Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The 5th Sunday in Easter: It seems the mere presence of this book


The Zohar
Last night we also had two former students of Katherine’s in a performance project. I meet my friend (and Andrea’s) Ellen on her way out. Ellen’s son is Matt Turk, the musician. (
Stephen S and Samantha are waiting for me as I arrive. Quite a relief to have back up help on Sunday mornings. Especially when I’m running around to find an open copy shop for the bulletins when I find my Bangladeshi place closed. When I get back, Debra and Dion have arrived to help and Jeremy is ready to work on the music.
A lot about rocks and stones today. After reading about the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7: 55-60,  we read Psalm 31: 1-5 and 15-16 and find a prayer that could easily belong to Stephen with its rock of refuge (2) and  5Into your hand I commit my spirit with the same lines spoken by Jesus at his crucifixion.

Could it also be a song for the kidnapped African children? We reflect on the story that has so captured the heats and minds of the world. While we all seem unable to come up with a plan.Is it they are children that captures us so? And we reflect on the role social media played in spreading the story. And how the leader of the kidnappers relishes in the attention.

The we move to 1 Peter 2: 2-10
Again, a stone,
4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in scripture: 
6 See, I am laying in Zion a stone, 
          a cornerstone chosen and precious; 
          and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame and…
 The stone that the builders rejected 
          has become the very head of the corner,

      A stone that makes them stumble, 
          and a rock that makes them fall.

And after we read it, I respond by playing my own version of Rock of ages, cleft for me,let me hide myself in thee. And as we talk,  I recall the stumble stones in an old Jewish neighborhood of Berlin placed there so that the uneven walk will constantly remind us  of those who lived there and were taken away and murdered.  And I recall those who visit the Holy Land just to see rocks and stones and never see the living stones, as the Palestinian Christians see themselves.

Finally, Arcadia reads John 14: 1-14 in Spanish and then Don in English and then Jeremy cranks up the piano and we do Rainy Day Women #12 and 35, you know, as in….everybody must get stoned…I explain that Dylan once said he had never written and never would write a song about drugs. Have you never read the book of Acts? He asked. If you listen close, it’s clear it’s about persecution. No matter what you do, they’ll still come after you. To make it (overly) obvious, I add my own verse:
They’ll stone you and say they’re just getting even
They’ll stone you just like they did to Stephen
They’ll stone you and lay their coats before Saul
You know the guy who later called himself Paul?
Well, I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned…..

And I asked if anyone had ever felt like that. We don’t set out to be sign up to be martyrs. We seek to be faithful. We seek to be obedient. And if this leads to the cross, well all right. But no one wants to  go there. Not even Jesus.

We find in the gospel another farewell discourse. We take this story from earlier  and place it in the context of Jesus preparing  his disciples for his eventual not being here. In the flesh. He says he’s going to prepare for us a home.Like  where? What does that mean?

In our clergy lectionary study, someone quoted a commentator as saying that with all this talk of a Christian nation, we are not so much into that that  as we are  a  moralistic therapeutic deism, almost Christian,  Christianish. John’s gospel is so much about  incarnation, but this is about the  departure of incarnation.

And then we come to that quote:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  That can so easily be misread. But, our concern here, as always,is about living, not laying theological traps for others. It is about access. Promise, not discrimination.

The first Pastor I worked with was a a Scottish Canadian in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Bill Wiseman.  He told me that  when he was a young pastor, he always heard this like Jesus holding his hand up, like a traffic cop, saying STOP, unless you say the right words. And as he reached the end of his time, he saw it different. Jesus with open arms, saying, I’ve got this covered. You're in. Assurance of access. It’s never about words. Or doctrine or giving assent to theological propositions. It’s about, as they say in Spanish, el camino, the way, a pathway, a journey. A lived life in which we see truth. The big T truth. And by following that way, life.

Our biggest task is to equip people not for church projects, but for living  faithful, abundant lives, where we are, at work, at home, day in, day out. That is the way.

It’s a good discussion. Our circle has expanded out into the pews today. Some old friends back. And we close with everyone in the circle.

Leila made flowers
Leila has made beautiful paper flowers for those who will visit the church on our second day of open house tours. And it’s also Amsterdam Avenue Street Festival day. Although the festival is not what it used to be. How many mozzarepa stands, fruit shake stands, gyro stands can you have? You have to walk aways to find the stand with a whole pigs’ head and pulled pork. Or the craft beer stand. I hold out for the Korean tacos. And when  you ask what the festival’s good for, Don’s answer is on the mark, socks.

I give a few tours. And as I’m getting ready to leave, two earnest young women come to visit. One German, the other eastern European. Quite young. Turns out they’re with the Kabbalah society. (They’ve got the red thread around the wrist. Just like Madonna.) An ancient Jewish mystical practice of numerology, cosmogony, etc. they have brought with them a copy of the Zohar (Hebrew: זֹהַר, lit. Splendor or Radiance ), written in a trippy Aramaic from 13th century Spain. They’re on a  mission  to place Zohars everywhere they can. It seems a circle of Zoharim are currently protecting the Florida coast from extreme storms. (The ultimate solution to climate change?) It seems that the mere presence of this book is sufficient to ward off evil. I gladly accept one. And a carry along personal size as well. It all helps. And in return I give them two of Angelo’s angelitos. To protect them on their journey. Before I leave, I place the Zohar on the communion table. Open. Beneath Debra’s flowers and the Dos Pueblos flowers. I’ll take help from wherever it comes.

One of Leila's flowers

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