Posts Tagged ‘Revelation’
Lord, Show Us the Father – Br. James Koester
Philip and James, Apostles
At one time in my life, I had a rector who referred to this feast as that of Pip and Jim. At first, I was a little confused. I thought I had misheard him. It took a few moments to sink in. At last, it clicked. Right. Philip and James, Pip and Jim. Got it. Since then, this day has always been Pip and Jim to me.
As much as I would like to spend the next several minutes waxing eloquently about St. James the Apostle, who is the Jim half of our apostolic duo, there is actually not much to say about him. One source sums up James in these words: The son of Alpheus is often but not certainly identified with the James whose mother stood by Christ on the Cross, and also with James ‘the brother of the Lord’ who saw the risen Christ and is often called the first bishop of Jerusalem. He is also sometimes identified with the author of the Epistle of James. If none of these identifications are correct, we know practically nothing about James the Less.
If what we can say about James, is cloaked in uncertainty, then there’s not a whole heck of a lot to go on. We are not even sure why he is called the Less. Was it to distinguish him from James the Great, the son of Zebedee, or from James the Brother of the Lord? Was it because he was young, or short? Again, there is not much we can say with any certainty about this James the Less. Read More
Open Eyes, Burning Hearts – Br. Lain Wilson
“Jesus himself came near and went with [the disciples], but their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Lk 24:15-16).
Stop and think about that. “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” This was the man whom these two disciples had chosen to follow, the man for whom these disciples had given up their jobs and left their families. His good news defined their reality. And suddenly he was gone, brutally executed, his body now missing from his tomb. Imagine how they must have felt.
I can imagine these two disciples, shocked and confused by the recent events, walking down the road. I can imagine them praying the words of our psalm this morning: “The cords of death entangled me; . . . I came to grief and sorrow” (Ps 116:2). I can imagine their eyes, taking in their surroundings but not really seeing them. Is it surprising, really, that they perhaps failed to see what was right in front of them?
But is there something more going on? After all, their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus. The word translated as “kept” can also mean to hold, to seize, to restrain, to arrest. It’s a forceful word. The disciples don’t just fail to recognize Jesus; they are actively hindered from knowing that this man walking and talking with them is their Lord and teacher, risen from the dead. Disciples in other accounts may not recognize Jesus immediately, but only here are they kept from recognizing him. Only here are the disciples’ eyes made to be closed, to be unable to perceive the reality in front of them.
So what’s happening here? In the way the evangelist distinguishes seeing from perceiving, I am reminded of how Jesus, quoting Isaiah, explains the purpose of parables: “to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand’” (Lk 8:10, quoting Is 6:9-10). This seems to be what is happening here. These disciples look at the man accompanying them, but they do not perceive him. Read More
Our Utterly Unique Experience of God – Br. Curtis Almquist
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The apostle Thomas is often branded as the stooge of the apostles – “Doubting Thomas” – but that is both unfair and inaccurate. In actuality, the opposite is true. There are two encounters in the Gospel, prior to what we’ve just heard, that shed light on the apostle Thomas. One scene was in Galilee, when Jesus first said to the disciples that he would return to Judea because his friend Lazarus had died. Very risky for Jesus. The disciples knew full well about the death threats against Jesus (and probably against them, too). Many of the disciples protested Jesus’ plan to return to Judea. But it was Thomas who really understood Jesus. Thomas pleaded with his fellow disciples not to desert Jesus but to stay with him. Thomas said, “Let us go that we may die with Him!”[i] Perhaps more than any other disciple, Thomas was prepared to abide with Jesus to the end. Thomas had been following a Messiah whom Thomas knew would suffer and die. Not true, it seems, for the other disciples.
The other scene was in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before Jesus was seized. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled…. I go to prepare a place for you… and you know where I am going….” No. No idea. It seems only Thomas had the courage to admit that the disciples were clueless. “My Lord,” Thomas says, “We do not have the slightest idea where you are going! How can we know the way?”[ii] Read More
Mary’s Yes, Our Yes – Br. Lain Wilson
The Transfiguration closes the season after the Epiphany, and bookends, in language and details, Jesus’s baptism, which opened it. Jesus ascends—from the water at his baptism, and up a mountain now. A voice recognizes him as “my Son, the Beloved.” But between the two events, Jesus has invited people to follow him; he has called his disciples to be with him and to share in his ministry.
These disciples have had glimpses that Jesus is more than just a man. But here, glimpses give way to full vision. The three disciples see Jesus transfigured, his clothes becoming “dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” They are terrified. Peter doesn’t really seem to know what’s going on. They see Jesus, their teacher, their friend, their Messiah—and they see him changed.
But we might ask, “who was changed? Who was transfigured?” Was Jesus changed—or were the disciples? Was it, perhaps, that the eyes of the disciples were opened so that they could see the reality behind the reality?
That reality, ultimately, is that both their visions of Jesus were true. Jesus was both the man in homespun clothing and the shining figure in resplendent white. Jesus is both human and God. Read More
Sensing Christ Made Manifest – Br. Todd Blackham
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John asks an important, honest question, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” He has already recognized what seems like an inappropriate ordering of events. Things are upside down and he doesn’t understand. And Jesus isn’t really going to make things clear to him in advance except by way of confirming that yes, indeed, something extraordinary is at work.
But first maybe we should back up. I mean, we just cleaned up all the Christmas decorations yesterday. The silent night, holy night, wasn’t even two weeks ago and here we are waist deep in the River Jordan on the outskirts of Judea. There was such a long wait for the nativity of our Lord. And then it burst forth suddenly with heavenly hosts singing Gloria. And then begins the Epiphany.
The Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ, is really a collection of vignettes that inaugurate the incarnate life of God. The visit of the Magi, the Baptism of our Lord, and his first miracle at the wedding at Cana, form a kind of triple feast. And each one of them is a scene of the ordinary meeting the extraordinary. Of the natural touching the supernatural, of humanity meeting divinity. They are the opposite of esoteric and vague, they grounded and rooted in human experience in ever widening circles of revelation. The meeting place was here on earth, on this same planet we still use today; in the very human bodies that we still inhabit; all of the senses that we use to perceive this world were turned to perceive another world. Read More
Love divine, wild and free – Br. Sean Glenn
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This should come as a surprise to no one, but I really like liturgy. In fact, the Anglican tradition’s rich, sensual liturgical life is what beckoned me into the peculiar and frequently bewildering relationship that eventually brought me here to SSJE. That is, the peculiar and bewildering relationship with Jesus Christ.
And so it should also not surprise anyone that this morning’s reading from Isaiah has from time to time arrested me—particularly as I have almost always encountered it within the context of Christian liturgical action—that is, corporate worship. Read More
The Sign We Are Given – Br. Todd Blackham
I remember learning to drive before the advent of personal GPS devices. I remember getting directions that involved both signs and physical landmarks to get from one place to another. Take a left on River St. and go down until you see the mailbox with a yellow bird on it, then we’re three houses down on the right. Nowadays, I’m more likely to just plug an address into my phone and let it guide me moment by moment down the comforting little blue line until I get to the red destination pin. I hardly have to pay attention to my surrounding at all while the little voice just coaches me turn by turn. But, in truth, I’ve become overly dependent on it. I get a little anxious when I try to do without it because it forces me to put my trust in a different system of navigating that doesn’t offer real-time reassurance. There is simply much more trust involved. Trust that the signs will be there when I need them, trust that I will make the correct turns, and even trust that if I get off track, I’ll be able to get back on course and reach my destination. Looking for signs and waiting for direction can be a precarious thing in the spiritual life.
Do you find yourself waiting on a sign from God? Or, have you ever suddenly beheld a sign that arrested your attention and pointed you in a new direction. God’s engagement with people often catches us unaware or seems absent when we want it most. We may feel like things are going just fine until suddenly our circumstances change and we are gripped with uncertainty and fear. Or, we may be so much on auto-pilot that we don’t realize when a new course of action is necessary. Todays readings highlight both of these kinds of encounters with God and help to point us to Jesus who is an unfailing sign to return to the heart of God. Read More
Jesus, the Prism of God’s Light – Br. Keith Nelson
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2 Corinthians 4:1-6
How does Jesus show us the nature of God? One resounding answer is: as Light. Reflected light, shimmering into the world we see and know, igniting into conscious awareness. The primordial light shining in the darkness of John’s Prologue; the light that replaces that of sun and moon in the eternal city of the Revelation to John; the light of Christ we kindle at Easter; the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”
Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Philip is done with all the poetry; all the elusive and allusive imagery John’s Jesus has woven to evoke, to awaken, to captivate, to bestow the relational knowing of God found in and through himself. Philip wants a clear shaft of light outlining a straightforward vision. Before Jesus leaves them, Philipp wants just a single flash of definitive truth.
But this is not the way John’s Jesus reveals God. Instead, the words and the works of this Jesus are like the sides and angles of a prism. The clarity of a prism enables a beam of invisible, light to pass through. But it also refracts that light into something new: the visible color spectrum. “No one has ever seen God,” we read again in John’s Prologue. “It is God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, who has made God known.” Jesus refracts the Father’s invisible light, scattering constellated colors that draw our eyes toward their source. It is the interplay of the pattern that beckons us – through dots we can connect, the words and works of Jesus that reveal the truth in the measure we can receive it. Receiving the light is the long slow work of conversion, not epiphany. Read More
Father and Son – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
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Today’s Gospel is in many ways Matthew’s ‘annunciation.’ When we speak of the annunciation we think of course of the Gospel of Luke and his account of the angel appearing to Mary. But for Matthew the angel appears to Joseph – in a dream. “Joseph, take Mary as your wife. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus. And he did as the angel commanded him.” But he did a lot more than this. This remarkable man became a true father to Jesus.
And this is enormously important because as Jesus ‘grew in wisdom and in years’ he slowly came to understand God as Father. In the Old Covenant God was ‘Lord’, ‘Creator’, ‘Governor’. But for Jesus God was above all ‘Father’. And he came to understand his mission as opening the way for us to have the sort of relationship with God which is nearest to that of a father and a son. But for Jesus to have come to understand and use this analogy he must have had a wonderfully good and close relationship with Joseph.
I think though that pastorally, this poses a problem. The word ‘father’ arouses feelings which in everyone’s life are necessarily colored by personal experience. Martin Luther for example had a father who would beat him for the smallest offence. He once told a friend that whenever he said the Lord’s Prayer he would think of his own father, who was hard, unyielding and relentless. ‘I cannot help but think of God that way.’ Read More
Saving Invitations – Br. Luke Ditewig
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I saw it strangely as if for the first time. I was on the Longfellow Bridge connecting Cambridge to Boston. I usually go over the bridge on the Red Line, the subway, or over another bridge by car. As I stood on the Longfellow Bridge and looked straight ahead, I saw Boston anew. I saw Beacon Hill as a hill not going underneath on the Red Line or sideways. My usual patterns by subway and by car gave me a limited perspective of location, of home. Standing on that bridge, what I thought I knew, now I see differently.
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
“Does this song resonate with you?” my friend asked. I took a listen and said “No, I don’t like it.” I listened again. “No, it’s more than that. I’m uncomfortable by it.” I listened again. “Oh, now I know. I don’t like it because it rings true. That song, it embarrasses me, because those words are my life, that’s what I struggle with, that’s what I’m in need of. That song shows my sin. The song also encourages me with the truth of how I’m loved and can love instead of than the distortions and shame I get wrapped up in.”[i]
Sometimes we are quite aware of our bad habits, what we have done wrong, and what we’ve neglected to do. We are also often blind, having covered up, dressed up, renamed, ignored and simply stayed put in patterns that limit what we see.
John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John came preparing the way. Prophets don’t just say: “Repent.” They reveal our sin. They may sing it back to us, making us uncomfortable, helping us remember what we’ve covered up or forgotten. They might bring us out on a bridge so we can see the hill right in front of us.
“Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of his novels set in Narnia, C.S. Lewis tells the story of Eustace, a boy who in his greed turned into a dragon and who limped because of a bracelet that dug into his leg. Aslan the Lion led Eustace in his pain to a beautiful garden and a well with clear water. Eustace wanted to bathe in the water to ease the pain. Aslan said he must undress first. Eustace scratched his scaly skin off, but then saw there was another layer of dragon skin. He scratched two more layers off, but another remained. Then Aslan said: “You will have to let me undress you.”[ii]
Retelling the event later to a friend, Eustace said, “I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away. …”[iii]
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on—and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”[iv]
Forgiveness is like God pulling beastly dragon skin off. We can’t do it ourselves. Cleansing sin is intense and hurts at first. It is like a refiner’s hot fire or a fuller’s soap that removes dirt and oil from wool. God goes “going deep to the heart” to relieve, save, and heal. God both forgives by removing, unbinding from what confines and by binding up, an inner healing, where wet with grace we remember ourselves as beloved children.
Dear friends, what change in pattern or perspective prompts you to see differently?
How do you hear the pain of your own heart? What words, music, image, person reflects it back to you?
What is your own story, your own experience, of being forgiven? What is the invitation now?
Our repentance is always in response to God. Seeing the obstacle, hearing the pain, and whatever desire we have to confess comes from God. That is God already at work in you, preparing, sending messengers with saving invitations.
“Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh [yes, all flesh] shall see the salvation of God.”
[i] Sleeping at Last, wrote songs about the nine Enneagram types and unpacks each in a podcast with Chris Huertz. The Enneagram is a valuable tool for self-awareness and growth. Unlike personality profiles based on strengths, each type has patterns of disintegration as well as integration.
[ii] C. S. Lewis (1952) The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’. New York, NY: The MacMillan Company, 88-90.
[iii] Lewis, 90
[iv] Lewis, 90-91