Resurrection – My What for.

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The ASU/AU rivalry is about more than just the Territorial Cup.

I jokingly said one time that you know there is a God when a graduate from the University of Arizona (UA) can be the best of friends with a graduate from Arizona State University (ASU).  This momentous occasion took place at Saint Augustine Episcopal Church altar in Tempe, not very far from ASU’s main campus.  At the time I was serving as the Episcopal Campus Minister at the UA . My Anam Cara, Gil Stafford was the Episcopal Campus Minister at ASU. I was newly ordained and Gil invited me to preside at the Eucharist at his primary altar.  It was a blessed moment, one of many that I treasure with Gil.  He continually blesses me despite his affiliation with the Territorial Normal School at Tempe. Truly, Gil’s work as Canon Theologian, Author, Priest, and Spiritual Director and Teacher is profoundly Spirit-sent and offered. I make progress on The Way because of Gil’s friendship, mentoring, and love.

Thus, I feel like I’m standing on very uncertain and holy ground when I respond to one

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Daniel Jackson, The Resurrection Print – Saint John’s Illuminated Bibl

of Gil’s articles.  Gil blogs at Peregrini.  Usually, I just ruminate over his thoughts. Occasionally, I write a reply on Facebook or in his blog’s comments. This time though, I need to respond.  His “Jesus Go to Hell, Please” piece prompted me to dig deep into my soul .  What do I truly believe about Christ Jesus’ Resurrection?  What is its significance for me? How do I articulate and live it out in my life?  Am I a witness as I preached a couple of weeks ago?   Well, here’s a bit of my “what” Christ resurrection means to me.

First, I believe that The Resurrection is a mystical “meta-narrative” divine and human phenomenon. What does that F!i)kin’ mean? Well, more simply put.  The Resurrection is a transformational event. It happened miraculously with Christ Jesus. It happens with us too – within and beyond our human comprehension. The Divine’s (God’s) Love beckons all of creation, including human beings to live, die, and be reborn . Christ Jesus’ Resurrection was a singular event on that First Easter Sunday morning. And, every human being over the course of this and most likely many life times live into the life, death, and rebirth of Christ Jesus’ Resurrection. Our souls are eternally and profanely engaged in a circular, evolving pattern  of growth – in spiritual, mortal and mystical terms.

 

Origen
Read Origen’s On First Principles here.

Gil refers to Origen of Alexandria the great, Neoplatonist Christian Theologian. Origen was a Christian Universalist. The restoration of all things (Apokatastasis) was absolutely essential to Origen’s theological and moral thinking. (Edward Moore, Origen of Alexandria, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d.). Origen wrote:

 

“For the end is always like the beginning: and, therefore, as there is one end to all things, so ought we to understand that there was one beginning; and as there is one end to many things, so there spring from one beginning many differences and varieties, which again, through the goodness of God, and by subjection to Christ, and through the unity of the Holy Spirit, are recalled to one end, which is like unto the beginning.” (Origen, On First Principles, Book I, Chapter VI. Section II).

Origen believed that our souls were pre-existent and passed through human suffering and sin to reborn life over the course of eternity. (Bryan Rich, Apokatastasis in the Thought of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, December, 2007).  For Origen , all souls, including the most evil ones in the cosmos (choose the human being you despise the most) will eventually achieve salvation. “God’s love is so powerful as to soften even the hardest heart, and that the human intellect – being the image of God will never freely choose oblivion over proximity to God.” (Edward Moore, Origen of Alexandria, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy n.d.).

Origen got himself into a deep mound of Christian doctrinal manure. His beliefs along with the fact that he lived a very ascetic life and allegedly castrated himself didn’t win him many orthodox ecclesiastical friends. Bishops and fellow presbyters mocked and imprisoned him because of his bold, mystical, and innovative understanding of The Holy Trinity, Eternal Salvation, and yes, Christ Jesus’ resurrection.  And yet, his Christian Catachetical School was wildly popular. (ReligionFacts, Origen of Alexandria, n.d.)

Wise, unconventional, and provocative philosophers and theologians frequently run aground when they stir up controversies, especially when they contest strongly held beliefs about such things as heaven and hell and the nature of Christ Jesus’ Resurrection. I observe that Origen and Gil are both out-of-the-box in systematic Christian theological terms.  They are equally iconic in terms of the brilliance of their thinking about Resurrection and Salvation. Both of them are unorthodox and life-giving Christian scholars and clerics. Frankly, in these times of distress, as in Origen’s time, we need theologians such as Gil to point us and The Church into the rebirthing cycle that The Cross initiates and The Resurrection gives birth to for all of us. I make that comment on scriptural as well as metaphysical foundations.

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Shin-Hee Chin, Breath, Mixed Media Painting. View this piece and other works of art at the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts “Telling God Stories in the 21st Century” exhibition

Origen and Gil alike ask me (and you?): What does Jesus’ Resurrection mean for us today? Well, let me respond with a few of my own questions.

 

Why do we need a one-time Savior?  What do we gain with one salvific moment in human history? Have we forgotten that the Romans crucified thousands of Jews? Does Jesus’ forgiveness of sins and God’s redemption of humanity through Christ Jesus’ Resurrection somehow negate the fact that human beings, especially those persons possessing political and imperial power, have executed hundreds of marginalized prophets, philosophers, and activists, including Jesus of Nazareth.   What purpose does Resurrection have for us today amid the carnage of daily gun-related violence, unconscionable levels of human sex trafficking,   and an opioid crisis killing thousands of Americans in the past 20 years. What does our forgiveness require given these ignorant human tendencies and thbrokenness?

Indeed and in belief, we need an eternally loving God and an eternity of maturity, evolution, and rebirth as a species to discover and receive redemption from sin and evil. Christ Jesus’ Resurrection declares that death does not possess victory over life. Yet, there is no pilgrimage, at least in my experience that does not undertake a process of stasis, chaos, and new order (life, death, and rebirth). Such evolution occurs in all sorts of minute and miraculous ways – on God’s time (kairos) rather than humanity’s time (chronos) .

The Resurrection provides this paradoxical Way, to live as a human being. Resurrection declares God’s Love and Grace through the passage of time on this planet and beyond mortal comprehension. Resurrection – in my Progressive Christian terms demands that there is no Easter without Holy Week – there is no Cheap Grace.  And Christ Jesus  is The Vine from which the branches of our faith and belief in God’s love provides The Way for this mortal and our eternal life – for Sun Devils, Wildcats alike and together.

 

 

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Living a Lenten Life

ashwednesdayI invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word….
(Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 265)

…. What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.
To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance. …
(David Whyte, 2014 – What to Remember When Waking – retrieved 1/30/2018)

I started Lent in January. ‘Might as well get an early start. Honestly, I have resolved to adopt different ways of being this year.  Some of my resolutions have to do with my diet and physical wellness. Other resolutions are more spiritual and vocational in nature.  Each of them, individually and in concert with one another have to do with making progressive and healthy changes in body, mind, and soul. In other words, I am striving to repent.

A priestly friend and colleague introduced me a few years ago to David Whyte’s work. Whyte is a poet and speaker whose thoughts and words provoke thousands of other fans to view life through the lens of their day to day experience in this world. Whyte’s wisdom considers lessons of ancestry and spirituality.

Some years ago, David offered a presentation at Seattle University’s School of Theology. In this talk he offers this wonderful definition of repentance (metanoia – in New Testament Greek).  David Whyte said (beginning at (9’:55” in the video):

Metanoia
Change your heart and mind by reading Samantha Kielar’s great blog post about metanoia.

“There is a lovely etymology (meaning) to the word repent in the Bible because in the Greek the word repent was actually metanoia which simply meant not to go over your past sins and lash yourself on the back … which you can do and enjoy if you like. Make yourself a very nice cup of coffee before you do it. But metanoia literally just to change your mind and to think differently.”  (Whyte, 2012)

The way that we think shapes the way that we speak. How we speak shapes the way that we live. Early Christians came to be known as people or followers of The Way.(Wiener, 2017). They claimed and received this title because they adopted powerfully their Christian disciplines and exhibited their Christian faith. Fasting, devotional prayers, silence, and acts of generosity were evidence of these newly baptized Christians’ changes in heart, mind, and body.

Lent remains about resolutely changing who we are. It is an intentional season of transformation. We go with Jesus into the Wilderness We follow him into Jerusalem to confront persecutions and prejudices. We witness the intimate and vulnerable time he shares with his disciples.  Lent beckons us to confront our own internal and external temptations. Such repentance invites us to reject cravings separating us from God’s love and our neighbors’ needs and desires. Once again, Lenten repentance gives us space to choose what ways we will think, speak, and walk upon moment by moment.

You can begin your Lenten practices early too, if you like. The Wilderness is as far away as your willingness to meditate. Are you willing to allow God to speak silently to you. Try going into a trance as my friend Gil suggests. You may further elect to fast from a habit or ritual that focuses your life more on yourself than God. You should find time on a daily basis to pray and interact with Christ.  Sacred Space offers a daily examination from the Jesuit tradition.   Sign up for Richard Rohr’s Daily Mediations.  There are lots of additional options to choose from on the Internet.

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Read Bill Plotkin’s Soulcraft Musings and open up to your soul’s true purpose.  Visit Animas Valley Institute for more details about Soulcraft quests.

 

We may enter Lent wholeheartedly. Such personal devotion, reflection, and thinking requires courage.  Our Christian faith is sacramental and sacrificial. This holy work wholly offers pathways to join Jesus at the foot of the Cross as well as at the opening of Easter’s empty tomb.  Christianity doesn’t own the desert of contemplative and transformational life, not by a long shot. Let your soul guide you if your religious or spiritual bent is different than mine. I’m yearning to go on an Animas Valley Institute Soul Initiation quest. Maybe you’re supposed to go rather than me.

 

May our pilgrimages through Lent’s wilderness and wild places draw us nearer to God, provide awareness of God’s angels, and offer us more trust in Jesus our Lord and Christ. May we claim our truest, very best Christian inheritance. Let us carry our divinely offered gifts with humility.

 

Blessings along The Way, Jim

 

 

This Morning’s Prayer

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I support and join with the Episcopal Bishops Against Gun Violence

I have composed and sent this prayerful letter to the Senators of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – Sen Pat Toomey  and Sen. Bob Casey.

Dear Senator,

I pray today that dozens of people will not die or be wounded today because of someone who converted his or her legal semiautomatic weapon or abused his 2nd Amendment rights to own a gun.

I intercede, as a priest of The Church and as a citizen, to you and our nations’ senators to prevent an angry person who is perhaps living with a mental illness or unresolved despair to inflict mortal carnage upon people living in Pennsylvania or elsewhere across our nation.

I ask you in the name of Jesus Christ, for repentance (a change of heart and direction) to manifest wisdom in making it more difficult for someone living in the Commonwealth to convert the weapons they own into battlefield weapons.

cross with gunsI yearn for God to mercifully receive the souls of those people who will die and be wounded today. I pray that God’s angels will indeed be close to people who will lie perilously close to death on our nation’s streets and in countless hospital beds because someone else shot them. I will ask God and you why there are so many guns in our nation when our bodies are so fragile when rapidly fired bullets impact us.

I pray that God will abide with doctors, nurses, counselors, pastors, and first responders who will provide aid to victims and will need pastoral, spiritual, physical, and mental support themselves.

May God grant you the wisdom, courage, and grace as my Senator to do something to make the lives of your constituents safer and more joyous today. May God’s Holy Spirit guide and direct you to act and legislate so that our shared thoughts and prayers for victims and their families will become more than words and manifest the truest and most compassionate love of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

The Rev. Jim Strader-Sasser – Christ Memorial Episcopal Church – Danville.

============

 

As God’s Spirit Leads you – please visit – The Episcopal Bishops United Against Gun Violence’s webpage. They have compiled a useful list of liturgical resources and objective facts.

I encourage you, on behalf of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania’s bishop, The. Rt. Rev. Audrey Scanlan, to visit and resourcefully use the Smart Gun Laws website.

May our words and become more than words and may we have the courage, patience, and compassion of Jesus the Christ.

Amen

 

Sowing Seeds

 He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed.

american meadowsI’m a novice gardener.  I plant flowers and vegetables requiring very little oversight. Last year, my spouse and I decided to set up a raised bed with wildflowers attracting butterflies and bees.  He and a colleague did almost all of the labor.  I bought the seeds and distributed them into the bed in a very haphazard, California free style approach. Seeds of all sorts got tossed into the bed together and the silent battle for soil, water, and sun began. The Mexican Sunflowers won the season.  They grew the fastest and tallest. Xenias and Purple Coneflowers didn’t do as well.

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A farmer went out to scatter seed

This year, I adopted a new strategy in the church garden where I serve.  The garden was an overrun mess. Fortunately, the church hired a landscaper to do the hard work. I cleverly avoided mulching the yard and digging out most of the weeds. However I chose one spot to leave rough. I hacked the weeds and grass out of it but I didn’t treat it with any mulch or much potting soil.  Then I threw some wildflower seeds into it.  That was about a month, maybe six weeks ago. Some of those seeds have taken root as you can see. I water them whenever I water the rest of the gardens. Fortunately too, we’re having a wet and muggy July here in PA. Thus, there are some weeds and grass that are resurfacing along with the wildflowers in the area. Summer seasonal garden games – take two.

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Other seed fell on good soil

On the other hand, I decided to be more intentional about a small section in another garden area.  I used potting soil as a base for the seeds.  I thoroughly disposed of the weeds and grass.  Once the seeds were settled, I watered them thoroughly.  I asked the landscaper to be gentle with the wildflowers with mulch in the one area while leaving the other area alone.  You can see that the seeds in good soil are thriving, for now.

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Jesus’ parable of the sower, (or parable of the soils) [or parable of the seeds] depending upon your point of view, is excellent. A parable is a lesson that offers listeners an understandable way to view the world. However, parables at their best incorporate a challenge as well as perhaps an unexpected ending.  New Testament scholar A.J. Levine writes that Jesus’ parables are “designed to afflict, to draw us in but leave us uncomfortable.”   (Amy-Jill Levine, March, 2017, para. 2). Matthew’s parables are particularly confrontational because Jesus presents a great deal of judgmental outcomes.  The sheep are separated from the goats as an example. (Mt. 25: 31-46). Jesus declares that The Kingdom of Heaven is much like my garden – in more ways than one. One man plants good seed and another man plants weeds in the same space.  The weeds and the wheat grow up together. The outcome of the plants’ battle for sun, soil, water, and care is uncertain “until the harvest.” They must grow up together.” (Mt. 13: 24-30).

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other seed fell among thorny plants

I was working in the rectory garden earlier this summer when I came upon some pieces of an old baptismal font.  They were separated from one another and hidden under some hydrangea bushes. I rolled them out and set them aside.  Just a couple of days ago, our landscaper set the font up in the yard. It is weathered and I’m not really sure how it go there, or why?  Perhaps a giant wind or some strong-armed parishioners moved it out following a fire or some other calamity.  The winds of history sweep across our memories and facts get lost in the ground.

Alexander J. Frick and H.F. Hawke donated the font to the church, sometime in the middle to late 19th Century. Mr. Frick was confirmed at Christ Memorial Episcopal in 1843. He was buried in 1915. He served as a Union Officer during the Civil War including the Battle of Gettysburg. He returned to Danville following the war to continue his law practice. (Deeben, 2000).  Mr Hawke’s historical record is a little more difficult to determine other than he was a prominent contractor.

The garden font got me to thinking about baptism.  Baptism, in terms of our Christian faith, is where seeds first get planted. The priest, family, sponsors, and gathered community have no way of knowing what will happen to the baptized person whether they be young or old.  Those of us who baptize infants do so because we know, especially in churches as old as this one, that life’s gardens are full of all kinds of soil. Some children sadly die when they are young. Other children die on battlefields.  Mr. and Mrs. Frick had at least one daughter, Elizabeth, who was baptized at Christ Memorial. Perhaps she began her Christian life in the font that is now in the garden?  If not, certainly many, many children were immersed, buried, and raised up in Jesus Christ’s resurrection and the seeds of their life began to grow roots.

Each human life is a seed, sprout of God’s creative process.  Some of us are really fortunate perhaps even privileged. We land in good soil. Our parents are generally stable. The family’s wealth is sufficient – though not overly so. The marriage of the mother’s and father’s genes are strong, resilient, and healthy.  The tragedies of war, abandonment, and generational poverty do not pillage the parents or their children.

Sadly, the other fields of life are ripe with seeds too.  Pennsylvania’s coal country isn’t too far from Danville.  Poverty is rampant there and families can’t easily pull themselves up to higher levels of wealth and education.  The soil doesn’t yield as much coal. Natural gas and other factors have changed the economic landscape. People are suffering. The Church’s work is to become compassionate workers in such rough soil.

However, as often as not, the seeds of our humanity spend time in all of sorts of soil, maybe coincidentally. The Christian life, at least for me, is an ongoing gardening process. I need to trust that the Holy Spirit’s wind will blow me out of the weeds when I’m lost. This is true and I still require the kernels of my faith to prompt me to be open to such transitions.  All people spend time on the roads of their lives being tossed to and fro. The possibilities of dying spiritually and mortally are ever present and uncontrollable. Richard Rohr gently reminds us that those of us who seek a truly transformed life must come to expect and live into the unsettled ground of order, disorder, and reorder.

Gardening verifies a universal truth – life is chaotic.  This year’s harvest of flowers, fruits, and weeds is hardly at all within my control.  I remind myself first thing in the morning to water the plants when it hasn’t rained in awhile.  Contemplative Prayer is a similar habit. It requires me to often till and let go of silent, anxious spiritual garden plots. I can’t control how much sun the seed gets or the wind will do, or how many birds will come to eat today or tomorrow. I can choose to remain connected to God who blesses me with all of these conditions.

Jesus encourages his followers with the words: “Happy are your eyes because they see. Happy are your ears because they hear.”

Happiness is not necessarily an easy virtue when wrestling with the weeds or being cooked by the sun. And, none of these realities negate the glory of God’s gracious harvest, today or when the end times come.

Blessings along The Way, Jim