Monday, March 25, 2019
"Who Are You?
If you want to watch this episode of Godspell, click on this link (and scroll down)
The encounter with God comes in ways that may surprise you. For Moses, it was at the burning bush; for me it is in the keeping of my daily journal. For both of us it is a matter of urgent and immediate concern.
Moses had seen the way the Egyptians treated the Children of Israel. One day when an Egyptian was abusing one of his kinfolk, Moses flew into a rage. He killed the taskmaster and and hid the body in the sand. But word got out somehow, Somebody saw what happened and Moses fled for his life and went into the land of Midian. There he tended the flock of his father-in-law Jethro. Injustice and guilt weighed heavily upon him and he had plenty of time to be alone with his thoughts.
He came to the mountain of God where an Angel appeared to him out of a burning bush which was not consumed by the fire. And God spoke; “remove the shoes from your feet Moses, because the very ground on which you are standing is holy ground.”
God launched immediately into the presenting issue; “I have seen the misery of my people and I have come down to deliver my people and I am sending you to Pharaoh. You will tell him to let my people go.”
Moses, of course, shrank away from the task. Who wouldn’t! The dialogue between Moses and God is compelling and honest. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?”
God replies “You will go for me and I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you…when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
Moses needs more than that. He needs to know what to tell the Israelites when they ask for the Name of God.
He must have wondered “how am I to face Pharaoh? How am I to persuade the Israelites that I have been talking to the living God?
Moses continues; “Who are you? What shall I tell the people? What is your name?”
Every other people in the Ancient Near Eastern world had a god with a name. The Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, the Jebusites, and the Egyptians: they all had gods with names. What about you?
What is your name?
Who are you?
You and I might add; “Are you?”
As with Elijah, so with Moses, I imagine a sheer silence as Moses contemplates this awesome encounter with the Living God.
Then comes the answer to the question “who are you?”
“I AM WHO I AM.” God said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
This reply resonates in my very soul. “I AM.” The ancient manuscript writes the Hebrew letters JHWH. There are no vowels between the consonants. The word presents a verb in what the Greek language calls the aorist tense; thus the manuscript presents the Holy Name as undefined and with infinite possibility. And remember; the Holy Name is a verb; not a noun. We have nothing equivalent in English grammar. Thus God is not definable and of infinite possibility. That makes sense to me especially if we are talking about God. This is the moment of encounter between Moses and God. Therefore we can render the Holy Name:
“I AM or I AM THAT I AM or I AM WHAT I WILL BE or I AM WHOEVER I WILL BE.”
It is as if God speaks and says; “YOU WANT TO KNOW WHO I AM? I AM WHO I AM, THAT’S WHO I AM”,
In other words God is and was and always will be whoever God chooses to be; as in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.
And more besides. My meager attempt to describe God cannot be contained any more than the Holy Name can be contained in the encounter Moses had in the Burning Bush. Nor can it be contained merely in language.
God is infinitely present and real for us no matter who we are or who we become or for that matter, whatever predicament we find ourselves in.
God is there for us; real and present in the specifics of our lives. Whenever presented with injustice and oppression of any sort God is there. When presented with sickness, life or death; God is there too. Gods acts and sends us to act. God is a verb, not a noun!
In Moses’ case, God saw the misery of the people. God brings the people out of slavery into freedom in the Promised Land. God gives the people a Law to live by. And Moses was God’s chosen servant.
Throughout history God does the same time, after, time after time.
God gave us Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and more. God gave India Mahatma Gandhi. God gave the folks in South Africa Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. And on and on it goes.
So when I ask God; who are You? I discover you are the “I am who I am.” The “I am with you”. The “I have always been with you. I will always be with you”. That is God’s Name for ever, and more besides!”
The great Jewish thinker Martin Buber postulated the thought, that the best way to think about God is in the nature of our relationship with God. It is best understood in dialogue. He used the German “Ich-Du”, or “I-Thou”. The English doesn’t quite have a word for it, the “Thou” is not so formal but intended to be intimate. In German the pronoun “du” is used for family and relatives, close friends, young children, and God. In other words, if you seek God, go deeper to that “Honest to God” place within your own heart. There is where the dialogue with God best takes place. The deeper you go into your heart of hearts the more likely you will delve into the heart of God. That is where you will find God’s love for you; your love for God and moreover God’s guiding hand in the specific reality of your life. God will lead you to love others as God loves all.
And then there’s me. Some years back, I was recovering from a severe manic break; or what we used to call a complete nervous breakdown. In the helping professions, self care is often overlooked. We’re so busy taking care of others, we forget how important it is to take care of ourselves. Both my therapist and spiritual director agreed; it was time for me to keep a daily journal. In it I would pour out my soul. I would record the events of my life and describe them; especially those that seemed to be the most concerning. In short, the presenting issues of my life. Then I would reflect on the feelings these events would generate within me. I came to understand what my spiritual director meant; feelings are angels God sends to invite us into further growth. Unbeknownst to me, I was tracing the face of God on the pages of my journal. I was practicing the Presence of God, as Brother Lawrence described in his little masterpiece in Christian Spirituality. My life became much more manageable. Between the meds and the journal and my prayer life, I was discovering that the Burning Bush for me was is and always will be the fact that God IS WHO GOD IS. God is there in the bleakest mornings. God is there in every joy, every sorrow and every moment of my life. I began to keep a journal faithfully on St Patrick’s Day, 1990. That’s 29 years of Practicing the Presence. Almost three decades of standing in wonder at the Burning Bush in conversation with my heart of hearts. When I go back and read some of my journal entries now, I marvel that i would let myself be bothered my such trivial matters that used to bother me.
Moses at the Burning Bush
Jesus and the Fig Tree
Me and my Journal
It is one and the same; it is the sacred name.
The still small voice of God speaks if we but take the time to listen.
I AM. I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN. I ALWAYS WILL BE.
With you. In you. Above you. Under you. Around you.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end
In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen
Sunday, March 17, 2019
"Is it not true that we all have but one God?”
~Patrick of Ireland.
It has all happened before. Time after time, after tiresome time. Hatred has its day. Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, and now two Mosques in Christchurch, NZ. It has all happened before.
My heart sinks to sorrow. I am at a loss: what to say? So I reach back into our faith tradition to see if I can find the words. There was a time when St. Patrick’s heart sank, more than a thousand years ago. Slave traders killed those who came to worship in Ireland. Patrick’s Lamentation sounds much like our own today;
“What can I say of those who are dead; these children of God whom the sword has struck down so harshly? It Is written, "Weep with those that weep,” and again "If one member grieves, then all members should grieve together." Because of this, we all cry out for our sons and daughters who have been so senselessly murdered…My voice is raised in sorrow and mourning. Oh, my most beautiful, my lovely brothers and sisters. I have lost count of your number, what can I do to help you now? I am not worthy to come to the help of God or humankind. "We have been overwhelmed by the wickedness of unjust men,"
~St. Patrick, Letter to Coroticus.
St Patrick’s Day is often observed with parades and merriment and yet with scant regard for what Patrick faced or how he confronted the evils of his time. Patrick was born in Britain, truth be told, and Irish marauders captured him and sold him into slavery. He was but a boy, 16 years of age. Eventually Patrick escaped and, called by God, he returned to Ireland to face the slave trade: Coroticus and his soldiers. They murdered the newly baptized Christians: Patrick writes; “They were dressed all in white, anointed with chrism, even as it was still gleaming upon their foreheads, they were cruelly cut down and killed by the swords of these sons of the devil.”
Throughout history, Christians, Muslims, and Jews have faced into the jaws of violence time and again. Intemperate statements of blame, fear and anger are often hurled back and forth to each other, and we play into the hands of those who wish nothing more than to incite us to war and more hatred and more violence.
Some say Sharia Law is unconstitutional. Others say that Jews are the diabolical nerve center, who use their infinite wealth and power to reduce and weaken the white man. And others still say that Muslims, Jews and Blacks seek to replace the White man. Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, and Racism is an unholy trinity of evil and has a strong hold on many. In the extreme these fears erupt into violence. An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times helps spell it out. There is a thing called White Supremacy and we’d best wake up to the danger it poses.
The Law in our common Abrahamic faith traditions seeks to describe our duty to both God and neighbor. The Law calls upon us to reverence one another. And foundational to all Sacred Law is God’s Command: “Thou shalt not kill!”
I have worshipped in in all sorts of Churches, Mosques and Synagogues. In all my experiences of worship, I have been struck by the sense of the holy. A deep satisfaction fills the soul when your heart is filled with prayer. It may be said, spoken, chanted or sung in the ancient and/or modern idiom of faith. It is deeply moving to share the Holy with one another.
The hospitality and love of Muslim, Jewish and Christian friends at the High Holy Days breaks barriers and help us become one as God wants us to become one. After a good meal rich with the flavors of our diverse ethnicities and races, our bodies and spirits are filled with affection for one another. We are filled with God. We share our amazement at how alike we are in our love and reverence for God, whatever tradition we proclaim. As Patrick pleaded so long ago; "Is it not true that we all have but one God?”
How then do we respond to the hatred and the violence?
Jesus faced it in today’s Gospel. “Some Pharisees told him; Herod wants to kill you.”
Jesus reply? "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’”
Then in words that echo directly into our present moments; Jesus speaks to the hopes and fears of all Christians, Muslims and Jews; “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Here is an image of Jesus transcending male and female notions of God, Jesus becomes a hen gathering her chicks together as a mother gathers her children under her wings. Alas, the tragedy of history strikes violently against the Law of God’s Love; “We would not!”
When Patrick faced the immediacy of violence, he had no weapons but the language of God. He was at a loss as we are in the wake of the horror of hate. In the raw aftermath of “The Christchurch Massacre” what can anyone say?
But Patrick wrote this; “I am at a loss to know whether to weep more for those they killed or those that are captured: or indeed for Corotocus and his soldiers whom the devil has taken fast for his slaves. In truth, they will bind themselves alongside the evil one in the pains of the everlasting pit: for ‘he who sins is a slave already’ and is to be called ‘son of the devil.’” ~John. 8:34, 44
The Devil, the Evil one, Satan; call it what you will, it is hatred pure and simple. Taken to the extreme, it seeks to kill. Hatred is a violation of all God’s Law; be it Sharia, the Law of Moses or the Law of Jesus.
In Seminary, we used to say that the only Doctrine we can prove is Sin. All other Doctrine we must take on Faith.
But I can prove Sin. Read all about it in the papers! Watch it 24/7 on TV, any network. The heinous crimes of hate in Houses of Worship, Schools, Movie Theaters, Concert venues or on the mean streets of any American City. Or, the Wickedness of Human Trafficking in Florida massage parlors and elsewhere, or just the pervasive greed that pays the way of the rich and famous into Ivy League schools. And all that is just one week! Call it for what it is: Sin!
Its not enough to pray anymore. We must act. Common Sense teaches us that we must change our ways. The Second Amendment, for instance, calls for a “Well regulated militia”…there is nothing “well regulated” about the white supremacist militias being formed all across this and other lands. Common Sense will tell you that. Its not enough to pray anymore. I suspect action will be swift in New Zealand. Prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said on Saturday; “Our gun laws will change, now is the time,”
But there is something else Sacred History teaches us in our shared Legal tradition. There is the Law of Humankind. There is also the Law of God. We are accountable to one another in this life but we are also accountable to God both in this life and in the life to come.
The modern secular world may take some comfort in thinking that there is no God, that there is no Heaven or Hell and that there is no Godly Judgment. We may as well come right out and say it; how we live our lives makes a difference and not just by human standards. We also live by God’s standards. God holds us all accountable. All God seeks of us is that we turn to God and live. Love God and Love one another.
As for those who choose death and murder; I hate to think of what is to become of them. But Patrick didn’t mince words when it came to holding the slave traders and murderers to account;
I quote; “And so, now you, Coroticus and your gangsters, rebels all against God, now where do you see yourselves? You gave away girls like prizes… All for some petty temporal gain that will pass in the very next instant. "Like a cloud passes, or smoke blown in the wind," so will "sinners, who cheat, slip away from the face of the God. But the just will feast for sure" in the eternal habitations. Make your choices. Repent now before it is too late.
Armed with just this language of God, the soldiers of Coroticus, laid down their weapons, the slave trade ended for a time in Ireland. Patrick drove those “snakes” out of the Emerald Isle.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem the City that binds us together as one; Jews, Christians, Muslims. Obey God. Submit to God. Love one another.
In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.