Sunday, April 24, 2011

how the stone began to roll

Once again the Holy Spirit moved within the hearts of the prophets--billions upon billions of them, more numerous than the stars of night, the faithful of every age, the righteous of every land, the children of every race, tribe and tongue--all these began to shout together one endless word, "Rise up, Jesus of Nazareth!" This is how the stone began to roll.

Wake up, children of Israel! Rise and prophesy. Say to the dead, "Wake up, children of earth! Your father calls you forth."

the will of the father

In the grave, we are powerless to do our own will, much less the will of God, but in the prayer, "Your will be done," there is all the power of resurrection.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

grandmother parable

God is like a grndmother who delights to see the world anew through the eyes of her grandchild.

Friday, April 22, 2011

emptiness of god

Jesus reveals the humility of god. Jesus reveals the vulnerability of god. Jesus reveals the humanity of god. It is not in the greatness of God that we come to know anything of god. Rather it is the emptiness of god that opens for us a way. The emptiness of god touches the emptiness of our humanity. In emptiness there is no obstruction.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

humility of god

If we knew the humility of God, we would be utterly transformed. It is he who shapes us in dust and breathes the breath of life in us. When his tears anoint our eyes, we will see as he sees. The beauty of creation is all holy and complete in his eye.

May the bread of affliction become bread of wholeness. Shalom.

Consoling Judas

You betray me with a kiss, but I will not suffer you to be lost. My kiss will find you again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Two Sisters--a parable

A father had two daughters. One had known her lover, but forgot who he was. The other waited until she was too old. Concerning this, the two sisters bickered constantly. The father did not know what to do with either one. Blessed is the daughter who holds her beloved fast.

This year in Jerusalem

You say, next time in Jerusalem. But I say, you are Moshiach! You are all Moshiach, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Do not say, "I am small." You are the prophet of the Most High. Do not put it off, not another year. All my people, you are my anointed ones. You are my Moshiach Now. Live it. Believe it. Be it. Shalom to all!

pray for me

I will remember you in my prayers
What a load of pious pretense
as if my prayers amount to a whole pile of shit
I cannot even see you in the delusion of myself
I will not remember you in my useless prayers
but trapped within my own dark places
I will remember you when I resent a godless night sky
when the stupid stars twinkle for no reason
I will remember you when I cringe at what a fool I made of myself
when I am so disgusted with myself I want to vomit
when every remembrance is defilement
I will remember you when pain lashes at my wrists and I just want to be left alone
I will remember you when all I can do is sudoku
when I keep myself busy with mindless things
when I dare not close my eyes
I will remember you when I am nowhere
when I feel nothing, when I am nothing
I walk in a haze, groundless, confused
I will remember you, forgetting who I am, what I am,
when I am empty
with nothing left to say
I remember you in all my prayers
(you are not alone)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Sanctity of Judas Iscariot

This morning, Palm Sunday, we read again the story of the betrayal of Jesus. I was struck by this line regarding Judas Iscariot, "and he went out and hanged himself." (Matt. 27:5b) And I listened to how he was called a murder and remembered how the church has despised him over the centuries. He has been held most accursed and surely one destined to be lost for all eternity.

I also shuddered as the reading progresses to the scene before Pilate, where the crowd demands the crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate even gives them the choice to pardon Jesus Christ or Jesus Barabbas, which means "son of the father. The crowd demands that Barabbas be set free and Christ crucified. Pilate washes his hands of the matter. "Then the people as a whole answered, 'His blood be upon us and our children!'" (Matt. 27:25) I felt ill to hear this with full knowledge that the church has down through the ages, even in modern times, killed and tortured millions of Jews as "Christ killers." Pious Christians have been moved by this scene countless times to vent God's wrath on their Jewish neighbors.

But how does Judas' betrayal work into God's plan? Jesus knowingly called Judas his disciple. Jesus understood and taught that the Son of Man must be handed over. At the last supper, Jesus identifies Judas as the one who would betray him and and curses him, saying, "The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to the one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." (Matt. 26.24) At Gethsemane just before his arrest, Jesus throws himself and prays, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want, but what you want." (Matt. 26:39) With a second prayer, Jesus consents to the will of his Father when he says, "Your will be done." So it is that Jesus accepts that Judas' betrayal is part of the Father's plan.

Is Judas's role an essential or necessary part of God's plan or an unfortunate mistake? Presumably Jesus could have simply handed himself over and saved Judas from so grievous an error. Why would Jesus not save Judas? Why would Jesus curse him for something within his power to avoid? All he would have needed to do is say to Judas, "I know what you are going to do. I forgive you and will hand myself in in your stead so that you can be with me in my kingdom."

This does not add up for me. It could not have been an accident. Otherwise, Jesus simply failed to be a savior for one of his disciples. Heaven forbid that Jesus should be such an unreliable savior! Rather, Judas's action must have been what the Father had willed for him.

Could it be that the burden placed upon Judas has some redemptive purpose? His soul was condemned to hell, for what? Is there any atoning meaning to this? I believe there is.

Leviticus 16 provides the directives by which the High Priest was to make atonement for the sins of the people. It the biblical template for atonement sacrifice. It clearly prescribes that their be two, not one, male goats presented for atonement. By lots one would be selected for the Lord and the other for Azazel, the wilderness. The one for the Lord would be sacrificed for atonement. The High Priest would then take the other goat by both hands and lay the blood of the first upon it. This blood represented all the sins of the people. Then it would be taken into the wilderness and set free. The purpose of the scapegoat was to bear the sin of the people and carry it away into the wilderness.

If Jesus was the atonement sacrifice, who was the other goat? Could it be that Judas was asked to bear willingly this burden upon his soul? Clearly the church has cast its scorn upon Judas Iscariot. Is he our scapegoat. Clearly this was for him an unbearable burden, whether he played his role willingly or not. Upon handing Jesus over to the temple authorities, he wanted no part in the blood money that was put upon him. He trued to hand it back to the priests, but they would not take it. This blood was his alone to bear."He said, 'I have sinned by betraying this innocent blood.' But they said, 'What is that to us? See to it yourself.'" (Matt. 27:4) Rather than bear that into the wilderness himself, he cast it into the temple and when and hanged himself.

Did this fulfill his role as scapegoat? Perhaps not, the priest themselves had to remove the blood money from the temple, and they bought a field with it for burying foreigners. Perhaps then those priests were the scapegoats. But this is probably reading to much into it. Throwing it into the temple may be seen as enough. The Leviticus formula does not suggest that one scapegoat can pass the imposition on to another. It was his alone to bear.

But what did Judas continue to bear even after disposing of the blood money? What drove him to kill himself? One thing, the last kiss of Jesus. Did Judas kiss Jesus because he truly loved him? I believe so. He willingly accepted the most grievous mission of any disciple because he truly loved Jesus and like Jesus consented fully to the will of the Father. He sacrificed his own soul so that Jesus could make full atonement for humanity. For one was to the Lord and the other to Azazel, one to glory and praise, the other destruction and scorn.

Who among us would be willing to be damned as Judas Iscariot was? And why? Only for love of Jesus might someone so utterly abandon himself to the will of God. The kiss of Jesus may have been his final consolation. This final kiss may betray an deeper sanctity than any of us might be willing to imagine.

The foregoing is midrash, an imaginative and wildly speculative meditation on scripture. It is not meant to be coherent doctrinal statement or even sensible exegesis. For a more concrete moral discussion, we might grapple with how Christians have scapegoated Jews over the centuries. Is it better to say that it ended with Judas and Jesus than to continue to lay our guilt on Jews?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The commandment of love

A little something for Maundy Thursday... Every commandment of God is an act of creation.
"By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth. For he spoke, and it [the earth] came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm." (Psalm 33:6,9)
By the word, the creator commands all creation to be. Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment that they love one another. The command to love is, in fact, ancient. It is the heart of the Mosaic law. What, then is new? In the very act of commanding, Jesus is creating something new, securing a foundation of love. The word speaks, and love comes into being. The word commands, and love stands firm. Receive, then, the breath of his mouth.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Field

A certain farmer was a devout Jew. He was careful not to reap his fields to the edges, but he always left a little in the field for the poor to glean. He always paid his laborers on time their wages as promised. He never permitted his laborers to work or his animals to be worked on the Sabbath; moreover, he himself did not work on the Sabbath even when his fields were full and the produce might rot in the ground.

One day an esteemed holy man came to town. He was a humble and wise teacher who had nothing but an old tunic and exhausted sandals to wear. The farmer too was in town, selling his produce. He could not quite make out what the man was saying to the crowds as they stood between his cart and the teacher. Late in the day the crowds went away, and the itinerate preacher was left famished. The farmer himself was about to leave for home when he saw the man. He shouted to him, "Teacher, I have these two pears and some bread left. Would you like any of it?" The teacher stopped, came up to the cart and said, "Yes, I would, but I have not a cent to give you." The farmer replied, "Just tell me what you told the crowds, and I will be satisfied to give you all that is left in my cart. It will be payment enough." "Very well," said the teacher, "Go, sell all you possess, give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven." With that the farmer placed the items into his hands and said, "Thank you, Rabbi." The holy man blessed him, and the two parted ways.

As the farmer traveled home, his heart became heavy. "How can I give away all my possessions??? I am no holy man like that prophet. It's all too much for me." Very much grieved, he at last came to his home and was restless all night.

The next morning, he took a hammer and stake out to his field. He pounded the stake into the soil and placed on it a sign which read, "FOR SALE." He told no one what he was doing or why. But upon discovery, his wife and and all the workers became quite worried, then upset. Angry and angrier, the more they thought about it.

The next day, a disciple came knocking at the door seeking to acquire the land. Indeed the offer was not much, but the Jew was generous of heart and agreed to the terms of the deal. The transaction was set to be finalized on the third day.

Though his workers were enraged and his family livid, the farmer slept that night with an indescribable sense of peace. On the day of the transaction, he woke straight up at four in the morning. Bright and radiant was his room and the holy man stood once again before him. "What are you doing, you foolish farmer? Your buyer is no apostle of light. That wicked man will strip the fields bare so that poor have nothing to glean. He will withhold payment to the laborers till the end of time. Moreover, they will be worked night and day till the Sabbath becomes only a distant memory. The animals will be used up, and the land worn out. And you would sell him your inheritance at half price? You have already secured your treasure in heaven. Truly you have given to the poor. Truly you are selling all you possess, but never sell your birthright. Go this day into your inheritance and cultivate your field."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

God, the first materialist

Of what use to God is transcendence? God delights in the physical universe, especially through the creature's sense of taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight. Don't think it's all about the humans. The creator was content to roam the earth with the dinosaurs for millions of years. This is no second-rate creation, a mere shadow of a far greater reality. God was the first materialist, the first naturalist, the first evolutionary biologist. There is nothing to escape, only the illusion that there is something to escape. Perhaps we may be blessed with eyes to see the whole earth is God's holy hill. In this savage temple we meet. God looks at us through every living eye.

Smile, you are a mystic

Mysticism comes in little doses. Gather it like morning dew. Every time your heart says, Ah, this is God, you are a mystic. Every time you say, Where are you?, you are a mystic. Whenever you know the passion of creation, the loveliness of a soul wherever or in whomever you see it. Whenever awake to the preciousness of this moment, this life, this breath. Whenever you wonder, you dream, you explore. Whenever you grow, blossom or fade. Whether in darkness or light, in love or abandonment, in accepting things as they come or raging against all that takes its toll, in illumination or obscurity, doubt and confusion. It comes when you feel lost, it comes when you feel found, it is when you are lost all over again. Whether life comes together or things fall apart or pretty much stay the same. Smile, you are a mystic! It is said that Enoch walked with God and was no more. So walk each step.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

the window

there is a window, an opaque window, to the heart
where secret things pass between my lord and spirit
i will wait at the window and watch for perfume
it is good just to know that love is the room

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Playground

Once a faithful believer died. A kind radiant being welcomed him warmly and led into a great temple shot through with light. Upon entering he found himself in the middle of an abandoned field not far from where he was born. He turned to look back to Jesus, but he was not there.

As time passed, he became increasingly agitated. Jesus, where have you taken me? I believed in you. I don't understand. Is this heaven or hell? Darkness covered the sky. Large, thick clouds burst into rain and smoke. The believer wept, then raised his fist in anger.

From a distance, a small boy ran toward him laughing. You don't know who I am, do you? Heaven or hell, eh? He pulled out a slingshot and parted the sky. Down with a thud came two large stone tablets. On the first was written, "Tag. You're it!" On the second, "You choose."

So what did the faithful believer do?

He buried both tablets in a secret place, sold everything he owned, and set out to test his resources in the fabled port city of his land. Never again did the little boy chase after him. No playmate did he find.

Indeed, the playground had passed away forever. Port City was an anxious place. The young man took a room in a boarding house on the waterfront. It was operated by two elderly men: one, dour and fastidious; the other, congenial but sly. Heaven withdrew into an oyster in the bay. Phantoms decorated themselves with novel powers.

And so the years passed, each day no better than the first, and no worse than the last. Decades came and went, centuries left no trace. Until upon the last moment of the last hour of the last day of the last year of a thousand, he had half the sense to shake himself and say, "Kill me at last, you fiend, you rogue."

There was only silence. He looked at himself and started to laugh uncontrollably. And he heard, off in a distance, a little child laugh, too. He thought to himself, I've heard that somewhere before. Just as he started to remember, a voice blurt out, "Na-na, na-na, boo boo, you can't catch me!" Immediately, he shot up and came to his senses. He left everything in search of that field.

Before he got far, the two landlords caught up with him and demanded payment. He was detained for quite sometime as he had nothing to pay them with. The little boy whispered, "Look in your pocket." So he dug in his pocket. Finding a slingshot and two stones, he pulled them out and shot both of them in the head. The dour, fastidious man he killed with the first stone, and the congenial but sly man with the second.

By stages, he made his way back to the playground. Light and laughter led him all the way. Til at last, he caught up with the little boy. Slapping him on the back, the believer said, "Now, you're it." And the whole field erupted in giggles with children all around. And they served, cookies and punch.

By James Hilden-Minton and Jim Belcher. Oh, yes, and Jesus wanted to add the line: "And Jesus wept, for had he only become a little child, he would have never left the playground." But we thought that might be a bit too preachy.