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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.


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.

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 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.