Tuesday, February 26, 2019

'Living as Kingdom People' by Yme Woensdregt

By Rev. Yme Woensdregt

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We call it the Golden Rule, and I would guess that most of us think it’s quite a wonderful thing. A nice piece of advice for our kids, and for how we can live in peace.

It’s not just a teaching by Jesus. By the time Jesus walked the earth, it was already an ancient piece of spiritual wisdom. The Golden Rule is held in common by all of the world’s major religions. We can find a version of these words in Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Native spirituality, Sikhism, Taoism. They all point to a spiritual wisdom about the interconnectedness of life.

Treat all other creatures as you wish to be treated.

And if it were just a general rule for life, it would be a good teaching for us.

But Jesus does something different with it. It’s not just about living well with others. It’s not just about being nice to other people. Christian faith is not about being nice people.

In the context of the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, the Golden Rule becomes quite a radical thing. It’s about living with others as God lives with us. It’s about imitating God. It’s about becoming God’s kingdom people.

Listen to Jesus again.
“Love your enemies.
“Do good to those who hate you.
“Bless those who curse you.
“Pray for those who abuse you.
“Offer the other cheek to those who smack you.
“Give your shirt to someone who steals your coat.
“Give to everyone who begs.
“Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive.”

And in all of this, says Jesus, “Do good and expect nothing in return.”

Now that’s a little different than being nice. It is a radical way of living. And in Jesus’ day, it was even more radical.

In Jesus’ day, it was widely accepted that relationships were reciprocal. When a person acted generously towards you, you were expected to return the generosity. That’s what Jesus means when he says that “even sinners do that”. It was part of the common way of being in a relationship.
It’s still part of the way we live. You get a dinner invitation … and we expect that we should return the invitation. You get a gift, and you expect yourself to give a gift in return some time in the future.

And if you live that way, says Jesus, if you relate to other people based on reciprocity, then you’re only living out the qualities of life in the old age. Anyone can do that, says Jesus.

But if you want to live in the new age of God … if you want to live as the people of God … then you’ll live by different standards, with different ways of being, with new ways of relating to one another. God’s people live in different ways. Kingdom people live by different priorities—love endlessly; give generously; welcome all; don’t repay violence with violence but live by the law of love; help and give without expecting a return.

When we live in the new age of God, we will “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” When we live as kingdom people, we will imitate God, who loves without limits, and expects nothing in return from us.

This is the God to whom Jesus pointed with his whole life. We pray it in our Eucharistic Prayer, “Betrayed and forsaken, he did not strike back but overcame hatred with love.”

In Jesus’ teaching, the Golden Rule isn’t just a nice piece of advice. It becomes the basis for a radical new way of living. If we are the people of God, if we are kingdom people, if we truly are Christian people … our lives have to show it. We have to live like one.

And living as a follower of Jesus is different than living in that kind of reciprocal way, that tit–for–tat kind of way.

Our deepest and truest identity is that we are created for goodness, and we live out that identity as we live as God’s kingdom people.

Now let’s be clear. Jesus isn’t saying that if you are being abused to just take it. Jesus isn’t saying that if you’re bullied, you are to take it. In those instances, bullies and abusers take our choice away from us. This is not counsel to be beat up.

Rather, this teaching, this spiritual wisdom, calls us to live in a different way.

This is what Gandhi meant when he said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

If we claim to be followers of Jesus, then — to put it as simply as I can — we have to follow Jesus.
We have to do what Jesus did. We have to live as Jesus lived. We have to trust God as Jesus trusted God. We have to embrace as Jesus embraced. We have to include as Jesus included.

And sadly … the church does not. And I imagine how deeply God weeps over the behavior of the church.

I know it’s hard to live this way. I get it when people say you can’t turn the other cheek. It goes against everything we have been taught. It’s unrealistic in the kind of world we live in. You can’t really take Jesus’ sayings literally.

But the thing is that when we meet violence with violence, we only increase violence.

Yes it’s tough. I know. I struggle with it every day. But have we tried it? G.K. Chesterton once said that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried.”

The truth is that those who have actually dared to take Jesus at his word have found that it does work.

Think Gandhi, with his way of nonviolent resistance.

Think Martin Luther King, Jr., who found in Gandhi a source of hope and a way of acting. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Think Nelson Mandela, who after he was released from 27 years of brutal arrest said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Think Mother Teresa, who even in the darkest night of the soul continued to help those who needed to be helped.

The words of Jesus seem impossible. The reality of our world, however, shows that we have to find another way.

The way of the gospel is always to try and get us to move in the direction of love.

All Souls Episcopal Church in Washington DC has a sign outside their church building: “Love your neighbour//who doesn’t look like you//think like you//speak like you//pray like you//vote like you//Love your neighbour//No exceptions.”
The gospel in a nutshell.

The movement of God’s Spirit is always … always … toward openness, welcome, inclusion, acceptance, affirmation, and love.

It’s a hard way, I know. Some people are almost impossible to love. Some people will have offended us. Some people will have hurt us. Some people will have alienated us. Some people will have stolen from us. Some people will have taken advantage of us. Some people will have cursed us and destroyed our reputation.

And Jesus says, “It doesn’t matter.”

If you’re a Christian, if you’re a follower of Jesus, then Jesus calls us to: “Do to others as you would have them do to you. Be compassionate as our loving God is compassionate with us. Do it all without expecting anything back.”

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
February 24, 2019

Monday, January 14, 2019

Yme Woensdregt on "What is your Lifesong?"

By Rev Yme Woensdregt

I’ve been reading a wonderful book called Healing the Purpose of Your Life. The main theme of the book is that each of us has a unique purpose for our life, and our whole lives are a process of discerning that purpose and living it out.

They quote Agnes Sanford, the Episcopal teacher, who taught that each of us comes into the world with sealed orders from God. She means, “It is as if before we are born, each of us talks over with God our special purpose in this world.” Our “sealed orders” are not a list of tasks for us to accomplish. It is primarily a way of being for each of us. Who are we called to be?

The book tells a story about a tribe in East Africa which doesn’t count the birth date of a child from the day of birth, or even from the day of its conception as some other village cultures do.

For this tribe, the birth date is the first time a mother thinks of giving birth to a child. When she becomes aware that she intends to conceive a child, she goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard the song, she returns to her village. She teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them.

After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village so that throughout labour and at the moment of birth, the child is greeted with its song.

After the birth, all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when she falls or hurts herself.

The song is sung in moments of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. The song becomes part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown. At the end of life, her loved ones gather around the deathbed and sing the song for the last time.

It’s a beautiful story about the same kind of thing Agnes Sanford described as sealed orders. You can understand why I would love this image of our LifeSong.

It’s a way of talking about our essence. This is God within us. This is the light within us. This is what gives our lives meaning and wholeness and grace and love.

The song of our lives says something about who we are. It describes our being, our beautiful, unique personhood. Before we are born, God has a loving conversation with us about who we are and how we can live out our identity.

Notice that it’s not about what we do. Our LifeSong is about who we are. The things we do, the tasks we accomplish in our lives, are only ways of living out our identity. What we do reflects who we are.

As I was reflecting on that, it occurred to me that Jesus’ Lifesong was to empower people to live in a new way marked by unconditional love. When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, he described a way of living together marked by love, equality, sharing. It was a radical thing then. It’s a radical thing now.

And as we read the story of Jesus’ baptism, we read a story about his commitment to living that way. When he was baptized with all the other people, he was praying. A voice from heaven proclaims, “You are my Son. You are my Beloved, chosen and marked by my love.”

He spends the rest of his short life revealing God’s love. He lives it out. He encourages people to live in the way of love. He heals people as a sign of God’s love in action. His death points to the incredible and powerful love of God in the world. That is the light we see in Jesus.

I believe that the same is true of us. In our baptism, God claims us as beloved daughters and sons. God wraps us within the embrace of love and whispers into our souls the identity which
God has given us. “You are God’s work of art,” we sing in one of our baptismal hymns. You are God’s Song in the world.

A well–known theologian once confessed that he was plagued by a terrible dream. He was traveling in a distant city and ran into someone with whom he had gone to high school. The person would say, “Henri, Henri, I haven’t seen you in years. What have you done with your life?”

The question always felt like judgment. He’d done some good things, but there had also been some troubles and struggles. And he didn’t know how to answer the question, how to account for his life.
Then one night he had another dream. He dreamed that he died and went to heaven. He was waiting outside the throne room, waiting to stand before almighty God, and he was shivering with fear. He just knew that God would ask with a deep voice saying, “Henri, Henri, what have you done with your life?”

But when the door to God’s throne room opened, the room was filled with light. From the room he could hear God speaking to him in a gentle voice saying, “Henri, it’s good to see you. I hear you had a rough trip, but I’d love to see your slides.”

We begin to discern our LifeSong as we know that God’s love floods our lives. God whispers to us, “It’s so good to see you; I hear your trip has been up and down, but I’d love to see your slides.”
So many of us have grown up thinking of God as judgment. But it’s not so. God is unutterable love. God is pure grace. God is sheer delight. God always waits for us just around the bend, beckoning us on in our journey. At the same time, God walks alongside us, encouraging us to discover our own LifeSong, singing with us in harmony.

As with Jesus, so for us our baptism is the sure sign of God’s love at work in our lives. Before we can do anything other than eat or poop, we are baptized. We know ourselves to be God’s people, delighting as God’s love washes over us. We walk with Jesus, and in our unique way we show the power and delight of being loved as we are.

As we revel in belonging to God, we begin to discern our own LifeSong.

Here are some questions to help us discern our LifeSong:
* What are you most grateful for today? What are you least grateful for? If you were to ask yourself that question every day, what pattern would you see?
* When in your life have you been so absorbed in something that time flew by? What gave you such joy?
* When have you felt most alive?
* If you had time and money enough to do anything, what would you do?
* Who is the person you most wanted to grow up to be like? Whom do you most want to be like today?
* What is your special way of receiving love?
* What is it that you have to do—that you can’t not do?
* If you had only one year to live, what would you do?

Questions like this help us discern our own LifeSong. It’s not just something we do once in a while.
These are questions for our reflection in the quiet moments of each day. We seek God’s presence each day, and we begin to hear our own LifeSong, that hymn which God sang to our souls before the beginning of time, the song renewed in our baptism, the song which we can hear in our days, if only we listen.
Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt us Incumbent at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook, British Columbia

Monday, January 7, 2019

Following the Light

By Rev Dr Yme Woensdregt
I’m going to let you in on a secret—there were actually four magi but the fourth was turned away because he brought fruit cake.

We don’t really know how many magi there were. All Matthew tells us is that magi come from the east to worship the child who has been born king of the Jews. They arrive at the house where Jesus is, open their treasure chests, and offer three gifts as they pay him homage.

These were standard gifts for a king in the ancient world: gold is a precious metal; frankincense is an essential oil; and myrrh was used to anoint. Other documents of the time record the same items as gifts for rulers. It’s astounding to think that this peasant boy was given gifts fit for a king.

Let’s notice two things in this story.

The first is to ask “Who are the magi?” We sing about “three kings”, but they’re not royal. Magi were philosophers and astrologers from the east. They’re not from here; they come from away. They’re strangers. This story is Matthew’s way of saying that this birth is good news for all people. Outsiders become insiders.

This is Emmanuel. God is with us—all of us. All the world. Everybody. The whole world is included within God’s embrace. This is a remarkable story of God’s abiding passion to welcome everyone, regardless of age, colour, creed, sexual orientation, or any other thing.

And these magi are outsiders in every sense of the word. Not only are they from away, they’re also astrologers who dabble in the occult. People like this were explicitly condemned in the Old Testament.

But Matthew tells us that all people are now included. Something new is going on here. God is crashing into our world with a whole new way of doing things. There are no more outsiders. None. Zero.

The second thing to notice is the star. Since they’re astrologers, their work is to discern what the stars are telling us. But have you ever tried to follow a star? You can’t.
A Michael Pelzer photo

The star is a symbol. It is Matthew’s way of talking about the light which shines in the darkness. We focus so much on the birth of the Christ Child at Christmas that we miss how much light is part of the story of Christmas.

John’s Gospel mentions it explicitly: “What has come into being in him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
In Luke’s story, the light is found in the wondrous glory of God which shone around that wonderful choir of angels.

In Matthew’s story, the light is found in the star. The magi follow the Light. Some people speculate that it might have been a comet or a supernova. Maybe—but honestly, that’s irrelevant.
The Light shines in the darkness.

I suspect that may be part of the reason we celebrate Christmas at this time of year, when the nights are longest. That’s why we use candles at Advent—the light grows week by week. That’s why we hold candles on Christmas Eve. The Light shines in the darkness.

It’s a story about following the Light.

The Light beckons us. The Light draws us in. The Light chases away the darkness. The Light warms us and melts the coldness that sometimes afflicts us. When we live in the Light, our fears are not so strong. They are less insistent. The Light bathes us in a sense of peace.

Following the Light also changes us. This kind of journey transforms us. As we rest in the Light, it enters our lives, our souls, and gently changes us.

I recently stumbled across a poem by Mary Oliver poem called Six Recognitions of the Lord. She describes lying in a meadow, watching the clouds, and letting the beauty of the scene wash over her. She ends the poem this way:

“Then I go back to town,
to my own house, my own life, which has
now become brighter and simpler, somewhere I have never been before.”

The poem describes an experience of something new in the midst of our ordinary lives. That experience changes us.

The same happened to the magi. They follow the Light, and they go home different people. They are made new, “and they go back … to their own life which has now become brighter and simpler, somewhere they have never been before.”

Matthew puts it this way: “They left for their country by another road.”

Following the Light changes us. We see new things. We engage in new ways of being. We set different priorities. We live in new ways.

On the outside, everything looks the same. Inside, it’s all new.

In another poem entitled The Summer Day, Mary Oliver reflects on the beauty of a summer day. She pays attention to the simple things, the little things, the beautiful things—a grasshopper, the grass.

She ends,
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

Finally, Walter Brueggemann offers this prayer at Epiphany:

“On Epiphany day,
we are still the people walking.
We are still people in the dark,
and the darkness looms large around us,
beset as we are by fear,
loss —
a dozen alienations that we cannot manage.

We are — we could be — people of your light.
So we pray for the light of your glorious presence
as we wait for your appearing;
we pray for the light of your wondrous grace
as we exhaust our coping capacity;
we pray for your gift of newness that
will override our weariness;
we pray that we may see and know and hear and trust
in your good rule.

That we may have energy, courage, and freedom to enact
your rule through the demands of this day.
We submit our day to you and to your rule,
with deep joy and high hope,

Follow the Light.

 Where is the light present in your life? How can you follow?

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

We submit our day to you and to your rule with deep joy and high hope.

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt js the incumbent at Christ Church Anglican, Cranbrook, British Columbia

'Living as Kingdom People' by Yme Woensdregt

By Rev. Yme Woensdregt “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We call it the Golden Rule, and I would guess that most of us th...