Friday, April 22, 2016

What does it mean to be a healer?

One of the most difficult things that we endure in the human experience is watching our friends and loved ones suffer and die. As Christians, we often struggle with knowing how to pray for them. In the Acts of the Apostles (9:36-43) we read that one of the most important the functions of the church is to pray for the healing of sick and the souls of the dead. The church body takes on the role of a community of healers for the broken world.

So how do we become a community of healers? First, we acknowledge our God-given natural state of being in full union with God. We have been imprinted with the DNA of God. We are the daughters and sons of God. Jesus said that he and God were one. He goes to tell us that just as he and God were in union, we too are in union with God. God abides in us. We abide in God. Then Jesus go even further to say that because we too are children of God, we will do even greater things than he did (John 14:12). That means we will be healers like Master Jesus.

So what is healing? Healing is creating a space for the integration of our mind, body, soul (psyche), and spirit (relationship with the divine)—in others words to heal is to bring about a state of non-duality—what we call holistic living. What this means is that what affects one aspect our self, affects every other aspect of our self. Therefore, if our mind is healed, so then too our body will feel the affects of that healing, likewise our soul, and our spirit will feel the affects.

As a community of healers we must trust the divine to know what aspect of the person we are praying for needs the most attention. While we might see the need for someone’s physical healing, the divine may sense a greater need for the healing of the soul. That means we must let go of what we desire for the person and give our trust over to the divine to do the best form of healing for the person.

The vast majority of us pray for the sick. We pray as a community. This is the work of the church. Several studies in holistic medicine have shown that a significant percentage of people that know they are being prayed for (especially by a large community of people) typically recover faster or bear the burden of their illness better. That latter part of the statement is often difficult for us hear. Regardless of the outcome, we pray as a community for the person’s holistic healing, trusting the divine to do her work. This is what our prayer book teaches us.

On page 458 of the Book of Common Prayer, there is a prayer that has been offered for the sick for over 500 years. Pray for people. Call their name. There’s no need for you to guide the divine in what you want done. You don’t need to know what’s wrong with the person. You don’t need to know who the person is. Simply pray. Let the prayer do its work in the ears of the Divine Spirit.

O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our only help in time of need: We humbly beseech thee to behold, visit, and relieve thy sick servant N. for whom our prayers are desired. Look upon him with the eyes of thy mercy; comfort him with a sense of thy goodness; preserve him from the temptations of the enemy; and give him patience under his affliction. In thy good time, restore him to health, and enable him to lead the residue of his life in thy fear, and to thy glory; and grant that finally he may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

While we all pray as a community, there are within the community, are a very few people whose vocation is to be a healer, like Saint Peter. Vocation is your purpose in life. Everyone has a purpose, a vocation. God has imprinted your purpose on your soul; it’s in the DNA of your soul. Your purpose is a gift that can always be used to serve other people. Your purpose in life might be, to be creative, artistic, to build, to inspire, to teach, to heal. But remember, your purpose doesn’t have anything to do with your job. It’s nice if your purpose and your job are in sync with one another—but that’s not absolutely necessary.

If your vocation, your purpose in life, is to be a healer—other people will recognize this in you. You do not have to point out your gifts to others. Most people I know that are healers never call themselves healers. Healers don’t rely fully on their gifts. They recognize that they are a conduit—a channel for the healing love of the Divine Spirit. Healers find a teacher and learn the art of healing, like Saint Peter who was trained by the Master Healer, Jesus. They are trained, in something like Reiki, Healing Touch, Message therapy, shamanism, or alchemy. Then they practice. In practicing they learn that they will, at times, fail, like Peter who failed on more than one occasion. Finally, the healer learns the lesson that healing has a cost. Master Jesus knew the cost. When the woman in the crowd touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, he knew that some of his energy, his love, had gone of his body.

Real sustainable healing comes from the mutual exchange of divine love. This was the teaching of the Inkling Charles Williams. To be a healer, one must know that the love of the divine spirit is the healing agent, the healer, however, the healer must also know that in the act of the exchange of healing love, the healer will be left with a residual from the exchange. In other words, the healer must prepare their self for the cost of transmutation to take place in their life.

That’s what happened to Saint Peter. After he healed Tabitha, he went to the house of Simon the tanner. There, Peter had been fasting and praying. He had a vision. In the vision he learned that he would have to sacrifice an important portion of his religious practice. What he had to give up would be the equivalent of us being told that instead of going to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to worship, we now had to go to the mosque to pray every Friday. The cost of being a healer is always substantial. Sometimes even our own life.

A very close friend of mine, Scott Haasarud died this past Wednesday He was a healer. He was a friend, spiritual director, therapist, and mentor in all things Carl Jung. He was a big man in every way. He loved deeply and healed with love from his heart. He healed the broken hearts of so many people and finally his big heart could give no more. He was Master Jesus for me so many times.

We are followers of the Master Healer, Jesus. We have been left the task of healing broken hearts and lives. To be a healing community, we must live in the abiding love and union with the One Holy Living God. We must live integrated lives. We must pray for the sick and the souls of the dying. And we must trust the divine to do her work for the sake of the mind, body, soul, and spirit. We must be a healing community.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Ode for Scott Haasarud

Ode for R. Scott Haasarud (1940-2016)

Scott Haasarud was a healer of the soul. He healed with golden love from the giant cauldron of his heart. I have been a recipient of the healing from Scott’s philosopher’s stone. Wednesday, April 13, 2016, he finally gave away the last red fragment.

I met Scott Haasarud on December 1, 1995. Scott was the energy behind bringing his friend Marcus Borg to Phoenix for a two-day presentation at Central Methodist Church. I had read and re-read Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. Borg’s wisdom and his gentle willingness to answer the many emailed questions of a stranger, kept me within the Christian world. When I saw the flyer I knew I had to meet Marcus Borg. But, little did I know I would meet the man who would later help me keep life together.

From that first handshake with Scott I felt there was something unique about him. At the time I couldn’t wrap my arms it, but from that point on, everything Scott invited me to, I went. We had this long, on going, never-ending, life-giving conversation. Scott invited me to attend an Enneagram seminar. I went. Scott invited me to a dream seminar. I went. Scott invited me to apply to the Kino Institute spiritual direction school, where he taught. I applied. Scott invited my son Neil and me to a father/son retreat at Spirit in the Desert. From that retreat Scott would have a major influence on Neil deciding to become a psychologist. Scott taught. I soaked it all in.

Then twelve years ago, my world was turned upside down. For months, I could barely leave my house, and never alone. One morning, before my wife left for work, she gave me a task. Make an appointment to see Scott. That was April of 2004. Ever since, I have met with Scott once a month. Wednesday, April the 13th there was a regularly scheduled appointment with Scott that would not happen. I met with Scott Haasarud for 144 sessions—12 x 12—(3x4) x (3x4)—pure and messy alchemy done on my soul.

A friend, who also saw Scott regularly, said that he filled a void in her life that was larger than Scott himself. He was a big man in every way. Wise and gentle. Subtle at times, yet straight-forward when needed. Scott was a complex man, paradoxical, yet not. At times, I was confident he was channeling the larger force of Carl Jung. Some people call themselves Jungian. But Scott breathed Carl Jung in and out, like tobacco from an ancient pipe. He had placed the tea bag of his life into Jung’s alchemical brew and then he ladled it out to rest of us, one sip at time. Scott sat in the midst of his endless library. He listened no matter how long I talked. Then he would tell a story. Sometimes he would quote Jung at just the right moment, reach for the appropriate book and hand it to me. He never gave instructions, only offerings. I could wisely take it, or foolishly leave it.

You could call Scott a Christian, though you’d have to clearly define what you meant by the idea of being a Christian. Scott understood Jesus through Jungian eyes. Such a notion is complexity exemplified. But if you thought of Jesus in other terms, Scott would suggest you might miss the message. To be a healer in the pathway of Jesus is to accept the cost. To live is to die. To die is to live. Jung said in The Red Book that, “Whoever possesses wisdom in not greedy for power. Only the man who has power declines to use it.” Scott Haasarud had, still has, power from the other world, but never wielded it. You just had to be in his presence to feel it, still feel it.

Jung told of a vision in The Red Book. He was hanging from the Tree of Life. He asked his anima, his soul, to cut him down. But she said she couldn’t reach that high. So the anima, became the serpent and crawled into the tree. Jung wrestled with the rational and irrational, his thinking and his feeling. The serpent, in an attempt to find a solution, became a white bird and flew high into heaven. She brought back a golden crown for Jung. The inscription on the crown read, “Love never ends.” Jung asked the bird, “What does the riddle of the golden crown mean?” “It means,” said the bird. “That the crown and the serpent are opposites, yet one. Did you not see the serpent that crowned the head of the crucified?”

Christ the Crucified was the serpent lifted high on the Tree like the serpent on Moses staff. The serpent was both poison and salvation. Jung understood the Christ Crucified as both serpent and healer to be the exemplar of each individual living in union with the Divine One, YHVH. We need not be like Jesus. Indeed not. Instead, we must do the unthinkable. We must become Jesus for the sake others. Scott Haasarud became Jesus, healing others. Scott did his own soul work. He modeled for us, with us, in us, around us, the way to become who we are all called to be: our own self, the Christ within us all, within every human being, within every creature, every stone of creation. We discover who we are when we can answer the question, “Who am I,” with the words, “I am.” We can boldly make this statement because truly Love Never Ends.

Scott Haasarud has left the world of the seen to reside in the realm of the unseen. He has been grafted into the Tree of Life. He has become the white bird. No longer encumbered by earthly limitations. He is now free to meet us in the collective unconscious. Scott’s life and work lives, infused into the essence of our mind, body, soul, and spirit. While we may not see Scott every day, or once a month, we will now encounter him in a better realm, in our dreams, in our creative imagination, and at the Eucharistic Table with all the communion of saints.

Friday, March 25, 2016

His Cross Became My Cross

Good Friday Devotion

One dark moment in time changed my life forever. That day the desert sky over Jerusalem was filled with low, heavy, black clouds. I wasn’t expecting such a ominous day on my visit to the holy city of Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.

My name is Simon. I’m from the city of Cyrene. I left my home three months ago in order to get to Jerusalem in time for the great feast—a pilgrimage of over 1,000 miles. I arrived just in time for the beginning of the festival.

That fateful morning, I went to the Temple to make my offering. As I was leaving the Temple, I was caught up in a mass of people who swept me down the street, like a tiny boat drug across the desert sands. The crowd was driving us towards the Pavement Stone, Gabbatha, the seat of the Pilate’s tribunal.

The name of Jesus, the Galilean, was being chanted in derision. I had heard him preach in the Temple the day before. He told stories about God’s love and forgiveness. He called Yahweh, Abba, Father, like the great rabbi’s of Judaism. He spoke about God in such intimate terms that his words touched my inner spirit. I wondered what Jesus could have done to make the crowd so angry.

The mass of humanity swelled, pushing us towards the Pavement Stone. The mob began to shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Not everyone was shouting the haunting words of death, but a strong chorus had overtaken the voice of the crowd. Then a loud cheer went out from the front of the crowd—as one we lunged forward. I knew what was going to happen next.

I turned my shoulders sideways and began to snake my way out of the crowd. When I got to the edge of the throng, I ran down a back alley to get ahead of the procession. I was sure I knew where they were taking Jesus—to Golgotha, the hill, the skull, the tomb of Adam, the place of the tree of death—so that’s where I went.

By the time I got to the base of the hill I could see the ocean of people rising in my direction like a threating storm. I found myself standing behind three women and a man. The two younger women and the man tried to console the third woman dressed in blue. The three spoke to her tenderly and called her mother Mary. I couldn’t see her face but I could hear her sobs.

Oddly, the crowd grew quieter as they approached where we were standing. I could see Jesus, in front, struggling under the weight of the cross he was carrying. The Roman soldiers whipped him as he stumbled up the hill. He winched at the strike of the whip. I heard him groan with every step. His body was raw flesh and blood. His head bent to the ground. His long hair, soaked dark, mingled with sweat and blood, covered his face.

And then, as if Jesus knew she was there, he turned his face to see Mary, his mother. He face was almost unrecognizable. Mary threw her anguished soul towards him. The man and the two women held her trembling body. Jesus fell to the ground, not from the weight of the cross, but from the burden of seeing his mother in such grief.

“Cyrene!” one of the Roman Soldiers yelled. “You! Black man.” The soldier was pointing his sword at me as he strode in my direction. I was paralyzed.

“Come here!” he shouted.

I wanted to run, but I couldn’t. Something held me in place. My eyes fell on Mother Mary. At that moment, she turned and looked into my soul.

“Help him. Please. Will you?”

Abba, Yahweh Father gave me the strength to let go of my fear and walk towards the soldier.

“Pick up his cross!” he yelled. “Or I’ll find one to nail you on.”

As I took a step towards Jesus, Mother Mary reached up and touched my hand. A wisp of her tear soaked hair blew across my arm. Her grief passed into my heart.

Jesus’ lifted his eyes from his mother to me. “Brother, would you carry my burden up the hill?” he whispered.

I knelt by his side. I slid my arm under the weight of his cross and lifted it off his broken shoulders. He collapsed. I struggled under the burden of man’s cruelty. I bent my back to rise to my feet. Jesus reached up his hand. I shifted the weight of the cross to one side of my back and reached under Jesus’ arm. His weight leaned into me as together we lifted him to his feet. He kissed my check and whispered into my ear, “Peace be with you.” He steadied himself. Looked up the hill. And started the final leg of journey towards his destiny. I followed this man of sorrows to his death. His cross now became my cross.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Jesus for President: Polls say Zero Chance

We’re living in a new age. Everything is changing so rapidly. All the rules are off the table.

This week our bishop sent us a letter that included a statement issued by the Episcopal Bishops. The brief document, entitled “A Word to the Church,” was written in response to the “violent political rhetoric we are facing in our country today, especially in the current Presidential campaign.”

On Good Friday the ruling political forces of the day tortured and executed an innocent man. They sacrificed the weak and the blameless to protect their own status and power. On the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, revealing not only their injustice but also unmasking the lie that might makes right.

In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is a legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.

In this moment, we resemble God’s children wandering in the wilderness. We, like they, are struggling to find our way. They turned from following God and worshiped a golden calf constructed from their own wealth. The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.

We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.

Nothing should be lost on the synchronicity of the bishop’s letter being given to us to be read on Palm Sunday. I think what we are talking about here is what or who is our model of leadership.

I’m left with three questions. What kind of leader was Jesus? And how would Jesus fit into the 21st century American culture as that kind of leader? And how should Jesus’ model affect how we respond to our culture today?

We get a pretty good picture of Jesus’ leadership style on Palm Sunday. Jesus started his two-mile journey into Jerusalem from Bethphage, known as the village opposite. Bethphage is only mentioned in context of this specific story in the New Testament. What could that to mean about Jesus’ style of leadership? It means he was opposite of the norm. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The donkey was the symbol of the desert. The donkey was the symbol of Jesus’ new kind of leadership. Living in the desert, being the opposite of the accepted norm.

The palm leaves used were also opposite of the norm. Slaves used Palm leaves to fan the rich. Now the palm leaves were being thrown down onto the road for Jesus to ride over. The cactus of the desert and the palm leaf on the ground marked Jesus’ leadership. He brought the opposites together as symbols of how to lead.

Then, Jesus rode into Jerusalem and marched right into the temple. His first act was to drive out those who profited from the poor and the marginalized. That act made him so unpopular that the authorities began to look for ways to kill him.

For the rational mind, Jesus’ methods would make no sense. But, for the imaginative mind, Jesus’ style was filled with unlimited possibilities. To be the last was to be the first. To be poor was to be rich. To die was to live.

So I ask myself, could Jesus be a leader in 21st century America?

Could Jesus be elected as President of the United States? That’s laughable. A Jew has yet to be elected President. Jesus was Middle-eastern. He was a revolutionary. He preached peace, love, and equality. There was nothing about Jesus that would make him a popular figure in the American political scene. It seems so ironic though that Jesus’ name gets used like a badge of approval for almost every presidential candidate— actually except for one.

Would Jesus be elected a Bishop in the Episcopal Church or hired as the rector of parish? Well, No. He wasn’t an Episcopalian. Okay, well more importantly, Jesus wouldn’t fit into the expectations of being a CEO-type leader. The church most often wants an extravert, who is rational, strategic thinker, who can plan for every scenario imaginable. Ironically, most experts on the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator think Jesus was probably the opposite of that type. Jesus was most likely an introvert, who could envision a new future that could happen in the now of this very moment. In other words, Jesus was mystic not church builder. Think about it. He let Judas be the treasurer of his small band and he drove the money-changers out of the temple. Building a bigger budget was not top of his list.

So, would Jesus be a deacon in the church? Maybe. That sounds more like Jesus. But, I doubt he would jump through the hoops of the ordination process. Besides, I seriously doubt Jesus would wear a clerical collar.

So where would we find Jesus as a leader in America today? I imagine Jesus would be leading others to feed the hungry; gather clothes for the homeless; fill water stations at the border; help refugees; working in prison ministry; and I imagine Jesus would carry a Black Lives Matter sign at a protest; he would speak out against greed, violence, and injustice. Jesus would be doing the kinds of things that would get him crucified, not elected to any leadership position.

Few people have encouraged me to preach about politics in church. Someone suggested to me that given my sermons about Jesus and politics that I am probably left without a candidate to vote for in any type of election; much less President. But now is not the time to keep quiet.

There were those that wanted Jesus and his followers to stop preaching the message of God’s love in the Temple. Basically Jesus’ response was that he could not be silent. And neither can we. Jesus said that if we don’t speak up, surely the stones would cry out. What he meant was, that if his followers, those of us in the Jesus Movement—if we don’t have the courage to speak up, someone else will. In other words, if we don’t speak out against the violent forces being released by the political rhetoric, then our silence becomes our consent to the violence. Would Jesus be silent? No. He would not. So we, as followers of Jesus have to speak up against the violent rhetoric and we have to vote.

Being a follower of Jesus is all very weird and it changes everything. But, somehow, asking people to be civil doesn’t seem to all that weird. Evidently, though, following Jesus does change everything. Being in the Jesus Movement changes what we eat, what we buy, how we treat other people, and even how we vote. Amen.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Jesus visits Jung for some therapy

At some point in life most of us have asked our self the big question, “Who am I?” Am I this kind of person – or am I that kind of person? It’s like playing mental Ping Pong. We ask this question of our selves at almost every stage of human development. As children we are looking for an identity within our family. As teenager we’re looking for an identity separate from our family. As young adults we’re looking for a purpose. As adults we’re trying to live out our purpose. As older adults we’re trying to assess if we have fulfilled our purpose. These questions are extremely important in our growth as mature humans because our answers affect our relationship to other people. Simply put, you can’t truly know another human being, and you can’t truly know God—unless you know yourself. Christianity has taught this truth from its beginning.

In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus said, “Divine Reality exists inside and all around you. Only when you have come to know your true Self will you be fully known—realizing at last that you are a child of the Living One.”

But, how did Jesus come to realize this about himself? First—he was human. Therefore he had to ask all the human questions, including—Who am I? Yes, that’s right, Jesus had to go through the same self-discovery process we have to trudge through. He had to ask himself, who am I, so that he could discover that he was a child of the Living One. He modeled for us that we too are children of the Living One.

Today’s gospel reading (John 12:1-8) is a perfect example of Jesus’ search for his answer to the question, “Who am I.” To do this we have to read the Gospel of John metaphorically, not literally.

I’ve developed a diagram to help us get a picture of Jesus’ Self-discovery process found in today’s reading. I know there is too much information in this diagram to cram into a fifteen-minute sermon. So, I’m giving you a glimpse of a series I’ll be offering in late May, early June. The title of the program will be “Jesus: His Mind, Mystery, and Magic.” This sermon is the very beginning of my ideas about how Jesus thought.

A couple of quick notes about the title at the top of the chart: Jesus called himself the Son of Man, which followed in the tradition of Ezekiel. The word Anthropos is a reference to Carl Jung’s suggestion that Jesus is the archetypal man in search of his True Self. Therefore, Jesus, the Son of Man is the archetypal True Self, whose path we can follow for our own self-discovery.

The diagram is a circle—a mandala, a sacred circle. A cross divides the circle into four sections. Four is a complete number—as in the four points of the cross, the four directions and the four elements, air, earth, fire, and water. At the different points of the cross, you will see the four letters of the unspeakable name of God, YHVH. In the Kabbalah’s interpretation of the Torah, the four letters of the unspeakable name of God are—Yod (Father), He (Mother), Vau (Son), He (Daughter). There’s so much to say about this because it plays such an important part in understanding Jesus’ understanding of the Holy One. But that will have to wait until another time.

The two quadrants on the top, the darker blue, are the conscious, the bottom two, the lighter blue, are the unconscious. The four quadrants represent the holistic picture of Jesus personality—his complete personality. The upper left is Jesus’ ego. The upper right is Jesus’ emerging Self. The bottom left represents Jesus’ soul. And the bottom right is Jesus’ shadow. The characters in the story represent the four parts of Jesus’ personality. For our sake of discussion, the story is not about Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and Judas—the story is all about Jesus.

The upper left quadrant represents the Ego. You’ll see Jesus making four statements that are focused on his conscious awareness of who he is existentially. “Leave Mary alone. She bought the oil. She’s anointing me in preparation for my impending death. Don’t worry about the poor right now, you’ll always have them.” Jesus sensed that after he had overturned the tables in the Tabernacle and raised Lazarus from the tomb, the authorities would be looking to execute him. Jesus was focused on the situation of the moment—his situation. There’s nothing wrong or bad about that—that was just his reality at the moment.

The lower right quadrant represents Jesus’ shadow. The writer of the gospel puts the shadow’s words into Judas’ mouth. “We have a responsibility, we need the money to take care of the poor, to take care of us.” Jesus had to have been worried about what was going to happen to his poor disciples after he died? But, he didn’t want to think about responsibility at that moment, or maybe at all. So he avoided thinking about it and hid his thoughts in his shadow. Then there was the issue of betrayal. Jesus probably felt like he had betrayed his disciples—they gave up everything to follow him and now it was all going to end on the cross. And maybe Jesus was worried that he was a thief, that he was stealing his identity as a child of God? Maybe he was concerned that he wasn’t worthy? Or that he wasn’t ready?

The lower left quadrant represents the soul of Jesus. In Jungian psychology, the soul is always representative of the opposite gender that resides within us. Jesus being a male, would identify his soul as feminine. In the story we are reading today, Mary and Martha represent two sides of the same person—Mary the disciple, the esthetic, Martha the servant, the doer. This two-sided person actually represents the three Marys in Jesus’s life—the mother, the wife, the daughter. In mystical literature, the three Marys are the same person, playing out different roles in Jesus’ life. This is the role of the soul—to confront us with our aspects of spirituality. That’s what Mary is doing as she anoints Jesus’ feet with her hair. She acts in humility. She makes a sacrifice. She engages all her mind, body, soul, and spirit to be in union with the Living One. She is acting out for Jesus how his spirituality and his soul must evolve. Soon Jesus would wash the disciples feet.

And finally, let’s turn our attention to the upper right quadrant—the Self, represented by Lazarus. Here we see Lazarus, possibly the beloved disciple, who had died and then had been resurrected. Lazarus was in the house, while his sister was anointing the feet of Jesus. He was sitting at the table. Lazarus represented whom Jesus would have to become in order to find his True Self. Jesus would have to be willing to die so that someone else would resurrect him, in order that he might become the Holy Eucharist served at the table, the altar.

I know, this all very weird stuff for us to think about. But, the question is, why should be paying attention to the humanity of Jesus?

Typically, we’re presented a Jesus who is an enigmatic, two-dimensional figure—a mysterious figure that is so far away that we lose any personal connection. So then, we fill in the human gap. We turn Jesus into our imaginary childhood friend, or the best friend we never had, or the brother that was missing in our life, or the lover we need. And once we re-create Jesus, then we do the same thing to our self, creating our idealized fictional character of who we wish we were. And worse yet, we then project all of our stuff onto our family and friends. And what happens is, our recreated Jesus doesn’t live up to our expectations. Our family and friends don’t act like we want them to. And of course, we are not really the person we created. We need the real Jesus, so that we have a model to find our own authentic self.

As followers of Jesus, let me suggest we spend some time this week and during Holy Week with these questions:

What have you avoided in your life and stuffed in your shadow?

What is your soul trying to tell you about your spirituality?

What is your True Self calling you to become?

Like Jesus, the answer to these question are somewhere inside of you.

Let me end with a portion of the poem “Who am I?” written by the Christian theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Who am I? This man or that other?
Am I then this man today and tomorrow another?
Am I both all at once?
Who am I? They mock me these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, you know me, O God. You know I am yours.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Upside Down Politics

Many of you have heard me tell stories about my sister, Dinah. She has what’s known as Prader-Willi Syndrome, it’s caused by the deformity of Chromosome-15. She’s mentally and physically handicapped. Dinah is the oldest known living person with PWS in the State of Arizona. She just celebrated her sixty-first birthday. Most people with PWS die in their late thirties due to issues related to PWS.

Despite Dinah’s limitations, I consider her to be a wise mystic. Talking to her is similar to having a conversation with God: you have to sit in silence, be patient, and listen carefully. Even then, you might not hear a word. And when you do, it’s not the word you were looking for.

Several years ago, a woman asked my mom that if she could wish for a miracle would she want Dinah to be normal. In a flash, my mom replied, “Actually, I think Dinah’s the normal one and we’re the ones who are handicapped.”

The woman replied, “Well, I think if you had enough faith and prayed hard enough, God would grant your wish.”

The woman asked a question, for which she already had an answer. She was acting like she was God because she had created God in her own image. This woman assumed God was judging my mother for her lack of faith.

All the while, my mom was trying to tell the woman that she needed to turn her thinking upside down; to think in a different way. That’s the point of this morning’s strange gospel reading. Jesus wants us to think differently about the nature of God.

In Luke’s gospel (13:1-9) the people were asking Jesus the age-old question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But those people already had an answer. They assumed that those who had died tragic deaths were being judged because they deserved to die. They thought God would be judgmental like they were. In other words—if they were God, that’s what they would do.

But, Jesus responded in his typical fashion. He never answered a direct question. That’s how my sister answers every question. You can ask her anything, from the mundane to the complex, and she always says, “I not not know.” As if she’s saying, I don’t know—But, if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you.”

What Jesus does tell them, though, is to repent. By repent, he means that they need to change their way of thinking. In other words, they need to turn their thinking upside down. The people thought that God should control everything that happens in the world. God should punish the evil and reward the righteous. They thought God should manipulate the world for their benefit.

But that’s not what Jesus taught. Jesus told them to stop thinking that way. Jesus said that the sun rises on the good and the evil. Jesus said that the rain falls on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45). My sister has PWS because it randomly happens in one of every 10,000 births. In other words, life is random, shit happens. Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging with the old adage, “Life sucks and then you die.” He tells us a story that I imagine went like this.

You see that fig tree over there? My dad planted that tree years ago. Every year he would till the ground around the tree, gather manure and mulch it into the ground. Then he would carry buckets of water to pour around the tree. Year after year he took care of that tree. And still, the tree never produced any fruit. I asked my dad once why he didn’t just cut the tree down and simply plant another one. My dad said, “My son, I love that tree because it reminds me of God’s love for me. I make mistakes everyday. But God continues to nurture me. God feeds me. God waters me. God does all the work. And still day after day I can’t seem to bear any fruit. I’m so underserving. But God never abandons me.” When my dad died, I kept caring for that tree because it too reminds of my heavenly father. No matter what happens in this random world, he loves us. Our heavenly father is constantly down on his hands and knees, tilling the soil around us. He goes out into the pasture and gathers the stinky manure. Then with his hands, he mulches that manure into our soil. And then he fetches bucket after bucket of water to make sure we have enough to drink in hopes that, one day, we might bear fruit. But, no matter what happens, even if we never bear one fig of fruit—our heavenly father will never give up on us. He will never cut us down.

Jesus told this story because this is how he envisioned the never-ending love and forgiveness of God. Jesus is telling us that this is how he cares for us, giving us never-ending love and forgiveness. And Jesus is telling us this story because he wants us to turn our thinking upside down—he wants us to give our love and forgiveness to others unconditionally. But how do we do this?

Jesus told us to feed the hungry, give the thirsty a drink of water, visit the sick and those in person, and to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35). Jesus told us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matthew 22:39) Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:44). Jesus spoke out against hate language that bullies other people. Jesus spoke out against the oppression of the poor. Jesus spoke out against the injustices in our world.

You’ve heard me say that the teachings of Jesus are weird—and that his teachings will turn our thinking upside down. Thinking like Jesus will affect what we eat, what we buy, how we treat other people and how we vote. I think that’s true and I’m not afraid to say it.

Being in the Jesus Movement means that Jesus’ teachings will affect every aspect of my life—including my politics. If a political candidate sounds like they would bully Jesus for his teachings on love and forgiveness, how could I support that person? If I can’t find Jesus’ teachings about love and forgiveness somewhere in the candidate’s political agenda, how could I vote for them? Being in the Jesus Movement is hard work because Jesus’ teachings are often hard to live out. But, I believe that is our calling.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Join, Follow, Go

Every once in awhile someone asks me what our church staff does on days other than Sunday—as if we just show up on Sunday to make everything happen. Well, here at St. Peter’s, we put in a full week of work. In fact we meet once a week for a staff meeting to ensure we can get everything done. At our last week’s staff meeting we were trying to think of a theme for Lent. We were brainstorming and an idea hit me.

I was so excited I put my hand up and said, “Pick me. Pick me.” I think I stunned Pastor Gae. She ignored me with a gentle smile—like she thought maybe I was losing it. But I wouldn’t give up. “Pick me! Pick me!” Finally, she had to give in.

“Okay, so what’s your idea,” she said skeptically.

I had this great idea. How about this? “Hey, come suffer with us!” I mean, I could come up with all kinds of dark morose sermons for Lent using that theme. No one took me seriously.

Truthfully, a better idea came from more creative minds. I know many of you saw the wonderful sign made for last week’s Annual Meeting. It said, “We are the Jesus Movement” I hope you noticed the “O” in Movement was replaced with this very cool circled arrow. We took that circled arrow and added three words: Join, Follow, and Go.

Those three words are going to be our guide through this year’s Lenten season.

• Join: Learn about the Jesus Movement
• Follow: Practice the Teachings of Jesus
• Go: Be Jesus in the World

How are we going to live into that theme? How are we going to Join, Follow, and Go in the Jesus Movement?

This morning’s gospel story is the perfect example of our theme for Lent. Jesus asks three of his followers up to join him on top of a mountain. There, he was going to teach them some very important things about being in the Jesus Movement. The most important lessons were how to pray and how to heal. Jesus wanted to teach that by praying for others to be healed, we are changed. Prayer changes the very essence of our being.

Jesus began teaching his followers by modeling how to pray. He was praying with such intensity that he had a mystical experience. Two of the great men of faith appeared to him. Moses came to teach Jesus about being a leader. Elijah came to teach Jesus about being a mystic. The three followers of Jesus witnessed this mystical experience. They were so overcome by it that they had their own mystical experience. A cloud rolled over them and they heard God speak to them. Amazing stuff. But, you know what? You can have these same kinds of experiences. That’s part of being in the Jesus Movement—it’s all about experiencing the mystery of God. But, to learn how to pray and heal we have to join Jesus at the top of the mountain.

There was a book that was popular twenty plus years ago entitled, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The book was filled with lots of truths. Of course, we all know we need to go to more than just kindergarten to learn about everything we need in life. I want to know my doctor graduated with high marks from medical school. I trust the people working on the airplane I fly in are well educated and trained. We want, we need, we rely on the fact that people who support us in our life are well educated. You even count on the fact that your clergy are well educated—well beyond kindergarten. Well, if you want to be in the Jesus Movement you need to go to the top of the mountain and learn. A church kindergarten education is not good enough. You need to be grounded in the stories, the ideas, and the teachings of Jesus. And what you learned five years ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago, 30, 40, 50 years ago is as behind the times as if your doctor stopped learning about the latest techniques in medicine when he left med-school. Learning about the Jesus Movement is a lifelong endeavor.

Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church offers you so many opportunities to learn about the Jesus Movement. A good example is our House Churches, where we offer five different locations and three different books, all focused on learning about the mystery of Jesus and how to apply it to your life. But we have so many other opportunities as well to learn about the Jesus Movement; Pastor Gae leads a Monday morning Bible Study. The Men’s Group offers a Bible Study led by Deacon Michael on Saturdays. We have the Oasis program that is always offering classes. We have classes for children, for youth. We have a class for everyone to learn how to pray and heal.

After the lessons and the mystical experiences, Jesus asks those who were with him to follow him down the mountain. It was time for them to practice some of the things he taught them. He was hoping they had learned how to pray and how to be healers. But, like all things you try for the first time, you might not be very good at it. Jesus’ followers failed Healing 101. They had to take the class over again. Often times the teachings of Jesus are very hard. To learn how to be good at them we have practice—daily actually.

Here at Saint Peter’s we have lots of opportunities to practice the teachings of Jesus. The Daughter’s of the King will teach you how to pray and serve. The Community of Hope will teach you how to visit the sick, how to pray for their healing. Deacon Gay and the Prison Ministry team will teach you how to visit those who are in prison and to pray for their healing. You can get involved in the Family Promise program and learn how to pray for the healing of the homeless. You can get involved in Habitat for Humanity and learn how to pray for healing of those who need affordable housing. There are so many ministries in this church and you don’t have to do any of them alone. You’ll always be with experienced people who will teach you how to pray and heal in so many different ways.

To be in the Jesus Movement you have to practice following the ways of Jesus. Because at some point you’re going to have to “Go and Be Jesus in the World.” You might be saying to me, Gil don’t you mean to “Be Like Jesus in the World?” No. I mean God wants us to be Jesus in the World. Jesus sent his followers out in the world to be him; to pray and to heal. Jesus told his followers they would do greater things than he had done. The same goes for those of us today who are in the Jesus Movement. We are followers of Jesus going into the world to pray and heal.

I coached college baseball at Grand Canyon University for twenty years. I told my players that they would work harder than they had ever worked before. To play for Grand Canyon, to wear the Canyon uniform, they had learn how to play the Canyon way. The most successful guys weren’t always the most talented. The most successful guys were the one’s who learned how to play the Canyon way and worked the hardest.

A lot of people want to be on Jesus’s team. They want to be in the Jesus Movement. They want to wear the Jesus uniform. Which is great. But the question is, when someone notices you’re wearing Jesus’ uniform and they ask you to pray for their healing, will you be ready? Being in the Jesus Movement has nothing to do with the afterlife—it has everything to do with the “now life,” the life we’re living this very moment. It’s time to Join. It’s time to Follow. It’s time to Go.