March 28, 2008


John's statement of intent is the final word we hear in the Gospel for Sunday. "...these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name."

What does it mean to have "life in Jesus' name"? My old understanding would have been that in Jesus I am an heir to eternal life. I get to go to heaven when I die. Now-a-days, I don't feel content with that. It seems to me that there is something in the fact that Jesus was dead for only three days. There is so much more to "life" than where we go after we die.

I don't think it is unintentional that these words from John to his readers comes at the heel of Jesus sending his disciples into the world, "as the Father sent him." I think for John, and most likely for Jesus, that "life in Jesus' name" means getting out there and doing the work that Jesus did, teaching, healing, eating, drinking, loving, sharing, walking - you know, life. If it is true that those who do not know Jesus are dead to sin, then it must also be true that knowing Jesus brings life, not just after death, but right here, right now.

I think my sermon for this week is going to sound very strange. It doesn't really deal with doubt or fear, but instead it deals with life and love - reaching out to those in need in the name of Jesus. That's what John's Gospel is for - right?

March 27, 2008

Quick Thought

Crazy day today, so I have but one brief thought to share with you today.

The Message translates verses 22-23 of John 20 as "Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. 'Receive the Holy Spirit,' he said. 'If you forgive someone's sins, they're gone for good. If you don't forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?'"

This is very different from the other translations I have seen.

As a "spirit of the text" translation, The Message takes some liberties in translation especially when it comes to idiomatic expressions. It also lives in the "Reformed world" where one could read this as a strike against the absolution "powers" of clergy in the Roman Church (extended in someways to the Anglican understanding of clergy as well). This difference is very striking. It really makes me wonder which is "right" as in "more true to what Jesus said/meant." It also makes me wonder what one does do with sins that are not forgiven by man, since God forgives them all in the risen Christ.

Stuff to ponder today.

Sermon for Wednesday in Easter

There is a debate going on in the church that has nothing to do with sex. Every Sunday we get a glimpse into that debate as the invitation to communion in our bulletin says, “All baptized Christians are welcomed at the Lord’s Table.” This is dictated by canon. The General Convention of The Episcopal Church has decided that communion should be made available only to baptized Christians. It is often said that we practice open communion in that we allow Christians of any denomination to the Table, but some say we are not quite open enough as we do close the door on those not baptized.

It is an interesting debate between hospitality and due reverence. The Exhortation from the Prayer Book asks us to consider that “as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body.”[1] And so the debate goes on.

The text for today is one of the key texts in that debate. These two followers of Jesus seem unprepared to share in the breaking of the bread with Jesus – not even recognizing who it is they are with until after – and yet they are made aware in that act and the Truth of the resurrection is made known to them in that moment. I bring up this debate not to add more to our already full plates of theological debate, but instead I think it is something important to consider as we approach the Table each week; what is the significance of this most sacred action? Do we receive it understanding fully what it means to us or is the mystery of it all a part of its great benefit? I for one am a fan of the mystery. There is no more special moment for me in my ministry than stooping down to offer the body of Christ to a bright eyed toddler. She in no way understands what it is I am offering, but the look in her eye tells me that God is at work. She is hungry for a piece of the divine. Jesus is made known in the breaking of the bread. I feel somewhat vindicated in the story of the couple on the road to Emmaus as it seems to allow for a lot of mystery.

Tom Wright, bishop of Durham, sees that mystery wonderfully:

Think of the first meal in the Bible. The moment is heavy with significance. ‘The woman took some of the fruit, and ate it; she gave it to her husband, and he ate it; then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked’ (Gen 3.6-7). The tale is told, over and over, as the beginning of the woes that had come upon the human race. Death itself was traced to that moment of rebellion. The whole creation was subjected to decay, futility and sorrow.

Now Luke, echoing that story, describes the first meal of the new creation. ‘He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them; then the eyes of them both were opened, and they recognized him’ (31). The couple at Emmaus – probably Cleopas and Mary, husband and wife – discover that the long curse has been broken. Death itself has been defeated. God’s new creation, brimming with life and joy and new possibility, has burst in upon the world of decay and sorrow.

Jesus himself, risen from the dead, is the beginning and the sign of this new world. He isn’t just alive again in the same way that Jairus’s daughter, or the widow’s son at Nain, were. They, poor things, would have to face death again in due course. He has, it seems, gone through death and out the other side iot a new world, a world of new and deathless creation, still physical only somehow transformed.[2]

Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, he has opened the Scriptures and shared a meal with two of his followers. In so doing he has begun the great mystery that is the Church. Jesus, though now ascended to the right hand of the Father is still alive and at work in the life of the Church. We act as Christ’s hands and feet. Together we read and interpret the Scriptures. As a community we share in the breaking of bread. And just as the resurrected Jesus is able to be touched and yet enter locked rooms, so too is the life of the Church one of mystery and paradox. Thanks be to God that he is beyond our understanding. Thanks be to God that we share in his mystery each time we share communion for just as it was with Cleopas and Mary so too will we have our eyes opened in the breaking of the bread.

[1] BCP, p. 316.

[2] Luke for Everyone, p. 296-7.

March 26, 2008

Scripture interprets Scripture

It has been said that Jesus, the Word of God, gave us the best interpretation of Scripture available. I would agree, and add that the Scriptures as the Word of God do a pretty good job of it too. For example, this week we have Jesus saying to Thomas a phrase that is well known, but probably not well understood, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

For starters there is that interesting verb tense. "Blessed are those who HAVE not seen and yet HAVE come to believe." Only a week after the tomb has been found empty there are believers known to Jesus that have not seen him and yet have believed. Still there are members of his inner circle, part of the 12 (now 11 soon to be 12 again) who have not seen and do not yet believe. I find it very interesting to ponder how the news traveled.

Anyway, none of that is my point today. Instead, I want to look at 1 Peter and how it elaborates on the blessings of those who "have not seen and yet have come to believe." Verses 8 and 9 read, "Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." In the midst of persecution, of great testing like gold in a fire, these disciples of Christ are receiving the blessing that comes from belief without seeing, "the salvation of [their] souls."

While I hate to get all academic on this blog (though I've been told I do it anyway) I'd like to share with you the various meanings of this word translated "salvation." Its layers and nuance give us much to chew on.

Strongs #4991 soteria {so-tay-ree'-ah}
Meaning: 1) deliverance, preservation, safety, salvation 1a) deliverance from the molestation of enemies 1b) in an ethical sense, that which concludes to the souls safety or salvation 1b1) of Messianic salvation 2) salvation as the present possession of all true Christians 3) future salvation, the sum of benefits and blessings which the Christians, redeemed from all earthly ills, will enjoy after the visible return of Christ from heaven in the consummated and eternal kingdom of God.

Notice that it is not until definition 3 that any future promise is named. It seems as though Peter is talking not about "suffering for the future" but rather a freedom from fear in the here and now. These disciples though they are in the midst of much suffering have already been delivered. Compare that with the 11 hole up in a room locked down "for fear of the Jews." Though they have seen, they have not taken on the peace of Christ that within 30ish years is clearly evident in Peter's church.

All that to say, the Bible interprets and expands on itself wonderfully, if we have the patience to look.

March 25, 2008

The Doubting 11

The Gospel for this week is often referred to as the story of Doubting Thomas. Having grown up in St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, I have heard this story more times than I care to remember, but this year I am claiming it for myself. This is not the story of Doubting Thomas, but the Doubting 11. In fact, if we want to assign "faith" to any of the disciples we should note that only Thomas declares Jesus to be "Lord and God." The rest may well have rejoiced that Jesus was with them again, but a week later they are still locked in a room "fearful of the Jews."

As if life wasn't scary enough after Jesus' untimely death, now they were "sent" to tell people that the Roman's had failed and the rebel king was alive? No thank you! That'll get them killed for sure. Especially if they aren't really sure what to make of Jesus being back. If he isn't "Lord and God" then what's the point of risking their necks. They decide to just be happy that they have their friend and teacher back; they insulate themselves from the outside world.

This is not what Jesus had in mind for them, and it isn't what he has in mind for us. He sent them and he sends us into the world to proclaim the Good News that death has been defeated, Satan will not win, God is in control! Are we like the 10 who sat with that news for a week trying to figure out what to do with it? Or are we like "Doubting Thomas" ready to declare Jesus as Lord and God?

Readings for Easter 2, A


March 21, 2008

Sermon for Good Friday 08

“It is finished.” “It is accomplished.” It must have sounded so strange to the crowd gathered on that hill called Golgotha. The events of the day weren’t really out of the ordinary. Three rebels were hanging on crosses – a punishment that fit their crime. The inscription above the one seems strange, “King of the Jews.” Not much of a king if he’s dying on a cross, they must have thought, but words of mockery are not uttered in John’s gospel, instead the focus is on how in control of it all Jesus is. As he slowly suffocated while enduring excruciating pain he took care of his last will and testament. “Mom, take care of my friend.” “My dear disciple, take care of my mother.” He then worked out the last of his prophetic fulfillments by asking for a drink from the cross. Then, he mustered up the strength to say, “it is finished,” bowed his head and gave up his Spirit.

“OK,” the crowd must have thought, “that bit was weird.” And we might think the same thing. What was finished? We approach Good Friday from the other side of Easter Day. As hard as we might try, we can’t really feel the depth of pain that those four women must have felt. We don’t have a clue as to how scary it must have been for Jesus’ followers that you could count on one hand the number who stuck around to see it all unfold. And we most certainly need help wrapping our mind around what might have been finished as Jesus gave up his Spirit. As Tony Campolo says, “It’s Friday… but Sunday’s a-comin!” “It isn’t finished!” we want to stand up and yell, “Whatever it is, it ain’t over!”

In reality, however, much was finished as Jesus breathed his last. To be frank, the first thing that was over for Jesus was the whole dying thing. As Barbra Brown Taylor says, “Death is not painful. It is the dying [on a cross] that hurts.”[1] For the blood thirsty crowd, this is a disappointment. For Jesus’ mother, it has to be a mixed blessing as the suffer was now over. For the Jews, it is a relief; they can get rid of his body before sundown. However you look at it, Jesus is dead, that part is over.

The second thing that is finished is Operation “self-annihilating love”. From the time that God removed Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden until three in the afternoon on that Day of Preparation God had been hard at work trying to restore the relationship between himself and humanity. He tried talking directly to them, he tried floods, he tried punishing them, the tried freeing them from slavery, he tried the law, he tried the prophets, he tried kings, he tried to use outside kingdoms, he tried to use the religious authorities – and finally all that was left was loving us so much that his own identity became wrapped up in ours as he descended and became man. On the night before he died, Jesus said to his friends, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” “Having explained this [new plan] to his friends, he then left the room to go do it. Less than twenty-four hours later, it was finished.”[2] Operation Self-Annihilating Love had lasted for millennia, but with this final act, it was now finished.

The third thing that was finished in that moment was, for all intents and purposes, the Temple. While the Temple wouldn’t be destroyed for another 30 or so years, we hear in the other accounts of this day that the curtain to the holy of holies was torn from top to bottom. The barrier that divided the religious authorities from the regular people, Jew and Gentile, was now broken. The rules heaped upon rules stacked on rules were now moot. The death of Jesus and the thundering aftermath made sure that the artificial divides were now gone. “There were two bloody places in Jerusalem that day – Golgotha and the Temple [where Passover lambs were being slaughtered]—both attended by powerful religious people who believed they were doing God’s will… But the system did not exist to protect God. The system existed to protect the system. Jesus was the last lamb of God who would die for the people.”[3]

Finally, this afternoon, we will deal with a fourth thing that was finished as Jesus died. “When Jesus gave up his spirit, he was not thirsty anymore. He dove back into the stream of living water from which he had sprung and swam all the way back home.”[4] As the hour of Jesus’ crucifixion drew near, his relationship with the Father became more and more strained. I don’t believe that there was a point where God had removed himself from Jesus, they were always united, but as Jesus’ human will struggled with the will of the Father, that relationship no doubt came under pressure. In the moment Jesus gave up his Spirit there was a glorious party as Father and Son were reunited in perfect harmony. Be it the 33 years that Jesus walked the earth or the 20 or so hours while Jesus struggled with his destiny, it was finished, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were back in perfect relationship once again.

“It is finished.” Did it ever sound strange, that Jesus would utter a word of triumph as he, a supposedly failed king, died on a cross. But in that moment, so much was accomplished, even without the surprise of Easter Day. Thanks be to God that he is in control making this Friday Good. Praise Jesus that he gave himself up to death so that barriers might be broken; between us and God, between the religious system and God, and between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is a Good Friday indeed. Much has been accomplished. Amen.


Instead of any sort of reflection today, I offer you the following. Steve Sherwood, a Young Life leader, is the winner of Emergent Village's atonement metaphor contest. His imagery and use of scripture (Hosea and the Prodigal Son) are remarkable, and I offer the whole text in pdf here. Atonement is the systemic theology of what happened on the cross, essentially the searching for an answer to "What is the it in 'it is finished'?"

Here's a snapshot of of his argument:
"God goes to the cross. Jesus, who is still just as much Emmanuel~God with us on the day of his death as he was on the day of his birth, goes to the cross. Gomer’s indebtedness had to be paid off. The son’s shame had to be removed. The sin of humanity has to be dealt with. But, just as Hosea’s goal is not retribution but restoration and just as the father shames himself to be relationally restored with his son, Jesus does not go to the cross to pay off God’s wrath. He goes to the cross to complete the restoration to relationship that God the Father has yearned for from the start. Reconciliation comes at a great cost to Hosea and to the father. Both set aside honor and ‘their rights’ to bring reconciliation to the one they love. They, the innocent party, ‘bear the penalty’, the shame brought on by another, in order to restore the one that was lost. Likewise, Jesus, the visible expression of God’s heart toward humanity, endures the cross. Not to ‘satisfy the wrath of God’ but to satisfy God’s love."

March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday

I would be remiss if I didn't make note this week of that other, often forgotten, day in Holy Week. Today is Maundy Thursday; a day that gets its name from Jesus' mandate that we "love one another."

From Wikipedia (don't tell my GOE readers): The word Maundy is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you"), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34) by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet.

Now, to be honest, I, like most Americans, don't like to be told what to do. Mandate, especially post-2004 election makes me uneasy; I voted for him, but seriously 53% is not a mandate. Anyway, for me this is a day chiefly of remembrance. We recall with honor and due reverence the "last supper" during which Jesus gave us a model for ministry; love, serve, fellowship, and eat. In the 2000 years since we have made ministry (and church membership) really hard, but when it comes down to it the kingdom life is 1) loving one another 2) serving one another 3) enjoying one another's company and 4) breaking bread with one another. Note that nothing here is an individual sport - the life of the kingdom is necessary lived in community. It can't be done any other way (see Judas and his unilateralism as an example).

So today I remember Jesus reclining with his friends. In my mind's eye I try to enter that room, hear the sounds, smell the smells, and see all the details. Then, in the context of my faith community, St. Paul's Foley, I will worship God and pledge to live that kingdom life for another year, until again I find myself in the upper room with Jesus.

March 19, 2008

the irony of law, even to the end

John's account of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus is full of interesting details; names, places, underlying reasons, etc. Probably the most interesting is the little note that comes when Jesus is presented before Pilate.

"Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate's headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover"

Even as they presented this man to Pilate on chumped up charges to save their own hides they were worried about "ritual defilement." There is a great deal of irony in that. To walk into the Roman headquarters with its graven images and exultation of Caesar, would have made the Jewish authorities unclean (by their own interpretation), but conspiring to have a man killed by the same Roman rulers operating under pagan Roman law meant they could slaughter their lambs, gird their loins, and enjoy the Passover feast - recalling all the while their people's freedom from oppression in Egypt.

It makes me once again think about the crazy, contradictory rules religions continue to setup. Every church that I have been a part of has them. Like the post-reformation emphasis on the priesthood of all believers that gets shoehorned into licensing processes for chalice bearers, home communion ministers, even in some places, lectors. My personal favorite is making the reading of the Gospel exclusive to the clergy; as if somehow in its being read by the laity, heresy will happen or the Spirit might not show up. Anyway, even as we walk with Jesus to the cross we are reminded of the insanity of the systems he came to oppose - not the Roman government, but the Temple system that devoured widows houses, made idols of the worship, and lost sight of God's overwhelming desire to see justice and righteousness lived out in this world. I love those little details.

March 18, 2008

Sermon for Palm Sunday 08

TOH to Marcus Borg and John Dominick Crossan for the 2 parades thing. Also, I had a better intro while in the pulpit, but to recreate it in the text seems unnecessary - you'll get the gist of the sermon here anyway.

As you know, Cassie and I had our first Mardi Gras experience this year. We managed to fit in two parades during the weekend proceeding Ash Wednesday. Both took place within the zip code of Fairhope, both proved to be entertaining, and both resulted in the carrying home of lots of beads, but that is about all they shared in common. The first was a Friday evening event in downtown Fairhope. The streets were lined with people excited for what this always glorious event would bring. We were with Keith and Lynn, Anne, Brad, and Grace and next to a woman who was for a while the president of the society throwing this parade. The bands were stellar. The Maids rode fine horses. The dance teams were well choreographed. The floats were well constructed, lit by generators, and pulled by sleek new GMC vehicles. It was a magnificent show of what a well run society can do. And, since we sat next to this famous woman, we, namely Grace, walked home with a pick-up truck full of stuffed animals, beads, and moon pies. It was truly a top-shelf event. The other parade took place on County Road One. Affectionately referred to as the Mullet Parade, this event was very different from our first experience. There were no marching bands. The Maids rode in the back of their friends convertibles. The dance teams weren't real. The floats were trailers and boats decorated with whatever the owner had from years past. It was a great showing of what people who like to have fun can do. We didn't sit next to anyone famous, though Nigel's front yard may have made us targets, and we, again Grace mostly, left with trash bags full of stuffed animals, beads, and moon pies. It was a great time, though no one would describe it as "top shelf." We saw two fabulous parades, both celebrating the season and the culture, but both very different in their flavor.

The residents of Jerusalem shared a similar experience. That first Palm Sunday saw two very different parades entering the great city. The first, like our first, was one of great pomp. Pilate, governor of Israel, was entering Jerusalem for the Passover. He didn't come to pay any sort of homage to the Jewish Feast Day, but rather he came, as Caesar's vicar, to make sure violence did not erupt during the celebration. He would have arrived on a glorious float, full of gold and purple, symbols of royalty. He would have been surrounded by some of the most well trained soldiers in the Roman army. Their path into the city would have been well choreographed; making sure to hit all the hot spots, both good and bad, to make sure as many people as possible knew that Rome was in control and this year's Passover celebration would only be a remembrance of a freedom from oppression, not the repetition of one. The bands announcing his presence would have been large and well rehearsed and the shouts from the Romans occupying Jerusalem would have hailed Caesar as king of kings and lord of lords; the son of the god Apollo, who would bring peace to the earth. The second parade to enter the city's walls would have been very different. A small crowd of rural tourists brought with them dusty coats and broken down palm branches. They laid them along the path of a man of no great circumstance riding either a donkey or a colt or both. Either way, seeing a full grown man riding the back of said animals would have appeared awkward at best. This relatively small group of followers are shouting things too, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" Their words sound very similar to those being shouted as Pilate enters as a symbol of Caesar. They make claims of Jesus as king, as one who comes in the name of God, as one who makes all of heaven sing praise. Whether intentional by Jesus or not, his parade was in direct contrast to the parade of Pilate. Two men were entering Jerusalem, both being welcomed with shouts of acclamation and praise, but both very different in their flavor.

This morning we found ourselves smack in the middle of the second parade. Our liturgy invites us to be the palm waving, coat dropping, acclamation shouting crowd. And of all the roles this service invites us into, I think being a part of that crowd is by far the most appealing. We get it. We have seen in the face of Jesus something special. At some point over the past three or so years we have heard Jesus speak and seen him perform miracles and we have been convinced he is the Messiah. Granted this parade isn't what we thought it would be. He should arrive in Jerusalem with a well trained army. He should have by his side an army of angels ready to rid the national of Israel from the oppression of Rome. But for now, we'll walk with him, making claims of his royalty, hoping that this Passover celebration is one of new freedom. Hosanna in the highest!

There is another group of people in the streets of Jerusalem this morning. Matthew tells us they are a city in turmoil, shaken, unnerved. This second parade was not expected. The things being said about the man awkwardly upon a small animal don't add up. He is the Son of David? He comes in the name of the Lord? Yet, he comes in weakness. He is surrounded by rednecks and rural trash. He doesn't have the support of the Temple. This guy can not be the Messiah. "Who is this?" The people of Jerusalem ask? Jesus' followers respond, "This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee." Our glimpse into the parade route ends there, but you can just imagine the response of Jerusalem. "Oh, Jesus, a prophet you say, from podunk in the middle of nowhere, sure, whatever you say." This group had not seen it. They hadn't heard him preach, Jesus was intentional in his avoidance of the cities. They had not seen his miracles with their own eyes. They were blind to the divinity of Jesus, they saw only a man in a dusty crowd.

There is in our baptismal covenant a set of promises. They are made by those being baptized, their God parents, their parents, and the whole congregation at each baptismal service. One of those promises is "to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself." In making that promise, with God's help, we pledge to be a part of the palm waving crowd. The face of Jesus we see is not on the back of a colt, but rather in every person we meet. We have given our word to see the good in every human being and to focus on that good over and above all the annoying, all the hillbilly, all the arrogant, all the bad driving. This puts us in the obvious minority. Jesus' parade was relatively small compared to the whole city of Jerusalem, but it was fixed on one goal, to serve Christ in the person of Jesus, prophet from Nazareth. So too, the crowd of Jesus followers who will actively serve the Christ in others is a small group. As we enter into Holy Week, however, every Christian is once again called to live into the role of the palm waving, Jesus proclaiming crowd. This week, above all others, should be about living the way of the cross by seeking and serving Christ in all persons. It is not easy. It leads us into places that are uncomfortable. It might even cause the whole city of Foley to ask, "who are these people?" But it is our call as followers of Jesus. We walk with him to the cross not just to reap the reward of eternal life, but to live our lives as he lived his, in the service of others. The good news of Holy Week is that we get to take part in the continuous work of God setting this upside down world right side up. What a blessing. What an honor. Hosanna in the highest heaven! Amen.

The Way of the Cross

I am a big fan of the stations of the cross. I think that it is important, wherever we are, to spend some time walking with Jesus along that road from Pilate's judgment seat in Jerusalem to the grave. I appreciate the work Mel Gibson did in his The Passion of the Christ. He took some liberties and made some mistakes, but in the film we are given the opportunity to be right there as it all goes down; we are forced to come to terms with how brutal crucifixion was. And, while several stations have been added that do not appear in the Gospel narratives, I think that the tradition is so strong that whether Veronica existed or not is moot, instead the lessons gained from her piety need to be the point.

All this to say, whoever chose John's version of the crucifixion for Good Friday was a genius. This version, above all others, in my opinion, captures the various undercurrents that were at play on that faithful day. Caiaphas' decision that Jesus must die to save all of Jerusalem from charges of revolution. Jesus' clarity in his call to drink from the cup. Pilate's waffling to save face no matter what. The disappearance of Jesus' followers. The police and temple authorities clamoring for Jesus' death, NOT the Jews. Joseph and Nicodemus as pall bearers. There is so much at play in this story, so much to notice, so much to teach. And while I will say a few words after the reading of the Passion on Friday, when it follows on the heals of the readings from Isaiah and Psalm 22 it all seems so clear; Jesus, the suffering servant, died on a cross that "my soul shall live for him, my descendants shall serve him, they shall be known as the LORD's for ever."

Holy Week is a long, tough week, but I pledge to live into it, thanks to John's Gospel.

Another Great Post at a Church for Starving Artists

I've given a lot of thought to this whole issue of how our pastors, priests, preachers, etc. and their words live into the law of unintended consequences. Jan over at a Church for Starving Artists puts thoughtful words around it. Here's a snippet.

A Church for Starving Artists: Reprise: Politics & the Pastor: "One of The Big Issues of our time seems to be learning to pray side-by-side with and for people with whom we disagree. We need to care about each other so that we don't resort to demonization when we do disagree."

March 11, 2008

schizophrenic sunday

Maybe some of my more studious friends out there can tell me when Palm Sunday got mashed together with the Sunday of the Passion, but it all seems very odd to me. In the course of about 30 minutes we go from shouting hosannas and processing around the block in a glorious remembrance of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem to recalling with the Gospel writers those minutes that seemed so final as Jesus breathed his last and gave up his spirit.

Is it because people aren't attending as many Holy Week services that this is the case? Or has it happened since the beginning? It all seems very schizophrenic... perhaps bipolar is a better term... as we run through Holy Week in the time it takes Domino's to deliver a pizza. As I pray over these texts this week I'm wondering if I might not be called to preach on the Gospel lesson from the Liturgy of the Palms. Shouldn't we spend at least a couple of minutes pondering the complexities of our savior who came not to be served but to serve riding in a royal procession the Sunday before the Passover? Isn't there a lot to say about Jerusalem being "a city in turmoil" as they struggled to discern who this man was; for he certainly was not Pilate. What about the shouts of those on the parade route, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" What should we make of all of that? What does it mean to us in 21st century America? What can we learn about Jesus and what he came to do by the shouts of the crowd?

I doubt I'll actually do it. This week is too hectic. I'm too far away from routine. I'm not sure I can pull it off. I probably need something more comfortable. For today, however, I'm thinking that Palm Sunday should be about Palm Sunday and we can save the Passion for its rightful place on Good Friday.

Holy Week Readings

Palm Sunday

Maundy Thursday

Good Friday

March 6, 2008

Taking Some Time Off

A prayer request and an excuse. Cassie's grandmother (on her father's side) died this morning, peacefully, after a long illness. So we are in the process of getting things together to get to PA for the funeral, etc. I will probably not be as diligent in blogging next week as I should be (or want to be). So for that, I'm sorry. If anyone has a word for me (as I'm preaching Palm Sunday) feel free to post it as a comment to this post.

Thank you all for being such a blessing,

March 5, 2008


Along with stories of resurrection (or more appropriately as a result of stories of resurrection) the lessons for Sunday are ripe with hope. In the midst of a valley full of dry bones, God is there and there is hope. Despite the palmist's waiting, God is there and there is hope. There is a whole world full of people living in the darkness, God is there - or better here - and there is hope. Lazarus has been dead for 4 days, long enough for his soul to be with Abraham, but God, in the person of Jesus, is there and there is hope.

A couple of weeks we heard of the hope that never disappoints, and in a set of lessons that could easily be a downer, this message rings true, hope reigns. It is a great opportunity to preach hope in Lent, a chance to preach that Sunday is a feast day no matter the mood of the season, no matter the cards life has delt the week before. All sorts of things to preach in a lesson that runs two pages in our bulletin, lots to deal with, but it is all good stuff.

March 4, 2008

Jesus began to weep

We went down a lot of different paths in our Lectionary group this morning. There are many obvious sermons available in this text. There are also subtle lines which could be preached alone; the Mary and Martha connection or doubting Thomas' blind faith unto death to name a few. But what struck me in our conversation was the depth of Jesus' emotion in this story.

Most of the time, and our translations help us with this, we read this portion of the raising of Lazarus with a very human Jesus in mind. He is so upset by the grief of Mary and Martha, as well as dealing with his own grief that he has nothing left in him but tears. This interpretation has a rich past, and has a lot to teach us about Jesus as fully God (that he could bring Lazarus back from the dead) and fully man (that he wept at his grave), though there is another avenue that I'd like to pursue.

We talked today about the commentators who read in the Greek a level of anger and frustration in Jesus' troubled spirit. From there we spring-boarded off into a great discussion of what is going on in the mind of Jesus in that moment. I go back and forth in my thinking about how much Jesus knew about the trajectory of his life on this earth. Did he know the day and the hour of his death? Or was he perhaps only able to know the signposts as he arrived at them, sorta like de ja vu moments? If we assume the latter, it seems to me that in this moment, as Jesus' spirit becomes greatly troubled, as he is deeply moved; he has figured out the signpost. In this climactic sign and wonder in John's gospel it is seems to become clear to Jesus that the end is near. He now knows that the next stop is Jerusalem - the cross - the grave - and the resurrection.

Jesus began to weep. Not over the loss of a friend, he's about to bring him back to life, but over the realization that it is going to have to come to what he had long feared. Over and over and over again, through individuals, the nation of Israel, the prophets, elders, kings, and other nations God had tried to call his people back to him. And time and time again they would not listen. Even in the course of Jesus' life he tried over and over to show people the Kingdom life while he was still with them, but they too could not understand. And so in this moment it becomes clear to Jesus, he must die at the hands of Rome. He has to be the one to rise from the dead for it to make sense to God's people. And he begins to weep.

The heartache, the raw emotion, the frustration. It is all right on his sleeve. This is, in John's Gospel, is one of the highest moments. In the raising of Lazarus from the dead the last straw has been broken. It is, as they say, all downhill from here until the final raising of Jesus in glory upon the cross. All tied up in the tears that flow.

March 3, 2008


I won't be in town this weekend, but I think I'm gonna have to find a church Sunday morning because the possibilities for preaching in the lessons for Lent 5a are too good. It is like a mini-easter as we get ready for Holy Week. Wow, good, good stuff.

Ezekiel's Bones and Lazarus rising from the dead; great stories of resurrection; great promises that ensure hope. What jumps out at me this morning, as it does every time I read of the raising of Lazarus is Martha's response to Jesus' promise, "your brother will rise again." She says, so matter of factly in my head, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." That is faith. Just four days after his death and just seconds after recognizing that if Jesus were there it wouldn't have happened, Martha, despite it all, is assured of the resurrection of the dead at the last day. She has faith; she has that hope that our Roman's lesson a few weeks ago talked about, "hope will not disappoint."

It is such a great lesson as we come close to the climax of Lent. We are just about finished with self-reflection, if we haven't given up already, and in need of some hope and some joy. All*luia want to spring forth from our lips, but not yet. Instead, we are given a glimpse of the hope that Good Friday and Easter brings - God has not given up on us. We will be restored to right relationship with him in this life and in the life to come. As we grow weary of somberness and penitence we can take solace in this mini-easter; resurrection is here, now.

Sermon for Lent 4a

A couple of weeks ago Father Keith really challenged me in one of his sermons. He said, quite frankly, that God was always running away from us. Now I knew he might be heading that way in that particular sermon, but I wasn’t ready for just how hard that statement would hit me. God is constantly running away from us. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

Fortunately, the same God who is always on ahead is also right here waiting, ready to help those of us who need some time to rest – some time to think, and God was gracious enough to give me this fabulous set of lessons this Sunday. They begin with a line that defines for me the way in which all the rest must be read, “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul?’” There are plenty of places in the Bible when humans cry out to God asking, “how long…?” This week, however, it struck me that the roles were reversed; it wasn’t a human asking God, but it was God asking his prophet – his own mouthpiece – “how long…?” Though it goes unsaid in the rest of our lessons for this week, God could easily begin each lesson with a variation of the same question.

To Samuel – “How long will you grieve over Saul?”

To the Psalmist – “How long will you worry about the things of this life?”

To the Church in Ephesus – “How long will you sit in darkness? How long until you will rise from the dead?”

And Jesus could easily ask his disciples, “How long will you worry about whose sin it was?” Or to the Pharisees he could ask, “How long will you sit in judgment without seeing your own sin?”

How long indeed! And how many times has God had to stop and wait for me, only to ask, “how long?” “How long will the image of me running out ahead of you bother you?” The possible endings to the how long question are without number.

The story of the man born blind has many opportunities to ask “how long?” As we often associate ourselves with the blind man it is easy to ask disparaging questions of the disciples and the Pharisees, but what if we aren’t him. What if we fill another role within the story, say that of a member of the crowd? Then more questions become available – the story opens up in front of us.

Jesus and his disciples are walking and happen upon a beggar who has been blind since the day he was born. We know this man. He has been a nuisance in the street for years – always asking for spare change – we pass him by - he’ll probably just buy booze or meth with it anyway. But Jesus’ disciples don’t just pass by; they want to learn from this man’s plight. “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Both,” we might mutter under our breath, “the whole lot of them are a pain in the neck.” Jesus answers very differently, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Or, if we were going to fit our question for today, Jesus’ response asks the question, “How long will you seek blame for the bad things in this world? How long will you judge a man who has done no wrong? How long will you miss the message of God’s Kingdom that I have preached?”

To our amazement, Jesus approaches the man and without another word – without warning - he spits on the ground, mixes up some mud and places it on the man’s eyes telling him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam.” And then, just as quickly as he appeared on the scene Jesus is gone. The man returns having never seen the man who healed him. But much to our chagrin the man returns with his sight restored. Our understanding of life has just been altered. God had judged that man already; that is why he was born blind. Things were not supposed to get better for him and his wretched family; rather he was getting what they all deserved. This just isn’t right! So we pepper the man with questions, none of which suit our understandings. Still we are at a loss, things aren’t right. To the Pharisees; they’ll know what to do with him!

Just as we suspected, the Pharisees know how to handle this situation. Not only did this healing turn upside down our long held understanding of how the world works, but to be healed on the Sabbath – or rather to heal on the Sabbath – is a direct violation of one of the ten most sacred laws of Moses. Yah Pharisees! Go for the kill!

Plan A – Get them both on the sin factor – for as we know being born blind is the result of sin AND healing on the Sabbath is a sin. But then how did the healing happen; a sinner can’t do such miracles!?

Plan B – It wasn’t a healing at all – this is an elaborate scam to get that radical preacher Jesus more followers. So they call the man’s parents, but uh oh, he is that man. He was blind from birth. We have stepped over him for years hoping he would just go away and die.

Back to Plan A – go for sin again. But as if the man’s spiritual eyes have been opened in this moment he responds to the obvious attempt to discredit the event with great conviction, “Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

On to Plan C – GET OUT! The Pharisees have stumbled upon the same problem we, the crowd did, this thing happened and it doesn’t fit in our system.

And suddenly Jesus, as if he has run ahead to be right here - right now reappears in front of the man. Having only heard a few words from him, we forgive the man for not recognizing his voice. Having never seen Jesus, we understand that he might feel like he’s back under attack in the streets as Jesus asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Just as quickly as the man was healed, and just as fast as Jesus turned our understanding of the world upsidedown – Jesus once again asks “how long?” “How long will you who claim to see hold onto your blindness?”

We have been eager to get life back to normal. For us, that means that the blind are punished by God. It means that the God only works through the approved channels. It means that we’ve got it all together – that our understanding is the one true faith. But even the defenders of our faith, the Pharisees can’t set things back in line. They are left only to admit the miracle, but expel the man anyway. Things will never be the same.

When God enters our life it is always a surprise. Often, without any warning, without even asking for help, we are sent to Siloam to wash the mud from our eyes. Then God goes on ahead and many are left to ask, “How can this be so?” God ponders a different question, “How long will you wait for things to get back to normal? Don’t you understand that once I’m a part of your life things will never be the same?” Where do we fit in that story? Are we the man born blind – dumbstruck by our new circumstance? Are we the crowd – uncomfortable with what these new things mean for us? Are we the disciples – on that journey yet still blind? Whoever we are, it is clear, God wants our eyes to be open so that we can see him on ahead because he is growing tired of asking, “How long?”

readgins for Lent 5a