Sunday, February 20, 2011

At the Feet/A Groupie of John Philip Newell

At the Feet/A Groupie of John Philip Newell

This weekend Palms Presbyterian church hosted John Philip Newell as our visiting theologian for 2011. I have now shared 3 meals, listened at his feet, practiced chanting and body prayer, shared local Jacksonville beer and been his “book signing bouncer”.

If you are not familiar with John Philip Newell, I direct you to his web page . Beyond what you can learn on the web page I can tell you that he is a gentle soul with a smile and words that can light up a large sanctuary of people. I can tell you his drink of choice is a cold beer in a bottle (though he will take it in a frosted glass) and that in the February sun of Florida he gets sunburned.

I take away much from his visit on which to think and pray. He is written much, so I do not need to repeat that which he says better and in first person.

Here are some take away phrases:

Made of God
Yearnings for Oneness
Love Longings
New Ancient Wisdom
Radically New Ways
Heart of Present
Deeply Challenged
Deeply Loved
The Deepest Truth
Profoundly False Ways of Seeing
Mystery of Creation
Mystery of Christ
Two Loves: Love of Christ and Creation
Journey of Listening
The Heartbeat of Christ
Deep Within
In the Midst of Pain, We Listen
Mystery Swirlings of Energy that Seek New Life and New Beginnings
Reconnected to the Sand of the Very Beginning
The Time in Which We Live
The Earth is Literally Throwing Up Ancient Books of Scripture and
Testimony of Jesus
Heart of the Light of Tradition
Shadow Side of Tradition
Infinitely Deep Well of Truth
What has Happened to Our Instinct for Unity
We have a Response-Ability
Give Ourselves to the Healing Again
Holy Instinct for Unity
Without Peace in the House of Abraham
There will be No Peace in our nations.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Semon from January 30, 2011

Laurie Furr-Vancini
Genesis 2 and 3 (selected verses) January 30, 2011
Luke 24 (selected verses) Palms Presbyterian Church

Story of My Life

We will get to the Luke text later, I promise.
I would like to open with a prayer by J. Philip Newell
Who will be with us in a few weeks as our visiting theologian:
We watch this morning
For the light that the darkness has not overcome.
We watch for the fire that was in the beginning
And that burns still in the brilliance of the rising sun.
We watch for the glow of life that gleams in the growing earth
And glistens in sea and sky,
We watch for your light, O God,
In the eyes of every living creature
And in the ever-living flame of my own soul.
If the grace of seeing were ours this day
We would glimpse you in all that lives.
Grant us the grace of seeing this day.
Grant us the grace of seeing. Amen.

Etiologies are stories that explain why things are like they are.
We are not about etiology this morning.
We could be, but we are not.
Genesis is full of them and we could get caught up and lost in them today if we are not careful.
We won’t be talking about why snakes don’t have legs and why they bite and why we are so scared of the slithering serpents.
We won’t be talking about why we wear clothing
We won’t be talking about why there is pain in childbirth or why it is difficult to grow crops.
We won’t be talking about why we die.
All of those stories explaining why things are like they are in Genesis 3.
Beyond those stories, we will put aside any notion or preconceived idea of “the Fall” – central to Milton’s Paradise Lost.
A term which does not occur in the bible.
And…we will not even venture to talk about a notion of marriage not
As partnership, but as male dominated and patriarchical.
That feels good to get that out of the way…..
But if we aren’t talking about any of that, what will we talk about?

If we are tasked to think about “What it means to be human”
This morning we are here to talk about the truth.
We shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free.
Is that a promise or a threat?
We turn to Genesis.

Before time there was nothing.
Once upon a time, God created and it was good.
It was perfect and lovely and static and non-changing.
The green was always green, the river flowed, the tree stood tall and proud with fruit on it.
No storms, no challenges, no unmet needs.

The woman and the man walked blissfully unaware, partners in creation.
Free from understanding,
Responsibility, cravings…..unashamed.
Things were good. (hmmmm………..)
There was but one thing that could not be had:
The woman and the man had been told by the Creator not to eat of the
fruit of the tree.

One day, along came a trickster.
Because a trickster always comes along.
And the trickster, interestingly enough, spoke the truth.
Lest we make the trickster into the bad guy:
The trickster said, “If you eat of the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like your Creator, knowing good and evil.”

Hmmmm….the woman said, I would like to know more and see more
And be more and do more…
No easy prey bitten and subdued by the trickster,
this conscious actor on the stage of life chooses:
“seeing the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise….she took and ate.”
In her desire for the wisdom of God, she took and ate.
Given the choice, she chose knowledge.

She gives it to the man and he without dialogue takes and eats, as well.

God gets angry and does a lot of cursing….literal cursing.
The woman and man do a lot of blaming which makes them look silly to us, because we know they did it.
We saw and heard what happened.
Not only that, I think they would do it again.
We like to see ourselves in the audience, but in reality, we are the actors.
And we would do it again.

God throws God’s hands up (my vision)
and repeats the truth the Trickster had earlier proclaimed,
saying, “Behold, they have become like one of us,
knowing good and evil….”
It happened just like the snake said it would.

I don’t know about you,
but it is difficult for me to see what is so wrong here.
It’s all very human.
They disobeyed.
We disobey all the time.
They did that which the Creator God did not want them to do.
We do that all the time.
The woman, at least seemed genuinely interested in bettering their situation. She wanted to be more like her Creator.
She wanted understanding.
She wanted to know between good and evil, she rationalized.
We rationalize.
We are not being willful or mean spirited.
Is it wrong to want to be more than I am?
Is it wrong to want to taste the sweetness that lies within our reach?
What if God is the Trickster, keeping us from being all we can be?
Holding us back from our potential with a capital P!
Now we are talking about What it Means to Be Human.

All good questions.
It’s a good story.
It’s our story.
Since it is our story,
rather than try to answer all the questions the story raises,
rather than try to take it and make it
that which it isn’t,

Claim what it is.
Your story. Our story.

They disobeyed.
We disobey.
They craved more.
We craved more.
They misunderstood.
We misunderstand.
They blamed.
We blame.
They wanted wisdom.
We want wisdom.
They sought truth by their own hand.
We seek truth by our own hand.
Oh yes, that we all understand.
The truth in the story we understand.

They took the fruit and ate…
And their eyes were opened and they recognized.
They recognized they were naked.
And they were ashamed.
And they hid from God.

God comes and the cursing begins….
“And then the Lord God makes for them garments of skins,
and clothes them”
And sends them out of the garden.

That is our story.
Our story of humanness.
Take that story and hold it in your hand and in your mind for a moment,
While we go to another story--that is also our story.
From the book of Luke, the 24th chapter,
selected verses from the translation of Laurie:
Many, many years later.
Two people were walking, going from the big city to a village,
and they were talking.
While they were talking and discussing together,
Jesus, came and walked beside them.
“BUT, their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
Jesus said, “what are ya’ll talking about while you are walking?”
And they stopped walking.
They stood still.
They looked sad.
“Are you the only guy around
who doesn’t know the things that have happened in Jerusalem?”

And Jesus, baiting them, said,
“What things?”
And they said, “How Jesus, the prophet, mighty in deed and word
before God was handed to the priests and rulers and was crucified.
We thought he was the one who was going to save Israel.
But now, it has been three days.

And not only that,
but some of our women in our group amazed us early today.
The women went to the tomb and could not find his body,
They came back saying they had seen a vision of angels
Who said Jesus was still alive???
Some men in our group went to check out their story.
They found the empty tomb as they said, but did not see Jesus.

The three walked on and Jesus, whom they still did not recognize,
Interpreted scripture to them, beginning with Moses and all of the prophets.

So…..they get to the village where they were going.
And the two asked unrecognizable Jesus
to stay with them because it was pretty much nighttime.
So Jesus went in to stay with them.
“When he as at table with them, he took the bread and blessed,
and broke it, and gave it to them.


Jesus vanishes and the two are dumfounded into action,
running all the way back to the big city of Jerusalem,
finding the 11 disciples (Judas is no longer with us) and
“Then they told what had happened on the road,
and how Jesus was known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Hold on…it gets even better.
Jesus apparates again.
And again tells interprets all the scripture and charges them saying:
“You are witnesses, the seers who then tell, of all these things.
And behold I send the promise of my Father upon you;
But stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high”.

This is the Word of our Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Now, we have a story in either hand.
And we are holding them.
They are both our stories.
In both stories there are two people together with closed eyes.
There are two people who cannot see and understand the Truth.
In both stories there is a third player:
In one…the Trickster
In one…Jesus
In both stories the eyes are opened upon the eating and sharing of food.
In both stories, the need for clothing is noted
and GOD will be the one who will clothe.
One literal clothing to cover our shame as we move out of the garden.
One spiritual clothing to bless us as we move out into the world.
In both stories the players are being sent out.

There is much alike in these stories…but, there is also, much difference.

One story is a story of Good News.
One story is one of Bad News.
One causes great joy.
One causes great shame.
One story involves blessing.
One story involves cursing.
One story involves the food being blessed:
“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it and gave it to them”
One story involves going out into the world to tell the promise and joy and life that the risen Christ offers.
One story involves going out into the world of endless work and toil and pain.

That first story, from Genesis.
We recognize ourselves in it.
Our eyes are open to that:
We disobey.
We craved more.
We misunderstand.
We blame.
We want wisdom.
We seek truth by our own hand.
This is our story.

But friends, we have to believe that there is more to that story.
There is the Declaration of Forgiveness at the end of the Prayer of Confession.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
Because the other story is just as much our story.
And the second story redeems the first.
It doesn’t do away with that story.
It doesn’t trump it or replace it, it redeems it.
This is our redemption story.
We walk with Jesus, sometimes not even recognizing him.
He teaches us and interprets scripture for us
both when we know and can name our teacher as Jesus
and when we think it is just a stranger walking alongside us.

We crave the Truth.
We want to believe in the empty grave… the story of the women….
We tell others.
We sit down at table together.
We hear the familiar words:
“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it and gave it to them”
And, ahhhh,... we pause at those words, because they are so familiar.
We pause at this part of the story because it is, indeed, sounding
And feeling more and more like our story.
And our eyes are opened….
And we recognize Jesus in our midst….
Maybe only for a second…
Because he vanishes….

And returns and vanishes again…
Jesus, playing now you see me, now you hear me,
now you recognize me,
now you follow me,
now you speak of me…..
And because of the other story….”now you don’t”

But, at least now our eyes are opened.
We can read both stories.
We are in both stories.
Both stories are us.
We are to go forth, created,
clothed, fed,
blessed, broken and redeemed,
eyes wide open to be witnesses…..
tellers and livers of the story, in the story.

The stories of our life!