What It’s All About

resurrection-lightEarly on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”… 

 11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20: 1-2, 11-18)

These hours have been such a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions.  But in this moment, I am beginning to see what it was all about.  I want to hold her and comfort her and explain it all but Jesus’ young friend Mary is running around with a mix of hysteria and excitement.  Maybe she, too, is beginning to understand.  I always knew who he was, knew from that surreal night when the angel came.  I probably would have thought I was losing it but Joseph had had a dream too.   Oh, that seems so long ago and yet, I remember it like it happened just a second ago. No one really understood.  No one ever understood.  But we did.  We knew who he was.  But not until this moment did I really grasp it.

I hope that the world does not take this as a do-over of some sort.  Because it is all part of it—everything up to this moment and everything that comes to be.  All of time and all of space and all creation points to this and is illuminated by it.  All of those generations that carried the story to me and the generations that stretch out beyond where I will ever see are in this moment.  I now understand that that strange brilliance that led us to Bethlehem and then stayed with us through the night that he was born has been with me always.  And he showed me that.  But I didn’t understand until now.

The memories come flooding back to me now—more than three decades of memories.  They will take several days to process.  But now they are not memories wrapped in grief.  I understand that they are the story—his story, my story, Joseph’s story, the world’s story.  God came into the world and walked with me.  God invited me to dance with the Divine, to touch, to love, to hold the Godself.  There was nothing special about me.  I have always been so ordinary.  But now I see that my life is an incredible mix of the ordinary and the sacred.  God has come.  And now I understand that God was always here.  And will be forevermore. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”  I do feel blessed.  I pray that the world will begin to understand.

There was, indeed, something I had missed about Christianity, and now all of a sudden I could see what it was.  It was the Resurrection!  How could I have been a church historian and a person of prayer who loved God and still not known that the most fundamental Christian reality is not the suffering of the cross but the life it brings?…The foundation of the universe for which God made us, to which God draws us, and in which God keeps us is not death, but joy.  (Roberta Bondi)

FOR TODAY:  Begin to make room.  There’s more to the story than you thought.

Peace to you in this often-hectic week,

Shelli

Wilderness Re-Created

14-11-02-#6-Sermon-Thin PlaceScripture Text:  John 20: 1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

Whew!  We made it through the wilderness.  The tomb is open and all is good.  The morning was glorious, full of light and life and, finally, alleluias.  THE LORD IS RISEN!  THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!  The long Lenten wilderness journey is behind us.  Whew!  We made it!

But don’t you remember what kept happening in the wilderness?  In the wilderness, when we’re so unsure of where to go, when darkness seems to overtake us at times, when we often feel stripped of all we know, God comes.  God comes and re-creates in the most incredible ways.  God comes and brings light into darkness and life into death.  God comes and we are changed forever.  That happens in the wilderness when we no longer have the familiar and the comfortable to which we can hold.  Like Mary at the tomb, we are reminded to not hold on to what we know but rather to open our hands to the newness that God offers.

After Lent, we go back to our lives.  The time of giving up and emptying out is behind us.  So with what do we fill our lives?  If we go back and pick up where we left off, cramming our lives full of all the stuff that we just stored in the closet for the season, it will all be for naught.  But if we finally know that in all of God’s resurrecting, we, too, were raised.  If we remember that in all of God’s re-creating, even the wilderness, the chaos, was made new again.  If we find ourselves with eyes that see differently and hearts that beat in new ways, we will see that the wilderness is where we are meant to be.  We were never meant to settle into ways of thinking and be satisfied with routine ways of being.  Instead we are called to go forth into newness, into what we do not know, down roads that our faith calls us to follow.

It seems that God is continually calling us into places and times that we’ve never been, constantly empowering us to push the limits of our “comfort zones”, to embark on a larger and more all-encompassing journey toward a oneness with God.  It seems that God always calls us beyond where we are and beyond where we’ve been, not to the places that are planted and built and paved over with our preconceptions and biases but, rather, to places in the wilds of our lives with some vision of a faint pathway that we must pave and on which we must trudge ahead.  Perhaps, then, this wilderness journey is not one in which we launch out and pursue a new life but is instead one that brings us to the center of our own life, one that brings us home, but changed.

The end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time.  (T.S. Eliot)

FROM NOW ON:  Make the wilderness journey your home.

 

Well, we have come to the end of the season.  I am honored that once again so many of my old friends joined me for the journey.  And along the way, there were others that I am so grateful chose to join us.  That’s what happens when you travel unfamiliar roads!  I’m going to take a break from the “every day” writing and will try to post at least once a week or so.  Stay tuned!  Keep journeying!  AND, email me and let me know YOUR thoughts!  I’m going to try to put my email in “code” below my name so the spammers don’t find me, but you are smart people and you can figure it out!  Thank you again for journeying with me!  Happy Easter!  WE ARE RISEN!  WE ARE RISEN INDEED!

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Shelli Williams 13 (run all those together), then [that funny little a with the circle], gmail.com

In the Time Between

StillnessScripture Text:  Luke 23: 48-49

48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

 

What do we do with this day, this day after, this day before, this time between?  What do we do when our foundations have been shaken to their core and we wander, alone?  What do we do when we stand at a distance and can do nothing to fix it or hurry the healing along?  This IS the deepest part of the wilderness.  We begin to wander again but this time, we are alone.  This time we wander in grief and despair.  The darkness overcomes us.

Have you noticed that all of the Gospels after the frantic accounts of the Crucifixion fall silent on this day?  They all go from some rendition of laying Jesus in the tomb to some version of “after the Sabbath”.  There was, you see, nothing more to say about what had happened and the story had to stop and wait for itself to begin again.  You see, this IS the Sabbath, the time between work and work, the time between conversations, the time between life and life.  This IS the time to be silent, to sit in the deep wilderness and wait, wait again for life to dawn.

The truth is, there IS nothing to do with this day.  See, this day is not ours.  We’re so accustomed to days revolving around our lives that we have forgotten how to wait, how to just be.  Notice that tomorrow morning the Scripture will not give us the account of the Resurrection.  It will instead tell us the story of the revelation of what has happened, the finding of the empty tomb.  We were not there for the Resurrection.  While we were grieving and wondering and trying to find our way in this new wilderness, God was re-creating in the darkness.  God seems to be drawn to the darkness, to the place where the Light most needs to be.

So, in this darkness, in this silence, know that you are not alone.  Know that God is re-creating everything even now.  Know that this is the time to just be still, to just be still and know.

My ego is like a fortress.  I have built its walls stone by stone to hold out the invasion of the love of God.  But I have stayed here long enough.  There is light over the barriers.  O my God…I let go of the past.  I withdraw my grasping hand from the future.  And in the great silence of this moment, I alertly rest my soul. (Howard Thurman)

 

FOR TODAY:  It is finished.  Just be still.  Just be still and know.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Staring Into the Face of Resurrection

Snake (Coiled) Scripture Text:  Numbers 21: 4-9
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Well, as if we weren’t having enough problems in this wilderness! It seems that all through the Scriptures, there is always lots of complaining going on in the wilderness. The people complained because there was no food, so God gives them manna enough for an army. They complained that there was no water, so God tells Moses to strike the rock and the waters supposedly gushed forth. The complaints continued. Nothing was ever enough. Nothing was ever right. The one here always sort of cracks me up. “There is no food and no water!” “Oh wait, there IS food but we don’t like it.” (OH, that’s the REAL story!) But, regardless, this is the oddest passage. Without its mention in this week’s Gospel passage, chances are we would have avoided including it in the Lectionary altogether.

But in their defense, the wilderness sometimes seems to be unending torturous despair. The people are weary; they are frustrated; and they are no longer convinced that their leader really knows where he’s going at all. So, of course, the group that doesn’t like change, that wants to go back, becomes louder and more influential. I don’t know. I’ve always thought that perhaps the poisonous snakes notion might have been a little over the top. I mean, sure…complaining…bad, poisonous snakes all over the place…REALLY bad. You know, there is just something about a snake that commands your attention.

So God comes up with the oddest solution. Make a serpent of bronze and put it on a pole and when someone is bitten by a snake, have the person look at the snake. Well, that is very strange. Essentially, God’s antidote for the snakes is a snake. So, let me get this straight. The more we look at our fear, at our evil, at those things that invade us, at those things that plague us, the less hold they have on us. I think the point is not the snake; the point is what God does with it.

It is notable, too, that nothing is said to imply that God destroys the snakes.  Essentially, God does not destroy the enemy—God recreates it.  Isn’t that an incredible thing?  You see, we need to recognize that the traditional Jewish reading of the “Garden of Eden” story differs from the classical Christian version.  While the snake has often been identified in both faiths as Satan (or satan), the Jewish understanding is not that of something or someone outside of God’s command or a rebel against divine authority.  Rather, it’s sort of a prosecuting attorney, entrusted with testing, entrapping, and testifying against us before the heavenly court.  It’s part of God’s way of maintaining order.  It’s part of God’s way of showing us a mirror to look at ourselves.  So, from that standpoint, these snakes or serpents are not enemies but, are rather a part of ourselves, a part of who we are, the part that we would rather not see. (And, yes, now we would rather they all be snakes rather than that!) Redemption is free but it is not given freely; one has to be willing to surrender the part of oneself that we’d rather not see. That is the only way that it can be healed.

So, did you see what has now happened to the story about “the dress”? (You know the blue and black that sometimes looked white and gold that brought the internet, social media, and the news world to its knees as people argued over the color of the dress.) Well, the Salvation Army in South Africa has come up with a stupendous global advertising campaign to raise awareness for domestic violence. There is a billboard in England that shows a picture of a bruised and battered woman that also employs the use of facial recognition technology. Each time a person looks at the billboard, the camera will take a picture of their face and the battered woman will heal a little bit more on the billboard. How incredible is that? If we look, the healing begins. (http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/new-anti-domestic-violence-campaign-features-the-dress/17wrjfdwt)

That’s the crux. If we look at the snake, if we look at the billboard, if we look to the Cross, the healing begins. Redemption does not happen by ignoring evil or turning one’s eyes away from that which is uncomfortable; it happens by staring it square in the face and seeing God’s Presence come through as it is re-created.

Nature doth thus kindly heal every wound. By the mediation of a thousand little mosses and fungi, the most unsightly objects become radiant of beauty. There seem to be two sides of this world, presented us at different times, as we see things in growth or dissolution, in life or death. And seen with the eye of the poet, as God sees them, all things are alive and beautiful. (Henry David Thoreau)

FOR TODAY: Open your eyes. Look it square in the face and encounter God in a way that you never have before. Encounter redemption; encounter re-creation; encounter resurrection.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

As If Everything Were Downside Up

 

upsidedownworldScripture Text: John 2: 13-17

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

 

We don’t know what to make of this passage. Oh, we try to make sense of it, sort of clean it up so that it doesn’t look so bad. After all, what happened to that loving, mild-mannered Savior that we knew? What happened to the consummate storyteller that knew how to get everyone to listen to him? What happened to Jesus? Here he is, whip raised like some sort of drunken cowboy herding all the sheep and cattle out of the square outside the temple. And then grabbing all of the baskets of coins from the money changers and throwing them on the ground. So, when he walked away there were animals scattered into the town, tables turned over, coins strewn everywhere, and, I’m assuming, some pretty flabbergasted merchants standing around not knowing what to do.

 

Well, of course, we know why. After all, the temple is God’s house; the temple is a place of reverence and worship. Well, OK, BUT, remember that God dwells everywhere—in you, in me. Remember…God made flesh, Emmanuel, Dwelt among us,..all that stuff. So what exactly was wrong? After all, that was the way society ran. No one was breaking the law. No one was mistreating anyone (or at least not in any way that was not properly sanctioned by both the community and the religious tradition) So what was wrong? Why was Jesus so upset? Because, there they were…essentially selling worship, selling religious practice, selling God.

 

“Horrible!,” we sigh. But think about our own society.  Think about us. Our lives are reward-driven and because of it we live with the idea that we should get what is “due” to us. We believe that by working hard and doing the right things we will be rewarded. And often that carries into our spiritual lives. How many of us do the things we do because we think we should, because we think that it will in some way earn us points with God, or, even, because we think that we are the only ones that can do them? Oh, you know the stuff. If I pray really hard, God will answer. If I have faith, God will reward me. If I serve God, I will feel good. If I study and try my best to make sense of God, God will guide me and everything will turn out alright. It is our own way of merchandising. What do we do because we love God and what do we do because we think that will reap a reward (or at least insure us against future calamity)?

 

Meister Eckhart (13th-14th century German mystic) said that “as long as we strive to get something from God on some kind of exchange, we are like the merchants. If you want to be rid of the commercial spirit, then by all means do all you can in the way of good works, but do so solely for the praise of God.” Eckhart then exhorts us to “live as if you do not exist…then God alone dwells there.” So what would that mean, then, to live as if we do not exist? It means to live without an “if-then” statement. It means to live “as if”, as if God’s Kingdom is here in its fullness and glory, as if all of Creation echoes the song of God, as if God dwells in our midst and you are God’s holy temple (oh, yeah…that one IS supposed to be an already one). We live between the already and the not yet. This season of Lent makes that oh so much more real to us as we journey in the wilderness knowing that the Cross, and, indeed, the Resurrection, God’s ultimate act of bringing the downside up, is up ahead.  But that does not mean that the tables cannot be turned—even now. So, to live as if you do not exist, to live as if God dwells in you as a holy temple, what tables in your life does Jesus need to turn downside up to get your attention? (Or what do you need to do to at least live as if it were that way?)

 

The noblest prayer is when [one] who prays is inwardly transformed into what [one] kneels before. (Angelus Silesius, 17th century)

 

FOR TODAY:  Think about what tables Jesus need to turn downside up in your life so that you can live as if you do not exist.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli