A pound of flesh or a pound of nard?

Updated: Jan 29

(Note: This bus stop has given up internal pictures for lent.)


We have reached the fifth Sunday on Lent; so, if you do the math – 7 X 5 = 35; add 4 (where Ash Wednesday through the following Saturday = 4), so 35 + 4 = 39. This means today we are one day away from the end of our ceremonial trek into the wilderness.


Forty days of Lent will be over then.


On Tuesday, the Lord “will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  One’s devotion and dedication … endurance and commitment … will mean the Lord is “about to do a new thing.”


Tuesday “it springs forth, do you perceive it?”


WE can be that “new thing.”  That is, we who have completed this testing in the wilderness.


WE can be “the wild animals [who] will honor [God].”


WE who have not been willing to have our faith tested are “jackals” – desert predators who reflect a state of “desolation” – and “ostriches” – flightless birds whose only means of survival is running fast and raising its little heads high enough to see what is coming … a symbolic reflection of “greediness.”


When Isaiah said that the Lord will “give water in the wilderness,” that refers to Spiritual drink – the Holy Spirit.  That is the hidden water of Zion – a “Dry Place.”


Thus sayeth the Lord, “[I] give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.”  If you are not chosen by God, it is because you choose desolation (a jackal) and greed (an ostrich) as you gods.


God chooses those who are willing to be tested … and God blesses those who pass the test.

The other day, I was telling a man waiting for the bus about my history with organized religion.  He and I had taken two different paths to get to this bus stop bench in the present, where we both waited for the bus to come.


The man told me that he had read the Holy Bible twice, but he could not tell anyone what any of it meant.


Prior to that, he had told me he joined the Navy when he was eighteen; but it was after he was married and had several children over a few years that he joined a church.  Later he was baptized in that church.


Still, joining a church, being baptized, and reading the Holy Bible twice did nothing to make the man feel changed … in any way.


While I did not ask the man any questions about his faith, I wonder now what his responses would have been, had I asked, “So, you joined the Navy.  Did you stay home while you were in the Navy; or did the Navy force you to move in with them?”


I wonder now, what he would have said, had I asked, “Did the Navy make you read any manuals?  Did they say it was okay to only read them twice, if you did not understand what the manuals meant?  Would the Navy say a lack of understanding of what their manuals stated made it okay to disobey orders … from ignorance?”


I wonder how he would have responded, if I had asked, “Did the Navy force your head underwater?  Were you not baptized with Navy water?  Do you still feel … many years later … your Navy baptism’s effect on your emotions about the Navy?”


All of that could have led to this question, “Why would you go to the bother of joining a church, if you were never willing to muster up the courage to be disciplined enough to at least “get an honorable discharge” when it is time to leave that organization?”


In my history in the Episcopalian Church (which is not much longer than my history as a bus stop preacher), I told him I had taken a more “round-about” path to religion than he.  Without using the words, I told him I had seen hypocrisy in the church I was raised in.  It was that hypocrisy that forced me to take the path I took.


I told the man how I believe now, in hindsight, it was necessary for me to take the path that I took, simply because it led me to where I am now.  I am happy where I am now, even though the road I took left a trail of tears in some places.


I told him I had not yet read the Holy Bible from cover-to-cover once, although I made a commitment to preach at a bus stop for three years.  I chose three years because that completes a full Episcopalian Lectionary cycle through the books of the Holy Bible.


I imagine that Episcopalians consider reading a few verses from one book as counting for reading the whole book.  So, soon I will possibly qualify for having read the Holy Bible once … but who’s counting?


I told the man that my mother read the Holy Bible every day, especially in her retirement … but I did not think she every really knew what anything meant.  I told the man she was just like him, in that regard.


My mother might have known what someone else said different verses meant, and she might have adopted that view as her own because she liked someone else; but I thought my mother would confuse what other people had said, if asked to recite some of the meaning of the Holy Bible.


My mother had little knowledge of the meaning of the Holy Bible that was stemmed from her intellect alone.


As far as having read the Holy Bible multiple times and not knowing what it means … my mother and this man were alike.  Many others are just like them.


This is why we face the test and challenge from God – “Show me how much you believe, based on that which you have read.”


If you want to join the Navy, then you must become one with the Navy.  The same principle applies to all things, including religion.


If you want to join Christianity, then you must become one with Christ.


Expressing one’s wishes and then doing nothing to make the wishes come true means we are like those who dream.


We must actually get up and act, entering into the wilderness where it is only us and the desert … a strange place where everything is unknown.  We must survive where only wild beasts roam.  We must depend on our patience to be our water in the dryness, and our faith to be our food of life.


I entered the wilderness back in April of 2001.  I did not want to go into that place of wild animals, but I was forced to go.  You see, I was fired from my job … the first and only time in my life I have been fired.


I screamed, I cried, I worried, and I prayed.  I complained to the government about the unfairness of my firing.  Nothing got me out of that wilderness and back into the “real world.”


Thinking about how the Israelites could wander in the wilderness for forty years, I have now been wandering for fifteen years.  I am still in the wilderness.  Just as the Israelites needed manna and water from rocks to survive that long, I have needed God to provide for me, so I can now wait at a bus stop and preach.


In my first experience in this wilderness, as my time unemployed extended to six month, then nine months, there was no company willing to hire me.  The friends I had left me.  My state unemployment compensation was not enough to pay my bills, and it ran out because of the increased number of people unemployed because of 9-1-1.


So, I ran up credit card debt.  I was all alone with the predators and scavengers who saw me as their next meal, praying for God not to let me die.


When the events of September 11th happened, it was not long after that I was led to find meaning in the quatrains of Nostradamus.  That began my testing in the wilderness.  I was tested as to how much I was willing to listen to the inner voice, and then act on what I heard.

I felt a sense of urgency to tell the world what I was seeing.  I began to organize my thoughts and write a book about the meaning of Nostradamus’ prophecies.


I thought God was rescuing me by giving me a gift the world would readily recognize as something it desperately needed to know.  Surely, millions of people would buy my book and be saved, with me back into the real world again.


By December 2001 and January 2002, as my work with Nostradamus was well underway, I received a settlement from my lawsuit against my former employer.  I used most of that money to pay off my debts, leaving just enough for two more months of job hunting.

After one year of unemployment, I found work.  Praise be to God!


My new job offered me more money than I had ever made before.  I was a traveling consultant, meaning I was constantly on the road.  My first project manager told me, “You can be a gypsy.  You will always be living off the companies we send you to.  You will always be living in hotel rooms, so you won’t need an apartment or house.  You will always be driving rented cars, so you can sell whatever vehicles you own.  You will always be using a cell phone, so you will not need a land line … or power bills … or water bills.”


“All of that,” he said, “counted as added income, but I did not have to pay taxes on it!”


That project manager seemed so seriously excited about having no place for me to call home.  As I reflect back now, he sounded like how Satan must have sounded when he told Jesus, “All the nations of the world can be yours!  If you follow my advice and serve me.”


I was not attracted to my PM’s vision of a world of wealth, like he made it appear he was.  Always being on the road wore me out.  Soon, I realized the money I made was coming from the loans that nearly defunct “mom and pop” companies were borrowing.  They put faith in a jackal company to rescue them from the wilderness.  They were grasping at straws for survival, and the only ones there were the scavengers … of which I was one.


My take made me feel dirty.  Besides that, a voice in my head was repeatedly saying, “When will you finish the book you began?”


I was doing so much writing of business papers for clients that my eyes seemed crossed at the end of each day.  Writing about the meaning of Nostradamus in my hotel room was something I always pushed aside.  Still, my feelings of guilt haunted my conscience.


Then it dawned on me.  God had answered my prayers for a new job, but God had answered those prayers with holy insights about Nostradamus first.  I had to choose my path: one that offered success in the world, at the cost of my soul; or, one that offered success within my heart, at the cost of material things.


I chose heartfelt success.  I quit the job that made me feel like I was stealing from the poor … the job that made me feel like Judas.


Let me tell you, so there is no misunderstanding.  The path I chose has meant the loss of everything I once clung to, as I lost all those things I had once equated with my self-worth.

I laughingly called my dedication to explaining Nostradamus as my “vow of poverty,” because it soon became clear that nobody (but me) cared about the meaning of The Prophecies.


It was, however, my ability to understand Nostradamus that led me to being able to understand the Holy Bible.  Since I have veered onto the path of telling everyone about the meaning found in Scripture, it has become clear that few care about that subject either.


Unlike the televangelists, those who successfully market Christianity for profit, I have found my vows of poverty are still in effect.  I do not expect to make any material profit from Nostradamus or Christianity.


As I was just beginning to take that road, I was forced to come to terms with the last remnant of the things I owned.  I had kept some things (mostly books) in a storage room that I paid rent on each month.  I had just been collected those things in the back of my pick-up truck and brought them to the ground floor storage room at my new girlfriend’s house … the woman who is now my wife.  Finally, my things (as few as they numbered) and I were rejoined.


I had placed those things in that room about a week before Hurricane Katrina came.  A tidal surge of thirty feet soaked all of those things with brackish bay water.


Everything except the clothes and things I had taken to the hurricane shelter with me was gone.  It truly was rubbish.


I laughed.  I saw the spiritual necessity of those things being forever taken away.  My slate had to be wiped clean.


Hopefully, if you paid attention to the readings today, you can see how Paul learned the same thing.  Paul had been Saul, and it was Saul who was the one that had “reason to be confident in the flesh.”  However, it was Paul who found out “the loss of all things” was no loss at all.


It was not a loss because Paul gained Christ within him, and he within Christ, as God’s answer to his prayers.


Paul chose God and God chose Paul.


I feel that I have a similar relationship with God.  I do not state that as brag, just as I do not read the epistles of Paul and see him as bragging.  Knowing Christ means having the gift of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of going to others explaining the meaning of divine writings (including those of Nostradamus and the prophets of the Holy Bible).


As such, I feel the meaning of Paul’s words deeply, when he said, “Somehow, if I may attain the resurrection from the dead … not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal … but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.”  That means more to me than anything that can come to me in this world.  I write sermons that few listen to and fewer respond to because I have the prize of a heavenly call that uplifts my heart to tell everyone – no one – or just myself – what the meaning of the Holy Bible is.


Because I feel this so deeply, and because (like Paul) I have suffered the loss of all things, I can read today’s reading from John’s Gospel and know that when Jesus said, “You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me,” Jesus was not writing a plank for a future Christian platform that says, “You must always give things to the poor.”  Instead, Jesus was referring to those people who would always be poor in Spirit.


It is too easy to be the poor economically.  It is too easy to think salvation can be gained by giving money, clothes, used bicycles and cars … etcetera, etcetera.  It is too easy to want to get control of those money purses, so one can give the appearance of doing good for the poor, while earning one’s self a ticket to heaven.


The collection of things only becomes a test of one’s faith: Can you not steal this money for yourself?  The true test asks, “What are you doing to enrich an impoverished soul?”


Money, like fancy cars, clothes, houses, and priestly robes, is only a material thing that equates to rubbish.  It represents the loss of the Holy Spirit, in return for thirty pieces of silver.


Why do you think Judas threw back the silver coins?  Why do you think the Sanhedrin gathered up that blood money and used it to purchase a plot of land in which to bury the poor from foreign lands?  Why do you think Judas hung himself?


The answer is because worldly things do no enrich your soul.  Bringing God into your heart, gaining the Mind of Christ, and losing all that was the old you, so your body can become the new place that Jesus Christ resides … that is what makes one find the true value of life on earth.


It is as David sang in Psalm 126.


“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream.”


You have to listen to Jesus saying to all who would be like Judas … “Wake up!  Stop dreaming you are Christian, when you do nothing to become Christ!”


David sang, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev.”  Turn our barren state of being into a flood zone for the Holy Spirit.


Let God wash away your illusions of worth.


There will always be human beings born to die and repeat that cycle of mortality that never finds resurrection to life eternal.  The world was made to be the place where the poor will always be you, because you are poor in Spirit, born thinking things are how you tell that God is with you.  Unless you awaken and admit (like Judas would), “I sinned betraying innocent blood,” you will always be poor because “you do not always have” a mind  and commitment like Jesus had.


Judas acted Christian for worldly gain, turning his back on the true value that was the meaning of Jesus.


Do not be a casual member of a church as Lent ends and the march to Golgotha nears.  Enter the wilderness where one who has never tried to understand the Holy Bible is tested to find joy in words and pages of that “Dry Place”.  Walk into your own personal wilderness with only that holy set of books and a prayer to have understanding come to you.


Then, you will see why you must place your head at the feet of Jesus and show you faith as love of God.  Then you will know why Saul transformed into Paul, going out to tell the meaning you too have found, so others, whose souls are still poor, can be rich

“Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering the sheaves.”


Amen

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