Monday, May 28, 2012

Holy Breath

Texts:  Acts 2: 1-18; Ezekiel 37: 1-14

God's Breath

      The season of Easter concludes as the season of Pentecost begins. We affirm today that the vibrant spirit that animated Jesus the Christ remains alive in Body of Christ. Of course, the Spirit that enlivens and unites all creation did not suddenly make an appearance in this world 2000 years ago.  As our opening hymn and scriptures remind us, the Spirit brooded over the chaotic waters of creation, and spoke through the Hebrew prophets, and inspired the life of Jesus, and then, when earth felt most bereft, that same spirit blew through the people at Pentecost “on the rush of a wind.”[i] The same vivifying force continues to blow through the cosmos today. Sometimes the wind is wild and unpredictable, disrupting old patterns of thought so that we can, in the words of the prophet Joel, “see new visions” (Acts 2:17).  At other times the movement of the Spirit is a gentle breath, resuscitating deadened hearts.

         I’ve thought often this week about the way the Bible’s writers imagined God as breath, especially as two of our own have struggled to breathe.  Both ___ and ___  have lain in two different hospitals for more than a week with pneumonia, a disease whose name derives from the same Greek word pneuma that Christian scriptures use to mean 1) spirit, 2) breath, and 3) wind.  The Spirit of God IS both a gentle breath that restores us to life and a wild wind that reshapes us.
         Two biblical stories of God’s pneuma blow through our Pentecost celebration today.  The first is an eerily quiet Spirit, invisibly attendant over the bleakest landscape you could imagine.  But the Prophet Ezekiel did somehow imagine it:  a desolate valley of bones—bleached white and brittle dry—a mass grave of thousands upon thousands, and no living thing in sight. This nightmare might have originated in stories of the Hebrew people who were carted off to Babylon after Jerusalem’s destruction. Perhaps as the captives were forcibly marched away from their homeland, Ezekiel’s people walked past open graves of their dead, bleak signposts of their people’s doom.  But this dream has such utter lifelessness that it seems imaginatively accessible only to those of our generation who have seen, for example, pictures of the mass graves of Auschwitz, Dachau, and Bergen-Belsen. Or to those who only now can grasp humanity’s potential for nuclear holocaust. How could a pre-atomic bomb civilization from the 6th Century BCE conceive of a world so entirely swept clean of all life?   How could any pre-Apollo 11 writer depict an earthscape so like a moonscape, so empty of even one blade of grass or one droplet of water or one slight breeze?
         How could anyone then or now, standing imaginatively before such a nightmare, imagine any way of going forward after such obliteration?  

         The only thing to do in such a time is to be very still and wait upon the Spirit.  The Spirit can show us the bleached bones piling up in our lives or in our community or on our planet.  The Spirit that birthed the church can even reveal in the Church itself the bleached bones piling up in grand cathedrals and storefront churches. We are called to witness these signs.  And to listen in the soundlessness as the Enlivening Spirit breathes her resuscitating breath.  Hear the horror and hope of bones rattling as they come together into human form again: toe bones connecting to the foot bones, foot bones connecting to the . . . ankle bones, ankle bones connecting to the . . . shin bones. “Now hear the word of the Lord: Them bones, them bones gonna rise again.”
         Horror and hope mingle in such a landscape. Fear of the strange combines with an instinct for change. We’re not sure we want to witness resurrection, much less experience it ourselves, but how can we not choose renewal?  In Ezekiel’s vision, resurrection looks like we’re rewinding that gruesome scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Nazi villain, having gazed into the Ark of the Covenant, is melted away, layer by layer, to a skeleton.  Ezekiel the prophet sees a reversal of bodily decay as sinews reattach to bone and skin reform on sinew.  Yet these reassembled humans remain in inert piles, a still horrifying sight because “there was no breath in them” (Ezekiel 37:8).  So the prophet summons the very Breath of God:  “Come from the four winds, O Spirit.  Come, Breath of God” (37:9).
         And in his dream “the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude” (37:10), indeed “the whole house of Israel” (37:11). 

         Friends, you and I sometimes feel like the living dead.  We go through the motions of life without passion.  We make the same mistakes, follow the same habits, zombie-like.  When we enter the bleak landscape, let us summon the Spirit. 
         And let us remember Ezekiel dreamed about a whole group of people who’d lost hope.  The process of being reassembled and reconnected and revivified happens to whole communities as people stand on their feet again TOGETHER, a vast multitude that can move out of the valley of the dry bones.  

         We come together as a church to draw a deep collective breath. Together. As even now you can I can fill our lungs and feel the gentle breath of God connecting us to creation, to one another, to enlivening purposes.  This is one story of the Spirit as a quiet breath that restores us to ourselves and one another and God’s loving intentions.

         Today’s second story, from the book of Acts, describes the coming of the Spirit “like the rush of a violent wind” (Acts 2:2). God’s rough wind did not comfort the disciples, did not softly redirect them, did not breezily rearrange a few of their priorities or prejudices.  No, “like the rush of a violet wind” the pneuma shook those gathered for Pentecost into a radical new awareness that God would now work through them. 

         The original Spirit-filled church born on Pentecost began dramatically. No wonder that kind of fervor was unsustainable.  So eventually the followers of Jesus traded the risky “faith of Jesus” for a safer “religion about Jesus.”  Church leaders soon began creating rules and rituals rather than roadways toward the Always New.

         Yet even today there are spiritual descendants of the first Spirit-infused disciples, and they remember that Jesus had to pass through death into life, had to walk through the lonesome valley of the dry bones.  Novelist Reynolds Price, who nearly died from cancer 20 years ago and who finally met his physical death last year, came to value the Spirit’s way of dying to the old so the new can be born.  In one interview he commented on the therapies that saved his life but lost him the use of his legs.  He explained, “When you undergo huge traumas in middle life, everybody is in league with us to deny that the old life is ended.  Everybody is trying to patch us up and get us back to who we were, when in fact what we need to be told is, ‘You’re dead.  Who are you going to be tomorrow?’” 

         Ezekiel was telling the exiled Jews, “We’re dead. Who are we going to be tomorrow?”  We are no longer in Jerusalem.  We will get there eventually.  But even here in this seemingly Godforsaken time and place, we can tap into the Spirit of God. 

         “You’re dead,” Ezekiel continues to tell us today.  So . . . who are YOU going to be tomorrow . . . if you cannot be patched up after illness or bereavement or financial loss or family crisis or some colossal screw up or some average disappointment?  Can you be some new someone who is alive and awake spiritually?

         “You’re dead,” Ezekiel prophesies to the 21st Century Church. So who are YOU going to be when the next Great Awakening stirs the corpses sitting silently now in your many pews?  Will the Church continue to produce preachers who spew deadly hate speech?  Will the church continue to cover up the abuse of children?  Will the church continue to worship a violent God?  Will the church continue to scapegoat a few in the name of moral purity and miss Jesus’s mission to care for “the least of these”?  Many already hear dry bones a’ rattling and a violent wind a’wailing as a spiritual REVIVAL spreads among many faiths, a movement some are calling the world’s first interfaith Awakening.  Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus are being revived as they emphasize compassionate living over correct doctrine, as they find what is true for them through their own experiences and reason more than from religious authorities and literal interpretations of sacred texts, as they borrow and adapt spiritual practices from one another to create healthier persons and a healthier planet.[ii]
         While it may seem that dogmatism and fundamentalism are increasing, they are really the inevitable backlash of frightened people to this multireligious Awakening.  Anxiety in times of change is normal.  After all, it IS scary to watch the dead come to life. But our age’s own Ezekiels are beginning to prophesy their visions of new life. 

         When we recognize, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places, the Spirit’s movement, we can cooperate with the Spirit to root out the dead parts in our individual lives and create freer faith communities upon the ruins of the dying church.  The pneuma may be fierce but it is blowing out the deadened bits of hierarchy, literalism, and tribalism in order to make way for radical compassion, inclusion, unity, peace, and liberation—the aims of a global spiritual awakening. 

         On the birthday of the Church, let us thank God for the pioneers of our faith as we ourselves continue to pioneer ever faithful and ever new ways of following Jesus and responding to the pneuma of God. Open Table has a prophetic role to play in recognizing what has died and seeing where the Spirit is moving in the world so we can join in that work.

         The poet Wendell Berry is one of my nominees for a modern prophet, a successor to Ezekiel.  His poem “A Vision” might be the anthem for this new spiritual awakening:

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
there, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear, as we will never know it,
and over it, birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be
green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground. They will take
nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.

PRAYER: Spirit, lead us from the valley of dry bones to this Edenic valley of peace. When Pentecost truly comes to us again, revive our bone-dead faith so that our men and women, young and old can see visions—like this one. Equip us, Holy Wisdom, to take up the hard, hard task of bringing that vision to reality. Amen

[i] “Spirit” by James K. Manley © 1975 by James K. Manley Publishing.
[ii] Dianna Butler Bass insightfully describes this interfaith awakening in her latest book Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Guided Meditation On Oneness

Text:  John 17: 11-19

    Sometimes called the other Lord’s Prayer, today’s Gospel reading from John includes Jesus’s remarkable prayer that we become one just as Jesus and the Holy Parent to whom he prayed were one.  “Holy Father,” he prayed, “Protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
        But before we talk about the oneness we experience in Christ, let’s first admit that unity—a misunderstood and incomplete unity—has often produced disunity.  To pugnaciously proclaim “United we stand; divided we fall” is to envision and perpetuate a partial unity at best.  When a group aims to unite, that unity can be created from energy that opposes another group.  Our group-ness can be built defensively upon suspicions of another group. Parts of the Bible ring with this kind of tribalism, even in the Gospel of John. It’s us versus them alright.
        But not here.  Not in this passage.  And not in the overarching Jesus message.  
        John’s Jesus is God’s gift for the whole world—according to John 3:16.  “For God so love the WORLD. . . .” We cannot love one person authentically unless we love all. To love God, to love oneself, and to love one’s neighbor is one indivisible task, say the other Gospel writers.
        That’s why we at Open Table do not want to unduly emphasize—as cozy as it would feel—the oneness we experience when we gather here.  We rightly celebrate our kindredness and the warmth of this particular fellowship only when we bear in mind that the Open Table must always remain open and that getting too satisfied with those already here is antithetical to our call.
        Furthermore, we live in Christian oneness only when, ironically, we do not limit that oneness to fellow Christians. 
        That’s because if our sense of oneness is based on the way Christ makes all one, then ALL divisions fall away and we see our connectedness to everyone and every thing.  Christian spirituality is not about solidifying Christianity; it’s about increasingly experiencing a uniting Spirit that includes every thing. 
        Some relatively recent versions of Christianity have emphasized individualized salvation that promises an evacuation plan for the chosen few to a gated community called Heaven.  These Christians believe entrance to heaven requires that we believe certain things to be true.
        But originally the saving work of the cosmic Christ was understood as happening by connection, integration, and transformation of families, communities, systems. To reconcile, to reunite in this saving way—at the personal, societal, planetary, and cosmic level—requires an emphasis on belonging rather than believing, which requires fundamental empathy. 
        Compassion, not doctrine, is Jesus’ spiritual path we follow.  And compassionate empathy for the other is at the core of all the great religions’ teachings.  Increasingly we are recognizing that “what we do to others is what we do to ourselves” and “the way we treat the cosmos is the way we treat ourselves” (Newell 123)[i]
        But, regrettably, our individual lives feel fragmented, pulled as we are in a thousand different directions.  Your thoughts and mine are continually interrupted, our actions are disunited, our relationships are riven, our souls feel drawn and quartered every day, every day—as technology and competing allegiances and undisciplined habits claim pieces of us.  Where do I need to put my energies on this day?  How do I meet tomorrow’s infinite demands?  Who am I really—when I’m parceling out myself in dribs and drabs to so many people and groups and ideologies?  Where’s the unifying center?  
        Likewise, our communal lives are divided because groups of friends and the church itself and the country in which we live and the physical planet on which we depend seem to be breaking asunder. Nothing is more painful than seeing family bonds break, feeling friendships split apart, watching churches implode over silly disagreements, observing a nation polarize as public discourse becomes more extreme and uncivil, observing planetary resources scooped up by some to the exclusion of others. 
        I invite you into a period of guided prayer based on an important theme Karen Armstrong develops in her recent memoir, The Spiral Staircase.  She describes that, during a period in her life when she still self-identified as an atheist, she came to realize while writing a book on Islam that by making “a constant, imaginative attempt to enter empathically into the experience of another” she came to believe that at the heart of all religious teachings is that necessity of giving up our ego, our selfish concerns, to become “sensitive to the needs of others.” Thus the “spiritual human being is born.”
        I invite you to join me in a spiritual exercise.  I invite you to stretch your spiritual imagination and cultivate empathy in this guided meditation:
1.   Begin by imagining that your life is suddenly bound up with another person whom you don’t particularly like or whom you don’t know well, someone you really would not choose to spend the day with. Picture that person. And now imagine that all his or her heartaches and struggles are suddenly yours, that everything that happens to him or her, happens to you, and that you can see into this person’s heart and mind and really know and feel what he or she knows and feels—and likewise, she or he knows your thoughts and feelings. If that happened, how would that change you?  Imagine how differently you would feel and behave if suddenly you had this deep understanding, this intense connection, this oneness with this other human being. 

2.   Next imagine some aspect of nature that you take for granted every day:  the oak tree in your front yard, the creek that runs behind your house, the wasps that are building a nest under the eaves of your house.  If your health and very life were tied directly to this creature’s health and life—how would your actions change? Would you live your life any differently?

3.   Finally, imagine that you are not a separated, individuated being at all but are in fact a unique but integral member of a far greater and eternal reality than you can know.  Imagine that you contribute in essential ways, yet this reality is so much more than what you are and what you can even imagine the totality to be.  This ultimate reality is infinitely loving and life-giving. Imagine being part of all that.  Now don’t just imagine it; consider that it is actually true.  And there is nothing that can ever separate you from being a part of that larger enterprise of love and life.  If you accept your place in an eternally loving universe, how do you regard yourself and your future?    
. . .
        Richard Rohr talks about a “spiritual ecology”—a way to capture the expansiveness of this saving spirituality that is not limited to beliefs or even to practices but an entire system of relationships and an overarching wholeness we inhabit.  He says, “If you live in a fully connected world, you’re saved every day, just by playing your part.  You are grabbed by God; and you belong to this universe, along with everything else.”  Rohr describes his fascination with the Celtic knot, used so often in Celtic Christianity on the island of Iona, the community that, by the way, composed the songs for our new songbook.  Rohr explains the Celtic knot, found on crosses, gravestones, jewelry, is that culture’s artistic expression that “all is connected, everything belongs, all is one in God.  They knew about ecosystems long before we did, but in an even larger way.  ALL was held together inside the divine knot.”  Then he quotes T. S. Eliot (who quotes Julian of Norwich):
        “And all shall be well and / All manner of thing shall be well / When the tongues of flame are in-folded / Into the crowned knot of fire.”

        Look at the Celtic knot printed in your bulletin.  Look back at the picture on the front of your bulletin: George Tooker’s painting called “The Embrace of Peace,” which seems, to me, a human Celtic Knot.  Contemplate these images of our oneness in Christ.
. . .
        We are learning, you and I, to see our interdependence and wholeness, this oneness within the heart of God to whom Jesus prayerfully entrusted his followers, this oneness which is at the heart of our spiritual quest.

[i] Newell, John Philip.  A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.t

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Have Called You Friends

 John 15: 7-19

         “From now on, I’m calling you friends,” Jesus said in his farewell address.  “You are no longer my pupils or apprentices or servants.  No,  you are the friends I love and am willing to die for. You are likewise that same kind of friend to one another because we are energized and connected by the same Divine Love. So love one another just as I have loved you.  You are my friends.”

         I have 297 friends—on Facebook.  A paltry sum, really, in comparison to the more than 2,000 Facebook friends my nephew Patrick can claim.  Not that anyone’s counting.  Except that apparently someone is.  The grand total of our Facebook friends gets automatically tallied on our Facebook pages for all to see.

         Out of perverse curiosity, I checked yesterday to see if Jesus has a Facebook page.  Well, of course he does!  He has more than 20 pages under the names Jesus, Jesus!, Jesus!!, Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ, Jesus Cristo, Jesus the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ the Son of God, etc.  There are thousands of FB pages ABOUT Jesus, but these are apparently the ones he personally maintains.  Which is proof enough for me of his omnipotence. I can barely keep up with two Facebook pages: mine and Open Table’s.  But now I’m wondering why Jesus hasn’t friended me on Facebook yet, given his explicit offer of friendship in John’s Gospel. I mean, is he just going to let it go at that?

         A recent  article in the Atlantic  titled “Is Facebook Making us Lonely?” begins with the horrifying story of Yvette Vickers, an 83-year-old former Playboy playmate and minor movie star whose neighbor recently discovered her body at least a year after the former actress had drawn her last breath. The belatedly inquisitive neighbor found Vickers’ mummified body near her computer, which was still on and glowing greenly in the dark room. The story of Yvette Vickers’ lonesome death went viral on FB. “She had long been a horror-movie icon, a symbol of Hollywood’s capacity to exploit our most basic fears. . . ; now she [has become] an icon of a new and different kind of horror: our growing fear of loneliness. Certainly she received much more attention in death than she did in the final years of her life. With no children, no religious group, and no immediate social circle of any kind, she had begun, as an elderly woman, to look elsewhere for companionship.”  Research later revealed that in months prior to her death, Vickers reached out virtually, not to friends but to distant fans who had found her on the Internet.  The author highlights the story’s irony this way: “Vickers’s web of connections had grown broader but shallower, as has happened for many of us. We are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible.”[i]

         Maybe we have forgotten what people in Jesus’s day knew well, that friendship can determine our very survival. Earlier in the Gospel of John there’s a story of a paralyzed man who had no family or friends to help him reach the healing pool of Bethesda.  So Jesus spoke to him, related to him as a person--became his friend, if you will--and as a result became his healer.  Our own Rosemarie attributes at least some of her ongoing healing to your friendship that has included visiting, encouraging, loving, and praying for her. A New York Times article summarizes recent research on the health benefits of friendship—which statistically increases longevity, improves psychological well-being, boosts cancer survival rates, reduces coronary disease, and promotes brain health as we age. “Friendship,” says the author of one study, “has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”[ii]

         One Bible scholar asserts that “making friends was the most important [task for the inhabitants of the communal biblical world]” (p. 190).[iii]  In contrast, Westerners in the 21st century are increasingly focused less on befriending others and more on networking for success. And when we use the word “friend,” we might mean it more casually and less committedly than did Jesus and his peers.  For us, friending on Facebook happens with a click.  Unfriending happens just as conveniently. 

         Even here at Open Table we are so steeped in our culture’s assumptions about friendship that we may not honor our relationships at church quite as we ought.  We may at times forget we are not a social club.  We are not an affinity group. We are not a civic or political group. We are not a nonprofit organization or business. We do not come together because we share in some strange habit or hobby on Sunday nights.  We are not in relationship because we necessarily LIKE one another. Our bonds lie in a shared friendship with Jesus. Though we do enjoy being together, the kind of love that forges relationships within a faith community is not based on liking one another.  It is based on the selfless love Jesus lived and that we are, with one another’s assistance, are trying to emulate. 

         As mutual friends of Jesus, you and I are also called to befriend the world.  We are called to lay down our very lives for our friends, the friends we know and the friends we’ve not yet met.  While few who follow in the Jesus way of friendship will be called upon to die for another, we are regularly challenged to live for others, often at the expense of our own individual wants and wishes. As friends of the type Jesus means, we hang in there when relationships get frustrating.  We try to think the best of one another. We speak our truth honestly but gently, empathetically, with enough self-knowledge to keep our own ego in check. We care less about being right and more about doing what is right for the other. We see the other’s happiness as essential for completing our own joy. We become friends to the friendless. It’s not easy to love in that way, but we believe that our friendships in this faith community and in the larger world are qualitatively different when they are grounded in the kind of loving friendship Jesus offered.

         What’s harder to wrap our minds around is the idea that you and I are friends of Jesus. A friendship with a person who lived 2000 years ago might feel as phony as those Facebook friendships with total strangers. A friendship with Jesus might sound like a 3-year-old’s relationship to his invisible friend.  But the community that composed the Fourth Gospel was trying to express their experience of continuing to “abide in” the love that Jesus embodied, long after he had lived on this earth. 

         Experiencing God’s-love-in-Jesus did not require the Johannine community to strive harder to love more or better. They instead lived trustfully and mindfully in that environment of love, a love that is likewise already and always available to us, too.  Rather than making spiritual growth into yet another challenging achievement or attainment, the mystical Johannine community said there’s one commandment—to love—and that difficult/effortless commandment both demands our whole lives and releases us into full joy. Written two generations after Jesus and written by one of the communities committed to The Way, the Gospel of John continues to invite new generations of Jesus followers to join an ever enlarging circle of friendship.

         I know it’s possible to extend this metaphor into silliness. Let’s not pretend to be BFF’s with JC.  But the poetry of John captures for us the comfortable intimacy of our mutual friendship with Jesus, which can in turn enhance or deepen the relationship between you and me.

         When I was a child, I attended a big family reunion at which I met for the first time some distant cousins in my mother’s large extended family. I was taken aback at the way these adults I’d never met before seemed to already know so much about my siblings and me, seemed so delighted to see me when they’d never set eyes on me. But I observed the way they loved on my mother, the only one of her siblings who lived outside the county in which they’d all been born and one of the few in the extended family who no longer lived in the state of Georgia.  I saw how tenderly they spoke her name, how eagerly they flocked to her and doted on her and told her children how special she was. “You're Molly’s oldest!” another relative would exclaim while embracing me.  I realized they loved me because they loved my mother. 

         God’s family is like that. The stranger on the street is someone we can love because we already love someone who is a friend to that stranger: Jesus, friend of all.   We are friends of one another when we are friends of God. We are friends when we abide in God’s love.

         Have you noticed how I address you at the beginning of each of my emails to the congregation? Yes. “Friends.”  I have called YOU friends.  Some pastors employ a churchier salutation:  “Dear Congregation” or “Sister and Brothers in Christ” perhaps.  But I have always loved the way Jesus calls his little congregation “Friends”—that simple term of affection.

         Some pastors-to-be are taught that their relationship to the members of the congregation is not primarily one of friendship. I have appreciated the lessons I received in maintaining appropriate boundaries in ministry: not showing favoritism toward some members, not transgressing moral boundaries, not self-indulgently burdening the congregation with my needs, not compromising my values in order to be liked, not becoming so chummy that the congregation sees the pastoral role as secondary to the friend role and therefore fails to avail themselves of real pastoral care in times of need.  You have many friends; you have one pastor.  I want to protect the primacy of that role—for your sake. 

         But I focus less on particular roles I play and more about relationships we build together, relationships grounded in God’s love.  All else flows from there.

         A story is told by John Phillip Newell about how the founders of a new religious community in Scotland visited an established monastery for a three-day retreat in preparation for starting their new community.  A wise old monk was going to teach them all the essential of community life throughout those three days.  On the first day the old monk shambled into the room and said, “Today I have just one thing to say: ‘God loves you.’ Now go away and think about that.”  And he left them to their contemplation.  On the second morning he again stood before them.  He announced, “Today I have just one thing to say to you.  ‘You can love God.’  Now go away and think about that.”  And off they wandered and pondered.  On the third morning, the wise old monk appeared again and said, “Today I have just one thing to say to you. ‘You are to love one another.’  Now go away and live this truth as a community” (122-123).[iv]

         You know, the sermon today could have consisted of these three sentences, punctuated by silence, concluded by action:  God loves you.  You can love God.  You are to love one another.   


[i] Marche, Stephen.  “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely” Atlantic Magazine (May 2012).

[ii] Parker-Pope, Tara.  “What Are Friends For? A Longer Life” New York Times (20 April 2009). .

[iii] Pilch, John. The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1999.           

[iv] Newell, John Philip.  A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.