A collection of , mostly, my sermons with footnotes and occasionally a video.
Sunday, January 12, 2020
Meditation Today –Tehra Cox
Meditation Tehra Cox “When I moved from the noisy concrete and steel canyons of New York City to a small Hudson Valley village with its serenely-forested highlands, I was stunned by the radical change of scenery. As late summer turned into fall, my favorite season, nature’s magic began its work on me. From one of my first autumn walks along the wooded mountain path behind the old Victorian house that was my new home, I was introduced to the uncanny voices of the natural world.
My first encounter with what I call “Earth-Speak” was nothing less than phenomenal for its impact on my life and sensibility. As I came around a bend at the top of the mountain, the lush goldenness of maples along the trail nearly took my breath away. They colored the very air around them. As I stood transfixed, it seemed that all the flora of the woods began to sway toward me. The dramatic red-orange-gold hues in all shapes and sizes were pulsating with light, sounds and scents so intoxicating that I wasn’t sure if I was breathing or drinking. Suddenly, I “heard” a whispering of words that I will never forget: “Ah yes, the very things you humans love about us – our different colors and shapes and smells and languages – are the things you often hate about each other. Alas, you have lost touch with your beauties because you have lost touch with us.”
Having just moved out of a city teeming with the tensions that densely-populated diversities of culture, creed, economy – and yes, race – too often provoke, this message was stunning and timely for me. During that first year of “life in the country,” I became unusually acquainted with this sentient world. In my daily walks with pen and paper, the presences of nature enfolded me in their lushness while I chronicled their wisdom-teachings. As these “inner tuitions” invited me to consider some of life’s most paradoxical mysteries, they required only one thing of me – to be utterly present and receptive. I didn’t know to call it that at the time – I was only aware that I felt light and free, as if all the space around the trees and the flowers and blades of grass was also around, and even inside, me.”
Sermon Epiphany, Baptism and the Wilderness Epiphany refers to the Twelfth Night of Christmas and the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. It is the end of Christmas and the beginning of the church season of Epiphany. Epiphany (epiphaneia in Greek) means appearance or manifestation. Epiphany means an experiential discovery or an illuminated realization. As a senior in high school, we read James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where the main character Stephen Daedalus has a series of epiphanies to realize who he is and realize his vocation as artist/priest.
Epiphanies are a series of sudden manifestations. In religion, epiphanies are spiritual discoveries, manifestations, enlightenment, or revelations. Epiphanies resolve tensions and deep personal conflicts in life. More importantly, epiphanies are frequently gifts.
Before I address the baptism of Jesus and his wilderness retreat, I want to look at the prior life of Jesus. It requires that we imaginatively fill the historical gaps of knowledge that we know about Jesus. The Jesus Seminar of scholars have tried to do such an imaginative retrieval of the life of Jesus. There is the story of Jesus’ rejection in home village of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30), where he recites from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue, not a building but a square in the village for Sabbath prayer and sermons. The men of his hometown become so enraged at his teaching that they try to hurl over the cliff to his death. A biblical scholar friend and colleague, Ric Talbott, speculates that the rage was incited that he was a “disobedient son.” Talbott claims that Jesus’ conflict escalated as he helped other Galilean villages through his healing ministry. Jesus was unable to perform miracles for his own hometown. Thus, he had lost honor and shamed himself as the eldest son by failing to accept responsibility for his household after Joseph’s death.
I argue differently. Nazareth is a small village of 200-300 people. Everyone knows everyone’s business. They are aware that Joseph was not the father of Mary’s child, and therefore, Jesus is placed in the outsider category of mamzer, illegitimate or bastard. Illegitimate males and heir male heirs were not allowed in synagogue or Temple for ten generations. Jesus’ presence at the synagogue is serious offense against Jewish purity codes. This sparks a village rage that results in the attempt to kill him.
One of the issues about Jesus that I always wondered about was his extraordinary sensitivity to outcasts and outsiders. How did he become so sensitive to include outsiders?
If either Talbott’s or my own interpretation of the status of Jesus is correct then Jesus at certain age set out on his personal question to resolve father and family issues and how to become a child of Abraham, accepted as a Jew in good standing. He had heard of John the Baptist, and his message through itinerant rabbis, and he went to hear John preach for himself and seek membership in the Baptist community of disciples.
The Baptist prepared future disciples for baptism in Jewish meditation instruction, a stilling mental process and envisioning technique or transporting his spiritual body into God’s heavenly court. Jewish prophets and the monastic community at Qumran, several miles from John baptized people. So our story this morning. With his shame as illegitimate, Jesus is baptized by a marginal figure John in the waters of the Jordan River. The geography is important. John baptized folks at the Jordan River, in the Judean wilderness and outside of Roman occupation.
Jesus has an epiphany as he emerges from the waters. Jesus has visual and auditory epiphany: The Spirit descends in the form of a Mother Dove. He hears a voice: “This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am pleased.” Then Jesus embarks a forty-day wilderness retreat. God is at work at the margins of the Empire with all those who are risk to live an alternative dream of society. God revealed Jesus’ identity to himself, outside the centers of Roman power and control. This is significant for Jesus will develop a vision of God’s kin-dom that will challenge Roman power and the coopted Temple priesthood.
Now let me stop here. All the founders of the major world religions experienced epiphanies: revelations or spiritual manifestations in the natural world: The Buddha under the Bodhi Tree at the edge of the jungle, Moses in the burning bush and on Mt. Sinai, the prophet Mohammed in a cave outside of Mecca, Lao-tzu in the wilderness, countless indigenous peoples on vision quests, and many nature mystics–John Muir—and nature lovers such as Tehra Cox who learned to Earthspeak. The natural world has the sacramental potential surprising us with the Spirit’s presence and communication.
Remember Tehra Cox’s Earthspeak from our opening meditation. We read similarly in Psalm 19:1-4,
The heavens are declaring the glory of God, And the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech nor are there words, Their voice is not heard; Yet their voice goes out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the word.
Earthspeak is really the Spirit speaking in a still quiet voice through the natural world. The Spirit is immanent in the natural world, sustaining, suffering, and influencing us through the natural world. The Spirit instructs Jesus through the natural world. Jesus’ vision of an alternative kin-dom to the Roman Empire is formed from his baptism and on-going transformation through the Spirit.
There are several things we learn:
1) At his baptism, Jesus was immersed in the waters of Jordan that opened him to an epiphany of the Spirit as Mother Dove and the self-discovery as God’s beloved child. God’s ruah or breath is the Spirit. For Jesus, God’s ruah became the amniotic fluid, the baptismal waters of earthen womb where incarnational interconnectedness was realized. Jesus became Spirit-born and a Spirit-led prophet.
The Spirit interbreathes in all the Earth’s processes and all life. The Spirit is the energy of all epiphanies. Jesus inhales the freshness of the Spirit’s breath, and he became a Spirit-led prophet, healer, and wisdom teacher. The life and the ministry of Jesus was the empowering work of the Spirit.
Wilderness is the geography of the Spirit and transformation. It has been traditionally the place of spiritual epiphanies and encounter. It symbolized a wildness and resilient energy of the Spirit. The natural world of trees, streams, wildlife, deserts, mountains and oceans are places where we can learn with Jesus Earthspeak and carefully listen to the Spirit speaking through the natural world.
2) Jesus sought to understand his relationship to Abba God and deepened an intimate and loving experience of Abba God. He was beloved child. He resolved unresolved issues about Joseph his adopted father and family issues. Remember the story when Mary and his brothers come to get him when they heard, “He has gone out of his mind.” (Mk. 3:21)
Jesus resolved his family conflicts and the shame as outsider with the disclosure that he was God’s beloved child. He realized God’s unconditional love for him—that grace supersedes the Temple sin management system of guilt and shame. He found himself included not only a child but e “beloved” child, in whom God was well pleased.
He broke the cultural- bondage of religious exclusivism and fundamentalism that some are God’s people and others are not. Jesus leaned that God has no favorites: all of us are God’s favorites and beloved children.
During his retreat in the Judean desert, he would learn that creation has an inclusivity. Biologist Christopher Uhl mindfully discovered inclusivity within the natural world. He writes,
Inclusivity is grounded in relationship whereas exclusivity stems from separation. A consciousness rooted in inclusivity generates trust, one moored in exclusivity foments fear—especially, the fear of the Other. When our goal is exclusivity, we silence those with whom we disagree; but when inclusivity becomes our goal, we seek to create a world that works for all.
Remarkably, Jesus’ notion of radical inclusiveness was forged in solitude of wilderness, separate from Jewish religious exclusiveness and the exclusive hierarchies of the Roman Empire. In the wilderness, Jesus discovered God’s inclusive love for all created life. On the Seventh Day, God rested and delighted in creation. All created life was beloved. God loved not only “pure” Jews but outcasts and Gentiles and creation. God’s beloved is inclusive of humanity and creation, both beloved. When you experience as beloved and extend that belovedness to others, we see the seeds of Jesus’ practice of radical inclusiveness in his kin-dom ministry.
3) In the wilderness, Jesus widened his heart with God’s inclusive compassion. Abba God was compassionate. In Luke 6:36, Jesus states, “Be compassionate as Abba God is compassionate.” This is the core of Jesus’ ministry of God’s kin-dom. The prayer he taught petitions Abba to give us this day our daily bread and release us from spiraling indebtedness.
The word “compassion” comes from the Hebrew word for “womb.” God’s womb-like love is expressed for the suffering. But Jesus was revolutionary in calling for disciples to imitate God’s compassion. “Be compassionate as God is compassionate.” Compassion means literally to “suffer with.” It is just not a feeling moved to care; it is that and more. Compassion is a spiritual practice, cultivated with Buddhists call mindfulness or Christian describing as centering prayer. Jesus promotes the social dynamics of compassion, and this message of compassion becomes a dangerous message to the religious establishment and the Roman Empire.
4) Jesus was reintroduced to Jewish creation-centered spirituality: It was grounded with the Abba God as a Household God– Creator, Protector, and Provider for the people. He tapped into the wilderness theology of the exodus grounded in God’s gift of the Earth and abundant generosity for the people.
The Temple religion was coopted by empire, and it provided justification that provided abundant blessings for the elite at the expense of the many poor. In God’s kin-dom, there would be no hunger. Empires then and today argue an ideology of scarcity. Income inequality and hunger plagued Jesus’ time as well as our own. Scarcity is an economy of greed and selfishness. The wilderness was where God demonstrated the abundance of creation. There is always enough for everyone shares with each other. Now what would Jesus do and say about minimum wage bills vetoed by governor in New Hampshire? What about the political attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act? What about the poisoning of our atmosphere with carbon from coal plants, or the poisoning our streams with toxic chemicals and carcinogen? There is profound selfishness in the ideology of scarcity, and it counters God’s abundance in the wilderness with the Israelites and with Jesus’ feedings of the multitudes. Jesus’ proclaims God abundance in compassionate sharing.
5) Finally, the wilderness is a place of epiphany and the gift of surprised discoveries or revelations. In the wilderness, Jesus practiced an awareness of self in relationship to the elements of nature: the heat during the day and the coldness of the night, the beasts, and scrub plant life,
Canadian clergy and author Bruce Sanguin writes,
The soul feasts on silence. It is God’s first language. Silence is not simply the absence of noise. It is a presence unto itself. The kind of stillness is the font of all creativity, the womb of creation itself… Silence reminds us that we are not separate and isolated. To enter silence is to enter a field of interconnectedness and share in the consciousness and intelligence that animate all of life.
Wandering in nature is one of the most soulful practices for us today. It connects us with solitude, simplicity, vulnerability, and a sense of presence. It is locus for epiphanies. I don’t want you to mistake that epiphanies only happen in nature and wilderness. Often they do, but not always.