Benediction Online

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter is the Gift that Goes on Giving

This week I bumped into a friend at the gym. She told me with excitement that she has finally found a spiritual path that meets her needs. With its focus on meditation instead of rules it allows her to be fully who she is – without all the guilt that she grew up with in the Church. I am thrilled for her that she has found a path that allows her to be truly herself. But at the same time I am saddened, because she has not heard the gospel of Jesus. She has heard a false gospel; one which says that she is guilty, again and again.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that we are NOT guilty as charged – rather, we are deeply loved by God and invited into a new relationship with the divine.

Now I want to be clear. There is a place for guilt. When you hurt someone else, or when you offend against society it is appropriate to feel guilty.   None of us is perfect and when we fall short of our full potential we need to make amends to those we have hurt. But we don’t have to live with an existential sense of guilt. Because God loves us and God is just waiting to welcome us into her arms.

That is the essential message of Easter. Even though we – not you and me personally – but we, humanity, rejected and turned our backs on Christ, doing the worst we know how to do – killing him with a painful death – he came back. Jesus came back to the very people who hadn’t been able to stay awake with him, the very people who had denied that they knew him, and he forgave them. Even as it was happening, Jesus forgave those who were crucifying him. He didn’t want them to live with guilt – he wanted them to be forgiven – to be free to live their lives as they were created to. Because guilt keeps us tied to the past and saps our energy as much as resentment and anger.

God is longing for humanity to be reconciled with God and to live in harmony with her and with each other. When Jesus rose from the dead he showed that the sin matrix has no basic power. The worst that humanity could do to God has already been done. There is nothing worse that we can do. And Christ forgave those who did it.

So too we can be forgiven, we can be set free from our deepest darkest fears, we can be set free from all those things that plague us, because they have no power when confronted by the risen Christ. All the things that separate us from God have been vanquished. They still seem real to us but they have been emptied of power. The only power they have is the power we continue to give them.

Miracles happen. But often healing takes time. Mary standing in the garden in her grief did not recognize Jesus. Often we are unable to recognize the Spirit of God moving in our lives and our hearts and minds because we are numbed by grief or guilt or anger and resentment. But she is there. Even in the darkest times when, like Mary, everything we have hoped for seems to have died. Even then God is standing next to us, calling our name.

And like Mary, when we hear that voice, however quiet it seems, we respond, “Teacher” we respond with joy and amazement that God is speaking to us. And every time we answer “Yes teacher, yes” and move toward God, God moves toward us. God is speaking to us and God wants us to flourish – God wants us to be fully fulfilled humans – God wants us to have abundant life and to be able to be the people we were created to be.

This abundant life is not something to be hoarded. When the Hebrews were wandering in the desert eating manna, if anyone took more than they needed it rapidly became foul and inedible, full of maggots. The life that God gives us is to be shared. “Do not hold on to me” Jesus says but go and tell my brothers that you have seen me. Abundant life is given to us so that it may be poured out in service to God, to each other and to the whole of Creation.

The amazing thing about this abundant life is that the more we share it, the more there is! Easter is God’s gift that goes on giving and giving and giving – not chocolates or bunnies but the one thing we all long for, whether we know it or not, the one thing that feeds our souls - peace and reconciliation with God.

It seems that my gym friend has found this through her meditation practice and fellowship. It doesn’t matter what path we take to God, and how many times we turn back or think it’s the wrong path and decide to go cross-country… When we ask for God’s Spirit to work in our lives and when we dedicate ourselves to being where God would have us be, doing what God would have us do, and saying what God would have us say, then the abundant life which is growing inside us wells up and overflows and we cannot help but run and tell our sisters and brothers, our acquaintances in the gym and our friends on Facebook, "I have seen the Lord".

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Remembering our Salvation History

We have just heard the broad sweep of our salvation history. There are other readings we might have included but the small sample we have just heard told us that God made the earth and all living beings, and that God was pleased with the result. God created us in his own image so we too are creative and intelligent and powerful. What went wrong is not spelled out for us but we know the way the story goes – we were given free-will and we chose not to nurture our relationship with God but to use our abilities to increase our own powers. This rapidly led to a violent society and soon God was minded just to end the whole experiment.

But she couldn’t help mentioning this to Noah and even though he lived somewhere not very different from the middle of Arizona, he went ahead and built a houseboat. This houseboat sheltered people and animals when the great flood came and in the final analysis God wasn’t able to wipe out this wondrous creation but gave humanity another chance and even promised never to set out to destroy things again.

Fast forward to Abraham who is called by God to leave the city of Ur in Mesopotamia and travel to Canaan. Once there he wants to start a family and leave a heritage but it seems that his wife Sarah is barren so he fathers a son by a servant woman but then God amazes him by promising him a son who will enable him to have as many descendants as the stars. Isaac is born, the son of Abraham and Sarah’s old age. But then Abraham becomes convinced that he must sacrifice Isaac and takes him off on a journey intending to do so. But God steps in and stops the child sacrifice – providing instead a ram to be killed.

This is the first time that we see God providing the sheep for the sacrifice – we’ll meet it again in the language around Jesus. Here the sudden appearance of the ram suggests that this new God whom Abraham and his family were discovering was doing things differently and abolishing local practices of human sacrifice.

A couple of generations later,  Abraham’s descendents, now the sons of Jacob, find themselves going to Egypt to get food where they are welcomed by the brother they sold into slavery. This is a similar story to that of Jesus – a man betrayed by those close to him who finds a new life and then forgives and welcomes his betrayers. I am not suggesting that this is intended to be a story about Jesus, but rather that we can see definite themes that develop about how God relates to humans and what kind of behavior is rewarded.

Unfortunately, it’s not long before these foreigners become unwelcome in Egypt and they are taken into slavery. You will remember the story about the burning bush and how the God who they learn to call Yahweh calls Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. So that’s where our second reading comes in – they successfully make it out of Egypt after the plagues and pass through the Red or Reed Sea. And we have a quick glimpse of one of the women who was a religious leader – Miriam leads the dancing and singing of victory.

The metaphor of passing through water recurs as a symbol of our release from bondage and entry into the promised land – of course we see it in human birth where the waters breaking signify that the time has come to leave the womb for the new life of the outside world – but we also see the Israelites after their forty years wandering passing through the waters of the Jordan. This has come into our own imagery as the waters of baptism through which we pass as a sign that we are enrolled in the reign of God and are members of Christ’s body.

The Exodus is the formative event in Jewish religious history. There is no objective evidence that it happened like the Bible says it did, but it is one of the strongest pictures of how God works with his people – hearing their prayers, leading them out of bondage and into safety, in fact into abundance. Of course it wasn’t just a straight line from deliverance to abundance. As I have already mentioned the Hebrews got to wander around the desert near Sinai for forty years – or at least a very long time - during which they developed laws and organization and turned from being a motley crew into a recognizable people. I don’t need to remind you that Jesus also had a period of spiritual formation in the desert for forty days as we have been remembering during Lent, but you may not know that the apostle Paul also went into the desert for three years before he began his ministry.

So the Hebrews made it into the Promised Land. Things didn’t go so well for them in the long-term and despite judges and then kings who led them against their enemies, and prophets who called them back to God, reminding them that they were expected to live to a high moral standard as well as keep the ritual laws and customs – despite all this Judah and Israel were overcome by powerful enemies and the people dispersed, some into exile
in Babylon. But they never forgot the covenant made by God to his beloved David the king, that he would never forsake David’s descendants – that come what may he was their God and they were his people.

It was probably in Babylon that the reading we heard from Isaiah was written. Now God is not limited to a column of fire by night and smoke by day, nor is she limited to dwelling in a temple, but God is available to everyone not just the Israelites. At the end of the reading we have a reminder of the Creation story - God creates through her word – “my word that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.”

And then our final reading was that great vision of Ezekiel where the valley of dry dead bones comes to life – the breath or spirit of God is breathed upon them and they are given resurrection life. And that final promise, “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

Jesus was a Jew and his ministry and teaching has to be understood in that context, so tonight, on this most holy of nights we remember that these stories are also our stories. Jesus was the fulfillment of this history – he is the next installment – the one who makes it possible for the dry bones to be reborn, the one who accomplishes the purpose of the Creator.

And what is the purpose of the Creator?

That humanity will once again walk with God in the garden in the cool of the evening. But this time it will be because we want to, not because it’s the only reality we know. God longs to draw us, and with us the whole of creation back into right relationship with the Trinity. And that right relationship is a dance of praise and joy and thanksgiving.

But there is a way to go before that is the true reality for all of creation, and we are called to be the ones who work to fulfill God’s purpose. We are the ones who are called to accept God’s spirit and to put flesh on the bones of the reign of God. We are the ones who are called to be the church and as the church to live out the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord, the head of the church and the author of our salvation.

And our baptism is the sign that we have accepted that calling, that we have stepped up to the plate and are ready and willing to keep the story going, to continue to create, again and again to leave bondage behind and pass through the waters into Christ’s new life, to accept the sacrifice that in an astonishing twist God offers to us, to seek the Lord and his amazingly unconditional love so that we may be reborn and with us the whole of Creation may be raised again to new life.

That is why we are here tonight.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Reclaiming the Cross of Love

Later in our Good Friday service we will be taking some time together to meditate on the cross. Over the years the cross has become the symbol of our faith. But as we have been learning recently it was not such an important symbol in the art of the first centuries of Christianity. To many of us this comes as something of a relief, because it isn’t something we feel totally comfortable with. When we see big public crosses be the side of the highway, we associate them with those other Christians, the ones who give us a bad name!

But today we are brought face to face with the stark reality of the cross and the fact that we can’t get away from Jesus’ painful and shameful death for us. Jesus died for us. If it were not for humanity’s inability to find its way back to God then Jesus would not have lived a life and preached a message so at odds with the ruling forces of the world that they had to kill him, publicly and shamefully in order to make a spectacle – in order to discourage others from following his path.

Jesus did not need to die. He didn’t need to die to appease an angry God. He could have chosen not to. In Martin Scorcese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the book of the same name, Jesus apparently gives in to the temptation to come down from the cross and to get married and live a “normal” life. That’s not what Jesus chose to do, but as the Son of God he could have summoned angels to help him, he could simply have walked away and disappeared. Yet Jesus goes on and follows his life’s work to its inevitable conclusion; he is killed.

How is it a death for us – how is it that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, for our salvation? This is probably one of the questions which will keep us wondering all our lives. I don’t have a fully articulated answer, but it is clear that Jesus came to deal with the sin matrix which grows through human society, rather like a weed that grows underground and pops up again and again and becomes impossible to eradicate. It is clear that each one of us is trapped in that matrix so we are inevitably oppressing others almost before we get out of bed in the morning, and we are inevitably harming our planet just be coming to church. And it is clear that each one of us is violent in our thoughts if not in our actions.

Jesus came to help us see an alternative way. If Jesus had taught and healed but then chickened out at the last moment, he would have been giving in to the sin matrix which rules by fear and by violence. He didn’t do that and so he lived out his true calling – as the Scriptures say – he was obedient even unto death. And so God raised him from the dead. His mission was completed and having lived a life of non-violence he died without repaying violence with violence. Why? Because of love.

The cross has become the greatest symbol of love: God’s love for us. Yet we have turned it into a symbol of guilt. We say that it was our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross. We teach our children that it is our bad thoughts that nailed him to the cross. We are bad, bad, bad. And because we are bad, Jesus died. We killed him.

That is just bad theology used to keep people in fear, when the cross is actually a symbol of the opposite – a symbol of God’s incredible love that s/he allowed Godself to experience mortality, to experience the limitations and difficulties of being human. In Jesus’ resurrection, God showed that the way of non-violence is powerful and that our strength is not in guns and weapons or in clever use of angry language and hate speech; rather it is in trust in God’s love for us.

So when we look at the cross; when we see the pain and suffering, the broken bones and the blood, let us allow ourselves to feel the agony and in doing so have empathy with all those who experience agony today, but beyond that, let us be grateful – grateful for the incredible love that made Jesus go through with his mission. And let us reclaim the cross – not as a symbol of guilt but as a symbol of love.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Kingdom is not for Wimps

Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 22:14-23:56

This is a day of such contrasts. The fun and excitement of the Palms Procession – remembering Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem and then slam! into the Passion Gospel with hardly time to take a breath.

I wonder how Jesus felt as he rode into Jerusalem? I can only imagine it was a bittersweet moment. The excitement of the crowd, the acknowledgment of his lordship undermined by the knowledge that most of the people still didn’t understand. They still didn’t understand what he had been trying to say all along. They still expected a Messiah who would rid them of occupation and restore peace to the land; they still saw redemption as an Israel free of oppression with each family having their own fig tree and vineyard. They thought Jesus was that person.

But they were wrong.

The gospel that Jesus preached was difficult to hear because it challenged the dominant paradigm of the day – it challenged the very way people thought. And it still does today.

They thought of a leader as someone who was great and powerful. There is no doubt that Jesus was great, but he was hardly powerful in human terms. He was a huge contradiction. He rode into Jerusalem not on the stallion like a powerful Messiah but on a humble colt.

And when his disciples start to argue about who will be the greatest – the most powerful among them, Jesus tells them once again that in the new kingdom, the leader is the one who serves. He himself had come not as a lord who is waited on by others but as a servant who attends to others needs.

Let’s look again at that reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.

This wonderful poetry is in a letter where Paul is talking about the way that Christians should relate to each other. Not competing, not fighting but letting go of power and prestige just as Christ Jesus let go of the power, prestige and glory that goes with being God in order to become human.

This is quite contrary to our cultural norms where we are encouraged to promote ourselves. I recently saw a video about managing your personal brand on social media – in other words, thinking about the image you are putting out and making sure that you are being seen by others on the internet in the way you want to be seen. That’s probably good advice, but it was presented as though the individual were a product, a commodity to be presented, advertised, branded in a particular way in order to achieve personal promotion and advancement.

That is the last thing Jesus was concerned about. He did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. He did not present himself as a powerful messiah figure but as who he was a – a teacher and healer who through his teachings and his life pointed out the way to live as co-creators with God.

I don’t think his statement that the one who has no sword should sell his cloak and buy one should be taken literally – this is not an argument for us to buy firearms – but an expression of the seriousness of the moment. He was facing the greatest challenge of his life. Perhaps even he was not sure in that moment whether he had the courage to go through with it without lashing out and attempting to defend himself.

Yet it would be a mistake to see Jesus as a passive person who allowed whatever happened to happen. He was not allowing himself to be abused. He was not a push-over.

The amazing thing he did through his death and resurrection was to show that non-violent resistance is powerful. Jesus did not fight back yet he was victorious. When he was raised from the dead, God showed us that the way of the kingdom is not a wimpy path of failure and defeat.

Living a life of service, holding firm to our faith in the God who brings resurrection and forgiving those who let us down or betray us. This is the way of the kingdom. Sometimes we get to shout Hosanna! Sometimes we are filled with praise and joy and everything seems to be working beautifully. Those are times to savor, but they are not the substance of our life here.

The kingdom of God is staying loving, faithful and open in service to God and your community even when you’re tired and aching, even when people let you down, even when friends suddenly turn on you. The kingdom of God is following Jesus to our last breath. The kingdom of God is haring his cup and eating his bread.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bodies:Our bodies, Christ's body

Judas and Mary. Two different approaches, two different world views. Yet both of them were close friends of Jesus.

Mary brings an extravagance of love and passion. In an action which is a forerunner of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet, she anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. The whole house filled with the perfume of her gift. But Judas looks on with scorn and asks why such an expensive ointment was wasted when it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Three hundred denarii was about one year’s wages for an agricultural worker, which would be about $15,000 at current minimum wage.

This was not a small gift.

By now, Jesus’ friends must have known that his death was approaching. After he raised Lazarus from the dead, the Jewish authorities became very afraid that his activities would turn the Roman authorities against them. Jesus had become a threat to national security and must be assassinated. As his close friends gathered for dinner six days before the Passover it must have been a bitter sweet occasion. Here was Lazarus, so recently returned from the dead, and here too was Jesus, about to be taken from them.

It times of stress and loss, families tend to argue. And it’s often about money and possessions. It seems that the family gathered around Jesus was no different. The scripture doesn’t offer us a problem solving model – a guide for how to make decisions in times of stress. Instead it offers a contrast between Mary’s passionate love for Jesus and her impulsive decision to use the perfume she has bought for his burial right now, today while he is still here, with Judas’ apparent desire to get his hands on the money. The author is very clear that Judas’ motives are less than pure. Judas sees the situation as an apparently enlightened but possible crooked accountant. Mary sees it as a woman deeply in love.

Jesus’ body was very important to Mary, and in a different way, it is very important to us today. Our bodies are important because they make us who we are. We are not just spiritual beings in a physical form – there is an interaction between spirit and body which helps to create the people we are becoming, just as the people we are becoming help to create our bodies. As humans, we use our bodies to communicate, to create, to serve and to love. They provide the way we connect and communicate even as they keep us apparently separate from one another.

It was no different for Jesus. As a human he connected with his friends through his body. He saw them with his eyes, spoke to them with his mouth, heard them with his ears, touched them with his skin, and used his muscles to serve them. Mary loved Jesus and she loved him as a fully embodied person. She loved his body.
In the knowledge that somehow his life would be foreshortened, Mary had spent a small fortune on precious nard for Jesus’ burial. Nard was a key component of the temple incense and is referred to in the erotic Old Testament poem, the Song of Songs –
A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
   a garden locked, a fountain sealed. 
Your channel is an orchard of pomegranates
   with all choicest fruits,
   henna with nard, 
nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
   with all trees of frankincense,
myrrh and aloes,
   with all chief spices— 
a garden fountain, a well of living water,
   and flowing streams from Lebanon. 
Awake, O north wind,
   and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden
   that its fragrance may be wafted abroad.
Let my beloved come to his garden,
   and eat its choicest fruits. 
Mary had bought nard with its overtures both of erotic love and temple incense in order to have it ready for Jesus’ burial, but she can’t wait. Perhaps with the premonition that something will prevent her using it for his burial, she pours it onto his feet and daringly wipes it with her hair. They are both covered with perfume and the house reeks with the scent of her recklessness.

In her impetuous love, Mary is pointing to something that will only become clear later. The religion of the day was focused on the temple where sacrifices were made and nard was burned on the incense altar, but the New Covenant would be centered on Jesus’ body and sealed in the blood of Jesus’ crucifixion. As time went by, in remembrance of his death and resurrection, his people would symbolically eat his body and in doing so would be transformed into him, specifically, into his Body.

Jesus’ body is not the totality of who he is any more than my body is the totality of who I am. We do not get to touch his body but we get to touch him, yes even to eat him, in the symbolic feast of the Eucharist. And we get to touch him in the bodies of others. Jesus said “Whatever you do for the least of one of my brethren you do for me” (Matt 25:40). Whenever we care for another we are caring for Christ. Whether it’s offering hospitality, giving a simple hug, making love, caring for a child or nursing someone who is sick or frail, we are touching Christ.

Often we think about spirituality as something abstract; contacting a beautiful inner energy; reveling in a sunset or experiencing a sense of peace. But that is only half the picture, perhaps less than half the picture. Spirituality is about bodies. It’s about how we live in them, how we cherish them, how we bear with their shortcomings. A spirituality which ignores the body is of little use in a world full of bodies.

Our cross does not have an image of Jesus’ body hanging on it because our focus is on the empty cross, the image of Jesus’ triumph, the image of resurrection and new life. But the danger of the empty cross is that we conveniently forget the agony that Jesus went through. We forget that resurrection did not come easily but after sweat, tears and as much pain as a body can bear. We forget that our salvation was wrought by a man in a body writhing in agony.

Let our empty cross not tempt us to turn away from pain and pretend it is not real, or only temporary. Let us not let the empty cross tempt us into thinking that spirituality is a mainly a good feeling that hopefully lasts all week.

True spirituality is embodied. It is expressed through our bodies and the way we care for them and for the bodies of others. Sometimes that means living simply and frugally so that you can share what you have with the poor, and God knows, enough of us humans are poor, - and sometimes it means pouring all that you have in a lavish gift of passionate love to the Christ you find in another.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Burning with God

Exodus 3:1-15Psalm 63:1-81 Corinthians 10:1-13

There are times when we feel proud to be members of St. Benedict’s. There are times when we feel proud to Episcopalians or at least NOT some other church, when we see the problems the Catholics are having or hear about preachers who mask hatred as piety. Because this is what works pretty well for us in our search for God, we tend to think that it’s superior to other Christian paths – even if they work really well for someone else.

It’s easy to become complacent – to think that because we’re members of this thriving spiritual community we are somehow better, or need to focus less on discerning God’s call than our neighbors. Both the Gospel and the New Testament lesson point to the dangers of complacency. Don’t imagine, say Paul and Jesus, that because you are a disciple of Christ, or an Episcopalian, or a member of St Benedict’s that you can sit back and think that you’re ok. Or as my father would have said, “Don’t be cocky.”

Buildings fall down and kill people every day. It could be you.

The Protestant Reformation brought an important corrective to Christian thought. It emphasized the gift of God in Jesus – that we can do nothing to earn God’s love or to be reconciled to God. God is the one who offers us the gift of life – we are only the ones who say please and thank you. One distortion which can grow from that insight is to say that since God is forgiving and there is nothing I can do to ensure my salvation, I don’t have to be overly concerned about what I do.

Wrong! Jesus tells his followers to repent lest they too perish. Of course we are all mortal so “perishing” doesn’t just refer to physical death. In Jesus’ terms, to live or die without a deep connection to Spirit is to perish.

Which brings us to that wonderful first reading where Moses sees the burning bush; “the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 

We too are standing on holy ground, because this is a place where people meet with God. But so is your car, your shower, Farmer’s Market, the back bay. Wherever God reveals herself is holy ground, and God reveals herself to us in innumerable ways as long as we have eyes to see her.

When Moses saw the burning bush, he turned aside. He paid attention and went to look at it. When he realized that this was a manifestation of the Great High God, Yahweh, I AM WHO I AM, he hid his face because he was afraid to look on God. He understood the solemnity and awe of the moment. Most of us can think of one or two or maybe more awesome moments when we have realized that we are in God’s presence in some especially intense way and we have felt that awe. But so often we domesticate God, making the great I AM little more than a household god to whom we pay our respects but who makes no real difference to our lives.

Yet it is the central encounter with the divine, our own burning bush, which can provide the energy and the drive to push us forward to greater and greater acts of love and compassion and liberation.

Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 

Thus began Moses call to set his people free – in an experience of the holy.

Holiness is sometimes interpreted as a set of rules. Don’t get drunk. Don’t tell lies. Don’t cheat or steal. Don’t have sex outside marriage. Don’t talk to people who do these things. Keep yourself holy and separate – never eat seafood. Don’t celebrate birthdays. Make sure your women are suitably covered… endless religious and ethical rules. If you do all these things and stay holy then buildings won’t fall on you and you will prosper. But we know from Job that bad, even awful, incomprehensible things do happen to good people.

Greek philosophers pondered the virtuous life – was it, they wondered, a life lived according to an ethical system that made a person virtuous, or was a virtuous life one lived by a virtuous person?

I think that Jesus’ teaching is very clear – a holy life is one lived by a holy person. A holy person is one who has glimpsed God in the burning bush – or who has at least glimpsed the bush – and has turned aside.  To repent is to make a complete change in direction – to turn away from small ego desires and towards the holiness of God.

It isn’t something you do just once in your life. Repentance is a daily, even a moment by moment task. Whatever we are doing we can do it as an act of worship. That is the heart of holiness. Every time we do or think something which is not compassionate, gentle, and worshipful, we create an opportunity to repent.

Because we are called to live in imitation of Christ, in fact more than that, we are called to live filled with the Christ-life and the Christ-light. So every action, every thought is to be consecrated to God, just as every aspect of Jesus’ life was consecrated to God. This is not easy. It is not, we might say, for sissies. But it is life lived to the highest. It is life more abundant.

The Belgian mystic Ruysbroeck describes this life as “ministering to the world without in love and mercy, while inwardly abiding in simplicity, in stillness and in utter peace.”

Of course we fall short. Even Moses didn’t live a holy life every moment every day. But it is the striving towards holiness - the ability to get up, repent and carry on -  that leads up deeper into the mystery of the burning bush. Deeper into the life of the God who burns in us yet never completely consumes us, the God who is the I AM of the universe.
Tragedy happens. Buildings collapse, sinkholes open up. People commit atrocious acts of brutality and hatred on one another. We all die. Living a holy life does not let you off or protect you from the horrors of living on this planet anymore than it prevents you enjoying the beauty and the riches.

But living a holy life means that you will not perish, because you will become one with the God who manifests in the burning bush. You will become one with the God who burns and burns and yet the bush is not destroyed.

As the desert father Abba Jospeh said, “Why not become entirely fire?”

It starts today.