare our inside realities with other people’s outer appearances.  We are keenly aware of what is really going on in our lives and it cannot measure up to what we see on the surface of others’ lives.  Such asymmetrical comparisons can easily stir envy.

SLIDE 6:

WE DON’T USUALLY SHARE OUR DISAPPOINTMENTS

Of course what we do not know is that many of those seemingly happy people we view on-line are really aching inside, depressed, wishing they had someone they could talk to about their real heart hungers, their frustrations, their disappointments.  But then we don’t usually share that kind of thing on-line for the whole world to see.

SLIDE 7:

ENVY IS A SMALL TOWN DISEASE

Envying the super rich is not that big a deal.  They are too far away to absorb any major damage.  Where envy really takes a toll is when we turn it on those who are closest to us.  Theologian Soren Kierkegaard called envy a small-town sin because it is a byproduct of living in such close proximity that one is constantly tempted to make invidious comparisons.  So, most of us don’t spend much time envying the super rich.  Instead, as H.L. Mencken once put it, in America, happiness is making $10 more a month than your brother-in-law.

SLIDE 8:

AFFLUENZA

Envy is the art of counting someone else’s blessings rather than our own.  Envy eats away at the fabric of community.  Envy is like a spiritual acid.  If we are not careful, it will eat away our souls.   And our consumer culture feeds our discontent.  How many of us need all of the things we go out and buy?  We are programmed for desire.  Some people have called this affliction of desire “affluenza.”  The Buddha taught that desire, our incessant need to possess and our inability to “let go” is the source of human suffering.

SLIDE 9:

OPPOSITE OF ENVY IS GRATITUDE

In this season of Thanksgiving it is interesting to note that the opposite of envy is gratitude.  Indeed the antidote for envy is thankfulness for the gifts we have been given — for the gift of life and for the particular life that is ours to live, and gratitude for the unique gifts and talents we have been given.   Thank about it.  Envy cannot grow in a thankful heart.  Envy and gratitude are always competing for our souls.  So we can reinforce gratitude in our lives.  How?

SLIDE 10:

GRATEFUL LIST

Start by making a list of 10 things for which you are grateful.  Our thankful list doesn’t have to be profound.  Don’t worry about what other people might think about your list.  As the great medieval mystic Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer we ever pray is, ‘thank you,’ that will be enough.”  Simple things for which we really grateful are what matter  — the first light of day, a good night’s sleep, a warm bed, our first cup of coffee in the morning, the taste of breakfast.  Simple things for which we choose to be grateful.  And if you cannot come up with a list of ten things for which you are grateful, make an appointment to talk with a good spiritual friend.  Sometimes another person can help us remember our blessings, when we are depressed and pessimistic.

SLIDE 11:

PRAYING OUR THANKSGIVINGS

Once we have a list of thanksgivings, then we can start praying our thankfulness.   Each morning and evening, offer thanks for the items on your list.  Each day add new items to your list of thanksgivings.  I have noticed lately a number of people posting their thanksgivings on Facebook.  As gratitude grows in our lives, envy starts to wither.  We can create our own special thanksgiving rituals.  Maybe we can use prayer beads to count our blessings, or we could walk the labyrinth and light a candle for each item on our list of thanksgivings.  The more we re-enforce our spiritual blessings of gratitude the less room envy has to take root in our lives.

SLIDE 12:

EYES REMADE FOR WONDER

Tomorrow in Bible Study and on Thursday at the Sharing Table we are beginning discussion of Lawrence Kushner’s book Eyes Remade for Wonder.  Kushner offers us a very unique perspective on the Biblical form of envy – coveting.

SLIDE 13:

DO NOT COVET IS A REWARD

Rabbi Michal of Zolotchov, intuits that “do not covet” is not a commandment but a reward.  If we are content with our portion, we will want nothing and we will lack nothing.  It does not mean that we will not . . . change and grow; it means only that at this moment, in this place we are all that we can be. . .  Through fulfilling the prohibition against coveting, we have at the same time “heard” the first utterance (of the first commandment) in a new way.  To utter the words “I am the Lord your God” is to want nothing else, and strange though it sounds, to want nothing else is the necessary prerequisite for all genuine growth.  . . . Growth begins with self-acceptance; change begins with not trying to change. . . .

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SELF-ACCEPTANCE BRINGS CHANGE

Thus the goal of all therapy is self-discovery, not the discovery of another self but our true selves.  Beneath all the layers of wanting to be different . . . . is a self.  This self is a living dynamic force within everyone.  And if we could remain still long enough here, now, in this very place, we would discover who we are.  And by discovering who we are, we would at last be free to discover who we yet might become.

SLIDE 15:

WHO WE MIGHT YET BECOME

I don’t want to be overly optimistic.  As the world is getting better, our ability to mess things up also grows every day.  The day of the Lord as foreseen by the prophets has not yet arrived.   But I believe if we can become more grateful for the blessings we possess, become more content with who we are and what we have, our eyes will begin to see the infinite possibilities around us.   Also, if we can pause and be still long enough to appreciate and accept who we are, we might become free to discover who we might yet become.X NEW HEAVEN & NEW EARTH X THE DAY OF THE LORD X ENVY 2 X DISAPPOINTMENT X ENVY IS SMALL TOWN DISEASE X AFFLUENZA X OPPOSITE OF ENVY IS GRATITUDE X GRATEFUL LIST X PRAYING OUR THANKSGIVINGS X EYES REMADE FOR WONDER X DO NOT COVET IS A REWARD X SELF ACCEPTANCE BRINGS CHANGE X WHO WE MIGHT YET BECOME


Transforming Love

Transforming Love

X JESUS CHANED PEOPLE'S LIVES X ZACCHAEUS CHIEF TAX COLLECTOR X ZACCHAEUS WAS CURIOUS ABOUT JESUS X RESURRECTION TREE X ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS X TOO MANY CHURCHES FEAR GUILT SHAME X LACK OF INTENTIONALITY X IF YOU PUT MORE IN X CURIOSITY & ENTERTAINMENT X REAL HEART HUNGER X ASK OTHERS TO PRAY FOR YOU X LOVE CHANGES LIVES X SHARING SIGN OF A CHANGED LIFE X PRAYER OF THANKSGIVINGJesus changed lives.   He healed people.  He gave people hope.  He inspired them to become their better selves.  He assured folks God loved them.  News about Jesus spread far and fast.  Blind beggars along the road knew who he was, when he passed by.  Jesus inspired hope and sometimes just that anticipation was enough faith to make a miracle.  The blind could see, the lame could walk, those were easy miracles to see.  But perhaps the greater miracle was what happened in the life of Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector of Jericho, a very important and lucrative position.  As the principal City of the Jordan Valley, Jericho sat astride three important trade routes and controlled the commerce in Dead Sea Salt and the famous Balm of Gilead.   Salt in those days was so valuable, Roman soldiers were often paid in salt rather than currency.  The collection of tolls and taxes was highly profitable.  Zacchaeus was very rich.  He was also very lonely.  He was shunned by most of his fellow Jews, the tax collectors who worked under him were constantly scheming to keep a larger portion of the revenues for themselves, and his Roman overlords held him in contempt – a bag man who did their dirty work.   Zacchaeus was alienated from his religion.  Tax Collectors were scandalous sinners considered no better than loan sharks, prostitutes, and robbers.  He was an outcaste.

Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus.  Perhaps he had heard the rumors that this teacher ate with tax collectors and sinners.  Something inside the little tax collector longed for acceptance, and maybe this Jesus could offer him a way to come home to God.

Zacchaeus was vertically challenged.  He couldn’t see over the crowd to get a look at Jesus much less an opportunity to talk with him.  So the tax collector ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore fig tree.  The sycamore fig is sometimes called a resurrection tree, because in drought conditions the tree can go dormant and looks like it is dead.  Indeed, in some parts of Africa when the desert has encroached upon sycamore fig tress they have been buried in sand for decades.  But if the desert retreats and the trees are uncovered and some water finds its way to the trees’ roots, they can come back to life.  It is probably no accident that the story tellers placed Zacchaeus in a “resurrection tree,” Zacchaeus is a story of a miracle.  According to the narrative when Jesus arrived at the place where the little man had literally “gone out on a limb” to get a look at him, Jesus stopped, looked up and invited himself to Zaachaeus’ house for dinner.

The story does not record any of the conversation at dinner, but something profound must have transformed Zacchaeus.  Maybe it was the simple act of Jesus’ recognition and acceptance of him.  Maybe Jesus said something at dinner that went straight to the little tax collector’s heart.  As I grow older I come to realize that actions speak far more loudly than words.  The simple act of welcoming people no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey, is often far more profound than anything we could say to them.  Whatever happened Zacchaeus rose at the end of the meal and announced that if he had defrauded anyone of anything he would restore it four fold, and half of all his wealth he would share with the poor.  That is transformation.  That is the kind of changed life people outside the church often claim they are looking for.

But how does that kind of transformation happen?  Why don’t people seem to find changed lives in churches?

First, too many churches thrive on fear, guilt, and shame.   These negative emotions strengthen the parts of our brains that can drive us ever deeper into our angers and addictions.  Fear, guilt and shame can trigger resistance to change.  We dig in our heels and resist rather than seeking personal transformation.   Also, many of us in the church do not really want to change.  We are looking for a generally benevolent affirmation that we are O.K. just as we are.  We miss the truth of that Jesus accepts us just as we are, and he loves us so much he doesn’t want us to stay that way.  He wants us to change and grow and become more generous and loving.

Another reason we often do not experience changed lives in church is a lack of intentionality.  Worship and participation in the life of the church becomes habit and routine.  We lack any clear notion of why we are here.  We come with little preparation, and a lack of purpose for how or why God might want us to stretch and grow.   We want comfort and affirmation, and that is fine, but friends we only get out of it what we put into it.

It’s like the story of the pastor who was invited to preach at a poor congregation.  He took his son with him, and before the service he put four one dollar bills in the offering plate just to give people the right idea.  After the service the ushers brought him the offering and there were three one dollars bills.  The preacher’s son looked at the offering plate and said, “Gee Dad, if you had put more into it, you would have gotten more out of it.”

Zara Renander confirmed for me the importance of intentionality in worship.  She points out that so many people complain that when they have walked a Labyrinth, they didn’t get anything out of it.  But then they came to the Labyrinth without any intention other than curiosity.  When we bring to worship or a Labyrinth our real spiritual concerns, our heart hungers, God will touch us.  If we just show up out of curiosity, if we are looking to be entertained, we probably won’t get much out of it.

Transformation does occur when we get in touch with our real heart hungers – our spiritual needs, and we bring them to God.   Of course that means allowing ourselves to feel the fear, the loneliness, the grief, the uncertainty that makes us uncomfortable.  Transformation means acknowledging the broken relationships, the addictions, the obsessions, the regrets, the memories that haunt us.  Sometimes we have to allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable before God can comfort us.

One of the rituals at the Sharing Table is for each person to ask the other people at the Table to pray for something for them.  It means taking a minute, getting in touch with a real need, and then sharing that need with others, so they can pray with us and for us.  You would be surprised the number of prayers around that Table that are answered.  When we allow ourselves to acknowledge our real needs and lift those up to God miracles can happen.

Love changes lives.  God waits for each of us to open our hands and our hearts, so God can give us what we need.  It is not God’s will that we should live empty meaningless lives, cut off from the love of God.  God’s love is free and available to all who seek God’s holy presence in their lives.  Love can change the world.

Now I would be remiss if I did not point out how Zacchaeus’ life was changed by God’s love.  He shared.  “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I share with the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.”  The sign of Zacchaeus’ changed life was his willingness to share.  Generosity flows out of thanksgiving our appropriate response to God’s love.  And so I ask you today as we offer up our pledge cards for this stewardship drive to consider what is a welcome worth.  What is our appropriate response to God’s love?  Has God’s love changed me enough that I am willing to share to overflow with generosity?

Today is Stewardship Sunday and in two weeks we will celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday.  So as an encouragement to expressing gratitude for the month of November allow me to share a Thanksgiving Prayer.

O Gracious God, we give you thanks for your overflowing generosity to us. Thank you for the blessings of the food we eat and especially for this feast today. Thank you for our home and family and friends, especially for the presence of those gathered here.  Thank you for our health, our work and our play.

Just for today, help me, God, to remember that my life is a gift, that my health is a blessing, that this new day is filled with awesome potential, that I have the capacity to bring something wholly new and unique and good into this world.

Just for today, help me, God, to remember to be kind and patient to the people who love me, and to those who work with me too. Teach me to see all the beauty that I so often ignore, and to listen to the silent longing of my own soul.

So please, Lord, send help to those who are hungry, alone, sick and suffering war and violence.  Open our hearts to your love.  We ask your blessing through Christ.  Amen.


All Live to Him

All Live to Him

SLIDE 3:

VIGOUROUS DIFFERENCE OF OPINION

The Sadducees and the Pharisees were in vigorous competition with one another for the spiritual leadership of Judaism.  The Sadducees ran the temple.  The Pharisees ran the synagogues, and the two groups interpreted Jewish law very differently.  Among their theological disputes the Sadducees claimed there was no life after death, while the Pharisees vigorously asserted there was an afterlife.  Paul used this division between the two groups to his advantage, when he was brought before the Sanhedrin for trial.

Acts 23:6  But when Paul perceived that one part of the council were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead I am on trial.”

7  And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided.

8  For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

In 70 A.D. the base of power of the Sadducees disappeared, when the Temple was destroyed and the High Priesthood was sent into exile.  As Jews were scattered through the Roman Empire, the dominant form of Judaism became the faith of the Pharisees.

SLIDE 4:

“I ALREADY SERVED MY TIME”

But when Jesus was confronted in the Temple by a delegation of Sadducees they asked him a trick question.  In ancient Israel if a man died childless, his brother under Levite Law was required to marry his widow, and then name the first male child born to the widow after his brother.   So the Sadducees asked Jesus, if a man dies childless and his brother marries his widow, and the brother dies childless, and the next brother in line marries the widow, and if that brother dies childless, and so and so forth; you can begin to have sympathy for this woman, who in the words of Helen Hurley, “had already served her time.”  But the Sadducees weren’t concerned about the poor woman, so they asked Jesus, if all the brothers died still leaving the poor woman childless, whose wife would she be in the resurrection?

SLIDE 5:

INTERESTING QUESTIONS ABOUT RESURRECTION

Granted the Sadducees were asking a trick question, but it does raise some interesting questions about resurrection.  Are our relationships preserved in a life after death?  Will we recognize one another in a life after death?  What will we look like?  Will we be allowed to choose what age we will be, when we are resurrected?

SLIDE 6:

ALL LIVE TO HIM

Jesus’ answer was not intended to be definitive or interpreted literally.  In a nice way Jesus was trying to say look we don’t know.  We can’t answer any of those kinds of questions, because life after death is a whole different category of existence.  We are no longer subject to the same constraints, for we become like angels children of God.  But make no mistake about it Jesus said, “God is not God of the dead but of the living, for all live to him.

SLIDE 7:

EXCHANGING A WHITE CARNATION FOR A RED CARNATION

And that is the important piece of good news this morning, even as we come here to remember the lives of loved ones who have died in the past twelve months.  We place the white carnation of grief on the altar and receive the red carnation of life, because in God’s eyes all live to him.

SLIDE 8:

MEMORY HAS POWER

We remember because memory has power.  When we gather at the sharing table to remember the Lord’s Supper the life giving self-sacrificing love of Jesus comes alive in us.  As we remember the life giving love of Jesus we become his hands and feet in the world reaching out to the needs of others.  We embody the love of God because Jesus lives in us just as God’s love lived in Jesus, a love so powerful it even conquered death.

SLIDE 9:

THE GOOD WE DO LIVES ON

Now I know it is popular to be cynical about goodness and love.   Shakespeare’s words from his play Julius Caesar are often cited out of context:  “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”   But I would like to assert this morning exactly the opposite.  The good that we do lives on far after our mortal bodies have gone into the ground.  And I experienced this truth again at Beth’s 50th high school reunion in Perkasie, Pennsylvania.

SLIDE 10:

JERRY KRIEBEL REMEMBERS COACH WHITTLE

After the dinner, people were visiting one another, and I met one of Beth’s classmates Jerry Kriebel.  As we were talking he mentioned he had attended Davidson College.  And when I said, “oh Davidson!” Jerry asked me if I had a connection to Davidson.

“Not really,” I replied, “but Peggy Vaughan, a member of my congregation, her father was the track coach at Davidson for 40 years.”

“Coach Whittle,” he exclaimed with enthusiasm.  And then Jerry went on to talk about how important  Peggy’s father had been, inviting students over to his house, not just coaching them in track but really listening to them as human beings with problems and aspirations.  All these many years later Peggy’s father’s goodness was still remembered as an inspiration.  The good that we do in life lives on and on and on.  And that is one of the reasons we gather on Remembrance Sunday and remember.

SLIDE 11:

REMEMBERING AND MENDING THE PAST

And memory has other powers than to just call up the goodness of those we have known in the past.  Another incident at Beth’s reunion suggests to me that remembering has the power to mend the past.

One of the women in Beth’s class, we’ll call Elsie Stolzfuss, came up to Beth and said, “Do you remember when I sat behind you in social studies in seventh grade?”

Beth replied, “Sure in Mr. Swartley’s Class.”

Then Elsie said, “I want you to take this.”  She held out a tightly rolled twenty dollar bill.

And Beth asked, “Why?”

“Because I took quarters out of your pocket book .”

Now we’re talking 56 years ago.

“Oh Elsie,” Beth said, “it doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it.”

“No, I really want you to take it.  Please take it.”

“O.K.,” Beth finally gave in, “but you know the quarters weren’t really mine.  My mother gave them to me for lunch.   I will give this to one of my mother’s favorite charities – the St. Labre Indian School, in Montana.”

So this act of Elsie’s was healing for her restorative for Beth and is an extension of Beth’s mother’s contributions during her life time.

SLIDE 12:

EYES REMADE FOR WONDER

Healing of the past is an important function of remembering.  Lawrence Kushner, author of the next book we will pick up on Monday afternoons and at the Sharing Table, addresses the power of redeeming the past in his book, Eyes Remade for Wonder.

SLIDE 13:

THE HOLY SPARK WITHIN IT

We go down into ourselves with a flashlight – looking for the evil we have intended or done — not to excise it as some alien growth, but rather to discover the holy spark within it.  We begin not by rejecting the evil but by acknowledging it as something we meant to do.  This is the only way we can truly raise and redeem it.

. . . And during times of holiness, communion and light our personal and collective perversions creep out of the cellar, begging to be healed, freed and redeemed. . . .

SLIDE 14:

RETURNING TO OUR SOURCE

Returning to our Source in Heaven, is not self-rejection or remorse but the healing that comes in telling ourselves the truth about our real intentions and, finally, self-acceptance.  Not satisfaction or complacency; it does not mean that we are now proud of who we were or what we did, but it does mean that we have taken what we did back into ourselves, acknowledged it as part of ourselves.  We have found its original motive, realized how it became disfigured, perhaps beyond recognition, made real apologies, done our best to repair the injury, but we no longer try to reject who we have been and therefore who we are, for even that is an expression of the Holy One of Being.

SLIDE 15:

BANISHED CHILDREN TAKEN HOME AGAIN

We do not simply repudiate the evil we have done and sincerely mean never to do again, that is easy (we do it all the time).  We receive whatever evils we have intended and done back into ourselves as our own deliberate creations.  We cherish them as long banished children finally taken home again.  And thereby transform them and ourselves.

SLIDE 16:

LIMINAL SPACE

Like a labyrinth, a 50th reunion is a liminal space, where we reach across time and space and make connection that is Holy.  Elsie found redemption and healing, she became a little more whole by remembering and healing the past.

SLIDE 17:

WALKING THE LABYRINTH THIS AFTERNOON

This afternoon, when we dedicate the ground for the labyrinth we will have an opportunity to walk the labyrinth.  I plan to take a picture of my father with me as a way of using that liminal space to reach across time for healing and peace.  The power of the past can be brought into the present by remembering.

SLIDE 18:

ALL LIVE TO GOD

My prayer this morning as we read the roll of remembrance is that the goodness of the lives we remember will go on and on and on embodied in us and the people of faith who come after us.  I also pray that in this remembering we can reach across space and time to help heal and redeem the past.  Knowing that our God is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.X VIGOROUS DIFFERENCE OF OPINION X I ALREADY SERVED MY TIME X INTERESTING QUESTIONS ABOUT RESURRECTION X ALL LIVE TO HIM X EXCHANGING A WHITE CARNATION X MEMORY HAS POWER X THE GOOD THAT WE DO LIVES ON X JERRY KRIEBEL REMEMBERS COACH WHITTLE X REMEMBERING AND MENDING THE PAST X EYES REMADE FOR WONDER X THE HOLY SPARK WITHIN X RETURNING TO OUR SOURCE X BANISHED CHILDREN TAKEN HOME AGAIN X LIMINAL SPACE X WALKING THE LABYRINTH THIS AFTERNOON X ALL LIVE TO GOD