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Sunday, 9 December 2012


Advent meansa time of expectant waiting and preparation” and is mainly to do with the Christian calendar in respect of the four Sundays leading up to the Birth of Jesus Celebrated on Christmas Day. Our Hymns today are all those associated with this time of the year. But in many ways they are all mixed with an older pagan festival of the Winter Solstice, this is the day that the Sun starts to come back towards the northern hemisphere and the days start to lengthen again. In Ancient pre Christian times this was celebrated as when the sun child is reborn, an image of the return of all new life born through the love of the Gods. Adapted and made Christian years ago.

In another faith the Jewish people celebrate Chanukah, known as the festival of lights, partly based on a miracle where a light was needed to burn constantly in the 2 nd Temple in Jerusalem, but there was only enough oil left for one day, but mysteriously it burned for 8 days. This was claimed to be a miracle and one of the now basis for the festival of Lights.

Did any of these events actually take place is a question many will have asked over time. The insecure will often hold on to a belief in the validity of a belief system to the point of losing the point of the event being recorded. Perhaps just how we would view a child of 16 who still believed in Santa coming down the chimney so some people will forget the story or tradition is not the main point. The main point is that there is an underlying message to any belief. In the case of Advent in the Christian belief it is that a story tells God is not just distant on a cloud, not just confined to ancient times BCE in giving laws and ways to live. Instead it brings God with us, or Emanuel as is sung in traditional Christmas Advent hymns. Seen in the gift of a child in a manger, seen in the life of the child that grew to manhood. That miracles can still be done in many ways, that knowing something of the so called eternal life is possible for all who will follow such teachings as that child grew up to give.

Did any of these things actually take place is secondary to the point that is that humanity has at various times found a way to express things in feasts and festivals around the world. The problem is the festival often takes over from the message it once stood for.

As I was thinking about this it seemed to me that Advent should be a time of spiritual preparation, a time about starting to think of the outworking of a belief. Regardless of what we might believe, the message is one of making yourself ready, on your journey of life to be reflective of one major thing.

Maybe once there were a people who needed to be led and delivered from Egypt and from slavery. For generations a group of people has believed they were delivered from the tyranny of slavery and given a way to live in a land where they could be free. This is the Jewish story..

Maybe once there was a child born who was to grow and reflect in his teaching and his life a message about the true nature of God.  This is the Christian story..

Maybe ancient beliefs and ways of celebrating that new life starts with the return of the sun to the northern hemisphere, helped people to live a life in tune with the earth religion of paganism.

These are just three belief systems, there are more and they do things a little differently. But in any way of doing religion there is a time to prepare and to link it to a season is not such a bad thing.
Maybe, if I'm lucky, a flash of awareness that I can rededicate the holy places in my own life as the Temple was rededicated of old. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat says of Chanukah to her today.

Howard Thurman was a black minister and a great scholar in America, and it is to his words I turn to conclude our thoughts on preparations for Christmas.

"Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes, / And the heart consumes itself, if it would live, / Where little children age before their time, / And life wears down the edges of the mind, / Where the old man sits with mind grown cold, / While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death, / Where fear companions each day's life, / And Perfect Love seems long delayed. / Christmas is waiting to be born; / In you, in me, in all humankind."

In our preparations for seasonal festivities remember the love you reflect is waiting to be born for all humanity and in all humanity. In our lives we can use the season of advent to rededicate our lives anew to all that is holy to be constantly re- born in us on our journey of life..
Let it be so..

Friday, 2 November 2012


FOR THOSE UNABLE TO BE WITH US THIS IS THE BASIS OF THE FUNERAL SERVICE FOR MALCOLM MARTINDALE.

Order of Service.
Conducted by The Rev Andie Camper Minister of Westgate Unitarian Chapel Lewes
Introit

Welcoming words and introduction

Welcome! “I light a candle, see its flame burns brightly, may its light remind us of the light that we have shared with Malcolm in life as we meet today”!

We meet today with sorrow in our hearts, We meet also in thankfulness. We come with grief because one we love is no more among us. We come also in gratitude,in praise, in tribute to the life of Malcolm Martindale.
We come in sorrow, confronting the fact that life ends, the only certainty to follow birth and a journey of life is that at some point a life will end here on earth.
In Malcolms journey of life and love he touched our hearts in so many individual ways that we gather today to collectively say good bye to his life and love among us.
The love of a human heart is the most beautiful and real of all that we can know in life. It is the richest of gifts that we have to love and to be loved, and when someone has lived their love continues, for we all carry that love on our respective journeys, it is a very part of all human life to live and to love.
Whoever Malcolm was to you, brother,  friend, or neighbor his love brings us here today as his family. Malcolm considered us all his family and loved us all.
Let us give thanks and pay tribute to him in this time together...Let it be so...

We stand to sing a hymn, one that reflects the theme of Gods purpose in Nature something Malcolm believed in. Something that he also worked tirelessly to show ..a melody of love..

Hymn
God speaks to us in bird and song,
In winds that drift the clouds along,
Above the din and toil of wrong,
A melody of love.

God speaks to us in far and near,
In peace of home and friends most dear,
From the dim past and present clear,
A melody of love.

God speaks to us in darkest night,
By quiet ways through mornings bright,
When shadows fall with evening light,
A melody of love.

O Voice divine, speak Thou to me,
Beyond the earth, beyond the sea,
First let me hear, then sing to Thee,
A melody of love.

An open time for tributes to Malcolm.

A led Meditation followed by a period of Silence

Let us join in a time of meditative thoughts and prayers, let us first reflect on what people have said.
Concentrate on the light still burning reflecting the light that Malcolm brought to us all and to many others in his life.

Those who were cheered by his personality, his unique way of greeting when we met, give thanks for those times. Treasure them, the memories will continue in our lives enriched.

Think also of those who he worked often tirelessly to help, Like the victims of torture he spent much of his life trying to raise funds for. His enthusiasm encourages us to do more for others.

Malcolm tried his best to reflect his belief in compassion for humanity, his belief was found in a Universal need for humanity to show love and compassion. Here he found what some may term God, witnessed in the beauty of the world and the very best of humanity reflecting that beauty. He so often said God Bless, and yes whatever God is we were blessed in Malcolm.

Looking deep within ourselves and in the company of others here, let us allow ourselves to find the strength we need to move on treasuring what we have each gained from our journey of life and the encounters we have had, with Malcolm.

Hold onto the memories, do not try to forget them but let them become treasured items, in your minds eye pick them up and hold them in silence... they are your gift from Malcolm.


Choir, Swing Low Sweet Chariot...

“The road not taken” by Robert Frost read by Eileen Weild

Short Address

Malcie, as he was affectionately known by his family, or Mad Malcolm as he sometimes liked to be known as by his friends is going to be missed. Especially by my postman and probably your postman and in fact postmen around the world, they will heave a sigh of relief to not have to try and decipher his addresses. I know Rottingdean sorting office will be less profitable now letters addressed to me without a stamp do not need paying for. I suspect a lot of post offices will not be able to charge now.
In turn many of us will miss Malcolm s correspondence that took as much working out as the times crossword puzzle.
Malcie or Mad Malcolm is irreplaceable but that does not mean we did not love him.
Clive his brother was 4yrs older than Malcolm and as a child remembers his brother being very different to himself, a country lad who was often scrumping apples and knocking on peoples doors and running away, along with tree climbing and the countless other things most country lads did like helping with the harvest and later going to things like Rock and Roll clubs..None of this involved Malcie who was not allowed to go along with his big brother. Clive's most treasured memory of Malcie was seeing him return from hospital in a taxi and saying to his mother, “bless his little head”, something that was remembered by the family, his mother and his sister Marlene. Malcie as a child was of a more studious nature, he was also plainly not good with his hands so unlike Clive did not help his father who was a carpenter and joiner. Malcie was very different to Clive his older brother who left home at 15, not returning until much later in life and then getting to know Malcie as an adult not a child. As a child Malcie was I believe in a church choir, and he loved to hear choirs, often going to Chichester Cathedral later in life to hear the boys choir. He especially loved Welsh choirs, and enjoyed choral music most of all.
As an adult Clive and his sister along with all his family were very fond of Malcie, who had grown up to be a very independent character. Whenever Clive met him Malcie always started conversations with a joke or two, something most of us will recall. Malcie or mad Malcolm had an acute sense of humor known I suspect to us all. Clive and his sister Marlene much enjoyed his company, and were fond of his unique personality. Clive remembers giving Malcie advise on matters and Malcie saying, “yes I WILL do that Clive” then not doing it. Others family members remember Malcie saying in no uncertain terms their advice was not needed and saying to them “Ill do what I WANT to do”.
I suspect most of us can identify with the family on their memories of our Mad Malcolm, although to Malcolm his friends were as equally his family.
Malcolm was known to us all his family and his heart towards each one of us was generous and he loved to give, often beyond his means and you could not out give Malcolm. I gave him a 3 piece suite a year or so ago. I said I don't want anything for it just glad to give it to you, but Malcolm insisted on giving me money. One or two charities benefited when his cheques did not bounce..”Bless his little head “ might fit with that as well.
Charities as we know were Malcolm's life, he was forever raising money for things something he believed in doing and devoted much of his life to. His compassion and love for humanity brought out the very best in his unique personality. His charities were in particular “The medical foundation for victims of torture”now known as “Freedom from Torture”. But he also supported countless others including the Samaritans, Amnesty and I have to say in the list Westgate Unitarian Chapel Lewes that we shared a longing to see keep going. Mad Malcolm had parties, on his birthday for charity, he held afternoon teas in his garden with his former partner Wallace, and continued to invite people to things all for charity. He often had a stall selling bric a brack and collected on church entrances for his charities. He organized street collections as well, sold Christmas cards all for charity.
Those of us who knew and loved him saw past his exterior that was not always very tidy, we knew him and respected him although others mistook him. Once in his haphazard way of collecting he emptied one of his charity tins into his pocket and seen by someone who did not know him the police were called. There was no dishonesty here, just our “Mad Malcolm” and fortunately enough people who knew him were around to vouch for him.
Malcolm had a way of doing things and thinking about things that was unique and equally lovable.
He was a very lovable guy, he is going to be missed at Westgate and Ralph and Esther are sad to not be here today as are other members of our congregation. We will always remember his being with us, his habit of bringing us fairtrade bananas and giving them to people after the service! Also his willingness to support our partner congregation in the Philippians in their work to help the many poor children go to school, for which we raised funds last Christmas.
A lot of people are going to miss Malcie, his brother sister and all the other members of his natural family.. He often as I have mentioned said God bless, and we were indeed blessed in his life.

We were all family to Malcolm and he was someone we all loved and our next hymn was one of Malcolms favourites, with its welsh tune, something he loved. But more importantly its sentiment which sums up his life’s best pattern he tried so hard to bear witness to.
Words of good bye to Malcolm..
Will people please stand!
We would fashion from our grief and sadness a song of praise to the goodness of life, that our love for Malcolm may be witnessed, renewed and strengthened in our love for others..

Hymn
For the healing of the nations,
Lord, we pray with one accord:
For a just and equal sharing
of the things that earth affords.
To a life of love in action
Help us rise and pledge our word.
Help us rise and pledge our word.

Lead us ever into freedom,
from despair your world release,
that, redeemed from war and hatred,
all may come and go in peace.
Show us how through care and goodness
fear will die and hope increase.
Fear will die and hope increase.

All that kills abundant living,
let it from the earth depart:
Pride of status, race or schooling,
dogmas keeping us apart.
May our common quest for justice
Be our brief life's hallowed art,
Be our brief life's hallowed art.

Closing words.

SO may we be part of the worlds light and not its darkness, its faith and not its fear, its love and not its hate, so we may know in new and deeper ways that we are members of one another.
Let the horizon of our minds include the great family here on earth with us; those who have gone before and left us the heritage of their memory shaped by their work; and those whose lives will be shaped by what we do or leave undone!
Amen.. 

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sunday 14th October 2012


Reading Ecclesiastes
1For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
The God-Given Task
9What gain has the worker from his toil? 10I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
14I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been  pursued .

Sermon…

I suspect each one of us has as a child been asked what we want to do when we grow up? As children we find our imagination fueled by stories of many types and as we grow our lives end up often with some sort of objective shaped by childhood but also things we encounter in childhood. This last week I returned to a place I grew up on the East Coast,  a small town called West Mersea. It was here I realized my dream of learning to sail, and this had been shaped by none other than Arthur Ransom in his books about children, most known being swallows and amazons. Here children go to camp on an island in the Lake District, and do so in a sailing dinghy. Ironically as I looked in a second hand shop there in Mersea High street: in a great pile were most of Arthur Ransom’s books. I had read them all at one time or another. It reminded me of so much in the past, an old lady I used to sit next to once asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said I wanted to go to sea, and she said “oh don’t do that I would be worried for you.”

Perhaps as an adult my thoughts are often in line with the poem by John Masefield
Sea Fever..

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

This year I got sea fever and this time it was a severe dose of it, that fever is still is with me. It hit me very hard on the day I came to fly back to the UK. It was also then I knew I had to have more of as John Masefield puts it “the vagrant gypsy life”.

Later in life I discovered my work was not to be as a sailor, but felt called instead to a life of ministry. I think my biggest disappointment was not being able to combine the two loves of my life. I often think I would have loved to be a Royal Navy Chaplain but sadly the RN was not open to non-conformists or to gay clergy come to that.

What I discovered however was owning my own boat was for me a spiritually refreshing way of coping with life in ministry.  Often when drained spiritually I have found my spiritual batteries recharged by my sea fever.

The difficulty has been knowing when to go to sea and when to stay ashore! For many years I have had a dream of sailing the Mediterranean in my own boat and being a sea gypsy. When I first came along to Westgate some five years ago now, I said I would help out for a year and now 5 years on I am still here although a lot has happened and many changes have taken place here since then. In those years I have had what might be termed a love affair with Westgate. My first reaction on coming here was it would be such a shame to see it lost as a place of worship. That thought has been with me ever since I arrived and is still with me. Westgate as a Unitarian Chapel has a lot to offer people in this town.  I have at all times been trying to get this message out to people, but the message has not exactly got through as well as I would have liked. But it has had some impact, and sometimes that impact takes a while to show results.

While away this summer I had a lot of time to dwell on things at Westgate, and to consider if I should renew my yearly covenant to continue. After agreeing to one year each year has come along and I have said I will continue. In some ways I was looking for some way of knowing what to do this year. As we traveled the rivers and canals of France we met some interesting people, one of which was a lady called Sue. We met Sue because we could not get the tap to open on the quayside where we ended up moored for the night. It was very hot, we were out of water and desperately needed a shower to freshen up. Sue is an Australian Lady who keeps her big Dutch Barge on that part of the canal bank, so I asked to borrow her key to the tap.  It was one of those unplanned but seemingly intended meetings you can have with someone who you hit it off with immediately. She asked me to make a good case for borrowing her key to the water tap, and laughed as I pretended I was going to make her sniff my arm pits! We hit it off instantly and later that evening found us all sharing a meal together and quite a few beers,(Australian Ladies only drink cold beer) in her Gazebo next to the canal quay. Sue was actually an immensely spiritual lady, her love of art keeps her flying to France for the summer to live on her barge and paint in France. In our winter she paints in Australia.
It was Sue in passing told me in that rather blatant manner Ozzies can say things, that I had moved on from Westgate now. I was actually quite annoyed when she said it, thinking who are you to know? I did not at the time however say anything.

As we continued on our journey I was aware of feeling I was being tested and yet at times also being acutely aware we were being looked after.  Like the day our dear little dog Tilly had a heart attack. She had been enjoying the trip although we knew time was limited and she was on heart pills for the last month or so; but she showed signs of being happy and content. My last photo of her is looking over the side of the boat in happiness. Those who know me will know my father Leonard passed away a few years ago now, and my friend Isabella passed away earlier this year. Having been lying in the sun Tilly had gone below for a drink and at that moment a big barge passed us going the other way. It was flying a skull and crossbones and the name of the barge was Isabella. It was at that moment Tilly had her fatal but quick heart attack and died. We were both very upset and yet it was like a message to me that Tilly had gone to be with Ella as she was known. As we continued along the river looking for a quiet place to stop, it was eventually at a small jetty where we tied up and set about working out what to do.   Here we met an American living in France who showed us great kindness helping us to deal with Tillys body and interpreted for us helping us to have her collected by a vet. France is a country with lots of rules and regulations and had not that American been there we would have struggled with obtaining the death certificate and so on. Someone fluent in French and English was so important at that time. A dog death In France is treated like a human death and Chris was so helpful allowing us to use his address,  they would not after her cremation send the ashes of Tilly out of France. Our only other option would be to have stayed at the jetty until Tilly was returned, however it was August and France closes for August. So he kindly allowed her to be sent to his home and then sent her on to our home for us. It was after all this that I discovered the Jetty was right next to an 11th century Chapel. The Chapel of St Leonard, yet another thing that seemed to indicate to me, Tilly had Ella and my Father throwing tennis balls for her now in heaven. 

In other matters as well, we found ourselves looked after, when our engine failed it did so where we could get spares rather than in a remote place where we would have been stuck. Some people call these things coincidences but for me they are all a part of feeling there is a higher force at work, in my life I am so blessed with this. I could give countless examples but what I want to say to you here at Westgate is a message that comes from all this. If it is meant to be it will be. The old lady who said she would worry about me being at sea, missed this vital factor. In our film nights we once watched a film here about a Catholic Priest, in the film he is forced to move on from his post. He spoke of following his light into the future as he said goodbye to this parish congregation.

My last day in France as we prepared to leave our Yacht and come home, sea fever came upon me and it was then I knew Sue had been right. I also realized if I gave up this chance to follow my dream and covenanted to stay at Westgate another year I would not do any good now. There is a song whose lyrics go “I left my heart in san Francisco” and I knew when I flew home I had left my heart behind. It is time for me to move on from Westgate trusting in my leading light that bids me set a new course.

It is not that I do not believe Westgate has a future, but that ultimately that is not up to me. It is up to you and that higher power to keep the doors open and keep the place open as a spiritual home for those who come along. If it is meant to be it will be, is the message I bring to you as I start to stand down from what I have been doing here over the last years. I have done my best for Westgate and it is on a different footing from the one we started with. It could with a new leader grow from the foundations again. In our reading this morning I looked at versions of the words and discovered in the Hebrew a difference tense to the last verse which I adapted our reading to state..
 God seeks what has been  pursued
Here at Westgate we may or may not believe in God, we may have many different models of what a god is or is not.  I myself do not agree with a traditional theistic model of god, but I do feel there is something and in the traditional religions we can often glimpse what they are getting at.. For myself I have felt since being at Westgate that my work has been to bring a message that is about reinvigorating the congregation here and those last few words..I believe are in line with my vision here and for me, as I move on at the end of this year I feel God seeks what has been pursued by my ministry at Westgate.
I hope you feel this as well…
I hope you will do what you can to keep the doors open here as a place of worship free from dogma, free from creed but full of love one for another..
Let it be so…

Sunday, 17 June 2012

LDPA address 16th June 2012 Westgate


Westgate Chapel as a religious movement claims its roots stem mainly from the 1662 acts of Uniformity marking the then disorganized dissent from the Church of England. It is true that many of our Unitarian and Free Christian congregations were founded in this period, but they were not grounded on a non-Trinitarian view until much later. Informal links between different protesting congregations of dissent from the Church of England were often due to disagreements over scriptural interpretations. It was the scriptures in the form of the slightly later King James Bible that became the basis of government of congregations.
In Europe different schools of thought were also centered on the biblical interpretation to different levels depending on where and what the main new denomination was. This was always the reason for dissent in the non-conforming congregations often evolving later into denominations. In England in particular many schools of Biblical interpretation gave rise to increasingly different expressions of dissent. All in one way or another claimed to have got it right and opposed the Church of England’s 39 articles of faith and its common book of prayer with selective readings of scripture that became a seasonal expression of the so called Christian calendar.
Onto this foundation of dissent was the growth of denominations that by and large had a perspective that made them distinctive from each other only as time evolved. Perhaps a slight exception to this were Annabaptists mainly on the continent who early on emphasized just the need for believers baptism, but even then splits occur as they developed into more regulated congregations.

Finding Unitarianism was like finding the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of where I could find a home spiritually. I love this little old chapel and its great heritage and feel it needs to be nurtured and reinterpreted for today without losing its sacred nature, it needs to be a place open to all those who are respectful of the spirituality of themselves and others.  I for one wish it to never be a place where some are more accepted than others who are liberal in spiritual practice of any specific way of doing a religion. Its strength is diversity not procedures and it will only grow from what might be termed grass roots.

As a tradition with its roots in the Christian tradition and the theology of those former congregations such as Baptists and Presbyterians of yesteryear, I as a relative newbie find some things I miss about those who went on to become perhaps more Calvinist and more and more literally Bible based. 
In some ways dispensing with the Bible as a final guide to authority in one or another way has led to a lack of the practice seen in examples in the biblical epistles giving guidance to one another from the learned and practical applications of what is believed the right way to govern. The many instructional letters attributed to the apostle Paul; or though most likely just written in his style; seem at first glance to be largely ignored in the practices of the Unitarians since 1928. But our stained glass window at Westgate for example identifies the heraldic signs of the Gospels and St Peter in his keys to the kingdom along with the Sword of the word of St Paul. This was installed around about the time the General Assembly came into being. It does not however perhaps reflect directly modern Unitarianism, its centrality is Jesus the shepherd.

Historically many from Westgate were very influential in the establishment of congregations who perhaps were not as liberal, but were still supported in love and fellowship, such as the small Countess of Huntingdon Chapel 1780 not that far from here, still in existence today. Crossover between denominations was often a case of tolerance with support rather than intolerance and disconnection as seems to have followed in many locations since.  Ministers also crossed over without hindrances of Qualification from the other denominations on a theological basis of dissent. Many of the predecessors of Westgate came from Anglican, Baptist and other denominations be they catholic or Free Church or reformed.

Three hundred and fifty years later here we their dissenting descendants enjoy the heritage they handed on. Like an Olympic torch handed from one to another their light still shines here in Lewes. Sometimes that vital flame nearly went out and at times the next runner was not evident as one looked to the horizon tired of continuing to run with a torch, heavier and heavier as time progressed.
But with hope a newer runner came into view at just the right time to keep it journeying onwards in time.

Dissent here has over many years been responsible for much in the way of social action, look into our library and the voices of dissent litter its bookshelves and have done since 1711 built onto the back of this sanctuary on stilts a place for study. Thomas Paine was influenced by the contents, as were others in Lewes able for the first time to borrow from the library here long before a public library replaced it in Lewes.  My predecessors were learned men responsible for change in understanding. People like Smith who is quoted by Darwin who wrote about pond algae, going on to be professor of natural history at Cork University. Horsfield who wrote the only complete history of Sussex in our library, still used today it being the only complete history written.

Dissent here resulted in education for children whose families were not able to pay for it before education was the right of every child born in this country. It was also good quality education and some children gained entrance on the basis of their studies here at the dissenting Sunday School. It followed in a line of people linked here to Education such as an early minister Comfort Star whose father was much to do with the starting Harvard in the USA.

Look in the county records office and dissent here provided small grants to the poor for food or shoes, such was the once role of the dissenting ministers work in Lewes. His records still in evidence.

Dissent here gave weight to justice and fairness with dissenting members being sheriff of Lewes. Several members of Westgate held this office,

Dissent here much more recently also gave fair trade a place to be sold and encouraged the town to buy fairly when the commercial outlets did not want to know. That dissent spoke of one-world not rich bits and others used at disadvantage for cheap labor.

Dissent here also in recent times has been keen to support those wishing to mark their rites of passage at a reasonable charge according to individual circumstances in some cases for no charge, believing love should not have a set price to be recognized or celebrated by only the wealthy.

Is it a conviction to help others that drives this torch onwards as history proceeds its way? Looking at the distinguished part of our social action history here at Westgate Chapel did people past and present come here just to do what they could for their fellow members of the human race? No but it was an aspect of their faiths and beliefs that gave rise to it. The word that perhaps sums up much of what we are looking at is compassion, and it has to be said that it is not just other humans that have benefited from our dissent here, but also other issues have made us think and act in a One World ethos of compassion and concern. Such an ethos has seen links with other local Churches and good will with support of initiatives run here over the many years.

But dissent is not driven by compassion and good works alone, it is driven by far more than that, it is also driven past the point of mere humanities recognition of need. It is driven by another thing and that is to be a community who work at grass roots to do what can be done. But why does dissent promote community and a one-world vision, why does it work to do what it can in its little bit of the world.

I think it is because in dissent here humanity looks for hope; it looks for hope because so many certainties have gone in past generations. It looks to try and understand the hopes of those who went before us and to continue this wonderful legacy of a conviction of not hope for ourselves, but hope for the world in which we exist.

The centrality of Jesus in our stained glass window here shows his image as a shepherd caring for his sheep that is the beacon of hope those of us here seek to also reflect. It was never put there for us to worship Jesus as the Son of God; it was there to emphasis his life’s example here on earth. It was never put there to say Jesus is the only spiritual guru to follow, but it was there to say this congregation sees his life as a role model.

Unitarians in this country were so often looking to see the Jesus in one another, following that role model who is reported to have said so much about giving hope to those needing hope in their generation. Hope that was the same hope we have today inspiring us to do acts of loving kindness, because we believe In that torch of hope being passed on. In many ways looking at Lewes there is far less hopelessness for people today than in past generations of people living here. Lewes is a fairly affluent place and social need is low but much of that is because this beacon of hope did its work in past years. It has been hugely effective in this place and affected the lives of all who live here now.

It is in many ways the hidden gem in the crown of Lewes historically and it still is, because our way of doing dissent is still here and still going. We punch a weight in Lewes area far beyond our size. We are a congregation supporting issues surrounding those excluded from other places of worship over human sexuality or because they seek to express their own spirituality in rites of passage. Needing a place where there is no dogma and where there is a loving acceptance of others, not a place saying you must comply.

Dissent here is evidenced in our congregation working with others who are a part of the One world center like Amnesty and Lewes Group in Support of Refugees and Asylum Seekers who are a part of our community, although not a direct part of our congregation. Working with the Oyster Project a self-help organization for people with disabilities in Lewes. Being a place that seeks to support their organization in any ways it can, but also by coming alongside and seeking solidarity with other faiths and humanity not superiority. 

Small as we may be here numerically we are still here, our doors open to those who find us and seek to be in fellowship. Dissent allows a freedom here that we cherish, but we are like an ancient olive tree, we do not bear fruit where we did before, instead a new branch is needed, sometimes grafted in to produce fruit. But our ancient roots will only support branches that are a strain of olive tree not a different variety of tree.

Implicit in this congregation is a dissenting liberal Christian way of doing things, that is our roots and that is what we stand for, and the torch of hope we sustain and carry onwards is one of hope that others will find here a place to feel at home regardless of their background and loving the way we are and who we are and reflecting that sacredness for today’s generation as I hope we do here for many years yet still to come.
Our roots sustain us and we see fruit on our branches, and we welcome those who like us find a spiritual home and a way of doing things here that is a comfort and a feeling of belonging.  In fellowship with other congregations we seek to find in their ways of being dissenters a place where we also belong in an association of those who are seeking to be places carrying a similar torch of hope in a world where there is still need for hope.

That larger fellowship is a vital link to small congregations like ourselves, empowering us and encouraging us forward, carrying our torch from generation to generation as it has been passed to us. At those times when a replacement runner is not evident on the horizon it is then we need the fellowship of others to encourage us to continue. Such is the vital role of the LDPA to small weak congregations like ourselves!  Thank you for coming here today and encouraging us to keep going. Encouraging us to keep carrying the torch of hope that has sustained generations before.

Amen…

Sunday, 10 June 2012

On the subject of Faith!


Reading   Hebrews 11 verses 1 to 10

Where do we all fit in?

In life we often need to discover faith in something to carry us forward on our journey. We need to have confidence that someone or something is there that others have discovered and tapped into, some thing that is enlightening to our lives.
I wonder if you have seen the rather silly advert with a donkey following a carrot on a stick on television lately? It depicts a rather old shriveled up little carrot much prized by the donkey until a mole makes a comment implying that it is rather dried up and just an old carrot. The donkey then loses faith in its value. He finally sees it as just a dried up shriveled old carrot. Eats the carrot and becomes depressed.
I wonder what this advert tells us about faith? For some of us the faith we follow might be a shriveled up old thing that is no longer providing sustenance? Perhaps we like the donkey have forgotten the point of the carrot in the first place. We equally may have even like the donkey seems to have done gone off solo without an owner and so no longer have a provider of fresh carrots?
We need to examine, when did a carrot become something to follow? In the great scheme of evolution at some point donkeys discovered it seems a love of carrots. Then along came humans who discovered that dangling a lush carrot on a string in front of a donkey all day got the donkey to follow and do things. This it seems dates back to the 1700s. But the donkey in the hay day (ops bad pun) got its carrot replaced because it got to eat it at the end of the day and a new one was on a string the next day to follow.  The donkey had faith in the carrot as a reward for endeavor. 
Faith is like that carrot; we discovered a love of having faith in our evolution of life, humanity found it sustained. Refreshed daily it enabled humanity to work and to achieve great things. But like the donkey in the advert some times humanity starts to just follow and not to consume its carrot. Keeping the drying up little carrot as a trophy rather than as sustenance for daily energy.
Now before we go on I want to ask does it have to be a carrot? How about a parsnip? Or an Onion? Well actually I discovered donkeys as a whole dislike parsnips and onions are unadvisable. The ideal treat is apparently the Carrot closely followed by apples, bananas, pears, turnips and swedes are all safe and usually popular with donkeys!
So it is not surprising that the carrot donkey story Is well known being based upon proven fact not fiction. It is not the main feed of a donkey, but a supplement to its diet that gives revitalization.  The best treat for a donkey is a carrot, and other than perhaps a banana is the easiest to simply tie on a string.

Is our faith like the carrot on a string? If we accept the analogy we need to ask where are we getting our supply of carrots from or are we holding onto a dried up shriveled trophy rather than having a refreshed carrot. Maybe we have no carrots and are being enticed to keep going with a banana or another vegetable or fruit perhaps not a native one to our location. You see the analogy I am trying to picture is one built up of a culture and experience in our native land of England. Now were I addressing a country where bananas were plentiful the analogy might not work. But there is something about the humble carrot story in our culture and climate that allows the story to make sense.
We do not particularly know where carrots originated but we know they are certainly cultivated here, we know they have different strains or varieties. We know they grow in our climate and are a plentiful source of food good for not just donkeys but humans and other creatures all can derive nutrition and indeed life is itself sustained by them.

A recent tweet from Bank St Unitarians states.. We are called "Unitarian" because of our historical insistence on divine unity, the oneness of God. This is our carrot!!
This is our historical incentive, which we have been following and others have come to accept as the strain of food that will encourage and sustain us. Our carrot has been farmed and grown for centuries and may be considered a derivative of other strains of carrot but it has never been a banana. It has never been an apple. It is intrinsically different to a parsnip although it shares many similarities it is a different colour and consistency. The question we need to ask ourselves is not should we change our ancient traditional treat of a daily carrot, but how to get fresh carrots to sustain and encourage us in our journeys of life.

Now I don’t want to insult anyone, but for myself I have no problem with identifying as a donkey. I can be stubborn; I will doggedly keep going when others stop. It is even rumored I carry a cross on my back. I enjoy a good carrot or two as well. Some rather rude people might say I have big ears as well; I shall leave that for you to consider. I am also not exactly built for speed either. OK stop laughing enough of comparisons.. There are some pretty noble things about associating myself with a donkey. Of all the equine species from Shetland pony’s to zebras and so on, perhaps there is much to be said by associating the Historical strain of Unitarians whose insistence is on divine unity and the oneness of God, with Donkeys.

We are not a plentiful breed here; but we still exist. Historically we have diminished in numbers and perhaps others consider us less noble than bigger cousins like horses. We are less easily led than some animals and ways of getting a donkey to work are harder because of our stubborn nature! Had we not had a stubborn nature our congregations would have closed long ago. Our carrot has kept us going and yet in some ways we have been tempted to include bananas and apples and so on as substitutes when our carrot supply ran short. But our carrot is our ideal treat and reinstated we would soon enjoy what works best for us again.

In terms of our Object as Unitarians “To promote a free and inquiring religion through the worship of God and the celebration of life; the service of humanity and respect for all creation and the upholding of the liberal Christian tradition. 

The bit I see as the carrot is the last six words of our Object.

“Upholding of the liberal Christian tradition” is to my mind where my carrot analogy fits best. In Unitarian circles recently it has almost become unfashionable to feed on the tradition of a liberal Christianity.  There are those who no longer want us to look to our past evolved theology, our carrot and want us to have a different perspective. They see us having a shriveled up old trophy of no real value such as depicted in the advert. The reason for this is simply that they do not see the carrot as the best incentive. Perhaps they have not been carried on by it on a string slightly out of reach and perhaps we have stopped renewing the carrot? Perhaps they are used to a banana or another faith perspective.

What sustains us is not just what I see as the carrot. “To promote a free and inquiring religion through the worship of God and the celebration of life; the service of humanity and respect for all-“ for we do not live by carrot alone. It is as I say the best treat for a donkey. It may well be that we are not all donkeys as I seem to find most that sustains my interest and perseverance in fresh insights of old traditions. Maybe In a now mixed stable I am the donkey who has the carrot in sight, while other companions are only looking at apples or have developed a liking for parsnips or are busy eating hay. 

But upholding of the liberal Christian tradition is where I find my faith encouraged. You know our predecessors in the Unitarian past found the carrot their means of faith as well. Perhaps we have been to ready to remove the need for theology at depth from Unitarian study, for it is here that I find fresh carrots to keep me going. I see in our old meetinghouses and chapels a theology is there in the very structures.  We are the privileged inheritors of generations of those who sought to be liberal in their evaluations of scriptures they cherished. They took a pride in doing theology rather than blatantly using scripture at face value.  It coloured their outlook on life, it nourished their souls and drove them on to the service and betterment of all humanity. I for one am still feeding on that carrot. For that is the basis of the faith that sustains me!

How we view our tradition is rather like the donkey advert I mentioned, there are those who just see a shriveled up old carrot. There are those who have stopped looking for a fresh carrot and wandered away from upholding a liberal Christian tradition in a deeper sense, they have stopped being refreshed by that sense of excitement at being connected to our historical past. A past that is a proven sustenance of faith to keep us going!

What ever we might see God as, and that includes those who are atheist. What ever language we may use, It is in the oneness that we find unity. It is in seeing that which previous generations termed the divine that something; beyond our humanity is identified. It is an assurance found In our generation that others followed this path of life with faith. Their treat and ours is that carrot called faith. A faith that speaks to us today from the past legacy provided and one that can be stored up to be passed on, one that we can also pass on to other generations yet to come.

It is a unique factor of Unitarians that we value many expressions of faith, and that is quite right. While for me my carrot is that upholding of the liberal Christian tradition, I can see how others whose life experience is not to follow a carrot can find paths of ways to spirituality without my carrot. But my carrot is important to me and going back to the advert to lose faith in shall we say carrot farming and grow other crops will not be my ideal. I believe my job is to make others see in my carrot that which I value for it sustains my journey of life. Teaching a liberal Christian tradition is what I do best. Implicit within much of our Unitarian ways of doing things is that upholding of the liberal Christian tradition. I see it like a carrot as the ideal and it spurs me on. The question I want to leave you with is do you see value in my carrot?  
It is my faith, it is wonder it is connection with past generations who for generations were spurred on by it. In my innermost self I feel comforted by upholding a liberal Christian Tradition. In this country those are our roots and should we sever them then we will lose our continuity and the wealth of nutrition that has sustained Unitarians for generations.
Amen..

Saturday, 2 June 2012

13th May Readings and Sermon



Reading from Christopher Sande thoughts on Jewish Festivals of today..
Lag B’Omer (30th day of counting the Omer) May 10
This minor but very joyful festival has grown over the last few decades, under the influence of the Hassidic and Sephardi populations in Israel, into quite a big occasion. The day primarily marks the anniversary of the death of the first century Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who is credited with a revelation that brought to the Jewish people much of the mystical tradition which eventually ended up in the book: The Zohar, and in the birth of Kabbalah. Indeed it is commonly believed in Orthodox circles that the Zohar was revealed to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and written down by him.
Within Israel there are pilgrimages to the grave of the Rabbi, in the Galilean town of Meron and all over the world bonfires are lit to symbolise the light that his teachings brought into the world. The period of counting the Omer between Passover and Lag B’Omer has become quite sombre, in commemoration of a period in which thousands of the disciples of the first/second century Rabbi Akiva died, and Lag B’Omer is the date, which tradition holds as marking the end of that tragic period, thereby adding to the festivity of the day.
This festival dates from after the life and death of Jesus.

Story time..

About two and a half centuries ago, there lived in Kosov a wealthy textile merchant named Reb Moshe. He lived in the best section of the city, in a luxurious mansion on a huge estate, on which grassy lawns, lush gardens, and orchards of fruit trees all flourished. Basically a simple person, his innate humility seemed to remain unaffected even as his wealth grew from year to year. But then, one day, an unusual idea entered his mind and took hold of his heart. Moshe had become possessed by the desire to experience a revelation of Elijah the Prophet.
Not that he was under the illusion that because of his wealth he was entitled, at present, to see Elijah. He knew better than that. So to become "worthy" of attaining his objective, he undertook a series of fasts and other forms of deprivations and self-afflictions, hoping that would enable him to fulfill his wish.
But to no avail.
He started to keep company with the chasidim and the other strictly religious people in the community, emulating their ways. He hoped that their superior spiritual attainments would rub off on him and his resultant elevation would allow him to attain his goal.
That also didn't work.
Your task is to perform acts of kindness and charity….
Unsure what to try next, he decided to consult the local tzadik, Rabbi Boruch of Kosov. TheRebbe listened intently, but, to Moshe's dismay, then said, "Reb Moshe, why are you trying to pursue such lofty matters? Your task is to perform acts of kindness and charity - that's what your soul requires for its rectification." Moshe left the Rebbe's room, frustrated. He still felt sure that he knew what he really needed.
From that day on, Moshe the merchant's behavior changed radically. He abandoned his business for hours at a time in order to be in the BeitMidrash. He no longer paid much attention to his personal appearance or the upkeep of his estate, abandoning almost completely the aristocratic lifestyle he had adapted over the years.
After some time, he went to visit the tzadik again. Eyes downcast, the dark shadow of depression on his face, it was clear he was deeply troubled. His desire to see the prophet left him no peace. As he told the rebbe of his frustrations, he involuntarily emitted a deep sigh.
The rebbe repeated his advice that the proper path for Moshe was that of kindness and good deeds. This time, however, he seemed to accept Moshe's sincerity, and advised him to greatly increase his distribution oftzedaka. Then, after a pause, the Rebbe added mysteriously, "If a poor man should approach you and request even a thousand gold pieces, don't refrain from granting his request."
A pathetic-looking, poverty-stricken man had knocked on the door of the house, begging for help….
Moshe, once again, felt belittled by the Rebbe's reply. Nevertheless, he decided to adhere closely to his counsel. Any poor person that crossed Moshe's path was immediately endowed with a generous contribution, without any delay to check the recipient's worthiness. For several years, Moshe conducted himself in this manner, but still there was no revelation of Elijah. His frustration gave him no rest.
One day, while he was busy at work with a number of different customers, a messenger arrived from his house telling him that a pathetic-looking, poverty-stricken man had knocked on the door of the house, begging for help. The pauper, however, had refused to accept the food that a servant had brought. Instead, the pauper had insisted that he be invited into the dining hall so he could sit and eat there. Reb Moshe's wife wasn't sure how to handle the situation, so she had sent to ask her husband's advice.
At first Moshe was outraged by the needy man's chutzpah. But then, remembering the Rebbe's counsel, he instructed the messenger simply to tell his wife that he would come home as soon as he could, and that in the meantime she should fulfill the stranger's unusual request and invite him in. When he arrived about an hour later, he found his wife pacing near the entrance, exasperated, impatiently awaiting him. As soon as she saw him she burst out bitterly, "Not even sitting in our dining hall satisfies this beggar; he demanded to take a nap in our bedroom!"
…How about a little donation?
Moshe dashed upstairs to the master bedroom. He could barely believe the sight that greeted him: a disheveled crude-looking person, wearing what seemed to be more rags and patches than actual clothing, sprawled across his bed, with the stains and remains of his meal spread all over himself - on the hitherto fresh linens. As Moshe stood there with bulging eyes and mouth opened wide, the "guest" looked up at him and drawled, "Nu? So how about a little donation? A modest, insignificant sum - only a measly thousand gold pieces."
Moshe wasn't sure whether to erupt in anger or burst into laughter. He was so taken aback, he felt powerless to move or speak; he could only stand there in stunned silence.
"If you won't give me right now one thousand cash, I won't leave!" announced the strange beggar defiantly.
Moshe calmed down a bit from his initial shock. Deciding to ignore the insult to his honor, he simply offered the man a lesser sum. "Fifty...a hundred...one hundred fifty...." Eventually he offered him 200 gulden - hardly a small sum.
It was as if the man on his bed had sealed his ears. He kept arrogantly asserting he would take 1000 gulden and not a penny less. Moshe finally lost all patience with this rude boor and signaled his servants to remove the impudent pest from his presence. But the target was much too quick. Before they could lay a hand on him, he climbed out of the window and disappeared.
Elijah…appears to people according to the root of their souls and the level of their deeds….
All this occurred just a few hours before Lag b'Omer. That night all the chasidim gathered at the tzadik's table in honor of the occasion. Moshe was among them. Rebbe Boruch spoke about the divine revelations that are manifest on this special day, but that not everyone merits to recognize them. Moshe decided that this must certainly be an auspicious moment to mention his burning request. The Rebbe's response shocked him like an icy hand squeezing his heart: "But didn't you already meet a poor person who requested from you one thousand gold pieces?"
Moshe quickly told the tzadik about the impudent beggar who had so crudely pushed his way into his house earlier in the day.
"Ach. What a pity!" the Rebbe sighed softly. "You saw Elijah the Prophet but didn't recognize him."
"That vagrant was Elijah the Prophet?!!" Moshe screamed in dismay.
"Yes," explained the Rebbe. "He appears to people according to the root of their souls and the level of their deeds."
Moshe was truly broken-hearted. He and his wife decided to move to the Holy Land. They settled in the holy city of Safed, where a change came over him almost immediately. He no longer sought greatness or extraordinary revelations. He served G-d simply and whole-heartedly.
Before Lag b'Omer he would go to Meron and devote himself to serving the myriads of attendees that crowded in to the tomb area around the clock. He rubbed shoulders with the masses of simple Jews that came to honor Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, taking pleasure from their company and helping to take care of their needs.
Several years later, in Meron on Lag b'Omer, as Moshe was hurrying to and fro to help serve the many guests, he suddenly saw in front of him a face that was burned into his memory: it was the "beggar" who had appeared at his house so many years ago!
Moshe froze in his tracks. He stared in amazement at the person in his path. This time the eyes that looked back at him were no longer outraged and challenging; they were bright and shiny in the midst of a smiling face....



Reading from John Chapter 21 veses 1 to 14

“Old wisdom clad in raiment new fresh insight found in ancient lore”


At first glance we may not see the mystic influences on the Gospel writers or on the experiences given of the early disciples. Some may wish to take at face value the stories of the Gospels. In our reading today of Johns Gospel and in particular this last chapter we have an account that is steeped with a mystical revelation of seeing Jesus set after his death. But hang on there are many similarities with this final passage set in a different place in the accounts of other Gospel writers. In particular this passage chapter 21 we had read was added later to the Gospel of John and so we must ask why?  Look at the final verse of Chapter 20 and it is a concluding verse. I quote.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that believing you may have life in his name.”

A pretty concluding verse wouldn’t you say?

So why does this chapter get added here? A question that has puzzled many a scholar? Clearly this is set nowhere near Jerusalem and is a much later resurrection experience on the face of it, the disciples had returned to fishing as a way of life. Obviously it is set at Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  So why add it?

I think to understand this needs us to consider the mystic beliefs of the time.
Interestingly there are parallels between what becomes mainline belief and the mystic tradition celebrated by Jewish Festivals today and the beliefs that are evident in the Gospels.

Interestingly the Jews go on to celebrate in the festival Christopher wrote of a Rabbi who lived in the region of Galilee. His teachings became adopted by the Jewish community and had been discussed and debated in the synagogues and his followers after his death had their belief in his mystic teaching adopted into Judaism.

Those who have been following this series will see the similarity, the Gospels were written to show the teachings about the Rabbi Jesus from Galilee in the expectation that his “followers of the way” would be accepted as followers of a teaching to be added to the Jewish understanding of things. Except they were not and ended up expelled from Judaism and instead Christianity was the result. 

Johns Gospel in particular is probably written post the exclusion of the followers of the way from the synagogues of mainstay Judaism. It is then less a liturgy to include Jesus as a part of Judaism and more a declaration to say this Jesus is bigger than Judaism.  Jesus is also the way of seeing the mystical nature of God for everyone Jews Greeks and Gentiles.

So when we look at this passage we see not just a Jewish influence but also a more mystical influence.  That’s not to say some of this influenced Judaism as well. Perhaps strongest is the concept adopted into Judaism in the book of Zohar of the doctrine of the soul. Now I got really bogged down trying to find an example of what all this means in simple terms. I did not want you all falling asleep as I expounded on the Judaic doctrine of the soul and compared this teaching to Plato and the teachings of Philio then written about by CH Dodd in his long and very academic book about the mysticism in the Johanine writings. I can see some of you nodding off already..

In a nutshell.. as concise as I can get without you all switching off.. here goes the basics.

The soul not the body is reincarnated. In Judaism in particular this is evidenced in the visions of Elijah. Got the significance of our Jewish story. The mystical teaching of Judaism is the expectations of the reincarnation of the prophets. In particular Elijah appears.

In Greek mysticism the soul is able to recognize the divine but the body is not able to cope with it hence in life the glimpse of enlightenment is all that is available. Still awake??????
Lets start by asking if you have ever had a mystic experience? In writings that are about the mysticism we are looking at, but a Greek view of the divine we have this definition for the soul. “Beholding the beauty of the good”. When the soul beholds this it rises to be with the Gods. Without getting to deeply into the complexities of Ancient Greek philosophy God is always light, but humans are both body and soul and so can only see glimpses of light not the fullness, for to see the fullness is the souls life after leaving the body behind.
Now think about our story of the man seeking to see Elijah we had from the mystic traditions of Judaism and I am sure you will see similarities. He longs to see Elijah and when he allows his soul to rule his life and shows charity and compassion he is eventually so blessed in seeing Elijah. He sees this vision of bright and shiny eyes and a realization of “beholding the beauty of the good” is his.
So what is it we have in our Reading from the Gospel of John? Well it is a bit longer reach but essentially it asks is this the bodily resurrection of Jesus or a soul reincarnation of Jesus. The account says they dared not ask who he was, so he obviously did not look the same but they had an expectation of their prophet being reincarnated. Is this what this passage added is about; long after the two other resurrection experiences we have this third one.
Now the other thing to accompany a meeting with a reincarnated prophet is often a form of mystical miracle. Put your nets the other side, and they mysteriously fill to overflowing with fish and do not break. Did these followers of the way suddenly “behold the beauty of the good”? Is this what made them realize they saw the light shall we say? “They knew it was the Lord” says the account. But clearly he looked different in his bodily form.
What can we find in these ancient writings is accounts that point to ancient lore, the mysticism is clearly evident to me in the Gospel accounts in particular this passage of John. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
More important is the question I asked of you, hopefully before you fell asleep as I went on. That question was have you had a mystic experience?  Simply put this asks have you had a time when “beholding the beauty of the good” has affected your life. I think we can all affirm this in one way or another. We may have all had a Elijah moment not literally but perhaps some have, but in terms of the fact that mysticism is about a recognizing of that which is good. It can be when you hold a newborn baby; it can be when you see the beauty of the world in springtime as new life is reincarnated. It can be when you recognize in someone else the love that speaks to you of the divine nature evidencing it self.
In our Gospel reading we have this story of a mystical meeting with Jesus after his death. How we can find our Elijah is to be the best that we can be, to know our place on earth. To do for others what we are best equipped to do as we heard of the merchant in our Jewish story whose comfort was found not in some ritualistic way but by being there to give to others of his wealth.
As we look at the Gospels we cannot take them at face value easily, but we can try to understand the worldview of the time of their writing. Our point in doing so is to find fresh insight that helps us to live our lives with respect for the divine. In simple terms we can behold the beauty of the good, it raises our spirits to see more than the mundane in life. It gives us hope and it strengthens us if we let it. 
The last added Chapter of the Gospel is also about Jesus reportedly telling his disciples to follow him. I still consider following the teachings of the Man they called Jesus of Nazareth are a good way to “behold the beauty of the good”.
Let it be so.