From the Well - 9/21/2017

Rublev's Holy Trinity

Rublev's Holy Trinity

1 John 4:12 (NRSV) 
12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

If Trinity is supposed to describe the very heart of the nature of God, and yet it has almost no practical or pastoral implications in most of our live . . . if it’s even possible that we could drop it tomorrow and it would be a forgettable, throwaway doctrine . . . then either it can’t be true or we don’t understand it. (From the Introduction to The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr, p. 26)

As we prepare to spend the next eight weeks studying Richard Rohr’s the Divine Dance, talking about the Trinity and transformation, I think you might find the Episcopal priest, teacher, retreat and conference leader Cynthia Bourgeault helpful. She writes:

A new arising is not always the same thing as a solution. “But wait a minute!” you might be saying. Didn’t I list as our leading Law of Three principle, “When three come together, there is a new result in a new dimension”? Yes, and that is so. But the catch here is that this new dimension is not always a physical solution to the problem at hand-a deus ex machina or rabbit out of the hat. Sometimes it is simply the infusion of a more subtle quality of aliveness in whose light the real meaning of the situation is transfigured (or at least made clearer). It is a resolution at a more subtle and imaginal level.

This important nuance is perhaps best demonstrated in a well-loved Christmas story, “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. The tale tells of two newlyweds, poor as church mice but madly in love, who, unbeknownst to each other, sell the one precious thing each owns to buy a Christmas present for the other. He pawns his valuable antique pocket watch to buy her combs for her beautiful long red hair; she shaves her head and sells the hair in order to buy him a chain for his watch. On Christmas Eve the newlyweds stare at each other blankly, almost numb with shock, trying to compute the meaning of the “useless” presents they have just exchanged.

The story proves to be a classic Law of Three triad leading to this more subtle resolution. First force (holy affirming) is the couple’s love for each other; second force (holy denying) is their poverty. Third force (holy reconciling) is contributed by their willingness to sacrifice their most precious possessions for the sake of that love (kenosis or self-emptying). The new arising is indeed “the gift of the magi”-as the story is so appropriately named-the reality of their love for each other transformed into pure agape and made manifest in a whole new way.

Jesus’ death on the cross also exhibits this more subtle Law of Three configuration. No leagues of angels arrive to snatch the beleaguered Son from the cross. And yet, when the holy affirming of redemptive love meets the holy denying of human hatred and fear in the reconciling ground of Jesus’ surrendered heart-“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) - there is, indeed a new arising. It begins right there at the foot of the cross, heralded by a new quality of presence already caught by the centurion in his hushed exclamation, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). In the moment of Jesus’ death, the innermost essence of divine love was released into the planet as a palpable force that continues to make its energetic presence directly known. That is the imaginal resurrection, the real and ongoing source of Christianity’s redemptive power.[1]

Think about it.

Matthew

[1] Cynthia Bourgeault from Richard Rohr’s Daily Devotions, Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

From The Well - 9/14/2017

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Romans 14:1-12 (MSG)
1 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do. And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with-even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. 2 For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume all Christians should be vegetarians and eat accordingly. 3 But since both are guests at Christ's table, wouldn't it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn't eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. 4 Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God's welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help. 5 Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience. 6 What's important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God's sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you're a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. 7 None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. 8 It's God we are answerable to-all the way from life to death and everything in between-not each other. 9 That's why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other. 10 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I'd say it leaves you looking pretty silly-or worse. Eventually, we're all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren't going to improve your position there one bit. 11 Read it for yourself in Scripture: "As I live and breathe," God says, "every knee will bow before me; Every tongue will tell the honest truth that I and only I am God." 12 So tend to your knitting. You've got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

Abbot Poeman said to Abbot Joseph, "Tell me how to become a monk." He said, "If you want to find rest here below, and hereafter, in all circumstances say, who am I? and do not judge anyone." Most people do not have a problem with a God who sits in judgement. The problem is in the perception that Christians and churchgoers think they have a right to judge. Even worse, the judgement, too often, doesn't come coupled with mercy. Judgement without mercy is not salvation, it is condemnation. Standing on the street corners proclaiming eternal damnation for certain groups of people, renting billboards and placing judgmental statements on them doesn't lead to reconciliation and peace, it leads to alienation.

The good news of Jesus Christ is not condemnation but mercy, grace, peace, hope, and love. We need to figure out how we can bring a message of divine justice tempered with mercy and true judgement with forgiveness. Mainline churches, in particular, have allowed angry and misguided Christians folk to have visibility while good meaning people who cherish and believe in God's compassion and forgiveness sit quietly by. It's time for good Christian people to practice a visible faith that promotes wholeness, forgiveness, healing, peace, and a judgement that doesn't come coupled with condemnation.

Think about it.

Matthew

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Beginning Sunday, September 24 we will begin our next preaching and teaching series on The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr. There is a teaching component written specifically for this series. If you have not yet connected to a Sunday Discipleship Class and would like to participate in this study, please join Chris and Gloria Hughes on Tuesday evenings beginning September 26 at 6:30 in the Discipleship Classroom, A-206 for this Invitation to the Divine Dance. The class will run for eight weeks, the duration of the preaching series. The study guide is free and The Divine Dance book is available in the Food for Thought Resource Center, $10 for hardback and $7 for paperback.

From the Well - 9/7/2017

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Romans 13:8-14 (NRSV) 
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. 11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. 

In Oscar Wild's, The Happy Prince, the prince is nothing more than an exquisite statue gilded with thin leaves of gold. The statue looks down upon the city with sapphire eyes and guards its domain with a sword bejeweled with a large red ruby.

One night a small swallow, lost on its yearly migration to the warm regions of Egypt, lands at the Prince's feet. Suddenly, the bird is drenched with water. When the bird looks up it realizes that the Prince is crying. The prince is crying because it sees a sick child begging his mother for an orange while the poor woman works with bleeding fingers to embroider a piece of clothing for a noble woman's ball gown.

"Swallow, please stay with me tonight and be my messenger," begs the prince. "That boy is so thirsty, and the mother is so sad." The swallow agrees to stay the night. The prince then instructs the swallow to take the ruby from his sword and drop it on the table next to the woman's sewing thimble.

The next day, the Happy Prince begs the swallow to be his messenger again. The prince sees a young writer who is cold and hungry. His frozen fingers can no longer hold the pen so he can write. The Prince tells the swallow to take one of his sapphire eyes to the young man so he can buy food and firewood. Hopefully it will be enough so he can finish his play.

On the third day, the Happy Prince, with his one remaining eye, sees a poor match girl. She is sobbing because she has dropped all of her matches into the gutter and now has nothing to sell. She knows her father will beat her for her carelessness. The prince tells the swallow to pluck out his second sapphire eye and deliver it to the match girl.

The swallow realizes that he cannot leave the now-blind prince. So he stays on, acting as the Prince's eyes. Slowing, over the ensuing years, the swallow pulls off the prince's gold leaves giving them away to the suffering and hurting, cold and hungry.

Eventually the prince is stripped of all his riches. Everything is gone. The ruby, sapphires, and all the gold leaves are given to the needy. The swallow has also given his all. The cold he should have flown away from has finally penetrated his body and taken its toll. So, with a parting kiss to the Happy Prince's lips, the swallow falls dead at his feet. At that moment, the leaden heart of the Happy Prince statue snaps in two.

Disgusted at the ugly eyesore the statue has become, the people of the city tear it down and melt it. It is then thrown into the garbage dump next to the body of the dead swallow.

Looking down on the earth, God says to one of his angels, "Bring me the two most precious things in the city." The angle returns to God with the leaden heart and the body of the dead swallow. "You have rightly chosen," says God, "for in my garden of Paradise the little bird shall sing forevermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me."[1]

The Apostle Paul reminds us (borrowing from Jesus, of course) that all of the law and commandments can be summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." So to be a follower of Jesus is to be a living work of art-kind of like the Happy Price-an incarnational presence of the Creator of all of life. As Leonard Sweet says in his book I am a Follower,

To be an incarnational disciple of Christ is to make Christ's way your way, Christ's truth your truth, Christ's life your life. You take on Jesus' mission, but his Spirit also dwells in you. As a first follower, you become a little jesus. And you become for others a semiotic signifier, a pointer of the Way, a vision of the Vision, an embodiment of discipleship in Jesus' name. In other words, you become a Jesus human being.[2]     

Think about it.

Matthew

[1]Summarized from Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1951)

[2]Leonard Sweet, I am a Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 193-194.

From the Well - 8/24/2017

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Romans 12:1-8 (NRSV) 
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Christian Artist Twila Paris sings a song entitled, "How Beautiful is the Body of Christ." Some of the lyrics go like this

How beautiful when humble hearts give

The fruit of pure lives so others may live.

How beautiful the hands that serve

The wine and the bread to the sons of earth.

How beautiful is the body of Christ.

Today's culture refers to the church as an institution. Many feel we are an institution that promotes intolerance, hypocrisy and old fashion views. I hope that the church is none of these. There is already enough intolerance, hypocrisy, and misaligned sentimentality for the past in our culture right now.

What the world needs is a church, as Twila Paris sings, which reflects a God of mercy, hope, and transformation. St. Paul calls the church the body of Christ and gives us an image that better reflects what we should be.


4 In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. 5 The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, 6 let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't. If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else; 7 if you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; 8 if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy; if you're put in charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face. (Romans 12:4-8, The Message)

Since we are getting ready to enter the fall football season, maybe you'll find this paraphrase helpful:

For the Team is one and has many players, and all the players of the team, though many, are one team...Indeed, the team does not consist of one player, but of many.  If the defensive end would say, 'because I am not the quarterback, I do not belong to the team,' that would not make him any less a part of the team.  And if the right tackle would say, 'Because I am not a wide receiver, I do not belong to the team,' that would not make him any less a part of the team.  If the whole team were tackles, where would the cornerback be?  But as it is, the coach has arranged the players of the team, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were quarterbacks, where would the team be?  As it is, there are many players, yet one team.  The quarterback cannot say to the tackle, 'I don't need you.'  Nor can the defensive ends say to the running back, 'we don't need you.'  On the contrary...if one player suffers, the team suffers together with him; if one player is honored, the team rejoices with him.[1]

Paul uses the imagery of a body. But the image of team also works well. In order for the team to do well, everyone must play his or her position to the best of their ability. In teams and in the body of Christ, it is important to remember that it takes commitment, service, believing in the impossible and picking one's self up and pushing forward in spite of wounds and failures. I like the words Alexander Irvine places on the lips of the heroine in his novel, My Lady of the Chimney Corner:

God takes a hand whenever he can find it and just does what he likes with it. Sometimes he takes a bishop's hand and lays it on a child's head in benediction. And then he takes the hand of a doctor to relieve the pain, the hand of a mother to guide a child. And sometimes he takes the hand of a poor old creature like me to give comfort to a neighbor, but they're all hands touched by his Spirit, and his Spirit's everywhere lookin' for hands to use.[2]

So what does it take to be God's hands of ministry in the world? Think about it.

Matthew

Watch the video below to learn how you can be the Body of Christ in your neighborhood:


[1]Source Unknown.

[2]Alexander Irvine, My Lady of the Chimney Corner (New York, NY: Century Press, 1913).

From the Well - 8/17/2017

Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 (NRSV)
1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

There once was a rice farmer who saved an entire village from destruction. From his hilltop farm he felt the quake and saw the distant ocean swiftly withdraw from the old shoreline, like some prodigious animal crouching back for a leap. He knew that the leap would be a tidal wave.

In the valley below, he saw his neighbors working low fields that would soon be flooded. "They must run quickly to his hilltop or they will all die," he said to himself. His rice barns were dry as tender. So with a torch he set fire to this barns and soon the fired gong started ringing. His neighbors saw the smoke and rushed to help. Then from their safe perch they saw the tidal wave wash over the fields they had just left. In a flash they knew not only who had saved them but what their salvation had cost their benefactor. They later erected a monument to his memory bearing the motto, "He gave us all he had, and gave gladly." God's mercy is like that of the rice farmer.

Our God is a giving and merciful God. Paul says that "God's gifts are irrevocable." God is mercy and that never changes. Knowing your need for mercy opens you up to receive mercy. Knowing your need opens you up to the love of God because God is mercy and must be experienced as such. If your goal in life is to take care of everything yourself, to be independent and self-reliant then you will never know God. Remember that mercy is not so much something God has as it is something that God is.[1] Think about it.

Matthew

[1]Thanks to Richard Rohr in Richard Rohr's Daily Devotions, Friday, July 22, 2016 & Wednesday, April 19, 2017.


FROM THE BISHOP

OF THE WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA CONFERENCE

OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

August 14, 2017

On Saturday, August 12, 2017, Heather Heyer was killed by James Fields after he drove a car into a crowd of people protesting a gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Our national leaders and church leaders quickly denounced the intent of a rally which undermined our community health, increased fear, and sought to divide us on racial issues.  Virginia State Troopers, Berkeley Bates and Jay Cullen, who had committed their lives to protect and serve, also died in a helicopter crash at the event.  As a result, the Virginia State Governor declared a state of emergency.

As clergy and lay leaders of our United Methodist Church we are preparing to meet with our congregations this coming Sunday in the urgency of the moment.  Yes, we will worship, grieve, and pray for God's Presence at this moment.  As moral leaders we are placed once more in a position where we must denounce the spirit of hostility and violence that is expressed too commonly as a response to our differences and fears.  We must make clear how important it is to dismantle racism.  Hopefully, this will be a time where our congregations begin to reflect on the importance of having people of faith acknowledge the place where the church intersects with the critical needs of our communities.  What is our moral grounding?  When does the church speak to the issues of our time?  Where does our Christian voice intersect with community?  We cannot allow silence and the lost opportunity to speak at this critical time to be interpreted as indifference on our part. 

Our first response is to pray, and prayer for God's divine presence is essential.  We must also act!  We are driven not only by the urgency of the moment, but also as people who see the importance of the sacrament of the moment.  As church leaders we can gather people together and begin to teach tolerance.  We can speak up within our churches and communities to denounce hatred.  We must work for a truly integrated society.  We can offer healthy choices to replace the gatherings and rallies of hatred by offering alternative places of meeting to celebrate our uniqueness, diversity, and acceptance of others.  In addition, like Jesus speaking to the Woman at the well or the Roman ruler, we form relationships of hope with people who come from different backgrounds and cultures.  This is our true heritage.  This is our true nature, saved from sin and transformed into the image of Christ.  "For Christ is our peace...and has broken the dividing wall of hostility" Ephesians 2:14. 

Paul L. Leeland